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Tag: Portage (Page 1 of 2)

Canyon Ferry Lake

July 25, Day 124, Mile 2270

The river was peaceful this morning. The winds were very light, and at times it was nearly calm, a beautiful day for paddling.

Morning below Canyon Ferry Dam

The towering Canyon Ferry Dam was an imposing site when I came around the corner. What an incredible feat of engineering a dam like that represents. 

The Riverside Campground had a perfect spot to land a kayak or canoe, a very gentle incline leading up to grass. It was easy pulling my boat up onto the grass without gouging it on sharp rocks. 

As I took my cart out and put it together I noticed a sign saying that the portage for Hauser Dam is on the northeast side, the opposite side from where I portaged. I was working with old information and that likely explains why the terrain was so difficult in places. 

I filled up my water bottles, threw out my trash, and headed up paved road. It was very easy pulling, amid the sweet smell of  warm Ponderosa and cedars. I saw two hen turkeys with their chicks.

Just past a Y at the top of the road was a nice covered area with tables where I sat enjoying a shady break. 

After a while I started down the road towards the boat landing. There was a less than ideal spot with no shoulder on either side, so I hustled through it keeping an eye up and down the road making sure the cars could see me. 

Ahead I could see the turn off for the boat landing; also there were a big “Road Closed” sign and a sheriff’s pickup. I didn’t like to see that.  

I pulled my kayak off to the side and looked at the lady sitting in the pickup but she wasn’t looking at me. Obviously I needed to come up with some plan and she would be the one to talk to. I thought it was quite likely that, since I was on foot, they would just let me launch the boat anyway. 

Since I couldn’t seem to get her attention, I stepped over the yellow tape, walked about five steps to her pickup and said hi. 

“Get back over the tape!” She snapped. I did. 

“Can I talk to you?”

“No!” I was a tape stepper over-er.

I finally got her to talk. They were doing a drowning recovery. I needed to go elsewhere. Seems like she could have acknowledged my existence and started with that information. 

I turned around and went down that same sketchy section of road and scouted around until I found another workable lake access. 

I ended up paddling right through the search area. A young guy had been attempting a midnight ride across the lake on his modified motorcycle. Apparently he’d done it once before during the daytime. 

Once past the somber search area it was pleasant paddling, with nice scenery and only a light wind. There were also very few boats, including one magnificent sailboat with a huge sail, that looked like fun even on a day like this with light winds. 

Big Sky Country, Canyon Ferry Lake

I paddled a steady four miles-an-hour, taking breaks as needed. A dark rain storm was hanging over the mountains to the west but slowly moving my way. I checked the weather once more and it assured me that the winds would be light the rest of the day with sun until late with no mention of rain. It didn’t look that way to me but I often guess wrong. 

I’ve been shooting for 30 miles but the storm was rumbling and dark clouds were now right over my head. Along the shore were cove after cove of nice looking little campsites. I decided to hedge my bets and call it a day about 6 o’clock after maybe 27 miles. Considering I’d also done a portage and a half it was a full day anyway. 

My campsite had a gentle gravel beach, a  fire ring that I would not be using, and a nice flat spot under green ash trees. As I was unloading the boat I noticed there was now a gentle tailwind. It was hard to be ashore under such a perfect paddling conditions. 

About 730 the situation changed dramatically, a very strong west wind arose, one of the strongest winds of the journey. I checked the boat once again to make sure all light items were fastened down and that the boat itself was tied properly. It would be very, very, risky to be out at the lake right now. Big white caps swept eastward with violent gusts of wind blowing spray off the tops. 

