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Day: July 18, 2016

Judith, White Cliffs, Coal Banks

Here are accounts of days when I was unable to post earlier:

July 5

Another 5 AM launch with a goal of Judith Landing. The dawn light was so nice on the mountains that I determined to get a good shot of me paddling past. Not surprisingly perhaps, this proved to be a challenging enterprise. First, finding a place to put the camera, second, getting the exposure right in the light and shadow, and most challenging, climbing in the kayak and getting into the right position when the self timer went off. Despite all that I was more or less successful.

Paddling Upstream

There were tough stretches of strong current where I had to get out and pull, and others where I could make good time. I was pulling my kayak when I noticed swirls just ahead of me. Two or more big fish, at least one a carp, and one a catfish by the looks of it, swam towards me, the catfish about a 15-pounder. At the last instant I tried to get out of the way but he bumped me, and I’m pretty sure I felt his raspy teeth on my pant leg, because something caught for an instant. No harm done. I’m thinking he was having a spat with carp and momentarily thought I was another adversary.

Ahead was ramp, just short of the bridge. This was also the site of the May 28, 1805 camp.
I was hoping the campground hosts or rangers would be around. Someone was sitting at the picnic table.

“Hi, are you the ranger?” I asked.

“No, I’m Lara, and I’m doing a voluntary survey about the Missouri Breaks.” She was a student, cheerful and pleasant. After the survey she fetched one of the campground hosts.

Marge, the hostess was very nice and helpful, briefing me on the regulations, printing out the weather, and allowing me to use the wifi to check my email. I prioritized the most important ones. Craig, the other host came by, her husband I think, also very knowledgeable.

Two BLM river rangers landed their canoes. John and John, super friendly and interested in my trip. It wasn’t until after I talked to them that I realized that a major reason the corridor is so trash free is they patrol it repeatedly during the summer, cleaning up and trying to keep people from burning everything down with escaped fires. They let me fill up my water containers with their leftover supply, and presented me with some really good apples.

After thanking everyone I put in a few more miles. I camped in the shade of a big cottonwood tree, once again plenty tuckered out from fighting current. I can identify with portions of Lewis’ journal entry, below. Colter

Lewis: Tuesday May 28th 1805. This morning we set forward at an early hour… we employed the chord generally to which we also gave the assistance of the pole at the riffles and rocky points; these are as numerous and many of them much worse than those we passed yesterday; arround those points the water drives with great force, and we are obliged in many instaces to steer our vessels vessels through the appertures formed by the points of large sharp rocks which reach a few inches above the surface of the water, here sould our chord give way the bough is instantly drivin outwards by the stream and the vessel thrown with her side on the rocks where she must inevitably overset or perhaps be dashed to peices; our ropes are but slender, all of them except one being made of Elk’s skin and much woarn, frequently wet and exposed to the heat of the weather are weak and rotten; they have given way several times in the course of the day… with every precaution we can take it is with much labour and infinite risk that we are enabled to get around these points. found a new indian lodge pole today which had been brought down by the stream, it was woarn at one end as if draged by dogs or horses; a football also, and several other articles were found, which have been recently brought down by the courant; these are strong evedences of Indians being on the river above us, and probably at no great distance; the football is such as I have seen among the Minetaries… [Crow]

July 6

I decided to sleep in to at least 7 today, and then decided to lounge as long as I wanted, all day if I liked. It’s good to be Captain of your own journey.
I’ve averaged 25 miles a day over the last 8 days. There have been many sections of “sprint paddling” and want to make sure that I don’t get overuse injuries. If I can keep up something close to this pace I’ll make it to the Pacific by early October. Appropriate rest is as important as hard work.

It was chilly this morning, the first time I’ve put on my balaclava in weeks. Clouds replaced the early morning sun, which is great, on a typical day my tent would have gotten too warm in the sun. It rained lightly.  I read, ate, sipped cold coffee, and listened to a downloaded an interview with Sebastian Junger. I like his outlook on the world. I also read for hours.

My Day Off on the River

When the sun came out and I looked at the nearly windless river I was tempted to launch, but storm clouds appeared over the cliffs and a strong wind buffeted my tent. I reached out with a shoe to hammer in the front stake better as significant rain fell. Good thing I didn’t launch.

“And this, too, shall pass” has been a theme of this journey. Appreciate a tailwind because it won’t last. Don’t be dispirited by headwinds because they will let up. Hang on through the strong current, there will be easier paddling ahead. Things will change, and almost every change will have its advantages.

