Dang, I am REALLY in the Wilderness! -Fort Peck Lake (June 10-17)

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I paddled ten hours and 48 miles to get around UL Bend on Fort Peck Lake. I woke in the middle of the night and took some Advil. My muscles were stiff. It hurt so good. I felt like I had accomplished a lot by travelling so far. Now I would have to deal with the lake that I had heard so much about, and had been warned about by so many, friends and strangers: “Be safe through Fort Peck!! No big crossings unless way before 8AM!  You need to take advantage of the lake telling you it’s safe to go…not when YOU say it’s safe to go. Watch for quicksand!!”  Or, “Fort Peck is a very dangerous lake. Motor boats get swamped out there. The waves can come up fast. Don’t get caught out in the middle of the lake. People die on this lake.”  Gee whiz, people.  I wish I could enjoy the ride more instead of worrying about making unsafe decisions or passages across the lake. My journal reads, “I need to stop wondering if I’m making the right decision and just trust my judgment. I can SO do this!”

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I was more concerned with the possibility that there might be mountain lions around.  I think I saw mountain lion tracks. Or, maybe they were coyote or wolf tracks, not sure. In hindsight, probably coyote, or racoon, or even badger. I had a little Montana Survival booklet with me. That was a really good purchase for five bucks. The nail imprints in the tracks indicated they were more likely the tracks of a badger, racoon or fox.

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At first, all I could think about was if this was a mountain lion track. I knew it was too small, but my mind was trying to justify it as such. Then, I took out my survival guide and saw that the nail prints indicated something different. Probably just a coyote or a desert fox.
At first, all I could think about was if this was a mountain lion track. I knew it was too small, but my mind was trying to justify it as such. Then, I took out my survival guide and saw that the nail prints indicated something different. Probably just a coyote or a desert fox.

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That very night, after I was zipped up in my tent, some animal made a loud noise right around dusk just outside my tent. Holy mackerel! It was a honk, cough, yell, growl, screech, or something, I don’t know what.  “Stay calm,” I told myself. “What do you need to do to survive?”  I took the safety off of my bear spray, got my buck knife out, grabbed my machete, and put my whistle around my neck.  I was hoping it was not a mountain lion. This area just seemed so mountain lion-ish with the desolation and rocky mountains all around. I also had my bottle of Advil next to me as I was preparing to down a couple to prevent stiff and sore muscles that night. I know, I’ll shake this bottle of pills and the animal outside will surely be startled, not having a clue what that noise is. I shook the bottle so it was loud and annoying. I heard the noise again, along with a couple of hoof stomps, and then it was quiet. My final deduction was that the animal was an elk. It was not a deer, but something similar that I was not familiar with. I’m sure it was an elk, or maybe an antelope. I was camped at their water hole, no doubt.

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AlpinGlow on the mountains. I love this rugged mountainous country!
AlpinGlow on the mountains. I love this rugged mountainous country!

I was ready to knock out another 10-hour day. The weather report was calling for NE/East winds and some weather rolling in from the Pacific Northwest. Darn! I was loving all that sunshine and glassy water. I traveled up the North-South arm and reached the East-West body of the lake. The winds were indeed blowing at me. I would have to wait. There were whitecaps everywhere. I decided to hike around and take some pictures. As it turned out, I set up my tent just before a thunderstorm rolled through. I would be here until tomorrow.

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I just love the desolation and beauty!

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Prickly Pear Cactus, IN BLOOM! So beautiful
Prickly Pear Cactus, IN BLOOM! So beautiful
Well, hello there! A young Timber Rattler
Well, hello there! A young Timber Rattler
An indication of the storm to come.
An indication of the storm to come. This is looking toward the direction I needed to go.
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From whence the storm would come
The storm kicked up some high winds and big waves. Yep, pretty happy I was not out on the lake.
The storm kicked up some high winds and big waves. Yep, pretty happy I was not out on the lake. But rather, I was drinking orange pekoe tea and eating dark chocolate. 🙂

I would not paddle any more big 10-hour days on Fort Peck Lake. Winds blew every day. I paddled some mornings, and even some afternoon and evenings. I was comfortable at one spot where I landed, mainly because there was no mud, but it was also a very beautiful cove, and I was ready to wait out a big electrical storm forecasted and coming my way. However, the winds layed down unexpectedly and the wind advisory got cancelled. I wanted to stay put but I knew if winds were calm I needed to paddle. I packed up.

So happy to not get out and step into mud
So happy to not get out and step into mud

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The water was getting more clear the further down the lake I went.
The lake water was almost as clear, before filtering, as my drinking water.
The lake water was almost as clear (bottle on right), before filtering, as my drinking water.

I made some progress, but was NOT pleased with my camp that night, the camp at which I was forced to ride out the predicted electrical storm, which was severe. I was exposed inside a bay that was treeless and low lying, and extremely muddy. This was, literally, the low point of my Fort Peck Lake experience.

