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.
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.… 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: