|A victim of the wind, I scooped this|
little guy off the water with
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Sunday, May 23, 2021
After sheltering in place for two days I was ready to get back on the river. The weather forecast indicated that Saturday would be overcast with highs in the mid 40s but no rain or snow. On Saturday/Sunday evening rain was predicted and continuing through the day on Sunday. I could work with that; I could paddle all day Saturday and get below Ulm, MT, to camp and then make my way into Great Falls by mid afternoon on Sunday. My original plan had been to get a hotel room in Ft. Benton and do laundry before heading into the Missouri Breaks wild and scenic area. The snow delay altered things a bit with the hotel and laundry taking place on Sunday instead of the quick pass through Great Falls I had originally intended.
|Prewett Creek Inn|
It was just after 7:15 a.m. when I finally departed and it quickly became apparent that the current had picked up dramatically from a few days prior. The heavy rain, combined with heavy, wet snow made for a thrilling ride. At one point I found myself in some solid Class II rapids that I wasn’t expecting and as the boat banged up over a set of haystacks I thought “you have my total attention.”
Prewett Creek to Cascade, MT, is 13 river miles which I traversed in two hours. The current remained strong and I paddled on, stopping for lunch at around noon, and arrived at Ulm (25 miles) at 4:00 p.m. I rode the current for a couple more hours to give me an edge on today’s (Sunday) paddle.
|USGS station near|
Great Falls, MT
So…to make that canoe trip feeling come true I’m in a hotel in Great Falls doing laundry and scheming on visiting the pizza joint next door for some fresh pizza pie. Now that’s roughing it! 😆
Thursday, May 20, 2021
|Campsite inside Gates canyon|
I rose early and packed quickly to exit Black Sandy; largely to avoid an unpaid camp fee (sorry Montana!). I made the quick trip to the Houser dam and had to unpack the entire boat. It took a little effort to locate the best egress point as previous paddlers indicated to go under the wire and exit on the left shore at the dam itself. Of course, all the signage shouts to go across the lake to the official site for safety reasons thus quadrupling the length of the portage.
After my Toston dam fiasco I made it a point to assemble all my bags on the shore, gather up all the loose items in the cockpit into my mesh duffle, and properly do a three pass portage. I’m carrying a month of dehydrated food in a dry bag that has no shoulder harness. Thus, it rides in the canoe with the mesh duffle and all other bags are carried through the portage. When I reached the end and was repacking the canoe I noticed that a bottle of sunscreen had exploded in my clear dry bag. It took about 45 minutes to clean up the gooey mess before I was able to shove off.
The scenery that day was pure Montana magic. Mountain ranges on both sides of the river and few humans to be seen. Two sites were on my “must see” list for this part of the trip; the Missouri Breaks downstream from Fort Benton and the Gates of the Mountains. For some reason, I expected not to see the Gates for a few more days of paddling so when I rounded a bend and they loomed into sight I was thrilled.
I took my time going through the Gates and the canyon and let the current push me along. There is a gorgeous campsite within the canyon and I stopped for lunch and seriously considered staying the night even though it was early in the day. Several speed and large tour boats passed by with waving humans but that pretty much sealed the deal, it was too busy of a location and I’d push on for something less congested.
An early break of camp and departure the next day (May 19th) had me heading for the Holter dam and my last self portage in Montana. Each morning I listen to my weather radio and I had been following the National Weather Service forecasts of a late winter storm expected to hit Montana. The last weekend’s early estimates were up to 18 inches of snow and freezing rain in the mountains (basically my location). That was pared down a bit to a foot of snow but still a worry. I wasn’t in a location where I can take shelter without some planning. I shouldered on hoping to make it to a protected location where I could ride out the storm. By late afternoon the rain had started and it was clear that I was going to have to shelter in place. I stopped at a few spots mentioned in The Complete Paddler but ownership has changed and hotels have now become private lodges.