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I ended up surviving the storm that packed a major north wind, ripping the tarp off of my tent. I reached out and caught a corner of it just in time to keep it from flying into the water.  The winds flattened the north side of my tent and ripped my tent stake out of the ground.  I had to get the stick four foot that was still on the bow of my boat.  I ran out of my tent and grabbed the stick off of my boat. Thankfully, I had not been struck my lightning.  I secured my fly with the stick stuck deep into the mud. What a relief to have my tent upright again.  Of course, I couldn’t help but think I had just inserted into the ground a lighting rod, which seemed to be the high point on shore, and right outside my shelter.  Oh well, there was nothing more I could do.  I had to wait out the storm, and I did it squatting with only my feet touching ground and my hand on my SPOT “SOS” button.  I thought if lightning struck me, my reflex would press the button.  When the storm ended, I was so thankful to be alive.  I did not concern myself with the two inches of rain that was falling outside.  I was dry inside, and alive.

Yuk
Yuk

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I got out of there at dawn the next morning. I wanted no part of this campsite any more.  I paddled several half-days and eventually made it to the Pines Recreation Area, a location in which Lewis and Clark wrote about as having the first pine trees they saw. I met a wonderful couple, Matt and Carol Williams, and their son and wife, Bill and Tammy. What friendly people. They first brought me watermelon, which was a delicious treat, then later invited me to their camp for steak dinner, wine, and a marshmallow roast. I was so happy to have met these people. They added a warm human social element to this desolated lake leg, and their company and generosity was comforting. I was amazed the next morning when they assembled a cold pack with fresh walleye fish and fruit salad for me to take to fix for dinner that night. We drank coffee together and shared stories before we all parted our ways.

L-R: Tammy, Bill, Carol and Matt, I believe they are all from Shelby, MT.
L-R: Tammy, Bill, Carol and Matt, from Shelby, MT.

I

I spent the windy hours hiking to the ridge tops. The views were always spectacular.
I spent the windy hours hiking to the ridge tops. The views were always spectacular.
I was able to get cell service, finally, but not internet. I called home. What fun it was talking to a dear friend after no internet service for two weeks. I was invigorated.
I was able to get cell service, finally, but not internet. I called home. What fun it was talking to a dear friend after no internet service for two weeks. I was invigorated.

This day was a Sunday, and the Williams family headed home. I ended up waiting out a big wind day just down the shoreline. I met a man while hanging out on the point who was looking around for a mountain lion as tracks had been spotted inside the recreation area. I knew it! This WAS mountain lion country! I was on guard after that, but I came back that night and camped at the same spot as the previous night. This was a first for me, to camp in the same spot two nights in a row. I did not worry too much as calm winds were forecasted for the morrow, and I was up before dawn to paddle my last day on the lake. I woke to a gorgeous orange cloudless sky and glass waters. These conditions would remain all day long. What a wonderful way to end this lake experience. I felt like I was leaving a good friend whom I had gotten to know personally, and for whom I had the utmost respect. Yes, that would be Fort Peck Lake.

So long, Fort Peck Lake. It has been a pleasure.
So long, Fort Peck Lake. It has been a pleasure.

Do what you love, and love what you do.

Love Your Big Muddy

Fort Peck Reservoir-Finally We Meet

Plenty of beavers in the refuge. And, they are BIG! They pretty much own that refuge.
Plenty of beavers in the refuge. And, they are BIG! They pretty much own that refuge.

 

A beaver swimming out to size me up. I'm ready for their water slaps these days. I've seen and heard many of them trying to warn me not to mess with them or their dens.
A beaver swimming out to size me up. I’m ready for their water slaps these days. I’ve seen and heard many of them trying to warn me not to mess with them or their dens.

I hated to leave the Roundup boys without saying good bye, but I had to get on the water early in order to make it through UL Bend on Fort Peck Reservoir, approximately 48 miles away. UL Bend is the river-to-lake transition area, and not without its challenges. I was packed and in my boat at 7:00 AM. As I was pushing off, Eli appeared on the shore. I was so happy because I got to say good bye. I also let him know that I left my card on the ice chest for him. It is always bittersweet leaving new friends and river brothers. These boys, young men, are my river brothers.

I packed up early and was on the water at 7:00. The air was still, but the banks were muddy for miles. I was extra thankful I had found the RoundUp Boys.
I packed up early and was on the water at 7:00. The air was still, but the banks were muddy for miles. I was extra thankful I had found the RoundUp Boys last night.

 

Nowhere to pull over for miles and miles.
Nowhere to pull over for miles and miles.

 

This was a typical site for many miles of the river below the Breaks, and in the refuge. There was nowhere to land the boat, let alone camp. Thankfully, the glassy conditions helped me to paddle 10.5 hours and 48 miles this day.
This was a typical site for many miles of the river below the Breaks, and in the refuge. There was nowhere to land the boat, let alone camp. Thankfully, the glassy conditions helped me to paddle 10.5 hours and 48 miles this day.

 

The relentless rain in the previous weeks had saturated the land. This big landslide had occured recently.
The relentless rain in the previous weeks had saturated the land. This big landslide had occured recently.

 

On the approach to the lake their were numerous springs flowing into the river.
On the approach to the lake their were numerous springs flowing into the river.

