Backpacking and Canoeing Staff

Big Wild Adventures is owned and operated by Howie Wolke and Marilyn Olsen. Contact Us

Howie and MarilynHowie Wolke & Marilyn Olsen
Owners, Guides/Naturalists

Howie Wolke has led well over five-hundred multi-day treks since the mid 1970s. He is probably the most experienced backpacking guide in the Western U.S. He has been the subject of various magazine articles and is also a nationally-known advocate for protecting wilderness. He has written two books on conservation, including Wilderness On the Rocks and the Big Outside (co-authored with Dave Foreman), a historic inventory of America’s remaining wilderness lands. His various articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications. Howie has addressed college and other groups across the country, where he struggles to keep his irreverent sense of humor in check. For a few years Howie designed and taught “The American Wilderness” at Montana State University-Billings. He has also served two terms as the President of the national conservation group Wilderness Watch. Howie has a particular affinity for wolves and grizzly bears, is an avid hunter, backcountry skier, river-runner and bird-watcher, and has a B.S. in Conservation and Wildlife Ecology.

Marilyn Olsen has explored wilderness from the Everglades to Alaska, from Africa to the Arizona desert. She is a registered nurse with expertise in wilderness medicine. She is a former trip leader for the University of Montana’s “Wilderness and Civilization” program, and in that capacity led canoe trips on Montana’s wild and scenic upper Missouri River, as well as various backpack treks. A long-time wilderness advocate, Marilyn’s efforts in conservation education for young people are particularly innovative. She also has valuable insights on group dynamics, and her ability to see and explore the often overlooked intimacies of the wilderness environment are unique.

Howie and Marilyn live in southern Montana, in the foothills of the Gallatin Range, just north of Yellowstone National Park.

ALL BIG WILD ADVENTURES GUIDES are experienced professionals with Wilderness First Responder training. Howie and Marilyn lead some of our trips, but our other guides are equally capable, and will provide our guests with an equally great experience. Unlike some outfits, your guide will not be an inexperienced young person right out of college. Our current guides ages range from 33 to 65.

Bob Marshall WildernessBob Clark: Guide/Naturalist

Bob Clark grew up in Chicago and fell in love with nature on summer fishing and canoeing vacations in northern Michigan. As a young adult he was inspired by authors such as Bradford Angier and Farley Mowat, and after serving as an Army medic from 1980-83, he moved to Colorado and then to Montana in 1993, where he worked on underground pipeline construction. Unlike most wilderness guides, for nearly two decades Bob actually had a career with a regular paycheck, as a field organizer for the Sierra Club. Bob is now a full-time guide during the warm months, and drives a snowplow in Missoula during the winter. He continues to be active in wilderness conservation; and he organizes and has led dozens of wilderness trips in western Montana and northern Idaho both as a professional guide and as a trip leader for non-profit groups. He has found himself in the pages of Backpacker magazine, Sierra and the Wall Street Journal, and lives with his wife and offspring in Missoula, Montana.

Dave EllisDave Ellis: Guide/Naturalist

David Ellis was born in Alabama; as a youth he backpacked and paddled extensively in the lush and steamy southern wilds. After earning a History degree from Auburn University, he soon began to train and then work for the National Park Service as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger, eventually ending up in Hawaii. This man of eclectic talents is also a certified wildland and structural fire-fighter, a Wilderness First Responder, an American Heart Association CPR Instructor, a certified National Outdoor Leadership School Outdoor Education Instructor and a boat captain. After four years of hiking, paddling, law-enforcing and relaxing both in various Western wilds and all over the Hawaiian Islands, David tired of easy tropical living and moved to the Rocky Mountains in order to test his resistance to frostbite. This experiment was a success. David and his wife Kellie and dogs Koa and Onyx are based just two states south of us in Colorado.

Yellowstone BackpackerBeau Fredlund: Guide/Naturalist

Beau Fredlund grew up in Billings, Montana and now lives in Cooke City, by the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. In the winter he works as a backcountry ski guide in the local Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges and in Yellowstone. This talented fellow has also worked in the Beartooths as a wilderness ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. To say that Beau enjoys backcountry skiing is putting it mildly, as he has organized ski expeditions to Alaska, Kamchatka, Kyrgyzstan and Norway among other places. Beau has a degree from the University of Utah in Parks, Recreation and Tourism with a minor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology. Despite Beau’s love of deep powder snow, he is an excellent outdoorsman and naturalist on dry summer ground, too, and loves to explore and share his knowledge and enthusiasm for wild places — especially in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — in all seasons.