I reached Mountain Palace just as it began to pour. I set up my tent quickly, pulled all my gear either inside or under the vestibules and waited. Within an hour the rain changed to freezing drizzle then to a heavy, wet snow. I was warm and dry but it quickly became clear that my three season tent wasn’t suitable to ride this one out. Thankfully, I had cell service for the first time since my first night on the river and I began to search for a hotel with easy access off the river. It turned out that the Prewett Creek Inn was a few turns down the river from my location (the campsite at Prewett Creek was my original destination before the weather turned sour). I gave them a call and after explaining my situation to the owner, Joan, I booked a room for the next day (today, May 20th).
|My wet home at Mountain Palace|
When morning arrived I repacked everything from inside my cramped quarters and then dug myself out. Just as I was hauling out gear and getting ready to take down the tent, Maddie from the private fishing lodge across the street yelled asking if I wanted a cup of coffee. My mantra for this trip is to take offers whenever they are made so I accepted the offer even though I was in fine shape and would soon be indoors in a warm hotel room.
The coffee was good and I had a brief conversation with a few of the fly fisherman making their way into the lodge from their rooms for breakfast. I finished my drink and departed to finish packing for the short float down to Prewett Creek.
The day has been spent drying clothing and gear and making the big decision as when to push on. Part of my calculations are when I’ll arrive at Great Falls and whether the portage I arranged will be available. After a number of phone calls I worked things out to stay here in Prewett one more day then depart on Saturday morning. That will get me into Great Falls ether Sunday afternoon or Monday morning and then I can decide whether to take a room (Sunday night) at the portage landing or to go onward. It would be wise to do some shopping and resupply my food stocks and to do laundry.
The one thing I won’t complain about again on this trip is packing too much cold weather gear. It may be no fun slogging heavy packs over portages on hot and sunny days but being over prepared was critical when it was needed. On the upside, I learned that wet bags slide easily into place in my boat. I won’t ask for more snow but I will be using a little water from now on to “grease” things up.
Upon reaching the end of Canyon Lake I sought out the boat ramp, landed my canoe, and unpacked. I had a few moments to stretch before Will Garvin arrived to shuttle my gear and boat around the dam. Will is a member of the Missouri River Paddlers Group (https://www.missouririverpaddlers.com) that has a strong presence on Facebook (to join just search for Missouri River paddlers) who have been a godsend when planning this trip. Will got a request to assist me from Norm Miller who was tipped off by Jim Emanuel that I was looking for assistance. I had run into Jim while he was out fishing at the inlet leading to Canyon Lake. Jim had beckoned me over and he knew my name and my yellow boat from the Facebook posts. We had a great chat and just prior to departing I commented, almost as an afterthought, that I was looking for a shuttle around the dam.
Will Garvin is a fellow Eagle Scout, ex-Marine, and completed a trip down the river about a decade ago. He resides in Helena, MT, and his trip was Helena to Helena (Arkansas) because “every trip has to have a plan.” I couldn’t agree more since my plan includes pulling out at Nebraska City; my last trip started from there and went to St. Louis and I can’t repeat the lower section twice or I’d have to come back to Montana and do another float. Strange reasoning but every trip has to have a plan…
Since Will is a fellow through-paddler, he knows all about River Angels and the value of their hospitality to the paddling community. It took me some time on my trip in 2011 to accept offers of assistance from strangers. Initially, I didn’t understand that people truly want to help and one should graciously accept assistance. In any case, Will told me that I couldn’t get back on the river until he had bought me lunch. We went to The Dam Bar and had an amazing lunch although Will made the mistake of ordering a new menu item what was a hamburger with two grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun. There was no way he was going to finish that sandwich in one sitting!
Will and I had a great visit and chatted about a wide range of topics. It was good to hang with someone that’s done this trip and “gets it.” We finished our lunch and proceeded to the entry point below the dam. After unloading my gear onto the grass Will said that since “I’ll never see you again” he’d wish me good luck and safe paddling. I don’t think he understood the significance of those words. As a university professor I spend months, and often years, with students in nearly daily contact who once they’ve left college I never see again. As time has gone on I’ve recognized that while we may not have further physical contact their presence continues to reside in my heart. My reply to Will Garvin is that I will indeed see him as I carry our time together forward with me through the trip.