The most amazing thing of all were the big fish jumping just offshore. At first I thought that they were excited by the sudden change in weather. But observing them, it appeared they were primarily surface feeding. That made sense because there was a big hatch of some kind of insects going on. Also there were surely thousands of insects like grasshoppers being blown off the bluffs. It might’ve been the fishing opportunity of a lifetime. Or, maybe they wouldn’t have bitten at all. It was a remarkable sight regardless. Colter

Clark: July 21st Sunday 1805 a fine morning our feet So brused and Cut that I deturmined to delay for the Canoes, & if possible kill Some meat by the time they arrived… I proceeded on about 3 miles this morning finding no fresh Indian Sign returned down the river four miles and Camped, turned out to hunt for Some meat, which if we are Suckessfull will be a Seasonable Supply for the partey assending. emence quantities of Sarvice buries, yellow, red, Purple & black Currents ripe and Superior to any I ever tasted particularly particularly the yellow & purple kind. Choke Cheries are Plenty; Some Goose buries—The wild rose Continue the Willow more abundant no Cotton wood of the Common kind Small birds are plenty, Some Deer, Elk, Goats, and Ibex; no buffalow in the Mountains. Those mountains are high and a great perportion of them rocky Vallies fertile I observe on the highest pinicals of Some of the mountains to the West Snow lying in Spots Some Still further North are covered with Snow …

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Portaging the Great Falls

July 15-16, Total Miles, 2,121

July 15, Day 114

Rapids near Portage Creek

It was a short, tough, adventurous day.
There was a heavy dew last night but the morning was sunny. At first the going wasn’t too bad, with stretches where I could paddle and decent wading in places where I had to get out and pull.

In less than three hours I saw Willow Coulee landing ahead. Sometimes people get a shuttle there to avoid the significant rapids below the dams. Most who get a shuttle go to Carter Ferry, probably the best option for the driver and most paddlers.
I checked out a sign at the landing.  It said it was about an 8 hour float from Morony Dam to Fort Benton. 8 hours?! It will end up being three days for me heading upstream.

There was a rapids not far upstream of Widow Coulee. It was easy to line around the west side. As I traveled upstream, however, lining the rapids got more problematic. Over and over I ran across places where there were boulders on the bank and deep, fast water next to them. Sometimes there were numerous big rocks with water rushing between them and I’d have to figure out a way to thread the boat through them without getting it pinned in the rushing water or damaging it on sharp rocks.

It was exciting to see Belt/Portage Creek up ahead. Here is where the Corps lined up the creek and then headed cross country on their portage. I had looked at this area many times on the map during planning, now it was transformed into real life.

Just above, on the other side of the river, was Sulphur Springs, sometimes called Sacajawea Springs. I climbed up to check it out. The history signs were interesting. Water from this spring was used to treat Sacajawea. The water was cool, not hot as I expected.  A sign there questioned whether the party cared about her and her baby beyond her function as an interpreter, disappointingly cynical I thought and certainly untrue. Clark even ended up adopting the child after she died about ten years later.

Back at the bluff there was a nice view of Portage Creek and many rapids pouring over rock shelves and around boulders.

Missouri River rapids and Portage Creek

There were lining challenges upstream. The greatest were where I’d have to work the kayak around a boulder when it was too deep to wade and I couldn’t reach out far enough to pull the boat clear. Once the boat started filling with water before I could straighten it out. I fell in up to my armpits another time.

Looking at the ledges and boulders and wild hydraulics in places, I wouldn’t care to run this rapids downstream in a canoe or kayak without a lot of scouting and probably some lining.

Progress was slow. Seeing the bluffs and rapids ahead I hoped there wasn’t a spot that was both unlineable and unpaddleable.

Slowly working the boat around one big boulder in an especially fast spot the kayak started leaning. With so little freeboard it didn’t take much tipping for water to start running in. Water started pouring in faster and faster. I held on until I heard an ugly crunch. I let the boat back downstream, with the cockpit half full of water.

I dumped out most of the water and with some trepidation rolled it over to check out the damages. There was a 3″ crack, significant but not serious by the looks of it. But it would definitely need repairing.

Finally I could see Morony Dam ahead, and then the boat launch. I actually got to paddle the last two or three hundred yards.

