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Month: June 2016 (Page 2 of 8)

Above the Milk River

June 23, Day 92

Someone told me that I wouldn’t enjoy paddling up the Missouri River, in fact they insisted, but I’m happy to say that I do. Of course it’s not always fun, sometimes it’s just plain hard work. But today, perhaps more than any other day of the trip, it was a fascinating, living river. 

I studied the weather on this Thursday morning and came up with the general plan: I was a day’s paddle from Fort Peck reservoir. For Saturday, they were predicting headwinds of 30 to 40 miles an hour, for Sunday, headwinds of 15 to 25 miles an hour, think big waves both days. Those would be days made for resting. I’d paddle a short day today and camp along the river. I’d paddle another short day Friday, and camp at the Downstream Campground. Saturday I would do the portage to the Fort Peck hotel and get my first hotel room since about May 2. Sunday I’d finish my portage and camp near the Fort Peck Marina. They are holding my food packages for me. 

King birds were common today like they have been for hundreds of miles. I also saw what I believe to be the first Cedar Waxwings of the trip. At times I had record size gaggles of Canada geese in front of me. 

Milkweed, Thistle, and other Wildflowers

I noticed clear water on my left. I was nearing the Milk River!  Soon after, I took a break on the clear water side and watched trout grab bugs off the surface. 
At one point a logjam stretched about one third of the way across the river. There was serious current at the end of the log jam so I backed up and swung wide, hoping for slower water on the opposite bank. It was a hard paddle there as well, but doable. 

I saw a remarkable thing in the next few miles, something I would be very skeptical of had I not witnessed it myself. In places, 90% of the river appeared to be clear and on the next bend 90% of the river appeared to be milky. Apparently the outside bends were faster and deeper, and the respective waters would be spread out and then constricted again. It was remarkable that the water didn’t mix more in the meantime. 

Finally I could see the bluffs above the confluence of the Milk River and the Missouri. I had a strong tailwind, a bit too strong. I paddled up the seam between the clear water on my left and the milky water on my right, it was a remarkably distinct line. 

I landed my kayak at the confluence and climbed up the bluff. I was interested to see there wasn’t a human trail established, climbing up at this historical and distinctive spot. There was a great view from the top of the bluff. 

Confluence of the Milk River and Missouri

… we nooned it just above the entrance of a large river which disimbogues on the Lard. side… the water of this river possesses a peculiar whiteness, being about the colour of a cup of tea with the admixture of a tablespoonful) of milk. from the colour of it’s water we called it Milk river. Lewis, May 8, 1805
It appeared as if a rancher appreciated the nice view. He had nice hay mowed and drying in the field back from the river, and had run the mower up to this point, obviously for a picnic area for friends and family. 

I would’ve camped here but didn’t want to camp in his spot so I paddled upstream a mile or so. The water was startling in its clarity compared to what I’ve been on earlier in the trip. It almost felt as if I were magically suspended three feet above the gravel bottom. Long white green fronds of algae waived in the current. 

The current was stiff now, probably because on this hot day they were releasing maximum amounts of water to generate electricity at the dam, just a few miles away. 

There were great looking camp spots left and right. When I was scouting my camp spot a whitetail fawn jumped up and went running off. I didn’t get a good look but they’ve obviously grown a lot already. 

I gave my clothes a good rinse in the river and hung them to dry. In the strong wind and hot sun I’m sure they’re dried by now. It’s quite a treat starting late and quitting early. Still, 10 miles of upstream paddling isn’t too bad. Colter

Clark: May the 8th Wednesday… we passed the mouth of a large river on the Starboard Side 150 yards wide and appears to be navagable. the Countrey thro which it passes as far as Could be seen from the top of a verry high hill on which I was, a butifull leavil plain… the water of this river will justify a belief that it has its Sourse at a considerable distance, and waters a great extent of Countrey—we are willing to believe that this is the River the Minitarres [Crow] Call the river which Scolds at all others the Countrey on the Lard. Side is high & broken with much Stone Scattered on the hills, In walking on Shore with the Interpreter & his wife, the Squar Geathered on the Sides of the hills wild Lickerish, & the white apple as called by the angegies and gave me to eat, the Indians of the Missouri make great use of the white apple dressed in different ways—Saw great numbers of Buffalow, Elk, antelope & Deer, also black tale deer beaver & wolves, I killed a beaver which I found on the bank, & a wolf. The party killed 3 Beaver 1 Deer I saw where an Indian had taken the hair off a goat Skin a fiew days past—Camped early on the Lard. Side. The river we passed today we call Milk river from the peculiar whiteness of it’s water, which precisely resembles tea with a considerable mixture of milk.