The rest of the day was pretty unremarkable in how routine things already were becoming on my float. I pushed on down the river, passed a series of waterfront homes, dealt with the wakes of power boats, and encountered a smattering of wildlife, especially water foul. I paddled on for most of the day with the goal of portaging around the Houser dam and camping. My late start after lunch meant that the portage would wait until the next day. Just upstream from the dam I pulled into Black Sandy State Park and made camp. A popular site with local fisherman and day/overnight visitors, the park is located where Prickly Pear Creek drains from Lake Helena to join the Missouri River. After having been alone in a canoe for several days and camping on my own, this location felt a bit like the big city. Lots of campfire chatter and children playing along the shoreline.
For the first part of my trip I’ve tried to fall into a routine of get up early, eat and break camp, and be on the water no later than 8:00 a.m. From there I paddle until noon, pull over for lunch, and paddle until late (ca. 5:00 p.m.) afternoon. I then make camp, eat dinner (freeze dried fare with little cook time), and check to see if I have an internet connection/phone service. If not, then it’s early to bed as blogging is out of the question for that day. My hope is that as my body becomes conditioned to this new lifestyle that my mind will follow suit and I’ll stay committed to completing the trip. Only time will tell…
I must be getting into the groove of being outdoors and off the grid, I have no idea what day it is and how long since I last posted. It appears that my last blog post was about the put-in and day #1 adventures; possibly… My goal is to post when I have internet access and when I don’t I either go for a hike or go to bed early. When I’m able to connect I’ll try to remember all that’s happened since the last update. Funny thing, the days in the seat of a canoe go so slow that time seems to stretch.
|“Strong” Montana wind!|
So…my last update was after my first portage of the trip around the Toston dam. As with every paddle trip I’ve made, the first time lugging gear feels impossible. My approach to packing for paddling is to streamline my gear into as few bags as possible. Pulling in the other direction is my desire to have my coffee cup, phone (gotta take some photos!), GPS, water bottle, weather radio, and other comfort items close at hand in the canoe cockpit. I purchased a mesh duffle bag for this trip where all those items are stashed when I come to a portage. It, and the other bags, can be quickly tossed onto the bank and the canoe attached to the canoe cart and everything humped to the end of the portage. I was stupid on the Toston dam portage and got greedy. I figured that since I had a canoe cart I could load all my gear in the canoe and away I’d go. Things didn’t, of course, go as planned.
|Canyon Lake campsite|
|Hello mamma moose!|
The following morning the water was still mirror glass calm. Not wanting to tempt fate, I worked at reloading the canoe into a more balance arrangement and got a quick start. Once out on the water I received a text from Norman Miller of the Missouri River Paddler’s Group telling me that a member would be at the portage to assist me. It was going to be another excellent day…
Saturday, May 15, 2021
|Nebraska City, NE; May 15, 2011|
|Three Forks, MT; May 15, 2021|
A big thank you to Mark and Sarah Deopsomer for hosting me while I was in Bozeman and for dropping me off at the headwaters this morning. I was a very good first day and the Montana scenery doesn’t disappoint. It will take a few more days to find the rhythm of paddling, portaging, and camping but so far things are off to a great start!
Note: I’m still working on the Mapshare link at the top of this page to display my current location. I think I’ve got it set correctly for tomorrow’s float.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
The plan for today was to drive to Glenrock, Wyoming, and stay with Scott Butler, a colleague from our teaching days at the community college in Cheyenne, WY. Scott is currently managing The Higgins Hotel in Glenrock, WY which is just over the halfway point in my drive from Lincoln, NE. I had forgotten how gorgeous Wyoming is, especially in the spring, so it’s good to be back and see an old friend at the same time.
Tomorrow is an early departure and drive to Bozeman, Montana. At some point I have to have my watercraft inspected for zebra mussels. I tried to do that as I entered Wyoming but the check station had closed 15 minutes before I arrived. So much for trying to be a good citizen. :)
|The boring view from my front window on the approach to Chimney Rock.|