The Fort Peck Reservoir is 245,000 acres in size.  Extending up 125 miles from the Fort Peck Dam is the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife, which encompasses 1,100,000 acres and all of the Fort Peck Reservoir. The refuge contains a multitude of habitats which include native prairie, wooded coulees, wetlands, river bottoms and badlands.  “Given the size and remoteness of the Refuge, the area has changed very little from the historic voyage of the Lewis and Clark expedition…” [http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=61520]

I enjoyed a warm and beautiful day with glassy waters all day.
I enjoyed a warm and beautiful day with glassy waters all day.
This is a gorgeous Pronghorn deer buck, also known as an antelope (but there is some controversy about that). He had a herd of six females with him.
This is a gorgeous Pronghorn deer buck, also known as an antelope (but there is some controversy about that). He had a herd of six females with him. He was not comfortable with my presence.

 

Here is the buck's females (I assume they were all females). The buck was very protective of them and they were very obedient to his signals to stay clear of me. I was so happy to get pictures of these beautiful animals.
Here is the buck’s females (I assume they were all females). The buck was very protective of them and they were very obedient to his signals to stay clear of me. I was so happy to get pictures of these beautiful animals.

 

This smooth oval rock struck me as peculiar sitting at the base of a dark muddy-looking hillside.
This smooth oval rock struck me as peculiar sitting at the base of a dark muddy-looking hillside.

These river-to-lake transition areas are kind of spooky because the river shoreline slowly disappears into the water and before you know it, you are out in the middle of a lake. This can be daunting if the wind is blowing. Fort Peck Reservoir’s transition section also has shallow sand bars and mud to deal with. Thankfully, I was somewhat unaware of these things or else I would have been intimidated and  stressed. They say ignorance is bliss. In this case, this was true. It did not take long, however, before I realized I had to pay close attention so I would not get stuck on a sand/mud bar.

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These gulls were a good indication of shallow waters around me.
These pelicans were a good indication of shallow waters around me.

 

Pelican sitting on a sandbar that was just barely showing.
Pelican sitting on a sandbar that was just barely showing.

Once the shoreline has disappeared, it can be very difficult following the channel of the river, especially when the current is slowing down and spreading out, and the river transforms into a lake.  This pelican, I believed, helped to show me the way and I made it around the daunting UL Bend to a campsite.

This was my river angel. Once the shoreline disappeared, this guy led the way for me when I found myself in the middle of a lake with shallow sand/mud bars all around me. He was a guiding white light for me.
This was my river angel. Once the shoreline disappeared, this guy led the way for me when I found myself in the middle of a lake with shallow sand/mud bars all around me. He was a guiding white light for me, and one of the reasons I hold pelicans dear to my heart.

I made it to Fort Peck Reservoir!  I paddled 48 miles for 10.5 hours. This was a really productive paddling day and, boy, was I tired, but very very happy. I was especially joyful because my campsite was not muddy. Well, not too bad, anyway.

My first campsite on Fort Peck Reservoir, photo taken from my tent. I took a sponge bath here and washed some clothes. I was feeling really good.
My first campsite on Fort Peck Reservoir, photo taken from my tent. I took a sponge bath here and washed some clothes. I was feeling really good.

Later this evening I witnessed the power of a northerly squall line coming across the lake. I had been warned about sudden fierce winds coming out of nowhere. Thankfully, I was safe on shore with my tent and Blue Moon secure. At first it sounded like a motor boat across the lake, then it grew louder like a truck, then a train, and finally a jet plane. It was awesome to watch the wind line move rapidly over the water toward me. I knew what was happening, so I was intrigued, rather than fearful. Seeing this occur helped me to be cautious, aware, and respectful of the wind and water while on this lake.

A northerly wind appeared suddenly and engulfed the entire lake near me. Paddlers must keep one eye looking toward the north at all times.
A northerly wind appeared suddenly and engulfed the entire lake near me. Paddlers must keep one eye looking toward the north at all times.

I left the RoundUp boys on June 9 and made camp the same evening on the Fort Peck Reservoir 10.5 hours later. I would journey across this 135-mile lake for the next eight days. A lot can happen in eight days. I was immersed in wilderness and forced to use my own judgment and decision-making skills in order to progress safely to the dam. High winds, snakes, electrical storms, wildlife, zero cell service, hours of waiting out the wind, picturesque scenery, and the giving hearts of the few people I met would make this one of my most memorable experiences of my life. Stay tuned for part two, the next eight days to Fort Peck Dam, through some awesome and incredible wilderness.

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Do what you love, and love what you do.

You CAN do it.

Upper Missouri River Breaks-continued

I decided not to stop at Judith Landing, the approximate middle of the Breaks. I regret that move a little, but I was yearning to get in some solitary camping. I knew that all of the others on the river were getting out at Judith because of the James Kipp closing, so I kind of felt that I would have the lower section to myself. I saw James and Klaus loading up at the Judith Landing boat ramp, and we were able to wave and say our last good-byes.

