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

Day 4 & 5: The Lower Madison to Three Forks

Waking up at Varney Bridge, I only had about 10 miles to paddle to arrive at Ennis, MT, probably the biggest town along the Madison. It was pretty uneventful paddling, kind of a grey day and nothing too treacherous, just a few braided channels to navigate. The river is relatively high during the spring right now, so I luckily don’t have to worry too much about running aground in the shallows. And the river moves at a pretty good clip, so I don’t really have to do much paddling. Arriving at the boat ramp in Ennis, I hoofed it over the bridge and into town and stopped in the first fly fish shop/outfitter/guide service I came to. I had a decision to make. After a few more miles, the Madison dumps into Ennis Lake, then enters Bear Trap Canyon. Researching the Madison, I knew I wasn’t going to paddle through Bear Trap. There is Class III thru Class V whitewater. I thought I’d be able to portage around those rapids on a hiking trail. After my first rough day of portaging on pavement, not to even consider off-road portaging, I changed my mind. I was going to get a ride around the Bear Trap.

After talking to Jess at Troutstalkers, she called to their other shop and soon enough, a gentlemen was on his way to pick me up and shuttle me down to Warm Springs, the start of the lower Madison. Joe Dilschneider pulled up in his big truck. Turns out, he’s from Ladue, MO, is a MICDS grad (the high school question, obviously) and has owned and operated Troutstalkers fly shop, outfitter and guide shop for 26+ years. He said he fell in love with the Madison Valley when he first saw it and never left…I can’t blame him. He found my trip fascinating and we shared stories on the 10 mile drive to Warm Springs. He snapped a couple photos of me for Troutstalkers’ facebook page so look for me on there…

He dropped me at a busy flyfishing boat put in, I had to wait my turn to get on the water. When I finally did, I actually didn’t head downstream. I crossed to the other side of the river, where a hiking trail starts that goes deep into Bear Trap Canyon from the downstream side. I secured my boat and hiked up the canyon for about 3 miles. The canyon was spectacular, with 2 or 3 thousand foot mountains rising up on each side of the cascading Madison.

I know religous folks experience moments of transcendence under certain circumstances; hiking alone up this canyon is about as close as I’ll come to those types of feelings. Nature is my church and this is one spectacular cathedral. I ignored the blisters forming on my feet due to my ill-equipped- for-hiking sandals and eventually made my way back to my boat. I bypassed a small school group who was stopped to observe a rattlesnake beside the trail.

Back on the water, I was enveloped in a cloud of flies. Landing on me, my boat and all my gear, I wondered where all the fish were to gobble up these bad boys. This stretch of river is a popular flyfishing spot, and I passed at least a half dozen drift boats. I pulled off to wait out a brief thunderstorm at a campsite, then paddled about 15 miles downstream, to the white cliffs section of the Madison, where my buddy Norm Miller recommended I camp for the night. I picked a spot opposite the cliffs and set up camp in what was obviously a cattle pasture, though the manure wasn’t so fresh as to expect any visitors that night.

It was a bit windy, so I had to use my tent as a wind break as I made a delicious turkey, edamame and rice dinner. I even broke out the fishing pole for the first time, with no luck. Ducks and other waterfowl that occupied the cliffs opposite my camp squaked well into the night and early on in the morning, but I was able to sleep through it. No angry bulls found their way into my campsite and I was packed up and on the water by 8:15.

Immediately, it began raining and got colder and hasn’t let up since then. I paddled the remaining 15 miles on the Madison to the I-90 overpass and pulled my boat out. The last 15 miles was a maze of twisting, turning channels and sloughs. My object was to try to stick to the channel with the most water, and least chance of running aground or hitting a snag. I pretty much managed to do it. At the bridge, I changed into some semi-dry gear from the waist up and walked the two miles in the rain into Three Forks. Once again, my golf umbrella really saved the day. I had a leisurely lunch at a local cafe, the fish and chips special and two local beers, along with a couple coffees to warm the body. The forecast for the coming week is not looking promising for paddling down the top of the Missouri – cold, wet and some snow mixed in.

I left the cafe and headed down 2 blocks to the Sacajawea Hotel, where I am currently enjoying the warmth of their spectacular lobby and using a few nearby outlets to charge my batteries.