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Summery Day

June 22, Day 91, Mile 1752

I got a leisurely start today which was a pleasant luxury. When I carried everything down to my kayak I made one last careful check under the seat to make sure my mini wallet hadn’t slipped under there. By golly if I didn’t feel it there and pull it out, wet and muddy!  That saved  me the hassle of having to get a new drivers license and credit card. It was a pleasant way to start the day. 

Although there was some wind from time to time today most of the day the winds were light. Summery clouds drifted in a blue sky. It was a very fine day for paddling compared to yesterday’s windy chaos. 

The river is changing. It’s got a more greenish cast to it, it’s clearer, there is a bit of floating algae and I’m pretty sure I saw trout jump several times. So far the bottom of the Missouri has been almost exclusively mud or sand or scattered rocks. Today when my paddle hit the bottom it often clunked off of hard surfaces, rocks or gravel. There also seemed to be less sandbars, and the water is colder than it was in the Williston area. 

There was some faster than normal water today and stretches where I really had to dig in to make progress. There was one significant rapids that I could hear a mile away. Luckily the relative calm made it easy to see where the slowest water was. Counter-intuitively the rapids was on the inside bend and some of the slowest water was on the outside bend. Long ribbons of light green algae waived in the current. 

I saw two different whitetail bucks in velvet today, both of them in their summer tan coats which stand out well against the green grass, especially early and late in the day when the sun is low.   

Along one bank several goldfinches and a red-start were flitting just ahead of me, over and over. Both species are beautiful birds.  Bald eagles are fairly common, today I saw the first osprey in a while. 

There are bank swallow nests by the thousands. Those nests must be good protection from predators but there is a high risk in many places of the bluffs eroding and the nests falling in the river. 

Despite my late start I easily made 20 miles. I found a decent campsite but I wanted to camp in the cottonwoods tonight. I paddled another mile to find a good spot. I set up the tent on the grass in the shade of a cottonwood. 

Cottonwood Camp

Lewis: Monday May 6th 1805… Fields still continues unwell. saw a brown bear swim the river above us, he disappeared before we can get in reach of him; I find that the curiossity of our party is pretty well satisfyed with rispect to this anamal, the formidable appearance of the male bear killed on the 5th added to the difficulty with which they die when even shot through the vital parts, has staggered the resolution several of them, others however seem keen for action with the bear…

Lewis: May 7th 1805. A fine morning, set out at an early hour; the drift wood begins to come down in consequence of the river’s rising; the water is somewhat clearer than usual, a circumstance I did not expect on it’s rise. at 11 A.M. the wind became so hard that we were compelled to ly by for several hours, one of the small canoes by the bad management of the steersman filled with water and had very nearly sunk; we unloaded her and dryed the baggage; at one we proceed on the wind having in some measure abated… we continue to see a great number of bald Eagles, I presume they must feed on the carcases of dead anamals, for I see no fishing hawks to supply them with their favorite food…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Tumbling Geese

June 21, Day 90, Mile 1731

The east was bright orange, another beautiful sunrise. There was no dew. This had been a fine camp spot. 

packing the kayak in the morning

I had three quarts of river water settling. After pouring the clear water off the top I treated it with Aqua Mira. When I set the container on a log I noticed a slow leak from the seam. Three out of four of my main water bladders were now leaking. 

Paddling upstream the current is a given, the wind is the main variable. At first it was nearly calm, but a southeast wind built as the day progressed. 