The way I’m wired though, is that I’m never tempted to quit. It’s too big of an adventure. That’s one thing I admire about the Lewis and Clark journals. They are so clearly aware that they are on an epic adventure.

I inspected my shoes again today. My little toes are poking through the sides, and the opposite side is wearing through as well. Last night I cut off a length of excessive strap from my little pack and sewed a loop that goes around that part of the shoe. If it seems to help I’ll make one for the other side as well. They only need to last about 10 more days and I can replace them in Great Falls.

[July 7 was posted earlier]

July 8

The Citadel loomed dark against the predawn sky when I launched.

Thirty minutes later the clouds glowed pink in the east, but what promised to be a glorious sunrise quickly faded.

Now and then I’d spot a mule deer coming down to drink as I paddled. A small fawn followed its mother across the hillside, jumping and doing a playful run.

Ahead I could see four deer. They were trotting along the river, ran into the sage, then trotted back towards me along the river. A mile later I landed and the same four ran out of the sage to within a stone’s throw of my kayak. They kept looking away from the river, for something that must have really spooked them in the hills. I’m guessing a mountain lion.

Mule Deer Buck

Like yesterday, in places their were what looked like partially tumbled down walls of very dark stone. In others, stone mushrooms topped tan rock walls.

Natural Stone Wall

There were beautiful white cliffs near Eagle Creek, along with many canoes and kayaks with tents scattered through the cottonwoods. The morning sun on the cliffs was so scenic I asked a fellow loading his kayak if he’d mind taking a few shots of me paddling past. He graciously agreed.

Missouri River White Cliffs

I stopped to locate the Lewis and Clark campsite of May 31, 1805. I also looked for some petroglyphs in the area but was unable to find them.

There were several groups of people heading downriver, mostly canoes with many kayaks and at least two rafts and a paddle-board. Since Kipp Landing I’ve seen more paddlers than the rest of the trip, no surprise with the spectacular scenery.
In especially fast, shallow water I was wading calf deep and pulling my kayak. I noticed an old rusty barrel half buried in the mud. A big, blue-black catfish mouth was sticking out of it, his several long black whiskers waving. I put my paddle in front of his face and he bit it twice but didn’t leave his hiding place.

As I approached Coal Banks Landing a lady swimming in the river pointed me towards the landing. Her husband swam to shore and joined us. It was Martha and Jim, the campground hosts. They were very friendly and interested in my trip. The pointed me to a good campsite.

I went in the nice log visitors center and posted a journal update with wifi. Later I talked to a fellow paddler who has kayaked down the length of the Missouri twice!  We were chatting as I put my tent up. It started raining just as I finished.

I took stock of my food. At least three days worth. I’m hoping to make it to Fort Benton in two more days. Colter

Lewis: May 31st 1805. This morning we proceeded at an early hour with the two perogues leaving the canoes and crews to bring on the meat of the two buffaloe that were killed last evening and which had not been brought in as it was late and a little off the river. soon after we got under way it began to rain… The obstructions of rocky points and riffles still continue as yesterday; at those places the men are compelled to be in the water even to their armpits, and the water is yet very could, and so frequent are those point that they are one fourth of their time in the water, added to this the banks and bluffs along which they are obliged to pass are so slippery and the mud so tenacious that they are unable to wear their mockersons, and in that situation draging the heavy burthen of a canoe and walking ocasionally for several hundred yards over the sharp fragments of rocks which tumble from the clifts and garnish the borders of the river; in short their labour is incredibly painfull and great, yet those faithfull fellows bear it without a murmur… The hills and river Clifts which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. The bluffs of the river rise to the hight of from 2 to 300 feet and in most places nearly perpendicular; they are formed of remarkable white sandstone… As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary inchantment would never have and end; for here it is too that nature presents to the view of the traveler vast ranges of walls of tolerable workmanship, so perfect indeed are those walls that I should have thought that nature had attempted here to rival the human art of masonry had I not recollected that she had first began her work. These walls rise to the hight in many places of 100 feet, are perpendicular, with two regular faces and are from one to 12 feet thick, each wall retains the same thickness at top which it possesses at bottom…

July 9, Day 108

Before dawn I got up and put an extra large batch of water on my alcohol stove. It was oatmeal AND hot coffee for breakfast. A first on the trip. I usually drink cold coffee. This was a nice luxury.
Tom, the highly experienced long distance kayaker I talked to yesterday, started packing soon after I did. We had another nice chat. It’s good to talk to kindred spirits.

Jim, the campground host came down to see me off, wishing me well and presenting me with a treat, a chocolate truffle made by Martha.

