Madison River Completed

Currently, I’m camped on an island in Missouri River Headwaters State Park. About 2 hours ago I finished paddling the last 4 miles of the Madison river. It flowed into the Jefferson River and I soon pulled out to set up camp on an island. However, this is not yet the Missouri River as the Gallatin river comes in about a 1/2 mile downstream from here.

Even though it was 45゚and raining, I think the last 4 miles of the Madison might have been the most beautiful. There are long, meandering curves, the water is generally calm and I think I saw more wildlife than I had on the entire Madison before. I saw pelicans, cranes, countless ducks and geese, other waterfowl I couldn’t identify; I saw 2 deer swim/run across the river right in front of me. I came around a curve to see a moose or elk sitting on the bank and staring at me. Plus, hundreds of small birds flying an inch or 2 above the water picking off flies for dinner. It was another spiritual experience not just for the natural aspect, but for the historical significance as well. Tomorrow morning, I will climb a rock that Lewis and Clark climbed as they reached the end of the Missouri River, and saw 3 rivers coming together. They also saw the forbidding rocky mountains in the distance. They knew their opportunity for making it over those mountains was short as the Winter was closing in. I on the other hand, huddled in my tent shivering, can’t wait for Winter to be over.

As the Madison and Jefferson converged, I snapped a quick photo of the spot that you see in the smaller picture at the top of my blog. Little did I know that one and a half years later, I wouldn’t be posing on that bank, but paddling by.

All in all, I paddled just short of 100 miles on the Madison. From the edge of Yellowstone Park, I tackled the first 2 lakes on the upper Madison. I skipped the dangerous sections below Earthquake Lake to Pine Butte and from Ennis to the end of Bear Trap Canyon. The scenery was unforgettable; the river was gorgeous. I feel like the varying conditions of the lakes and the different personalities of the river were an excellent primer for what is to come on the Missouri river. Tomorrow, the journey begins.

mf

Days 2 & 3: Quake Lake, Portage and the Madison

Yesterday started pretty early. I packed up camp at the marina, then liesurely paddled the last two miles of Hebgen Lake while enjoying a day old egg and sausage bagel. Near the dam that is the reason Hebgen Lake exists, I pulled my boat out, unloaded all my gear, put the boat onto my C-Tug cart, pulled the boat up a rocky slope to a gravel parking area, then loaded all my stuff back in it. (No this won’t be the first time I do this today…)

My google map scouting told me I should be able to roll my boat about a mile down the road to a campground where I could put back in. After 500 feet of downhill rolling, the wheels on the cart started screeching like a banshee. This can’t be good. I took the boat off the cart, disassembeled it and examined the wheels. Sure enough, the weight and pressure on the axles was causing some of the plastic to get scratched and worn down. I wasn’t going to make it very far at all with this development. In my best McGyver impression, I pulled out the vaseline I had packed for the purpose of relieving paddling induced chafing throughout the trip and generously applied a coat to the axle. Back on the road without even a squeak! Fantastic.

I made it to the campsite and the appropriately named Ghost Village Road. The road parallels the Madison as it enters Earthquake Lake and looking across, sure enough there were a few old dilapidated houses, abandoned after the earthquake of 1959. I could put my boat in here, but there were some pretty hefty rapids and boulders in the water. I walked about a mile ahead, scouting a way through. My mind went back and forth; should I put in and risk it? Should I painfully portage another mile and play it safe? After a quick bite for lunch, I decided to go for it. I put in the rushing water and made it about 200 yards, I didn’t really hit anything and wasn’t in danger, but I felt like I wouldn’t be able to 100% control the fully loaded boat safely down these rapids. I was able to pull out, unload all my gear, mount the boat, then reload all my gear. Second time.

I got back in the water at the upper end of Earthquake Lake, not before hitting a rut and rolling my boat and cart over on its side, much to the amusement of some onlooking fly-fisherpeople. Earthquake Lake formed when a 7.5 quake hit in 1959, the largest quake to ever hit the Rocky Mountains. The ensuing landslide killed 28 campers at the height of summer tourist season, and dammed the Madison River. Engineers eventually cut a new pathway for the water to escape before the lake became too full, thus averting even more catastrophe downstream. One effect of such a relatively young lake is that the lake is full of dead tree trunks. It was very eerie paddling through dead forests, while keeping an eye on the water for what could be a disaster waiting to happen if I did hit a submerged trunk. The first 1/3 of the lake was calm and enjoyable. Then the wind came up. I paddled the last 2/3s of the lake, probably 8 miles, into a 30 to 40mph headwind. The waves were large and I really had to put some effort into it to make any progress.