I decided to camp at Gist Campground. I was right. No one was around beyond Judith Landing. The campground was located on a beautiful stretch of river with a steep rock wall that plunged straight down into the river. I knew then that I was going to like this place.

The wall across the river
The wall across the river from Gist Campground

The river banks were muddy because of the recent rains. I decided I could not avoid it no matter what, so I just took off my shoes and let it squish between my toes. The Big Muddy’s mud is actually soft and silky and washed off the skin quite easily. What are you gonna do?  You just have to deal with it. No sense in getting anxious and frustrated about it.

The mud at Gist Campground was extensive. The river had flooded during all of the rain, and now it was dropping leaving a lot of shoreline with mid-calf to knee-high mud.
The mud at Gist Campground was extensive. The river had flooded during all of the rain, and now the river was dropping leaving a lot of shoreline with mid-calf to knee-high mud.
My camp at Gist
My camp at Gist
This is the river as it runs down towards the front of Gist Campground. I was very much isolated in this area. However, in the evening just before dusk, a solo canoer paddled by quietly. It is amazing I happened to see him. Although, I always keep one eye on the river and can spot any living thing that is nearby. Had I been inside my tent for any reason, I may have missed him.
This is the river as it runs down towards the front of Gist Campground. I was very much isolated in this area. However, in the afternoon as I was leaving on another hike, I saw a solo canoer approaching. It is amazing I happened to see him. Although, I always keep one eye on the river and can spot any living thing that is nearby. Had I left a minute earlier, I may have missed seeing him upriver. I went ahead and took off on my hike. He was not there when I got back. He must have paddled on.
This is the view from the campsite looking inland downriver. I wanted to walk up to the lookout in which Lewis claimed he saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. I would have to walk a mile and a half in that direction. No problem.
This is the view from the campsite looking inland downriver. I wanted to walk up to the lookout in which Lewis claimed he saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. I would have to walk a mile and a half in that direction. No problem.
These are the Gist Homestead remnants just behind the campground. It was fascinating to see inside and imagine what life was like in the 1800s. I was electrified considering these things as I used to dream about being an early settler.
These are the Gist Homestead remnants just behind the campground. It was fascinating to see inside and imagine what life was like living out here in the 1800s. I was electrified considering these things as I used to dream about being an early settler.
When I walked the mile and one half down towards the lookout hiking area, this weather blew in and looked ominous. It proved to be nothing, but I canceled my hike to as to not get in thundersorm and hail trouble.
When I walked the mile and one half down towards the lookout hiking area, this weather blew in and looked ominous. It proved to be nothing, but I canceled my hike to the top so as to avoid thundersorm and hail trouble.

After staying for two nights and several small hikes later, I moved on. The river had dropped three or four feet since I had arrived. This beached my boat fairly high above the waterline, and you know what that means? It was time to get muddy again. Off came the shoes and I moved the boat up the river to where I was camped since there was no difference now in the mud situation. The riverbank was muddy everywhere. I would soon find out that the mud was prevalent for miles and miles to come. Finding campsites downriver would prove to be extremely challenging.

Yes, the river dropped. I knew it would, but never thought it would look like this.
Yes, the river dropped. I knew it would, but never thought it would look like this.
You can make up your own caption for this one.
You can make up your own caption for this one.

I learned about some historic events as I was actually paddling down the river. The Cow Creek Crossing was one such event. As I read about the Nez Perce Indians, led by Chief Joseph, marching towards Canada in order to escape confinement to a reservation, I was moved. 750 men, women and children, now refugees in their own country, trying to escape the American military and the inevitable tragedy that would follow. Unfortunately, they were close to Canada, but not close enough to escape. I followed their trail through this entire section and stopped every so often to just imagine where exactly they walked and what they must have looked like. I was filled with emotion.

A page from Otto Schumacher and Lee Woodword's Magnificent Journey, providing a little information about the Nez Perce Crossing of Cow Island.
A page from Otto Schumacher and Lee Woodword’s Magnificent Journey, providing a little information about the Nez Perce Crossing of Cow Island.

I paddled slowly past the Nez Perce National Historic Trail where, in 1877, approximately 750 men, women, and children of their “nontreaty” tribe tried to make their way to Canada to reach asylum.  I saw the many water crossings they likely took, and a narrow trail along the river on which they walked near Cow Island. They were so close to freedom before they were stopped and 200 Nez Perce braves fought to defend the fleeing tribe. My heart bleeds for them. This section proved to be very melancholy for me, and unforgettable.

The trail of the Nez Perce
The trail of the Nez Perce
The Nez Perce likely walked along this narrow shoreline. The geography of the river and mountains is still very similar, based on records of the route they walked.
The Nez Perce likely walked along this narrow shoreline and through that flat area on their way to the Cow Island Crossing. The geography of the river and mountains is still very similar, based on the map of the route they walked.
The Nez Perce Trail come this way from those mountains and their journey involved many river crossings. The trail seems to cross right at the most narrow spots, indicating the river must still be similar to what it was then.
The Nez Perce Trail comes this way from those mountains and their journey involved many river crossings. The trail seems to cross right at the most narrow spots, indicating the river must still be similar to what it was it was like then.
The Nez Perce crossed Cow Island and headed north towards Canada in attempt to acquire assylum from the American military.
The Nez Perce crossed Cow Island and headed north towards Canada in attempt to escape the American military.