A uniformed lady was picking up trash at the landing. I tried to catch her and ask about camping but she drove away. As I unloaded the boat a law enforcement officer stopped. I explained my situation and she thought it was a pretty cool trip, asking lots of questions. She suggested camping below high water just down from the landing somewhere. Camping isn’t allowed at the dam. So that’s what I did.

It was only a 7 mile day but those were some tough miles, with by far the most serious series of rapids I’ve seen on the Missouri River.

Tomorrow is the big portage which will take the whole day, at least. With all the resupplying, and now boat repair, I have to do I’ll probably spend two nights in Great Falls so I can relax a little bit as well.

July 16, Day 115

In the morning I separated all my gear and supplies into two piles, light and heavy. I packed the very heaviest items far aft in the rear compartment of the kayak, and other heavy items in my frameless backpack which I clipped and strapped on top of the back of the kayak. A few of the very lightest things I put in the front compartment.

I assembled the cart and slipped it on the boat. The load was so well balanced It only took a few pounds of lifting to pick up the bow.
I tied a 6″ loop of parachute cord to the bow handle, then slipped half my paddle through the loop. The loop should give me just enough extra distance to keep the kayak from bumping my legs as I pulled, and the paddle shaft would let me pull with two hands. It was about 600 vertical feet up to the top of the flats above.

Double checking to make sure I had everything I headed up the road. With very little food and only a gallon of water, the whole load was probably just a bit over 100 lbs: boat, cart, everything.

The road was hard packed gravel, with reasonable switchbacks and grade. The cart pulled remarkably easy. It was a cool, almost chilly morning with a light breeze, perfect weather for the task. Not, so far, the roasting late July/early August day I’d imagined for the portage months ago. I spotted a bedded mule deer buck watching me. When he jumped up to run two other bucks joined him.

Things went so well that I’d climbed about 400 feet and gone about two miles when I stopped for my first break. The landscape was beginning to flatten into fields. I was surprised to see nearly mature wheat blowing in the breeze, with wild sunflowers on the field edges, facing the rising sun.

Wild Sunflowers and Wheat

The gravel turned to pavement. I could now walk at nearly a normal pace where it was flat. Soon I’d come 5 miles. An SUV pulled up. A young guy with fishing gear asked if I wanted any help. A few miles later a pickup pulling a load of big rafts offered me a ride on their way back, until I told them about my personal goals for the trip.

The sun came out and it got fairly hot. I passed a beautiful wheat ranch. Their home was in their own little shady woods, a lush oasis of protection from summer sun and winter winds.

After a few hours my route turned off onto a gated dirt road. Oh-oh. The sign said bikes and pedestrians were allowed. Yes! A Northwestern truck, the company that runs the dams, pulled up to make sure I wasn’t headed for Morony Dam by mistake (from where I’d just come.) That was mighty nice of him. A very friendly fellow. Everyone was surprised I was going upstream.

It was much hotter now and the gravel road was rolling and not as easy. This road was almost completely traffic-free though, and scenic, with views of the river and sage-grass hillsides. A mule deer doe and two small fawns bounded away. In places I could see Great Falls up ahead.

I passed Cochrane Dam and finally Rainbow Dam. A sign said it produced enough electricity for 54,000 homes.
It was a relief to reach pavement again. Another Northwestern truck offered to complete the shuttle for me. Then a car stopped to offer help. Very friendly, considerate people.

At about 14 miles I reached the Rainbow Dam boat launch. I put the cart on top of the boat and tested stability of my kayak, now that it was so top heavy. It be fine for the short crossing.

I paddled across and upriver to Giant Springs. People were enjoying their weekend on the paths around this scenic spot. The clear Roe River springs out of the ground here and only travels 200 feet before reaching the Missouri!
I wheeled my cart across the little bridge and then along the Missouri. Many little kids were fascinated by the spectacle.

At the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center I had to leave my kayak on the lower trail. I took a few small valuables for security and hiked up the hill.
In making small talk with the fellow collecting the entrance fee I said:

“Well I’m actually hiking and paddling the whole Trail. I’ve come all the way from St. Louis.”