Yellowstone Backpacking GuideJesse Ford: Guide/Naturalist

Jesse Ford was raised in Connecticut and now calls Missoula, Montana “home”. Usually, though, he is off exploring wild country. His passion for nature evolved during youthful explorations of woods and estuaries. At Villanova University he earned a degree in Economics and Business, while playing four years of Division 1 lacrosse.  Jesse then headed west to the Montana Rockies, which propelled him on a long series of traveling experiences around the globe. On countless road trips, river trips, and backpack trips across the United States and beyond, he followed poet Robert Frost down the path less traveled. That has made all the difference! Through his travel to wild places, Jesse developed a passion for re-connecting people to wild nature. Continuing along that less-traveled path, over the last decade Jesse has worked extensively as a sea kayak and canoe guide from Connecticut to California. He is the most recent addition to the Big Wild guiding “family”.

yellowstonehikingMary Byers: Assistant

Born in Baltimore but raised in Sheridan, Wyoming, “Cousin Mary” grew up (sort of), hiking in the Big Horn Mountains. After studying forestry in college and learning how to clearcut forests, she decided instead to become a textile artist. Though no longer in production, her beautiful wildlife T-shirts are scattered around the West, mainly covering the torsos of aging hippies. Her artistic endeavors were supplemented by working seasonally on a fire lookout tower in southwest Montana, near where she lives in the town of Hamilton with husband Jim Olsen. Mary has worked for many years as an assistant on numerous Big Wild trips, where she enjoys meal preparation, meeting new people, carrying heavy objects, and being in beautiful wild places. She can often be spotted in camp during early mornings, contorting her body into seemingly impossible yoga positions.

yellowstone-backpackingLaura Jane Dawson: Assistant

“L.J.” Dawson grew up romping in the Colorado Rockies, learning both from textbooks and the mountains, which became her passion. She took her first National Outdoor Leadership School month-long backpack course as a high school Sophomore, and a few years later she did another NOLS semester in the Himalayas. In 2015 she and her border collie, Jett, escaped crowded Colorado for wilder Montana, where she is working on a Journalism and Sociology degree at the University of Montana. L.J. has worked as a river guide near Missoula and has also guided student backpack trips for the University. She began assisting on Big Wild trips in 2016 where she distinguished herself as a veritable human pack-mule! Life often finds her sleeping under stars and chasing endless sunsets. And she is stoked to be part of the Big Wild family with its’ strong conservation ethic.

Yellowstone Hiking ToursAmigo: Dog/Security Tech

Amigo joined the Big Wild Family in 2005. He is a warm and friendly presence at the Big Wild home/office World Headquarters, and he is an important component in keeping all of us at Big Wild happy and never wanting for a furry friend to pet. Amigo sometimes barks when strangers approach or at wild animals, and his hobbies include hiking and walks, plus attempting to extricate the mountain cottontail from the woodpile, and chasing ground squirrels. Due to his age, he recently had to retire from backcountry skiing and he lives with Howie and Marilyn in the Gallatin Range foothills of southern Montana.

Note: Many of our clients ask us if they should tip the guide/assistant after the trip. That’s up to you; don’t feel obligated. We realize that not everyone can afford the extra expense. However, if you feel that your guide has done a good job and you wish to express that sentiment with a tip, it is appreciated! As a suggestion, 5-10% would be appropriate.

It is no wonder that each year, about half of our clients are
“repeaters” from prior Big Wild trips!

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Ground SquirrelThis fellow is not a member of the Big Wild staff.

Annual Trip Calendar


Capitan Lake - photo from one of our backpacking treks

List prices include our complete gear package and there is a $300 discount if you bring your own (see our Canoeing List, Backpacking List, and/or Questionnaire for details – found here). Also, we offer a $300 discount for the second trip in a calendar year. Scheduled trips are for persons ages 14 and over. Exceptions to the age requirement will be made by us on a case-by-case basis.

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