My plan was to stop at the James Kipp Recreation Area. This is considered the end of the road for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. I planned on refilling my water here, and camping the night. I had no idea the flooding wreaked such havok on the campground. Not only were the roads closed just a few days previous, but the electricity was still out and that meant the water pumps were not working. A fisherman took me around to find water to no avail. But in order for him to do that, I had to get up this boat ramp. “Apparently, they have not cleared the ramp yet.” I chided. That got a good laugh. The camp host eventually came to the ramp with a ten-gallon bottle of water and filled my five gallon bottles.

The James Kipp Campground boat ramp
The James Kipp Campground boat ramp
"What a bloody mess," as they would say in England.
“What a bloody mess,” as they would say in England.

It’s 4:00 PM and I’m outta here, I thought. I’ll just paddle on down the river and find myself a campsite. Oh dear. That turned out to be the greatest challenge of this trip. It took about 15 minutes for me to realize I better start looking hard. Four hours later there were still NO sites to be found, and I had stopped to investigate several areas. This was the first time I thought I might have to sleep in my kayak. OMG!

Just as dusk was falling on the land, I came around a bend and saw something unusual. Three men were walking, yes walking, on the riverbank. How are they doing that?! I exclaimed to my brain. Is it not muddy in that spot. I paddled in a straight line over to their boat, and them. I made friends fast. Actually, I had no intention of going any further. Thankfully, Eli, Brandon, and Travis turned out to be river angels, river angels from Roundup, Montana.

Eli, left, and Brandon on the riverbank. They had been paddlefish fishing there all day long. They stomped out a sizable trail down the riverbank. I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life!
Eli, left, and Brandon on the riverbank. They had been paddlefish fishing there all day long. They stomped out a sizable trail down the riverbank. I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my life!
Travis, Brandon's older brother. These guys turned out to be so wonderful!  I'll never forget them.
Travis, Brandon’s older brother. These guys turned out to be so wonderful!
I’ll never forget them.

Soon, darkness was upon us, and Eli helped me carry my gear down the bank, through the willow forest, and up the hill where I set up my tent with a gorgeous view of the river. I went from rags to riches, and was thrilled. The boys ended up camping at their truck that night, which was located at the top of the hill, and we had a fire and passed around a bottle of JD (only a couple of times). When in Montana, you do as the Roundup Boys do. I was so happy! And, Brandon gave me his Leatherman to take with me. Now, THAT’S special!

Eli helped me carry my tent and gear down the bank, through the willows and up the hill where I set up my tent overlooking the river. I was so thankful.
Eli helped me carry my tent and gear down the bank, through the willows and up the hill where I set up my tent overlooking the river. I was so thankful. He also explained to me that the screaming animal I kept hearing during the evenings was merely a toad. Whew!

I had a long day of paddling the next day in order to get to Fort Peck Lake. I rose up at sunrise and was in my boat at 7:00 AM. I waved to Eli from the shore. I was sad to leave these river angels.

The RoundUp boys' fishing boat on the shore of my oasis.
The RoundUp boys’ fishing boat and Blue Moon on the shore of our oasis.

It is so easy to get attached to kindred spirits that share their life with the river. There is a bond that is undeniable. We share riverblood.

Beautiful coyote
Beautiful coyote

43 miles later this day, I arrived at Fort Peck Lake. I had had no internet service for nearly a week, and would not for almost another. I found myself immersed in mountainous wilderness. I was in heaven.

Prickly Pear Cactus blooming
Prickly Pear Cactus blooming

More to come.

Check in at LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition on Facebook for current events.

Do what you love, and love what you do. Peace out, Janet

Fort Peck Lake, June 10, 2013
Fort Peck Lake, June 10, 2013

Snapshots of LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition

My dear friend, supporter and river brother from Columbia, Missouri, Jonathan Lauten, produced this slide show of my trip thus far. It is very special to me as the memories provoked are fond and special. I think it is kind of funny that the slideshow brings back so many memories of a trip of which I am still in the midst.

Please take a moment to enjoy these very unique and special moments from LoveYourBigMuddy Expedition 2013.

I will try to continue my documentation of my expedition on this blog as soon as I am able, likely as soon as I get across Lake Oahe, of which I am over half way on this 230 mile lake (as of July 25, 2013).

Click on the photo below to access the slideshow.  Thanks for your support!  -Janet

RAINBOWCAMP

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=619718804729649

The White Cliffs in the Upper Missouri Breaks Nat’l Monument

Bub and Tinker with one of the St. Louis/Fort Collins' family members.
Bub and Tinker with one of the St. Louis/Fort Collins’ family members.

