We were getting tired by the afternoon and frustrated with the terrain traps we encountered, which kept adding miles on to our trip. Here is a short clip Norm took after my, umm, classic faceplant.
Shortly after the faceplant, we realized we were not going to make it out. Fortunately, our walkie-talkies were able to reach Haley and Jeannie just for a moment, and we notified them we would be staying overnight. We tried not to seem alarmed so they would not worry. That worked. We did the same for ourselves, and just tried to make the best of the situation.
I am sitting in the Shack in Twin Bridges on Tuesday, May 7, a layover day for me after 6 days on the Beaverhead River. I really want to post some photos for my blog followers before I head down the Jefferson River tomorrow. I am running short on time so I will do the best I can here. Of course, my Facebook page contains much more frequent updates. Please like the page if you can. Thanks, all! I appreciate your interest in my adventure!
Finally, on Wednesday, May 1st, I started paddling. The Beaverhead River was quite a challenge. It is shallow with tight turns and lots of brush producing strainers in which to get entangled if not careful. I came close to dumping my first day, but was saved by the wheel of my wheeleez, my portaging device. I may have sprained my hand in the entanglement, but still paddling. I was worn out for the first three days trying to save Blue Moon from sheer destruction. I have two holes from the second day just above waterline. Duct tape is the miracle cure!
After 3 days of hard paddling, on Saturday I had 25 mph headwinds challenging me. I stayed strong and true to course, though, and after a 9 and a half hour paddle, and close to Beaverhead Rock, I finally found an island to camp on. Turns out that Robert and Donna were out cruizing around on Robert’s property and they ended up inviting me up for cocktails and chicken dinner. And, a shower, laundry, and place to sleep on their couch! What a wonderful miracle! Strangers are TRULY an opportunity to make friends. What a great visit we had, which included Paul, too. The three of them are long-time friends from Helena.
Finally, I have successfully updated this blog. You are a concern of mine, and I want to keep you posted. It is getting dark now. I have finished most of my pizza, a couple of glasses of wine, had a shower earlier today, and have a nice cozy tent to sleep in tonight. I look forward to resuming paddling on the Jefferson River tomorrow. Twin Bridges is an awesome small town of 400. Come and stay if you ever have the chance. I understand the fishing cannot be beat!
I hope you are enjoying my adventure. I am comforted knowing you are following me and interested in my journey. It has truly turned out to be an epic adventure, and it has only just begun.
Live fast ~ Paddle slow. Be safe and cherish the moment!
The first thing we needed to do to get the Brower’s Spring was to get throught the Federal Aviation Administration gate that guards the road up Sawtelle Peak. We needed to ske from one of the switchbacks over to Jefferson Peak and up and over the Continental Divide into the Hell Roaring Creek Drainage where the spring is located.
This is the top of Mount Jefferson which stands at 10,200 ft. We traversed the top of the bowl and dropped into the Hell Roaring Creek drainage off to the left. This was a spectacular moment in the ski.
GPS showed me I was soooooo close to the spring. The surroundings indicated to me that I was likely standing on or near the spring. I could feel it in my heart and soul. My heart was racing and I was excited.
I skied out of those trees where I am sure I was on or near the spring. Rod Wellington, who has also been there, confirmed that the area looked familiar to him.
We assumed that the trip would entail an easy seven-mile ski out of Hell Roaring Canyon. We were mistaken. Because of the snow cover, we needed to be cautious of avalanche danger, and often fell prey to terrain traps, which produced steep drop-offs, false canyons, and unskiable gulleys. Because of this, we were destined to stay over night, which neither of us prepared for. In fact, we absent-mindedly left the car with no means of fire or sleeping gear. We were both tense until we gave in to the fact we were staying the night. Then, our priority switched to surviving the night. We never doubted our ability to do so.
I shivered uncontrollably all night. I was only able to sleep for about five minutes. Norm was the same way. Somehow, the hours past and it was time to go. I am thankful to have survived and avoided hypothermia. I had trailmix to eat and a granola bar which we split. I had to eat one of the granola bars for calories just after going to bed. Perhaps, it helped, I could not tell.
Next came the bike ride, 90-some miles from the base of Hell Roaring Canyon to Clark Canyon Dam. The ride took three days. The ride of all rides, the vistas were spectacular.
On Sunday, April 14, we enjoyed the warmth of our river community as they sent us on our way from Cooper’s Landing on the Missouri River. I find it intriguing that I will be paddling down the entire length of the river for the next 3.5 months beginning in Montana. I have been dreaming about this journey for over seven years. The time had actually come.
We have been on the road for nine days. The trip thus far has been fantastic. We have driven on two-lane highways nearly 98% of the trip. Before we actually got out of town, Haley decorated the van. “I got this, Mom, I used to be a cheerleader.” We drove through some gorgeous countryside in northern Kansas and southeaster Nebraska.
