Below Three Forks (photo by Norm Miller)
Okay, where do I begin?
Do I start at the Missouri River’s source, Brower’s Spring, or do I start at the Missouri River’s mouth, Three Forks, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers merge to become the mighty Missouri? Approximately 300 miles separates the ultimate source and the river’s official mouth, and about 10-12 days of paddling. At one time, with all due ignorance, I pictured that 300 miles to be pristine Montana wilderness, kayaking through isolated Rocky Mountain Wilderness on a sweeping clear water creek, just me, the mountains, and the wildlife. Not so, I have learned. Here is Mark Kalch’s account of paddling from the source at Brower’s Spring to Three Forks:
The Red Rock River issues forth from the lake and winds endlessly and listlessly out of the valley. Snaking back on itself time after time with negligible flow meant forward movement out of the area was slow. A coyote wandered to the river’s edge to investigate my kayak and I. His boldness surprised me. Cattle followed me along the river’s meander. Slowly, slowly I carried on.
On to Lima Reservoir the wind picked up and forced an early camp. Overnight my tent was buffeted by its strength. Across the still body of water and a short portage later I once more hit river. Now things hit up a gear. The river, narrow, shallow but running super fast was an interesting encounter. Trees fallen in the water loomed as sweepers and strainers. Turning a 17 foot kayak on a fast corner in an 18 foot wide river takes some doing. Soon man made his presence felt. Fences, of barbed wire and electric lurked in possibility around every corner. Out of my boat, dragging under the lower wire, submerging myself in the icy water, back on board and away again. Repeat for days at a time.
The river finally spewed onto Clark Canyon Reservoir, much to my relief. Another crossing and dam portage on to the Beaverhead River. Now wider, flowing fast, this river looked the part. Appropriately, fisherman now lined it’s banks in drift boats and suited in waders. A quick heads up alerted them to my presence. Non-plussed about my appearance the immediately returned to their labour. Just one guide questioned me – “You headed to New Orleans?”. My reply had him genuinely stoked!
The Beaverhead wound it’s way to Dillon and on to the small town of Twin Bridges. At times beautiful and peaceful, at others endless ranches, cattle and excrement runoff. But it was all about to change. 20 minutes paddling beyond Twin Bridges, the Big Hole River enters from river left. Behold, the formation of the Jefferson! Truly, one of the most beautiful paddling experiences I have ever had. If only the past week could have been so. The river, lined with forest, the water running deep and swift. Now this is a river journey. Alas, it was over all to quickly. In no time with a final hard push I approached the town of Three Forks. A few miles beyond the Madison joins the Jefferson from river right. A few minutes later, the Gallatin as well. A hundred feet beyond, a boat ramp and now this river which issued forth from a snow choked spring had finally become the mighty Missouri! The first, difficult, demanding and ultimately tiny stage of my river descent was complete. With a root beer in one hand and pizza in the other I was tired but happy. Time for a resupply and washing of muddy clothes. In a couple of days it is back on the water and to the sea I go. I am ready.
This is Mark Kalch just below Three Forks (photo by Norm Miller). I think this looks like a fine place to start. Yep.
Mark is paddling seven rivers on sever continents. You can follow his adventure here:
Rod Wellington is also paddling seven rivers on seven continents. You can follow him on his Facebook page here:
And, Bob Bellingham is paddling from Three Forks to St. Louis and will be passing through Cooper’s Landing in about a week. You bet I’m going to pick his brain. He knows. You can follow his blog here:
Then again, Norm Miller got me thinking about a bike/hike to the town of Dillon, then put in. I understand the Jefferson River below Twin Bridges is gorgeous. sigh…