A busy morning at the Coal Banks Landing boat ramp once the storm left. The ramp was bustling with boats, paddlers, gear, and excitement. Special thanks again to Bub and Tinker Sandy for taking care of all of us wet river rats and opening up the visitor’s center to everyone for the lasts two days. I decided to hang back and wait for everyone to leave before I got ready to go. When I left, there was not a soul in sight. That’s the way I wanted it. I wanted to take it all in without a lot of external distractions. I had been waiting for this nearly a year.

The White Cliffs section of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument evolves as you paddle in to this stretch of river. The anticipation keeps you on the edge of your seat. Will there be cliffs around the next bend? They show themselves gradually. And, before you know it, you are immersed in this fabulous wonderland of rock castles, spires, hoodoos, magnificent walls and lone sentinals.

Leaving Coal Banks I could detect something incredible geologically was going to unfold.
Leaving Coal Banks I could sense that something incredible, geologically, was going to unfold.
I barely got my camera out in time to snap this photo. This looks like an old homestead cabin. My imagination soars when I see structures like this. What must it have been like over a century ago settling in the wild west?
I barely got my camera out in time to snap this photo. This looks like an old homestead cabin. My imagination soars when I see structures like this. What must it have been like over a century ago settling in the wild west?
The cliffs gradually appeared in the riverside environment. It was somewhat like a geologic transformation.
The cliffs gradually appeared in the riverside environment. It was somewhat like a geologic transformation.
Some of the first signs of white cliffs
Some of the first signs of white cliffs
White Cliffs emerging
White Cliffs emerging
The Boy Scouts made camp early in a beautiful area that was wide open with smaller cliffs surrounding the area.
The Boy Scouts made camp early in a beautiful area that was wide open with smaller cliffs surrounding the area.
The surrounding area around the Boy Scouts first camp, just upriver from Eagle Creek camp. It was beginning to get interesting!
The surrounding area around the Boy Scouts first camp, just upriver from Eagle Creek camp. It was beginning to get interesting!

7-slowly

7-starting

Labarge Rock is the dark rock outcropping in the distance. The rock was named after Captain Joseph LaBarge, one of the most famous of steamship captains. He never had an accident in his career commanding ships up to Fort Benton. This is remarkable after seeing a million snags downriver waiting to take the ships down at any given minute.
Labarge Rock is the dark rock outcropping in the distance. The rock was named after Captain Joseph LaBarge, one of the most famous of steamship captains. He never had an accident in his career commanding ships up to Fort Benton. This is remarkable after seeing a million snags downriver waiting to take the ships down at any given minute.
Classic white cliffs with LaBarge Rock in the distance.
Classic white cliffs with LaBarge Rock in the distance.
Beautiful white cliffs, like a fortress or castle
Beautiful white cliffs, like a fortress or castle
LaBarge Rock is an instrusion of dark igneous shonkinite. That's about all I can tell you without getting technical and boring to the non-geologist.
LaBarge Rock is an instrusion of dark igneous shonkinite. That’s about all I can tell you without getting technical and boring to the non-geologist.
The Grand Natural Wall. This is an incredible sight to behold.
The Grand Natural Wall. This is an incredible sight to behold.
Grand Natural Wall
Grand Natural Wall
Cool looking, I think
Cool looking, I think. Now that’s a grand white cliff!
Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock
Eagles at Eagle Rock?
Eagles at Eagle Rock?
And, my best friends, the pelicans.
And, my best friends, the pelicans.

I arrived at Hole in the Wall thinking that everyone else would stay back at Eagle Creek, which is a popular camping area with great hiking and historical significance.  The environment around Hole in the Wall is grandiose and quite spectacular.  I was the only one there! I would have a wilderness experience in the midst of incredible beauty!! Well, not exactly. Withing an hour two paddlers arrived. Then, a party of seven or eight men showed up. Oh well, I can share. I will just set my tent off to the side and have my own wilderness experience.  I learned something this day. When you meet good-hearted people, nothing else is really more desirable. The benefits are great when you share a part of your lives together. The experience becomes unforgettable. This day I met Klaus and James. I am so happy that I did.

Klaus (L) and James
Klaus (L) and James

I loved meeting Klaus and James. Klaus came over and invited me to sit around the fire with them that night. They said it wouldn’t be a long fire because firewood was scarce. That sounded good to me. After a couple of hours we gathered for a fire. Klaus had cups and wine and we toasted to my expedition. Then we spent a couple hours just enjoying each others’ company and conversation. THAT beats a solitary wilderness experience, any day. I am thankful for the time we had together.

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The next day I met some of the others who had camped in the area. They were all very interesting gentlemen. One was from Bozeman, another from the Seattle area, and one also from San Diego, among others. The Bureau of Land Management officers showed up. They told us stories and were helpful in showing us good camping areas down river.  Apparently, James Kipp Recreation Area had opened back up, at least the roads leading into the area. Because of all the rain, though, we could expect a lot of mud downriver.  Oh well.

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I was excited to hike to the top of Hole in the Wall. I said good by to Klaus and James. They were going to camp at the Wall camping area. I did not know if I would stop there. We took pictures to make sure we didn’t miss out on that opportunity, and we exchanged addresses.

Klause James and myself. Hole in the Wall is in the background.
Klause James and myself. Hole in the Wall is in the background.

