Montana- “I would have liked to have seen Montana” Last Words of First Mate on the Submarine “Red October”
On the Canadian border, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, lies a state of wonder that doesn’t get a lot of attention in media and you just don’t hear a lot about if you are from the East. Montana. This state offers anyone looking to get off the grid a chance to do so.
Driving to Missoula from the Colorado Tour we stopped in Billings to see Robin Culver and her family for dinner and a round of disc golf (Montana style on the mountain side) In the morning we headed up to Big Timber Creek at Half Moon Campground. It is a mission to get there with the RV, taking a good 2.5 hours from Billings and some super slow driving. The sign said no vehicles over 32 feet, but I figured our 56’ with the trailer should be fine, fingers crossed. When we arrived we were the only ones there and dropped the Mini and the trailer in camping spot #1 and found a place to fit the RV in Camping spot #2. What a beautiful place. Pine trees growing up the mountain side in a tight valley. We got organized with our paddling gear. Zen 75s for Nick and I and a Zen 65 for Dane. Full Face, Elbow pads, Dry Top, shoes, shorts, throw bag and GoPro cameras. To get to the put-in, you hike up along the creek at 750 feet/mile.
We brought cam straps and drug our boats much of the way and then carried when it was narrow or steep. None of us had ever run this creek before, and it was Nick’s first time in Montana. It was going to be interesting, as we would have to scout everything, like a first descent. We passed the first footbridge at about 5:00pm and kept hiking up the mountain. The path is steep and creek was keeping pace. Every once in a while we saw a white ribbon of fast falling water through the trees, but for the most part it was down in a canyon of some sort. Finally we found a big rapid close to the path and scouted it. It was 5:30 and pretty late already. We decided to put-in there. We later found out that rapid is called “Fine Line” . It is a short slide into a boof into a big slide that you catch air on.
We did some laps on the bottom part to warm up and then did it from the top. Dane must have done 5 laps on it. Every rapid took some time to scout as they tend to go around the corner and not stop. Wood was everywhere and we realized quickly that no drop could be safely run blind. It was fun doing this creek as a first descent, having to scout, read and run, and not knowing what was next or if it was runnable. There was a super manky section full of logs that we portaged. Several other log jams we paddled into and pushed over. One of them we planed right into the logs and it was a one at a time deal, getting out on the logs and putting in on the backside of them. After portaging the manky, log jam rapid we came to a huge slide (we later found out it was called “The Pinch”. Dane got to it first and I could hear him hooting and hollering. It takes a fair amount to get him that excited. We scouted it and it goes around the corner into a canyon. After running the pinch there is a place you can get out, but then there was no way to know after that take out what was below, but it was more continuous steepness. Clearly the 750’/mile was no exaggeration. The left side of the pinch had a small tree in it but it was pointed downstream, so at least it wasn’t going to impale anyone. The left wall came out at the fastest part (this was going to a be a really fast ride!) and it didn’t look friendly from our vantage point. The right wall we couldn’t see from scouting on river right. I assumed it was wide the whole way down. Dane went first and his goal was to stay right. He got kicked left at the top and turned and drove right and went over the big kicker, catching air while still driving right. He made it right and flew down the slide. He disappeared around the corner, but it looked like it went fine. Nick went next as we both were getting our spray skirts on… Oh, yea, I forgot to mention that Nick had a major brain fart this day. Somehow he had the idea that paddling with just a T-Shirt on was going to be fine. The hike up was awesome- everyone hot and sweaty. In the river at 7,000 feet, and 35 degree water, uh… not so awesome. Nick was shaking before he peeled out from being cold. Skin to win on this creek is simply a bad idea. He wore his dry suit on our second run.
I peeled out and slid down the shallow rocks with the far right entry and did a right rudder to put my bow on the right wall and then took a hard left stroke to push my boat and body up on the right wall at the entry to keep from getting kicked left. It worked well and I was just right of center. It turned down hill immediately and got fast quickly, the boat catching more air on each kicker and the only strokes needed are to keep the boat straight. “Whoa!” the wall on river right also “pinched in” and later I found out this is called the “Pinch” and it was clear mid rapid why. Where it pinches the water goes up and you crash through it getting whiteout and then it drops almost vertically again into a diagonal hole at the bottom. I leaned back and dropped my left edge and edged in hitting the brakes. “WoW!” Now that was fun!
