Day 5: The Mighty River (S Fk Flathead)

Day 5

Running at 7,500 to 8,000 cfs (as measured at the Hungry Horse gaging sta.), the South Fork of the Flathead is not exactly revealing its prim and proper summer behavior so well known to packrafters worldwide.

In fact, it’s darn right rowdy and at times, a bit belligerent.

We left our camp on Murphy Flats this morning. Within 20 seconds, we paddled into the confluence of the South Fork Flathead with the White River.

Three things happened there.

First, the river got a lot colder. The White must be dumping ice into the drainage! The cold caught up with me and I ended the day wearing my rain jacket and pants, in spite of the warmth and sunshine.

Second, the river changed color from “Pretty Mountain Blue” to “Scary Deep River Monster Green”. Clarity went down. I spent most of the day wondering if there was a river bottom.

Third, the river became a River with a capital R. Big, fast, and pushy.

The rapids we ran today at these levels are not to be missed. Wave trains big enough that the valleys swallow your packraft. Wave crests that break over your head and dump water down your back and neck. Vitamix trains that tempt you to point your little boat perpendicular towards one wave (called the sucker wave) while another one sneaks over and dumps a two-footer over the portside when you aren’t looking.

In other words, it’s a bit wet and cold but not a far stretch from being one of the most entertaining things one can do in a Wild Place.

After a big wave train, we have eight inches of ice cold water in our boats for our feet and butt to soak in. So we pull over at the next available gravel bar to dump them dry. And then…repeat!

We covered about 14 miles today in rather short order – about 2 hours and change of on-the-water-time (a bit more when you account for snacking, napping, rock-skipping, and other packrafter tomfoolery). We boat scouted the whole way and encountered no problematic wood.

Today’s fast float delivered us to the Black Bear pack bridge early this afternoon. We are camped just downstream on the inside corner of a scenic river bend and the rapids adjacent to our camp are nice and loud. It’s the wilderness version of a rock concert for the packrafter.

This afternoon, we have been eating, resting, drying gear, doing laundry, taking baths, and reorganizing our gear and supplies as we get ready for our next trekking leg. Our camp looks like Fred Sanford’s yard (cue music). We hope no one plans to stop by to see if anything is for sale.

Tomorrow we will get an early start and hit the trail (by foot, argh!) up Helen Creek towards the Pagoda Divide. We hope to camp in the upper Helen Creek drainage tomorrow night. This processes call raftpacking.

We have completed 56 miles and have about 50 to go.

And, all is well with our team!

Godspeed – RJ

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Enjoy live dispatches and photos via satellite from this expedition online at http://www.ryanjordan.com/ and receive updates from Twitter via @bigskyry (http://www.twitter.com/bigskyry).