“Wow, that’s great!” He said, “are you doing it by car?” Since he wasn’t listening I didn’t clarify.

There was a dramatic display of the Corp dragging a canoe up a steep hill. I asked one of the staff:

“What had happened to all their horses?”

“They didn’t have any horses until they met the Shoshones.” I said they’d had some in 1804. He was having none of it.

They did of course. The Sioux had grabbed Colter’s horse. Still, did the Indians end up stealing ALL of them? Did some not survive the winter? Run off? Why didn’t they buy more from the Mandans and Hidatsas?

The museum was awesome, with friendly, helpful volunteers, but there were a lot of people and I wasn’t in a mood to linger. My kayak was sitting by the river, and, looking at the portage display, I couldn’t help but think I was doing my OWN Great Falls portage, right now! I had many more miles to go today

I pulled my kayak down the river path until I hit a dead end. Rats. A path angled up the hill to the main path I should have been on. The cart had worked great but this path was narrow and side hilled. My cart wanted to slide downhill and get caught in the bushes. Then it tipped over. It was 50 feet up the steep hill to the paved path. I can do that.

It was the longest 50 feet of the whole trip. The hill was slippery and there was no way to rest. If I let go the kayak would run away down the hill. If I turned it sideways it would roll. There was no way to chock the wheels, 10 feet away from me. I was practically lifting the kayak up the hill, a foot at a time. I felt like the guys dragging the canoe up the steep hill in the display I’d just seen. By the time I got it to the top I was sweating and more exhausted than I’d I’ve been on the whole expedition, by far.

I recovered rapidly on the paved path. It was cooling down, the scenery was great and the pulling was easy. I even raced a laughing little kid on a bicycle for a way. Miles went by. I had someone take a photo of me at the beautiful falls at Black Eagle dam. Imagine what all these falls had looked like before the dams!

Black Eagle Falls

My next goal was the closest food, Taco Johns. At long last I was there.

“What’s the biggest combo you have?”

“Pardon me?”

“What’s the most food in any combo?”

“Number 8.”

“I’ll have Number 8.”

It was an wonderful feast. Plenty to eat and drink in air conditioned comfort.

Less than two more miles to go, wheeling down shady side streets. Many people joked about the unusual sight. I always enjoy seeing the old houses.

Here at last was my motel. It had been a 20 mile day pulling 100 pounds. I was tired.

The reception lady was yelling at a repair service on the phone. When she hung up she turned to me with a frown.
“I have a reservation. Bruce Nelson.”
“You didn’t say you had a kayak.” I hadn’t talked to her at all before.
“It’s OK. I can lock it up outside.”
“I’m not comfortable with that.”
“How about I put it in my room?”
“You can’t put it in your room!”
“I just pulled that boat 20 miles. It’s been a long day and I have reservations. What can we do here?”
“Sorry. I’m just out of my comfort zone.”

Of course, had I driven up with that same kayak, unlocked on top of a Subaru, there would have been no problem. The problem was in her head. Different is scary.

I found another place a few blocks away.
“Can I put my kayak in my room?”

“That will be fine.”

“Or how about I lock it to the fence here?”

“I don’t see why not.”

It was a much nicer place as well, for just a few $ more.

I went up to a snazzy room. For the first time in over two months I had a room that had everything: running water, WIFI and TV. After getting all cleaned up I went for a giant sub sandwich with all the veggies, then came back and did my laundry in the tub and watched the news on TV.

