Saturday, August 8, 2009

300 miles by Canoe

Day 1
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Today is the start of my latest expedition. This time I found two adventurous lads, young enough to endure the trip and dumb enough to follow me on an expedition. I'm starting to run out of people to tag along on these little excursions so I was grateful to find Jeremy Roberts and Daniel Lowney. We will be traveling by canoe from Deer Lodge, MT to the Bull River near the Idaho border on the Clark Fork river. The trip is about 300 river miles but we will only paddle over 280 because of our several portages around a few dams, the old Milltown dam (which is closed unless you are the governor, who gave himself a special pass), and Alberton Gorge. This is the entire floatable Clark Fork river in Montana.

My wife shuttled us over to Deer Lodge to start the trip. We organized and loaded all the gear into the canoes, said our goodbye's and started down the river about 12:20. The weather is cool, with the promise of rain. The river up here is nice, it flows through high meadows at a moderate speed. The river winds like the letter S going all directions. Sometimes we were heading back up towards Deer Lodge. The river is only about as wide as my canoe is long in some spots but it will sure change as Rock Creek, the Blackfoot, Bitteroot, and Flathead rivers flow into it draining most of Northwest Montana west of the continental divide.

We started out seeing bald eagles, which we would see countless by the time the tip was over, and a nice bull moose. We also seen whitetail deer, muskrat, and mink as we slowly moved down river. We got rained on for a few hours but then it let up. We decided to stop for the day at about 5:45 because of an approaching storm. We made it 16 miles down river and got set up a mile down from garrison junction as it started to rain. We cooked dinner in each of our tents. We all brought our own tents because it is nice to have you're own space at the end of the day. It quit raining after a few hours and we went for a hike on top of a nearby hill to look around and take picture.

Dainel is the expeditions professional photographer. He will tell you he isn't a professional but you will see by his pictures on this blog that he is. Daniel tried to explain all the ways to take pictures, using words like aperture and exposure times and many others we forgot after a few seconds. It went way over our heads so we just designated Dainel to take all the pictures.

After dark fell Daniel and I had a good talk about the Gospel and the things of God. A good way to end the day.

Day 2

July 29th, 2009

After some coffee and sausage we got on the river this morning at about 9:00am. The weather is beautiful, sunny and calm. The river is faster flowing and straighter now so we are making better time. The current is moving us along at about 5.4 miles per hour on average according to my GPS. The surrounding land started to change from high meadows to dry hills with trees on the north slope. The river meanders through big cottonwood bottoms and we are seeing more eagles, a cow elk, deer and beaver. We stopped for lunch in a more remote spot where the river moved away from the roads. Every day for lunch we get out the chairs to relax and cook our lunch and then I usually write in the journal and sometimes the boys take a nap. We continued on to Drummond and met a father and son fishing in their drift boat. The Father was 94 years old and bossed the son around pretty good. We had a good chat with them and helped them load their drift boat on the trailer. The old man was funny. We told them about our trip and he said it would be boring except for Alberton Gorge. We told him we were going to portage the gorge because we didn't want to wreck our heavily loaded canoes and end the trip. He kind of mocked us and said when he was a kid they would run the gorge in inter tubes and flat bottomed john boats. Sounded like a tall tale but it could be true. They gave us a cold pop for helping them. Dainiel took the stern today for the first time. He has a unique method of standing up paddling. He continues this for miles. He also is good at 360's. We think he is just showing off.

We stopped a few miles downriver from Drummond in front of a nice mountain with cliffs and heavy timber at about 6:00. We were on the river today for 9 hours and covered 33 river miles. We set up camp and relaxed by the river. We built a fire tonight and took some pretty cool pictures of the sunset and fire. We have only seen one boat in the last 49 miles.

Day 3

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

We woke early to start a 40 mile day on the river. I was up at 5:00am to read my Bible and study to start the day of right. Everything was wet with dew so we had to put all our gear away wet. We got on the river at 7:45. The river was still quick but later slowed from an average of 5 mph to 4 mph. The river is higher than normal by quite a bit because of some heavy rain, which is rare this time of year, so it pushed us along faster than normal. Things progressed good. We stopped at Nimrod hotsprings for a swim. We paddled through a culvert under the train tracks and walked in. It was a refreshing break. We paddled down a few more miles and stopped for lunch in a shady spot along the river by an old homestead. The river this entire trip has been better than expected, we have only seen one boat in 90 miles. After lunch we paddled a long time, to below Shwartz creek. The heavily timbered mountains sloping down to thick Cottonwood bottoms was great scenery. Today we have seen more eagles and deer. We found some current bushes along the river and stopped for a short time to eat a bunch of berries. At Beaver tail we drifted by a ton of horses on the river which made for some good pictures. The river below Rock Creek to Turah was littered with massive fallen Cottonwoods that we had to maneuver around in the quick current. The river washed away a ton of soil and made new channels and gravel bars since the last time I was here years ago. This, in combination with the higher water kept us on our toes. There were some some good rapids where Rock Creek met the Clark Fork. The river from Rock Creek to Turah was very swift and moved us along at a fast pace. We stopped along the river for Dinner and made it to Turah by 7:15. My buddy Jay Darrah picked us up and took us to his house to camp out for the night and then portage us around Milltown in the morning. The section of river from Turah to Milltown is closed because of sediment removal supposedly. We spent 11.5 hours on the river today and covered 40 miles. Jay fed us a second dinner of Bighorn Sheep/Elk/Deer burgers and corn. We devoured it.