I created a few gosling panics when the were “trapped” along bluffs. In one instance the parents managed to scramble up a 15 foot bluff, but three of the half grown young tumbled into the water from near the top. None the worse for wear it appeared. I paddled wide in this case and many others to calm them. 

Whitetail deer came down to drink. Yesterday I’d seen a mule deer swim the river. Rooster pheasants stood sunning themselves, dashing into cover the instant I spotted them. 

During one break I noticed a buffalo scapula on the bluff next to me. From time to time I’d see other bones, some buffalo, others unknown. 

A pickup pulled up to the river and three young people from the Reservation got out and waved when I passed. Just then I hit some extremely strong current. I paddled hard trying to find the slowest water, but there wasn’t any nearby and now I was committed unless I wanted to back the kayak downriver. 

I made it around the corner and drove for the tip of an island. Just then I heard three shots from a high caliber semi-auto. I glanced back. Just a coincidence. 

I made it to the island, nearly spent, where I found slack current. In a mile I landed the kayak for a break in the shade but the mosquitoes were thick. A tried to snooze in the sun by the boat but the biting flies sent me on my way. 

At times I had a strong tailwind which was a big help. Eventually the wind was creating big waves in places, especially where there was current. I put on the spray skirt. 

Ahead was the glint of a paddle or oar. There was a little catamaran style inflatable with oars and a motor, then another and another, maybe eight total! I paddled towards them in the big waves, coming as close to flipping as I have the whole trip. 

“It’s a great day to be paddling upstream!” One shouted 

“Yeah!” I said, not meaning it. “Who are you guys?”

“We’re with a company mapping the river!” I noticed some type of sonar/radar device on each boat. 

Late in the day the sky to the NW grew dark. I checked out three campsites and didn’t like the feel of any of them, I found  some combo of bees, cattle, dead branches hanging above, partially beaver chewed-off trees, mud, one spot had a deer skeleton. 

Finally, around a bend, I found a spot in some young ash trees, flat and grassy. Two thunder cells loomed. I’d done about 24 miles, 50 in the last two days.  

As I set up my tent I noticed my right zippered pants pocket was half open. Oh oh. My ID and credit card in their plastic “wallet” were gone.  I have followed my route to and from the boat, and checked around inside the boat with no luck. Bummer. Not a disaster though. I had cash and another credit card in my pack, and photos of my ID and passport on my phone. I’d have replacements mailed ahead of me. 

Just before dark a small herd of cattle grazed right past my tent. They couldn’t see me behind my zippered door, or smell me because of the wind. It was fun watching the little calves troop past. One especially little guy stopped to chew on some grass, apparently not meaning to actually swallow any. I was glad when they all kept going to feed upriver somewhere. 

Both thunder cells missed me. Colter

Clark: 5th of May Sunday 1805 We Set out verry early and had not proceeded far before the rudder Irons of one of the Perogus broke which detained us a Short time Capt Lewis walked on Shore this morning and killed a Deer, after brackfast I walked on Shore Saw great numbers of Buffalow & Elk Saw also a Den of young wolves… The Countrey on both sides is as yesterday, handsom & fertile—The river rising & Current Strong & in the evening we Saw a Brown or Grisley beare on a Sand beech, I went out with one man Geo. Drewyer & Killed the bear, which was verry large and a turrible looking animal, which we found verry hard to kill we Shot ten Balls into him before we killed him, & 5 of those Balls through his lights This animal is the largest of the Carnivorous kind I ever Saw we had nothing that could way him, I think his weight may be Stated at 500 pounds, he measured 8 feet 71/ 2 In. from his nose to the extremity of the Toe, 5 feet 101/ 2 in. arround the breast, 1 feet 11 Ins. around the middle of the arm, 3 feet 11 Ins. arround the neck his tallents was 4 Inches &3/ 8 long, he was good order, and appeared verry different from the Common black bear in as much as his tallents were blunt, his tail Short, his liver & lights much larger, his maw ten times as large and Contained meat or flesh & fish only—we had him Skined and divided, the oile tried up & put in Kegs for use. we Camped on the Stard Side, our men killed three Elk and a Buffalow to day…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

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