As I paddled past Jim he played his Lakota flute to send me on my way, it sounded really nice in the calm sunrise.

The wind held off for hours. There were some very nice bluffs but it looks like those spectacular cliffs are behind me for now.

Morning Calm

I stopped to take a photo of yellow flowers. Photography helps people notice and appreciate beauty I think.

Wildflowers on the Missouri

Two carp were chomping the foam on top of an eddy, like two teenagers eating an extra large unsliced pizza.

The Virgelle Ferry was moored on river-right. A house cat stood silhouetted on the ramp. A domestic rooster crowed from the nearby house. On the other bank a barn was a rich red in the morning sun.

There were many mule deer here and there along the river. I passed an island near the point L&C camped on June 1805. Two bedded mule deer bucks lay in the grass and watched me pass, one with by far the biggest antlers I’ve seen this whole trip, so big I used my binos to make sure I was seeing antlers and not branches.

The day was going great. At about 2 PM I could see if easily make it past the Marias River and 20 miles, my goal for the day. Then the wind came up. A treetop waving, right in my face, too much to paddle wind. I got out and pulled my boat for a mile until it got ridiculous and it looked like there might be a hard rain.

For a while I awaited developments. When rain was at last imminent I started putting up my tent just as the rain hit. I got half wet.

The rain stopped. The wind stopped. I saw sun on the tent fly. I waited a bit then took down the tent and paddled.

An osprey nest was next to the river. An adult was tearing off pieces of fish and giving them to the chicks who were hollering for more. Later three mule deer walked on on gravel spit. The twin fawns were fascinated the operation. They walked up and down the spit. When the doe left one fawn stayed, then the other fawn came back and joined it. The doe finally got them up leave. I camped on a gravel bar at the edge of the willows, just before the Marias River. Colter


Saturday June 1st 1805… A range of high Mountains appear to the S. W. at a considerable distance covered with snow, they appear to run Westerly. no timber appears on the highlands; but much more than yesterday on the river… game is by no means as abundant as below; we killed one male bighorn and a mule deer today; saw buffalow at a distance…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

July’s First Days

These are journal entries from when I had no coverage. As of July 17, here is my latest post:

July 1

July! March is starting to seem like a long time ago. It was another beautiful morning, sunny and calm. My goal for the day was James Kipp campground, about 18 miles.

There was easy paddling and hard paddling. When the wind came up it was gentle.  The river was relatively narrow again today. A hawk flew up from the riverbank, dropping something at the edge of the water. It was a baby rabbit, still warm.

The scenery was unusually nice. There were cottonwoods and sage/grass meadows. There were hills with pines and cedars and the first spruce, or perhaps fir, I’ve noticed. One of the few downsides is the riverbank tended to be very muddy.

In the afternoon I found a nice landing spot and washed myself and my clothes. The river wasn’t too cold and the sun was hot.

When I arrived at James Kipp a fellow from Georgia was asking about my trip and gave me some tuna and crackers for the trip. Awfully nice of him! I carried all my stuff up to the campsite. No one was there which was nice. It immediately filled up with some locals though. Hopefully I’ll have a quiet night, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I walked up to the campground host trailer, and a sign directed me to another trailer, also with no sign of life. I know there are special regs up ahead and I need to know what they are.

Later in the evening there was still no one to get info from. I left a note saying where I was camping and what I needed. Hopefully in the morning I can find out. Colter

Clark: May 24th Friday 1805 a Cold night the water in the Small vestles frosed 1/ 8 of an inch thick, and the thermometer Stood this morning at the freesing point. we Set out at an early hour and proceeded on, at 9 oClock we had a Breeze from the S E which Continued all day. This Breeze afforded us good Sailing, the river rising fast Current verry rapid… a Creek falls in on the Lard. Side, opposit a large village of Barking Squirels… 13 miles higher up a Small river falls in on the Lard Side which is 40 yards wide and has running water. This Stream appears to take its rise in the South Mountains which is Situated in a Southerly direction 30 or 40 miles distant.

July 2

There were no rangers or campground host to be found. Their was a contact phone # but no coverage. The pay phone had been removed. The WIFI at the trailer was password protected. With no idea if anyone would even show up until Monday I finally decided to paddle upriver and hopefully find a ranger to give me the scoop without citing me for something I was inadvertently doing.

I started paddling. After an hour a flotilla of about seven canoes and kayaks passed. I was having to paddle like mad through an especially fast spot. They were dunking their paddles to keep their boats straight and going five times as fast.