The rain is supposed to continue all day and into the evening. My plan is to at some point walk back to my boat, and either paddle down a few miles and camp at Missouri River Headwaters State Park, or what I may end up doing is going hobo style and pitching my tent under the insterstate bridge and try not to get run off by the cops. Time will tell how things turn out, the adventure continues.

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

Day 1 – Hebgen Lake

It’s the end of the first day on the river. I’m tucked into a dirt beach next to the Kirkwood Marina on the lower end of Hebgen Lake. What a time to be alive when I can have cel service while camped at a mountain lake in between two large mountain ranges.I made it about 16.5 miles today, first mile or two on the Madison as it exited Yellowstone then the rest on the lake. Other than a brief pop up shower with some wind which forced me to the bank, the weather was excellent, mostly sunny and in the upper 60s and 70s. Sara dropped me just upriver from the rte 191 bridge near the town of West Yellowstone. A young fly fisherman was surprised to be witness to the start of the journey and obliged us by snapping a photo. My gear was mostly packed and organized, so I was fairly quickly able to get everything loaded. We said our goodbyes and soon enough, I was paddling.Some key takeaways and learnings today:

  • Gear storage and organization will be a work in progress. For example, I had to scramble to locate rain gear when it started raining so that process will need to be more efficient.
  • I got the feel for sticking to the sheltered side of the lake to stay out of strong winds and big waves. This will be an ongoing theme throughout the trip.
  • I managed a couple crossings of the lake, being quite far from shore, yet completely comfortable and in control. Timber Longboard’s boat was incredible and I am extremely happy with its performance on the first day. It really moves when I want it to.
  • I made 16.5 miles in about 5 hours, most of it on non-moving water. So I know I will be fully capable of cranking out high mileage days on this trip. I will have to continue to remind myself to take it easy, enjoy the ride, stop and explore. The MR340 racing mindset is going to have to go by the wayside.
  • I got my first experience navigating a braided channel, where a river dumps into a lake. It’s like a maze and you have to pick the correct channel or you end up stuck in sand or mud. I managed to do that twice today, but luckily was able to jump out of the boat and pull it a few feet over to deeper water.
  • The indescribable beauty of an alpine lake surrounded by snow covered peaks was just as amazing as it sounds. Pictures hardly do it justice, so I tried to just take it all in.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I’ll paddle the remaining mile on Hebgen to the dam, after which I’ll load the kayak on my cart and portage her about a mile along a two lane state highway to the put in on earthquake lake. I am somewhat disappointed, as I found or from a couple locals that the Earthquake Lake museum and visitor’s center doesn’t open until memorial day. I was really looking forward to learning more about the tragic 1959 quake that killed about 30 campers and accidentally created the lake through which i’ll be paddling tomorrow.Bonus funny story from today: I’ve been in touch with another long distance paddler, Ellen Falterman. She did the entire Missouri River two years ago and is doing the Mississippi this summer. On the drive up this morning, she messaged me a picture of the Mississippi headwaters and said, “where you at?” A little confused, I responded, Montana, on my way to the Madison river. Apparently we’re are starting our journeys on the same day, just a few thousand miles apart, to her surprise.mf

2,400 Miles in 2,000 Words

I’ve gotten so many questions lately about the trip. It’s fantastic that people are taking an interest. I realize I’ve shared some details of the trip but haven’t really provided a real step by step narrative of what I’ll be doing. Here I’ll try my best to provide the overview.

***Disclaimer: the following details are certainly my best guess as to how things will progress based on my planning and from what I have learned from others who’ve undertaken this journey. I’ve tried to make this as accurate as possible, knowing full well I may have some of my facts wrong on a few minor details here. That being said…

Starting around May 4th, I’ll begin packing all the items I’ve been gathering for my trip for transport to Montana. I will pack up my Subaru with everything I will need during the trip as well as food for about the first 2 or 3 weeks at least. The boat goes on top, strapped down securely for the 1,400-mile drive. I plan to leave St. Louis on Thursday, May 9th and driving to Bozeman Airport, where I will pick up Sara who is flying in on Saturday. We’ll then head to Wise River, MT where we’ll stay at a friend’s mountain cottage for a night or two.

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Madison River

Sara will drop me and send me on my way down the river somewhere outside West Yellowstone, MT, on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. From there she’ll take off for the long drive back to St. Louis. This is the Madison River, one the three major rivers that forms the Missouri 100 miles downstream. For the first 100 miles on the Madison River, I will encounter 2 large lakes, several stretches of class III – V rapids which I will portage around, and world-famous fly-fishing territory. Descent of the Madison to the start of the Missouri River in Three Forks should take 6 to 7 days. There are established campsites along the way, so I’ll either stay at those, or set up camp at other public areas along the river.

Once I reach Three Forks, MT, I’ll likely stay for a night at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers come together to form the Missouri. I will likely try to coordinate a meetup at that point with a few Montana-based veterans of the MO River descent, picking up some good advice and stories.

For the next two weeks or so, I’ll be paddling the very upper stretches of the river through dramatic mountain valleys, flat agricultural lands, expansive and wind-swept lakes and meandering curves in the river with the goal of getting to the first significant town along the way – Great Falls, MT. On this stretch, there are a handful of dams that I will have to portage around. Some will be short enough to load my boat and gear onto my two-wheel kayak cart and pull it downstream to the put in. Others may require a longer distance portage, loading my boat and gear onto the vehicle of an obliging river angel to have them shuttle me down. There are campsites here and there, but likely I’ll be scouting out spots along the side of the river that offer some shelter, comfort or facilities for the basics. There is one pretty large lake on this stretch, Canyon Ferry Lake, that is notorious for being very windy and in turn, very choppy. I must be prepared to exercise much caution on when it’s safe to proceed, and when to pull off and wait until calmer conditions prevail. The water in this stretch will likely be very cold still – recent melting of snow and ice will ensure that. It’s still too early to tell if river levels will be at or above average, time will tell.

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Canyon Ferry Lake, Montana
GotM
Gates of the Mountains, Montana

Great Falls is a pretty large town, with all the facilities and amenities that come along with it. I’ll probably rest for a day or two, get a good night sleep in a proper bed, get a few good meals, buy more supplies, and pick up a box of dehydrated meals I will have shipped ahead to supply me for the next couple weeks. I’ll talk to a few local outfitters who run trips on this stretch of the river to get intelligence and advice for what I can expect to encounter. There are 5 significant dams and some stretches of potentially dangerous white water just downstream from Great Falls, so I will arrange a portage around the dams, either by paying an outfitter to shuttle me and my boat, or possibly enlisting friends of friends or river angels to help me along.

After Great Falls, it’s a relatively short stretch to Fort Benton. After Fort Benton, I’ll quickly enter the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. This stretch of about 150 miles was designated as a National Monument in 2001 and will likely be the most beautiful and natural section of river during the entire trip. There are spectacular mountains, walls, overlooks, table tops and valleys that surround the river in this stretch. It’s very popular for floaters and paddlers and I’ll likely encounter the most traffic here.

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Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana

Passing through Upper Missouri River Breaks, I will quickly enter the first of three very large reservoirs – Fort Peck Lake. The three major lakes, Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe were formed when the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with building massive dams from the late 40s, completed in the early 50s, to generate power and help with flood control and irrigation along the river. The dams at the end of each of these lakes, as well as Gavins Point dam further downstream, have a huge effect on the flow along entire length of the Missouri River, as well as any person or entity who has any kind of connection to the river. All of the recent (and past) flooding issues circle back to the Army Corps’ management of river flows via these dams. There are endless debates and controversies around river management that all tie back to these structures, and I am eager to learn more firsthand.

The first difficult aspect of these large lakes is actually getting into them. Where the flowing river dumps into the massive pool of stagnant water, there are many braided channels that are constantly changing. What I see on Google maps (or any other map I have) may be totally outdated and inaccurate. I may be paddling in what looks like a main channel, only to suddenly run into sloppy mud and with much difficulty, have to navigate, sometimes walking in hip deep mud, back into open water.