Day 4
Friday, July 31st, 2009

We woke up at Jay's for coffee and headed out to the River City Grill for a quick breakfast before we hit the river. It sure hit the spot and filled us with energy to put some miles in. Jay brought us to just below Milltown at the highway bridge and we were off at 10:30. The float through

Missoula was fun. Our first big rapid was a diversion dam at the U of M campus. It was big enough to fill our heavily loaded canoes with water but it was fun. Our next rapid was through the new whitewater park they built below Higgins street bridge. We went far left so it wasn't bad. Kelly island was a maze of channels and islands that spread out for miles before merging with the Bitteroot River. We got split up at one point where I was forced to go left and Jermey and Daniel went right. I took a small channel back to the main river where I thought they were and found the 8 foot diversion dam. I came out below it but they were above it. I walked up rive to find them and seen them making their way slowly down the bank. They had already heard the dam and scouted it out and made plans to portage. I helped them portage and we were very grateful for having found each other. Under the right circumstances we could have been separated for the whole trip. Praise God we met up again. We stopped for lunch at the confluence of the Bitteroot and Clark Fork. We ate and took baths which revived us. We have only seen 1 boat in 110 miles but now there is more traffic coming in from the Bitteroot. After the Bitteroot comes in, the river gets wide, slow and deep. We slowly drifted along about 3 miles past Harpers bridge and camped on an isolated channel that went behind an island. We spent 8 hours on the river and made it 24 miles.

Day 5
August 1st, 2009

We started out the day in our usual routine of reading, eating breakfast and packing up camp. We are getting faster at this now. The hot day started at 8:45 with Jeremy and I in the Mad River Canoe and Daniel by himself in the green canoe which has earned many new names on this trip. We call it Overtime, Old Timer, and Flash Flood because of it riding low in the water and taking on water in every rapid. We lolly gaged most of the day on the slow and wide river. We swam behind the canoes to cool off. We stopped for lunch at around 1:00pm in a bad spot by the railroad tracks. We found a good spot an hour earlier but there was a dead beaver on the bank stinking things up so we were forced to move on and look for shade. After an hour we gave up and choose the bad spot. I got stung by a bee there so we gave the spot a 1 out of 10. We arrived in Alberton at 3:00 but there was no cell phone service to call for a shuttle. We stopped at the Rivers Edge resort and asked around for a ride. The people were friendly and offered to help by calling their friends with trucks but none of them would give us a ride. I finally used their phone and called a whitewater outfitter from Cyr and they said they would portage us for $30 at 5:00 pm so we took it. With two hours to kill we sat in the air conditioned restaurant and ate an early dinner and sipped ice cold lemonades. Refreshing. They shuttle arrived and we loaded up the canoe and gear. Some kid was the driver and apparently never hauled canoes in a truck before because he clipped on along at about 80 mph down the interstate. We thought for sure the canoes would blow out. At the boat launch at Tarkio we were shocked to see around 50 cars parked and waiting to pull their boats out of the water after floating the gorge. Too crowded for us. We carried our canoe and gear a couple hundred yards to the river and got out of there. We paddled down and made a nice camp in the canyon. It was beautiful. We took a bath in the river and Jeremy swamp across the river. We arrived at about 6:15. We relaxed and built a fire at night and took some cool pictures. We spent about 9.5 hours on the river and paddled 22 miles but got down river 39 miles with the portage around Alberton Gorge.