Incredible camp

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And, off I went to hike to the top of the Hole in the Wall. Wow, what a grand experience!! Unforgettable.

 

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I thoroughly enjoy my hike up to the top of Hole in the Wall. While I was standing up there looking around, I thought, I think I am experiencing breath-taking beauty. I had to stop and calm down I was so excited.

I paddled on and came to Klaus and James’ camp. It was getting late and they invited me over. I was happy to stop there. The camp was one of the best and most peaceful I have experienced thus far. Not to mention my new friends. We had another tremendous night telling stories, jokes, and laughing freely. When it was time for them to shove off the next day, I was truly sad. I’ve got their number. Happy about that.

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The Wall Camp, 7 miles  before Judith Landing
The Wall Camp, 7 miles before Judith Landing
Prairie dog town in back of the camping area. How cool is that!?
Prairie dog town in back of the camping area. How cool is that!?

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See ya, James!
See ya, James!
See ya, Klaus!
See ya, Klaus!
See ya, everyone! Fair sailing to all!
See ya, everyone! Fair sailing to all!

Live slow ~ Paddle fast

Do what you love and love what you do.

Janet

More Ski Videos in Hell Roaring Canyon: The Faceplant and The Bivy

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.

From Holter Lake to Just Before Great Falls

Once back on the river, I continued to be amazed by the rock cliffs and mountains.
Once back on the river, I continued to be amazed by the rock cliffs and mountains.

I think this post will be more of a photo post. I have captioned all of my photos and they will walk you through this stretch and phase of my adventure. Enjoy!

The Gates of the Rocky Mountains are on Holter Lake. I left the Gates and paddled almost to the dam. I camped before entering the last big stretch so I would not be exposed to potential storm winds. Rain fell that night, but enough sun shone the next morning that I could dry things out. My camp was on a pretty point, but the real estate was owned by a heard of black cows. It seemed I was camping in their watering hole. Luckily, I found a big enough patch of grass free of, well,  you know, to pitch my tent. Some camps are better than others.

The watering hole.
The watering hole.
My buddies with whom I shared, sort of, my camp.
My buddies with whom I shared, sort of, my camp.
Tim works for Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), and was more than happy to help me portage around Holter Dam. Dave's (Dave from Hauser Dam) uncle was off work that day.
Tim works for Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), and was more than happy to help me portage around Holter Dam. Dave’s (Dave from Hauser Dam) uncle was off work that day.
This sign was hanging at the Holter Dam portage take out.
This sign was hanging at the Holter Dam portage take out.
My best friends forever!
My best friends forever!
WOW! A PBR hanging from a bridge! Somebody pinch my. I must be dreaming! I got! I got it!
WOW! A PBR hanging from a bridge! Somebody pinch me. I must be dreaming! I got! I got it!
Sometimes a beer tastes really, really good. This was one of those times!
Sometimes a beer tastes really, really good. This was one of those times!
PBRs don't hang from bridges without a support crew. These two, Will and Ron, are likely suspects. They told me they were going fishing. They say they're just a couple of local dudes trolling for chicks. PBR was good bait,and they got me!
PBRs don’t hang from bridges without a support crew. These two, Will and Ron, are likely suspects. They told me they were going fishing. They say they’re just a couple of local dudes trolling for chicks. PBR was good bait,and they got me!
I paddled hard just to get to the Dearborn Country Inn that Dave Miller wrote, in The Compete Paddler, is a must stop. Well, it is now a private fishing lodge: The Lodge at Eagle Rock. However, Courtney, who is appropriately charged with lodge hospitality, took very good care of me. She is a river, lakes, mountain loving gal. Thank again, Courtney!
I paddled hard just to get to the Dearborn Country Inn that Dave Miller wrote, in The Compete Paddler, is a must stop. Well, it is now a private fishing lodge: The Lodge at Eagle Rock. However, Courtney, who is appropriately charged with lodge hospitality, took very good care of me. She is a river, lakes, mountain loving gal. Thanks again, Courtney!
Courtney and 5-star chef Jeffrey took great care of me while I was camped down by the river under the willow tree. The BEST corn chowder, buttered bread and Montana beers! I will never forget their kindness.
Courtney and 5-star chef Jeffrey took great care of me while I was camped down by the river under the willow tree. The BEST corn chowder, buttered bread and Montana beers! I will never forget their kindness.
The Corps of Discovery camped just upstream from the Lodge, and Lewis wrote this entry in his journal on Thursday, July 18, 1805: "previous to our departure saw a large her of the Bighorned anamals on the immensely high and nearly perpendicular clift opposite to us; on the fase of this clift they walked about and bounded from rock to rock with apparent unconcern where it appared to me that no quadruped could have stood, and from which had they made one false step they must have precipitated at least 500 feet. This anamal appears to frequent such precipes and clifts where in fact they are perfectly secure from the pursuit of the wolf, bear, or even man himself."
The Corps of Discovery camped just upstream from the Lodge, and Lewis wrote this entry in his journal on Thursday, July 18, 1805: “previous to our departure saw a large her of the Bighorned anamals on the immensely high and nearly perpendicular clift opposite to us; on the fase of this clift they walked about and bounded from rock to rock with apparent unconcern where it appared to me that no quadruped could have stood, and from which had they made one false step they must have precipitated at least 500 feet. This anamal appears to frequent such precipes and clifts where in fact they are perfectly secure from the pursuit of the wolf, bear, or even man himself.”