In Phillipsburg, KS, we had a radiator leak which appeared to be a major obstacle. The only radiator repair shop in town was completely booked for two days. I had to drive over and talk to the owner, and tried to convince him that WE REALLY NEEDED HELP. But, he just could not take us in, and so referred us to Wick’s Muffler and Auto Repair. What a wonderful referral THAT was! Galen Wickham and his son Gabe got right on it! Galen brought the car in the shop immediately to try and find the leak. The two of them traced it back to a pinhole leak in a steel hose off of the water pump. A call was made to Hays, NE, 60 miles to the south. We crossed our fingers…
Yes, they had the part but all deliveries had already left town. The best estimate for departure after car work would be about 5:30 that evening. However, I offered to drive to Hays myself and, as it turned out, that is what happened. Galen loaned me his truck so I could pick up the part. Galen estimated a possible 1:00 departure as a result. WOW! Ending up at Galen’s shop was just short of a miracle! We were back on the road by 2:00. Not only that, he was so intrigued by our expedition, he told his mom and dad and brother about it, and they all chipped in to pay for the repair. Now, when does THAT ever happen?? Thanks again, Wickham family. You guys ROCK! I will be telling this story for years. Ron from the local paper, The Advocate of Phillips County, stopped by to ask a few questions about the expedition. Off we went and arrived in Scottsbluff, NE, that night. We got a lovely room and Holiday Inn Express, and enjoyed a hot tub, swim, and had pizza delivered. The next morning we watched the weather channel very closely while sitting in the breakfast nook at the hotel. A winter storm was coming up through the panhandle of NE starting today, Tuesday, which is right where we were. We debated for a couple hours, literally, whether to try and outrun the storm going north, as some guests had already left for Casper, WY. Eventually, we decided to go for it. Turns out the storm would envelope the entire southeastern portion of WY, and over a foot of snow fell. We ended up making it as far as Orin Junction, WY, and the roads all around us began to close. We were 60 miles short of our Casper, WY, destination. Fortunately, there was a small truck stop at the junction, and we immediately settled in once we knew forward progress was no longer available.
We thoroughly enjoyed our layover at the truck stop, despite the fact we had to sleep in the car that night. The truck stop closed at 10:00 and reopened at 5:00 AM. We spent seven hours in the car as the snow fell all around us. The car turned into a makeshift igloo, it appeared, and we stayed warm and cozy wrapped in down sleeping bags, jackets, and a comforter. What an adventure! Strangers are just an opportunity to make friends, and that’s what we all did at the truck stop. We were thankful that we had such a pleasant and cozy place to hang out, and the food was to beat all. Finally on Wednesday the road opened up to Douglas, which was 12 miles up the road. We opted to make the drive and get a hotel. Being able to sleep on a bed was nice, but the hotel was less than desirable. We got out of there first thing in the morning and drove all the way to Jackson, Wyoming. Our progress was somewhat slowed because of the photo opportunities along the way. We found it difficult to pass up such beautiful countryside without stopping to take pictures. I am sure we will not regret the many stops we made. Jackson was a significant destination that we were all looking forward to, and very excited about. We were finally in some serious mountain country! We were grateful for the chance to view the Teton Mountain Range, which appeared through the clouds majestically and with great grandeur! We loved our stay in Jackson, and our accommodations at the Parkway Inn. Because this time of year is considered the off-season, we were able to get discounted rates at the hotel. We loved it! We stayed two nights and refreshed ourselves by going for a walk, swimming, sitting in the hot tub, and doing laundry. Saturday morning we embarked upon a full ‘day of travel. We drove north up to Sawtelle Peak so I could check out the conditions of the road we plan on driving up to begin our ski into Brower’s Spring. We then started driving down Red Rock Road towards Red Rock Pass, which is very close to the exit point of our ski. Since it was 1:30 PM and temperatures were mild, we opted to stop short of the pass because of the mud. We stopped and walked down the road and enjoyed a snack lunch while viewing the awesome mountains around which we were surrounded.
We then drove up towards the Beaverhead and Jefferson River so I could take a look at the rivers I will be paddling within a week, or so. This was a chance for me to connect with my route and visualize the environment of which I would soon become a part. Finally, we arrived at Base Camp International, Norm Miller and Kristen Walker’s house in Livingston, MT, where all paddlers of the Missouri River, or any river, are welcome to stop and regroup before setting out on the river.
Norm and I have been in email and phone contact since I decided to embark upon this adventure, so despite the fact we had never met, I felt like we were good friends already. Our stay here has been nothing less that warm and cozy. We immediately felt like family, and have enjoyed each others’ company immensely.
Tomorrow we begin our journey into Brower’s Spring. Then, the bike ride to Clark Canyon Dam and finally, Blue Moon hits the water.
Based on my camping experience in Missouri, I know that the threat of cold weather is present in mid-Missouri until AT LEAST after Mother’s Day, which is usually end of May (last hard frost date is late April). So, starting my trip in mid-April in the Montana Centennial Mountains at the Continental Divide pretty much necessitates winter conditions planning. Okay, got that. However, I did not really consider the Centennial Valley being covered with snow down to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
I received an email response from Bill Smith, project leader at the Wildlife Refuge, which is located down the Centennial Valley from where I’ll exit the mountains after skiing to Brower’s Spring. He writes: The refuge is not closed in April, it is just closed to boating. In addition, the two big wetland lakes (Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes) are still frozen until about May 1st. I suggest you snowshoe to Brower Spring from the Centennial Valley floor. Then you could cross country ski down the valley if there is still snow available. No refuge restrictions on ski travel.