It had been two very big, adventurous days. I will really enjoy a full day in Great Falls tomorrow. Many errands and plenty of eating and rest. Colter

Clark: June the 15th Satturday 1805 a fair morning and worm, we Set out at the usial time and proceeded on with great dificuelty as the river is more rapid we can hear the falls this morning… the curt. excessively rapid and dificuelt to assend great numbers of dangerous places, and the fatigue which we have to encounter is incretiatable the men in the water from morning untill night hauling the Cord & boats walking on Sharp rocks and round Sliperery Stones which alternately cut their feet & throw them down, not with Standing all this dificuelty they go with great chearfulness… the Indian woman much wors this evening, She will not take any medison, her husband petetions to return &c., river more rapid late in the evening we arrived at a rapid which appeared So bad that I did not think it prudent to attempt passing of it this evening… 

Lewis: Thursday June 13th 1805… my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a collumn of smoke which would frequently dispear again in an instant… I hurryed down the hill which was about 200 feet high and difficult of access, to gaze on this sublimely grand specticle. I took my position on the top of some rocks about 20 feet high opposite the center of the falls. this chain of rocks appear once to have formed a part of those over which the waters tumbled, but in the course of time has been seperated from it to the distance of 150 yards lying prarrallel to it and forming a butment against which the water after falling over the precipice beats with great fury; the whole body of water passes with incredible swiftness. immediately at the cascade the river is about 300 yds. wide; about ninty or a hundred yards of this next the Lard. bluff is a smoth even sheet of water falling over a precipice of at least eighty feet, the remaining part of about 200 yards on my right formes the grandest sight I ever beheld…

Clark: June 22nd Satturday 1805… they are obliged to halt [while portaging] and rest frequently for a few minutes, at every halt these poor fellows tumble down and are so much fortiegued that many of them are asleep in an instant; in short their fatiegues are incredible; some are limping from the soreness of their feet, others faint and unable to stand for a few minutes, with heat and fatiegue, yet no one complains, all go with cheerfullness.

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Wind Portage

June 19, Day 88

Looking at the map I noticed my camp was at nearly the same spot as the Lewis and Clark camp of May 2, 1805.

The mud near my kayak was pockmarked by the big hail that fell last night. It was fortunate that things went so well with no damage and I stayed so dry.

My early start to beat the wind was only marginally successful. A light wind turned to a strong headwind. I was somewhat baffled to find I was fighting a headwind paddling northeast and then on the other side of the bend when I was paddling southwest. Presumably the bluffs and river funnel the wind to some degree, and of course the wind often changes direction.


The wind was strong enough that in places I was barely making any progress. I fought to make it to a narrow peninsula where I would have the option of doing a portage. Once I had arrived I carried a bunch of gear up to the shade of a big cottonwood to take a break and plan. I set out my solar charger and sewed a small duct tape patch onto the knee of my pants using a needle and dental floss. I cooked an early lunch of oatmeal as well.

Like last night, I set out a container of 3 quarts of river water so I could settle out the sediment and then treat the clear water with Aqua Mira.

I scouted two routes across the peninsula and found a good one along the grassy edge of the field. I was able to find a route up the fairly steep bank and use my kayak cart to pull my boat up on top. It was relatively easy to pull my kayak through the short grass along the edge of the field and down to the other side to what is now a dry river channel. Although it was 200 more yards over to the water it was hard packed sand and mud making for an easy tow. The portage was fairly easy and saved me about 3 1/2 river miles.

The wind was still howling so for a while I relaxed in the willows and read. It was hard to believe there weren’t any mosquitoes. After an hour or so I set up my tent in the shade of a tree to escape stray ants. It was surprisingly chilly in the tent with the howling wind and the shade so I moved the tent over to a nice sunny flat spot in the willows.

I did a bit of reorganizing and minor repairs. The wind calmed down considerably at about 7:30 PM but I decided to call it a day and get a good sleep and an early start. Colter

Lewis: Thursday May 2ed 1805 The wind continued violent all night nor did it abate much of it’s violence this morning, when at daylight it was attended with snow which continued to fall untill about 10 A.M. being about one inch deep, it formed a singular contrast with the vegitation which was considerably advanced… this evening we also shot three beaver along the shore; these anamals in consequence of not being hunted are extreemly gentle, where they are hunted they never leave their lodges in the day, the flesh of the beaver is esteemed a delecacy among us; I think the tale a most delicious morsal, when boiled it resembles in flavor the fresh tongues and sounds of the codfish, usually sufficiently large to afford a plentifull meal for two men.

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

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