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I was so grateful for the opportunity to take a shower at the Lodge. And what beats all is the fact that it was the most wonderful outdoor shower with steamy hot water. What a blessing this magical place was!
I was so grateful for the opportunity to take a shower at the Lodge. And what beats all is the fact that it was the most wonderful outdoor shower with steamy hot water. What a blessing this magical place was!
Then, sweet Courtney brought me breakfast the next morning. I wish you the best, dear. I hope your life brings you great joy! Do what you love, and love what you do!
Then, sweet Courtney brought me breakfast the next morning. I wish you the best, dear. I hope your life brings you great joy! Do what you love, and love what you do!
The next morning at the Lodge, I had the pleasure of meeting more staff: Monica (I hope that is correct), Heli, and Kat, shown here. Kat was enthusiastically interested in my adventure and had only been working at the Lodge for 13 days. She is from the Midwest ;).
The next morning at the Lodge, I had the pleasure of meeting more staff: Monica (I hope that is correct), Heli, and Kat, shown here. Kat was enthusiastically interested in my adventure and had only been working at the Lodge for 13 days. She is from the Midwest ;).

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Kat showed me this monument that they had found buried in the river when renovating the Lodge. They dug it out of the sand and placed it above their fireplace.
Kat showed me this monument that they had found buried in the river when renovating the Lodge. They dug it out of the sand and placed it above their fireplace. It has the same journal entry that I had posted on Facebook earlier that day.
Before I left the lodge, a couple of Great Falls paddlers stopped by to say hi. Bob (r) and Mark.
Before I left the lodge, a couple of Great Falls paddlers stopped by to say hi. Bob (r) and Mark. Nice kayaks, guys!
Beautiful glassy waters were a much appreciated condition on the river.
Beautiful glassy waters were a much appreciated condition on the river.
Not sure if these are cormorants or cranes. I think the former.
Not sure if these are cormorants or cranes. I think the former.
This little white calf caught my attention because all of the others were black. Makes one think about genetics and chromosomes, a little middle-school science.
This little white calf caught my attention because all of the others were black. Makes one think about genetics and chromosomes, a little middle-school science.
Weather is always something to keep an eye on.
Weather is always something to keep an eye on.
As evening came on, that special light appeared. Taking photos was pure joy. I like starting later in the morning and paddling later in the evening.
As evening came on, that special light appeared. Taking photos was pure joy. I like starting later in the morning and paddling later in the evening.
This is one of my favorites from that 'special light' evening.
This is one of my favorites from that ‘special light’ evening.
And, as the sun begins to set, the sky becomes painted with brush stroked of color.
And, as the sun begins to set, the sky becomes painted with brush stroked of color.
Stunningly gorgeous evening.
Stunningly gorgeous evening.
The natural bird sanctuary across the way.
The natural bird sanctuary across the way.
Friday (May 24) night's camp, and the grand finale of photo opportunities. Breathtaking sunset.
Friday (May 24) night’s camp, and the grand finale of photo opportunities. Breathtaking sunset.
John from Great Falls happened to call me on the phone as I came out of the canyon and there were ample cell towers. He and a couple of paddlers wanted to meet up and paddle with me. Great! I always welcome paddle companions. L-R: Sherri, John and Bob and, they DID find me thanks to my SPOT Tracker.
John from Great Falls happened to call me on the phone as I came out of the canyon and there were ample cell towers. He and a couple of paddlers wanted to meet up and paddle with me. Great! I always welcome paddle companions. L-R: Sherri, John and Bob and, they DID find me thanks to my SPOT Tracker.
That night I tried to paddle to the Corp of Discovery Canoe Camp. Turns out it was covered with homes. That is okay, I found a spot at dark and slept on a bed of mint. Soggy but no Mosquitos, and rather fragrant.
That night I tried to paddle to the Corp of Discovery Canoe Camp. Turns out it was covered with homes. That is okay, I found a spot at dark and slept on a bed of mint. Soggy but no Mosquitos, and rather fragrant.
I will leave you with one of my favorite photos. In the midst of premier fishing country, I realized fishing is definitely a family affair.
I will leave you with one of my favorite photos. In the midst of premier fishing country, I realized fishing is definitely a family affair.

I hope you enjoyed this stretch of my journey as much as I did. Great Falls is deserving of its own post. I was able to paddle from there to Fort Benton in just a few hours, and here I sit in the Grand Union Hotel trying to finish this post. I feel good about this accomplishment and so, if the rain stops tomorrow, I will hit the river again. Fair warning, it may be awhile before I can post again as I am heading into some incredible wilderness area, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Be patient, and be sure and visit my Facebook page if you are able.

See you again soon!

Love your Big Muddy!

Warm regards, Janet