I finally made it to the end of the lake. The take out is conveniently located about 10 yards upstream from where the lake gets funneled into the narrow man-made channel, which leads to about 3 miles of boat crushing, and often fatal class 5 rapids. I was pretty terrified of getting too close to the suction, so I stopped well short of the spot, then pulled my boat with a rope along shore til I got to the take out. What should have been relief turned to more bad news, as google maps failed to show the 150 – 200 ft elevation change to get back up to the road from the take out. Portage sequence, queue the music. Unload boat, load on cart, haul gear up the hill, haul boat up the hill. Repeat. Ugh. I finally made it up to the road exhausted, and was really crossing my fingers someone would stop and offer to load everything on their car for the ride down the mountain. It didn’t happen. Not all too bad though, this was a pretty steep decline down into the valley past the crazy class 5 section of the river. I stopped two more times to apply a fresh coat of vaseline lube to the cart, and to let it cool down as to not overheat the critical components. My plan had been to portage everything about 3.5 miles to another put-in on the free-flowing Madison. Luckily, as I got to the bottom of the hill, about 2.5 miles into my portage, I saw an oasis and my stop for the night – the Slide Inn. I quickly got a campsite, a couple beers and made my first dehydrated meal in the rain. Back in my tent, I cracked open my journal to record the day’s events, only to pretty much fall right asleep due to the exhaustion from the day.

Today, I was up early and after speaking to the staff at the Slide Inn, recommended for me to put in the Madison about 3 more miles downstream from where I had planned. They told me there were quite a few rocks and rough spots still and with my boat, I should play it safe. Who am I to disagree? A fly-fishing guide Wyatt helped me load the boat onto the roof of his truck and hauled me, my gear and the MOstar down to the Pine Butte put in. I quickly unloaded and reloaded and was off at around 11am. It’s now 6:30 and I’ve been off the water for about an hour after making about 32 miles today. The river was fast, rough, with just enough boulders that I had to keep my head on a swivel the entire day. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything major, the rudder only got stuck once resulting in me having to jump out waist deep into the cold water to unjam it. It was a little cold and rainy later in the day, but I’m sitting comfortably in camp typing this so all in all, a pretty darn good day. Just got a message that Sara made it home safely after a 24 hour return trip, so very thankful there as well.

Instead of posting photos of the past two day’s events, I uploaded quite a few shots to my Instagram. They roughly correspond to yesterday’s and today’s events, sorry I can’t be bothered to integrate them into my narrative. As always, please enjoy.

mf

The Journey Starts on the Madison

The Missouri River starts where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers come together in Three Forks, Montana. Brower’s Spring (44°33’02″N 111°28’20″W) is considered the ultimate source of the Missouri River. That is basically considered the furthest point from which water flows which ultimately ends up in the Missouri River. It is 300 river miles upstream from Three Forks. Those who want to say they’ve paddled the entire Missouri from the ultimate source paddle from Brower’s Spring. Many others begin their journey where the Missouri actually starts, in Three Forks. I chose to start on the Madison River.

Why? I think it’s for a few reasons:

In fall of 2017, Sara and I had the chance to honeymoon in the western US, and explored Yellowstone for a few days. We did the obligatory photo op at Old Faithful and strolled along the paths near there where the geysers and boiling springs dumped into the Firehole River. As soon as I could, I dove into google maps and started tracing where that water goes. The Firehole River dumps into the Madison in Yellowstone a few miles to the west of Old Faithful. 100 miles down the Madison to Three Forks. So yeah, the same water that shoots into the sky from Old Faithful ends up passing in front of the Arch in St. Louis. Pretty awesome! While I cannot legally paddle the Firehole River or the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, I can start at the park border on the Madison.

Another reason I chose to start on the Madison is because not many other people do. In talking to some experts on Missouri River expeditions, a few have started on the Madison but the great majority start at Three Forks, or further up the Jefferson. The more I researched the Madison, the more confident I became in my choice. It is a world class fishing river, very popular with fly fishermen. It has some fast-flowing water and some pretty challenging rapids – up to class V – but these areas are able to be portaged by a touring kayak unequipped to hit much whitewater.

The lower stretch of the Madison River is a popular place floaters like to go for leisurely summer days. There are some larger lakes on the upper Madison – Ennis Lake, Hebgen Lake and Earthquake lake, which was actually formed when a landslide triggered by a 7.5 earthquake in 1959 plugged up the Madison. Unfortunately, 28 people died in the disaster and there is a visitor center that I look forward to visiting. There are opportunities to camp and various spots along the river as well as a couple small towns to grab a bite or last minute supplies. I expect to take 6 or 7 days to descend the Madison to Three Forks, putting in at the head of Hebgen Lake just outside West Yellowstone – right around here (4°42’46.6″N 111°05’50.2″W).

mf