We got out and scouted around the next corner and it was also good to go. I did the right boof and peel out and we rallied down the next few slides. We got to a rapid with a narrow slot and sticky hole at the bottom. Dane said he saw that on video before and it is called the “Gamber”. Dane ran it and just made it through after some hard paddling that took about 10 seconds. Nick and I walked it that run and ran it the second time. Eventually we got to the walking bridge and took out there. There is the “Big Timber Falls” which we looked at, but didn’t run. It was late, Nick was cold, and we were happy to leave our boats at the footbridge for the morning’s runs.
It is about a 1 mile hike back to the camp and I was fired up to have some beer, eat some food and make a good fire. Nick was freezing and got the fire going. Kristine had already made some soup (more like a stew and was awesome!) and had some Bota Box wine out. We hung out by the fire, warmed up and ate a huge pot of soup. KC was having a great time playing with the fire. The dogs were hanging out, tired from being out all day. It was solstice, the longest day of the year, and we went to bed with a hint of light still out.
In the morning we woke up and Kristine made pancakes. Yummy! She is making bacon, eggs, and biscuits as I type this (morning #3 here). There was another two cars in the parking lot with Kayaks on them. We got dressed (warmer today) and started hiking up the mountain. Eric, Barry, and David were the local guys here for their second run on this creek this year. They told us about hiking above the put in for a couple of extra drops. We were fired up to go higher today. Courtney Kerin watched our first run and decided she wanted to go today. At 92 pounds, watching her carry the Zen 65 up the mountain was impressive. While that boat is very lightweight, it isn’t an easy task going up 750’/mile for 2 miles! She almost kept pace and the hike took a lot out of her. The first rapid was “O’s Woes” and was a double drop. She contemplated running it but wasn’t sure. We all went first and it went well for everyone until me. (Except for Barry who caught the right eddy and then Eric dropped on him as he peeled out and they crashed and then ran the second drop together and crashed again! Nobody was hurt, it was entertaining, however and they handled it well!) I ran down to catch the right eddy but melted down and popped up on the outside of the eddy against the rocks and was backwards and went down the next drop backwards. It went fine and I was providing my own entertainment now. Courtney went next and did the same thing but she petoned really hard backwards and he body flew back, tipped over and rolled up before the next drop.
An awesome next lead in rapid, with a big slide is next, still above the put in. Sweet! We were getting beta from the locals now and were told about a logjam coming up. Dane and argued about where it was and ultimately we had a portage before we got to Fine Line. Ugly log in the middle of a narrow drop. Back to Fine Line and this time we know the rapids from here down. We are able to rally everything if we want, but Courtney is doing her first run and we are taking our time so she can scout. She was doing incredibly well and nailing her lines and having a great time. All of the way to the pinch in good form.
The Gambler, however, was a different story. She was on the fence to run this rapid as the hole is nasty looking and the odds were not in her favor. After watching several of us run it, she decided to go for it. She lined up and all was well until she hit the hole with her paddle across her chest and it not only stopped her dead, but hurt her shoulder. She backlooped in right away and swam quickly. Safety was in place, thanks to Barry and Eric and she grabbed a stick and they pulled her out of the hole. It took a while to get her boat. Courtney was holding her shoulder and was in pain. Bummer.
The next rapid was a hard rapid to do without a right arm. I found a way to seal launch her into the bottom of it, but it was tedious. She boofed hard (big push) and cringed on the landing. She ran the next two slides and rapids to the take out and is now out of the water for a little bit. I hope she’ll be OK.
We had a big cookout on the fire last night with Steak and chicken, and potatoes. Awesome! More beer and wine. KC was so dirty it wasn’t even funny. I took him down to the river and gave him a bath in REALLY cold water. Kristine said she could here him screaming from the RV. He got over it quickly and I carried him up the hill nice and clean. I also took a bath and it was not exactly relaxing, but I was getting kind of nasty, too.
We are about to eat breakfast here and then pack up and head to Missoula for the Final event of the “Point Series”. I can’t wait!
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