Day 6
August 2nd, 2009

We got on the river at 9:30 after some bannock bread and coffee we cooked up. We were not in a hurry today to get on the river so we relaxed a bit. Daniel and I were in the Mad River and Jeremy in Flash Flood. I knew there was a good and fun rapid about a half mile down river so Daniel and I made the plan to run the rapid and then pull over to take pictures of Jeremy going through it. It didn't look bad until we got there and seen it up close and we realized it was big so we paddled around it and pulled over. We got set up for pictures and seen Jeremy coming. We figured he would do the same as us and paddle around it but he had other plans for the camera. We seen he was going to hit the monster head on. I told Daniel that if he comes into that rapid he is going to flip the boat so lets get some good pictures. Jeremy came into the rapid smiling, until he seen how big it was. He tried to paddle out of it but only turned his boat sideways, which is the worst thing to do. He was sucked into the 3.5 foot hole and almost disapeared. When he hit the bottom of the hole, the big wave instantly rolled the canoe. Jeremy held on to it and managed to keep hold through the rapid. We were prepared to rescue him as soon as he flipped so we jumped in the canoe and pulled him and the boat to shore. He never lost anything but his shirt. We all laughed for the rest of the day. It was a great adventure and a fun part of the trip. Praise God. We bailed out the canoe and headed down the river.

The river is slow and wide now. We stopped under the highway bridge before Superior for lunch, because it was the only place with shade. The weather is got and dry about 95 degrees out. The wind picked up and blew hard in our face as the sun beat down on us the rest of the way. After lunch we stopped at Superior to get a few supplies and water. I bought a diving mask and snorkle so we could snorkle down the river when we were cooling off. Superior is a great spot to re-stock. It is close to the river and has a good grocery store. We stopped again at Slowey campground to dump garbage and fill our water and then decided to try and make a few more miles down river before making camp. We finally stopped for the day 2 miles short of St. Regis in a good spot overlooking the river. We had to pack the bags up a steep hill but the ground was clear and flat with a good view and plenty of firewood. At night we built a fire and built up some good coals and I baked us some of the best cinamon rolls we ever ate. Maybe we were just hungry but they were golden brown with orange frosting. We ended the day at 7:15 pm. We paddled 28 miles and spent about 9.5 hours on the river.

Day 7

August 3rd, 2009

We decided to wake up early this morning to get some miles in before the wind and heat picked up. We stopped at St. Regis and walked into town to buy coffee cups that we forgot at my buddy Jay's house. We paddled down the river and entered the beautiful canyon. The canyon has heavy timber of cedar and pine to the river's edge. The wind was calm and we were the only people on the river. We stopped to take some pictures and noticed an elk laying in the river. We floated by close to get some pictures and found out the reason it was laying in the river. The elk must have been hit by a car on the highway and got seriously hurt and ran for the river like they always do. The poor cow elk was weezing as she breathed and had cuts all over. She was shaking and shivering and was unable to get up, even with us a few feet away, she was in shock. We thought about shooting it to put it out of it's misery but deciede to do the legal thing and we called TIPmont. I told them the situation and gave them GPS coordinates and they said they would try and send someone out but chances are they probably never did.

We all regreted not killing it. Later I told this story to my buddy Jay and the first thing he asked was if it was a bull and then the next thing out of his mouth was that we should have shot it and took the ivory's. The funny thing was is that I started to tell my wife this same story and the first thing she asked was if it was a bull. They always got hunting on their minds. I think both Jay and my wife are addicted to elk. We coninued to paddle down river. We stopped for lunch in a crumy spot but in the shade. An old lady with her grandkids drifted by in a raft and asked us if we were going to run the cascade rapids. The rapid, she warned us, was pretty big and that we should wear our life jackets. We told her we would probably run it and she said she wanted to see us. She was probably expecting a good wreck. We got to the rapid and scouted it out. Jeremy and Daniel decieded to run it in "Flash Flood". I lead my canoe through the rocks and set up for pictures. They came into the rapid perfect and rode it well but the big waves filled Flash Flood with water and sunk it and then flipped it. They got it to shore and bailed her out.

We paddled down to the Bighorn Christian camp and they were very hospitable in letting us fill up our water bottles with ice to boot. We then drifted in the hot sun to where the Flathead merges with the Clark Fork. You could tell the Flathead water because it was green and clear, much better quality than the Clark Fork. The two rivers stayed seperate for a while after they merged. A green line seperated the two waters. The river is huge now and slow. We fought a head wind the last 3 miles and camped 3 miles from the paradise bridge in a sandy cove. We paddled from 7:00 am to 6:00pm, about 11 hours. We covered 32 miles. We were tired from the long, hot day on the river and retired about dark.