(Norm Miller and I are planning to ski in to Brower’s Spring from Sawtelle Peak, a two-mile ski to the spring, and seven miles down to the valley floor.)
SO, the good news is: The refuge is not closed to paddlers in April, only motorized boats. Yay!
And, the not necessarily bad news: The entire valley MAY be covered in snow and the lakes covered with ice until May 1st. Dang, this is starting to become quite the adventure. And, I like it!
Bill sent me some valuable links that are critical to my planning of this upper upper portion of the expedition. Here is what he wrote:
I’ve attached two web sites. The Lakeview Ridge Snowtel site will allow you to look at graphs and charts of average snow depth during the annual cycle here. Look at historical April. It will also give you the current year.
The 2nd link is to the water gauge on Red Rock Creek. It will give you historical and real time measurements of stream flow in the creek. The gauge is on the Creek at the very Eastern boundary of the refuge.
NRCS is upgrading this website this weekend so it may not work well until Monday.
Virtual tour!!? How awesome is that! I hit every spot on the tour, and let me just say this, “It IS the next best thing to being there!” When you click on the link, the map on the left has a white dotted line sweeping along the bottom and then up towards Henry Lake. That dotted line is the Continental Divide, and Brower’s Spring is inside the lower right-hand u-turn area where the white line starts to head north. On the right side of the page, the names of the mountains will show up when you scroll over them. You can sweep 360 degrees! Enjoy! It is a fantastic site. Big huge thanks to Bill West and his willingness to help me out. We will talk by phone soon.
All photos on this post are taken from the virtual tour site.
Starting at the source of the Missouri River will entail getting to Brower’s Spring, which is at the top of Hell Roaring Canyon. From the bottom of the canyon (left-center) the hike is seven miles in and seven out, over SNOW in April. If Sawtelle Peak access road is plowed (doubtful) in April (right), the ski over is only a couple of miles along the Continental Divide, then down the canyon. I see ski-mountaineering revisiting my life this spring. Breaking out the 3-pin bindings!
Canadian paddler Rod Wellington passed through Cooper’s Landing last Monday and Tuesday, Dec 17-18. He is paddling from the source of the Missouri River at Brower’s Spring, MT, to the Gulf of Mexico, all self-propelled. This is the longest river system in North America, and fourth longest in the world. Rod will be the first Canadian to paddle the MO from source to sea. Australian paddler Mark Kalch completed the route earlier this year.
Altogether, Rod will paddle seven of the longest rivers on seven different continents. The Missouri River is his first. He has been on the river since June, a total of six months. His river systems project could take up to 15 years.
After a pot luck dinner and visiting with many interested locals, he graciously sat with me and poured over photos and a map from the Brower’s Spring area, the Missouri River source, to Three Forks, the headwaters of the MO Riv, a 298 miles stretch and one in which I am debating whether to include on my trip.
No firm decisions yet as there are a few dicey stretches, like hiking/skiing/snowshoeing over snow for seven miles into Brower’s Spring, and seven miles out. And, a few days of dodging and portaging around farmers’ barbed wire/electrical/corrugated panel fences which cross a mere 20′ wide water way below the Lima Reservoir on the Red Rock River. Not to mention that the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge, located above the Lima Reservoir, is closed in April.
At least now I have a greater understanding of what my obstacles and options are. I have an unrelenting desire to capture some of that 298-mile stretch for its sheer beauty. Some of it may have to be biked. Thanks, Rod, for spending that time with me.
Understandably, Rod needed to leave Cooper’s Landing and continue
paddling towards the Gulf of Mexico. However, our first major storm
of the season hit yesterday, the day after he left. Winds gusted to 50 or 60 mph, and snow was blizzard-like. One caring and supportive local, Jonathan Lauten, set out to find Rod and make sure he was okay. He found him across the river below Jefferson City, but was not able to make contact. We learned that Rod was hunkered down in his tent, warm and dry.
Jonathan’s comment from Facebook:
I found him, but I couldn’t get to him! This pic was taken from a bluff across the river 4:00 12/20/12. Of course, it was hard to pick him out amongst all those other campers on the Missouri River in a blizzard with 50 mph winds…
Here is a post from Rod yesterday morning, much to our relief:
Dec. 20, 10am – Currently hunkered down in my tent on a sandbar near Jefferson City, Missouri. Outside: blowing snow, sustained winds of 35-40 mph with gusts of 50 mph or more. Unable to keep tent and tent fly anchored. I’ve arranged heaviest gear on windy side of tent to act as a buffer. I’m warm and dry. No paddling today. Expected low tonight: 5F with windchill. Thanks to Steve Schnarr, Gary Leabman, Robin Kalthoff and Jessica Giard for checking on me via phone. Still smiling!
Great meeting Rod and spending some time together. I think I speak for lots of other folks who met him as well.
You can read posts and watch videos from his trip thus far, and track his current progress on his FB page: “Rod Wellington.”