There was plenty of tough paddling but some good rugged scenery. The wind was giving me a break so the heat was noticeable. When I’d start to dry out I’d splash water on my thighs and head and arms which helped a lot.

Because of my late start and the current by the time I’d come 17 miles I was done in. I landed near some shade trees, vital when the sun is still up, close to where L&C camped May 25, 1805. The mud was deep and sticky. I scouted around for a flat, shady spot. Suddenly I froze. Was that a rattler? There were leaves rustling just above my head. I looked carefully for a snake but couldn’t see one. When I moved I heard it again. Yup, rattler. I backed up and went around.

I found a nice shady spot and shuttled my stuff up after pulling my kayak completely out of the water. The rich light of the setting sun shone on the cottonwoods and hills across the river. Colter


Lewis: May 25th 1805. The Two canoes which we left behind yesterday to bring on the meat did not arrive this morning untill 8 A M. at which time we set out; the wind being against us we did not proceed with so much ease or expedition as yesterday, we imployed the toe line principally which the banks favored the uce off; the courant strong particularly arround the points against which the courant happened to set, and at the entrances of the little gullies from the hills, those rivulets having brought down considerable quantities of stone and deposited it at their entrances entrances forming partial barriers to the water of the river to the distance of 40 or 50 feet from the shore, arround these the water run with great violence, and compelled us in some instances to double our force in order to get a perorogue or canoe by them. as we ascended the river today I saw several gangs of the bighorned Anamals on the face of the steep bluffs and clifts on the Stard. side and sent drewyer to kill one which he accomplished; Capt. Clark and Bratton who were on shore each killed one of these anamals this evening. The head and horns of the male which Drewyer killed weighed 27 lbs… the places they gerally celect to lodg is the cranies or cevices of the rocks in the faces of inacessable precepices, where the wolf nor bear can reach them and where indeed man himself would in many instancies find a similar deficiency; yet these anamals bound from rock to rock and stand apparently in the most careless manner on the sides of precipices of many hundred feet 

July 3

There was some thunder and lighting, wind and rain last night but it wasn’t an issue. I got up about 4 AM to beat the wind. It’s nice to be out early on the river.

I stopped at lower Woodhawk Recreation area. One picnic table was covered with beer and liquor bottles. I was glad I didn’t camp there.
I paddled past a calm family of four beavers, eating and lounging in the morning sun. A mule deer came down to drink

There were many long stretches of fast current from bank to bank. When it would get so shallow paddling was tough I’d get out and pull. Also very slow, tiring going with the water dragging at me feet and legs. When the wind came up the going was even harder. Sometimes I’d get a break with slower current or wind lulls, but this was one of the hardest days of the journey.

I was rewarded by some of the best scenery of the whole trip, cottonwoods and hills and dramatic badlands. It’s no wonder this is a popular paddle. I saw about a dozen canoes and kayaks.

I took one pleasant break in some shady cottonwoods. At another stop a mule deer buck jumped up from his perfect, shady bed. I felt a little guilty taking his spot, but he’d soon reclaim it.

I crossed the spot where the Nez Perce forded on their way to Canada, and, like almost every day, passed Lewis and Clark campsites.

A long-legged, baby shorebird sprinted along the shore, tripped, and went end-over-end at least twice before a perfect recovery. As the sun got low a small flock of birds were taking baths at the edge of the water, each creating their own halo of spray.

I was focused on getting 20 miles, and it was nearly 8:30 when I achieved it. The light on the rugged hills was especially beautiful. I found a nice spot next to a willow, with several old log buildings on the flats above. A big mule deer buck ran when I went to check them out.

Old log Building

I cooked a batch of potatoes, with lots of margarine. It hit the spot. Rest and sleep will be wonderful. Colter

Lewis: Sunday May 26th 1805… In the after part of the day I also walked out and ascended the river hills which I found sufficiently fortiegueing. on arriving to the summit one of the highest points in the neighbourhood I thought myself well repaid for any labour; as from this point I beheld the Rocky Mountains for the first time… these points of the Rocky Mountains were covered with snow and the sun shone on it in such manner as to give me the most plain and satisfactory view. while I viewed these mountains I felt a secret pleasure in finding myself so near the head of the heretofore conceived boundless Missouri; but when I reflected on the difficulties which this snowey barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific, and the sufferings and hardships of myself and party in them, it in some measure counterballanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them; but as I have always held it a crime to anticipate evils I will believe it a good comfortable road untill I am compelled to beleive differently.

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

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