FtP Entry
Braided channels entering Fort Peck Lake, Montana

The second major consideration and potential danger on these large lakes is weather conditions. Wide open spaces with little to no natural wind breaks mean more often than not, conditions on the water are less than ideal. Even a light wind can lead to large waves when the lake is 1 or 2 miles wide. Keeping control of your boat and being able to paddle where you are planning to becomes a tiring exercise. Navigation-wise, there are many large coves and fjords that look and feel like they are the continuation of the main branch of the lake. Unless you keep a close eye on your maps and navigation tools, you can easily get off track and on a lengthy and costly detour. And finally, not being able to see for a long distance over hills and mountains means storms can approach very quickly. Being stuck 1 or 2 miles away from land or shelter when a massive upper midwestern thunderstorm blows up is a dangerous proposition. I am fully expecting that due to weather, I will be shore bound for potentially days at a time waiting for conditions to improve.

Fort Peck Lake is 134 miles long. Covering that amount of distance in non-moving water, in potentially rough conditions will take a while. Fort Peck is located at the end of Fort Peck Lake, I’ll portage around the dam there then gladly get back into to flowing water. From Fort Peck to the eastern edge of Montana and the border with North Dakota, the river meanders and makes its way through various Native American reservation land. I will have to remain aware of where it’s permissible to stop and camp and where it is not.

Crossing into the second state on the journey, North Dakota, I will quickly enter another massive reservoir/lake – Lake Sakakawea. I’ll encounter all of the same conditions and dangers on this lake, and it is 177 miles long. I’ve been in touch with the owner of a lovely resort in this lake at Tobacco Gardens. I imagine I’ll stop to refresh and recharge for a few nights there.

garrison dam aerial
Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota

After Lake Sakakawea, it’s back into moving water for a relatively short stretch which will get me all the way to Bismarck, ND. I’ll likely use this as another chance to get a good night’s bed rest, a shower, a couple square meals and some shopping for necessities, and possibly a food resupply. Because shortly after Bismarck, it’s back into yet another lake – Lake Oahe which checks in at an unbelievable 231 miles in length. It’s the longest of the three major lakes. On the upper end of Lake Oahe is the site of the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline in recent years. Many of the lands around Lake Oahe are also Native American lands, hence the need to plan out where it is permissible to pull off and camp.

Completing Lake Oahe will take multiple weeks and will push me to my physical and mental limits, I am certain. Once completed, however, I will have crossed from North to South Dakota and will be done with the three major Missouri River reservoirs. Unfortunately, the next few hundred miles is also mostly on lakes – Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case and Lewis and Clark Lake. Though not as wide or difficult as the three big boys, these will still be challenging, nonetheless. I’ll get to consider doing fun things, like cutting off 20 miles of paddling by portaging my boat and gear up and over a narrow ridge at a huge bend in the lake.

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The big bend on Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

At Yankton, SD, the Missouri River reverts back to a free flowing, undammed and hopefully quicker mode of transport. Unfortunately, much of the flooding that’s taken place this year has occurred near Yankton, which is where Gavins Point Dam is located, or further downstream into Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. One major challenge I may face is the aftermath of the calamitous flooding that’s already occurred or will continue to into the Spring and Summer of this year. Time will tell if this stretch of the river will continue to be at flood stage by the time I get there. Even if it is not, I am certain I will experience its after-effects, including more trash and debris in and around the river, riverside sites and campgrounds no longer open or accessible, sloppy mud everywhere and a general lack of facilities. And a recent headline mentioned flood induced raw sewage pouring into the river at Omaha for possibly months to come, so I got that goin’ for me.

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Gavins Point Dam, South Dakota

The Missouri River forms the border between South Dakota and Nebraska, then Nebraska and Iowa further down. I will pass through Sioux City, IA and Omaha, NE before finally seeing my home state of Missouri coming up on my left. I’ll pass through Atchison, KS, where my parents first met at Benedictine College. Kansas City will represent a major milestone, as everything downstream of there are waters I am pretty familiar with as a MR340 veteran. From Kansas City, I hope to take a leisurely 7 to 10 days to make my way back home. The final stretch, from St. Charles, MO, through the confluence with the Mississippi, over the Chain of Rocks and finishing at the Arch, I hope to paddle with as many of my paddle buddies who are willing to finish off the trip with me.

Piece of cake.

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