Thursday, May 20, 2021

340 degrees and baking in the hot sun

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!
I’ve come to the conclusion that this section of the Missouri River is best described as the Montana Be Dammed.  There are nine dams between the MO River headwaters and the Montana border.  Five dams are around the city of Great Falls and stretch over a distance of 15 miles.  That segment is basically impassable by canoe so shuttle by car is necessary.  That leaves four dams above Great Falls, three of which can be portaged easily (they are short and downhill) while the Canyon Ferry portage is a bit grueling so if an offer for a shuttle is offered the smart bet is to take it.

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
Day #2 dawned clear, sunny, and gorgeous.  My first morning I was a bit slow gathering up my gear and getting on the river.  I didn’t shove off until after 8:00 a.m. but no worries, it was such a beautiful morning that I knew the day could only get better, and it did.  The float below Toston is an easy paddle with a swift current and great scenery.  The river comes into Canyon Lake, a 25 mile long body of water shaped like the Florida peninsula.  Coming into the south end of the lake it’s nearly straight north until one reaches the Canyon Ferry Dam.  In The Complete Paddler, Dave Miller recommends timing the crossing when the wind is low and to stay to the shelter of the shoreline.  What I encountered threw that advice right out the window.  Only once before (on the ocean in Belize) have I encountered water that calm.  It was a smooth glass mirror that appeared to well up all around me.  The effect created a bit of vertigo and I had to fight to concentrate on paddling and not become seasick.  Thus, I set a compass bearing at 340 degrees, focused on an object in distance, and started across.

Hello mamma moose!
After about 15 miles it was getting to be late afternoon and time to start thinking of where to camp.  I started to make for an established campsite but every stroke of the paddle seemed to pull me backwards.  I just didn’t seem to be able to make any headway.  It was at this point of the day as my energy was ebbing that I realized that the boat was improperly loaded; too much forward weight was pushing the nose down.  I made for shore and selected an isolated spot occupied by a family of Canada Geese that noisily made room for me to set up camp.

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…

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