Day 8
Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

We decided to get up early and go before the wind picked up. We were up at 5:00 and on the river about 6:00am to watch the sun coming up. It was a beautiful calm morning. The water felt like bath water on our feet. Jeremy and I were in the Mad River and Daniel followed on Over Time. It was slow going until the plains rapids. At the Plains rapids, the entire river funnels down to a narrow opening which makes some good rapids. We scouted out all 3 of the rapids, which start 5 miles down river from the Plains bridge. We navigated the first rapid and a giant eddie almost tipped the canoe but we made it out. We ran the second set on the far left and made it fine. We avoided the 3 foot swells in the middle that would be fun in a raft or inner tube but would fill are heavy canoes with water and sink us. We looked at the 3rd and biggest rapid and determined we would have to portage. They were big and we would have got pushed over to the right side where the biggest rapids were. We drug our canoes over the rocks on the left and got back in. We paddled until 12:30 and stopped for a long lunch. I set up my tent and took a nap and read. Jeremy and Daniel napped as well. We are kind of holed up right now because of the strong head wind. Today we have seen elk, eagles, and plenty of whitetail. Daniel and I paddled my canoe and Jeremy took over the green beater for an hour against the heavy wind. We stopped and ate dinner and got back in the river for a late paddle at 7:30. The wind died down toward sunset and we paddled directly into the sunset which was the most beautiful we have seen this trip. The lake turned to glass and the setting sun reflected onto the water. We paddled into the night and made it to Thompson Falls Dam late. We came around the corner and seen the city lights reflecting into the glassy lake and were happy. We had to camp in a knapweed field on the west shore but we were to tired to care. We were on the water for about 16 hours but with breaks we still paddled 11 solid hours.

Day 9
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

We woke up at around 6:30 am and packed up our gear. Jeremy and I walked to the gas station in T-Falls for coffee and breakfast. I called the boys at T-Falls for a portage and they showed up in a hurry with two trucks and a trailer. Now that is good service. They brought us to the state park about one mile from the powerhouse. We talked and joked for a while about our trip and were off at 9:30. The river is wider now but still a river channel with no current. The wind blew at our back at times but not enough to sail. We are now in Noxon reservior which is 39 miles long. We stopped for lunch at Finnley Flats. We talked to an eldery gentleman for a while. He was funny and really liked our trip. We paddled hard all day until dinner and broke for an hour. Daniel took OT by himself and skipped dinner to get a headstart on us. We caught up to him at the Trout creek bridge. We pulled into the North Shore campground to fill water and dump garbage. I met a man there who had a New Age philosophy so we got into a good conversation about God. I tried to persaude him to see his arguments were not logical and made up in his head with no basis for anything and I showed him the truth through the Bible and explained the gospel of Christ. He basically thought he was a great person and he could do every wicked thing he wanted and still go to heaven. He thanked me for the talk and said he had some things to think about. We paddled across the lake and set up in a beautiful spot on the lake. We were on the lake for 11 hours and paddled 27 miles. We built a fire on the lake shore, had coffee and snacks and relaxed as we watched the sunset.

Day 10
Thursday, August 6th, 2009

We woke up and started our usual routine of eathing, reading, and packing up camp. We are getting a lot faster at this routine. We all know what needs to be done and we do it without having to ask where something goes. We were on the lake at 9:00 am for our last day. We made it to Noxon dam at around 12:00 and I tried to call a guy that could maybe portage us but couldn't get a hold of him. I was able to get, by undisclosed means, the number to the Noxon Power Plant Control room. I called and told them I was on their dam and would like help portaging if they could. They were very surprised and thought I was pulling a prank on them. I finally convinced them that I was serious and they said they have never portaged anyone before. The man had to talk with his boss and after a few minutes they called me back and said they would help. They sent the fish biologist up to portage us. We paddled a few more miles to a bridge and stopped for lunch on an island downstream of it. After lunch we paddled against a headwind for a few more miles and switched partners to give the lone man a break. Daniel jumped in OT with Jeremy. I would take in the Mad River by myself. The end of the reservoirs was near. We seen a cool scene. An osprey caught a big fish right in front of us and started to fly away with it until an eagle came after him. The eagle kept attacking it until the osprey dropped the fish. Then the osprey got mad and tried to attack the eagle. The osprey would get above the eagle and swoop down on it. At the last second the eagle would turn upside down with it's talons in the air. Neither one of them ever ended up getting the fish. We pulled in to the Bull river campground at 4:30 which was the end of the trip. We paddled 19 miles today and were on the river 7.5 hours. We carried the canoes to a camp spot that had firewood waiting for us. We didn't know what to do with ourselves being at camp for the night so early. We relaxed and set up camp. I cooked some potatos I brought by slicing them up and seasoning them with garlic, salt, pepper, butter and some cheese from a pack of mac and cheese. I put all this in foil and cooked it over the coals and it was wonderful. We sent out the Help signal from the SPOT tracker to signal the end of our trip and for my buddy Jay to come and get us in the morning. The trip is over but it was a good adventure. Praise God.

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