Ryan Jordan

Mosquito River Philosophy

In late July, 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived at the headwaters of the Missouri River near present-day Three Forks, Montana. From there, Capt. Clark proceeded up the Jefferson River and found a creek (now called Willow Creek) and named it the Philosophy River. We’re not sure why the party named it such, but it is near this location, on a little island, where we’re camping tonight. And let me tell you, there is plenty to philosophize about.

Across from the mouth of the creek lies this little island, inhabited by rich flora – mostly willows, but a few cottonwoods and alders too. The flowers are just starting to bloom, which provides some ancillary color to the island, but the defining feature here is far more obvious: swamp.

The Jefferson crested near 10,000 cfs on June 8, and here we are five days later at 60% to 70% of that flow. Which means that here is stagnant water everywhere on the island.

When Charlie and I scouted the island on Wednesday, we waded through hip-deep swamp in our efforts to even find a dry strip of land for a campsite. Our efforts paid off, and that’s where we are tonight. In fact, I think there are only two such small dry strips on the island. The fact that there are two dry strips means that there are many more wet, muddy, swampy, or submerged strips, frothing with mosquito larva, leeches, and who knows what else. When I detoxed from our evening adventure Wednesday, I survived with only eight mosquito bites, two ticks, and a single leech. We didn’t really tell the Scouts (or their moms) that, though.

In spite of its flooded accomodations, it’s a pretty camp, tucked away hidden, with grassy spots for pitching. And I’m protected in a pyramid tarp with a mosquito-proof floor fashioned from a packraft, dry bag, sleeping pad, rain gear, inflation bag, PFD, stuff sacks, and a few plastic bags I used for stuff sack liners. The mesh skirt on my 22-oz ‘mid is layered over the virtual floor and held in place by shoes, broken down packraft paddles, and sticks. So while it looks a bit like Sanford and Son inside, I have no insects as companions. But as the sun sets, I can hear the swarms outside and it’s loud, like a horror movie.

We’re in a water birder’s paradise here: today’s float brought four different raptors, six types of ducks, two types of geese, a flotilla of pelicans. As I write this, sandhill cranes are whirtling in all directions and the islands nuthatches and finches are sounding off the eve, a fitting followup to our rendition of Scout Vespers as the campfire embers grew weary.

Clark’s journal indicates that he camped quite some ways up from the mouth of Willow Creek, and not on the island here. While swatting mosquitoes, removing tick-like burrs from my skin, and wondering how far up my leg a leech might have crawled, my stomach is a little queasy. So, I am trying to imagine Clark’s fortitude when he camped near here, for he too seemed to have been tainted by ill feelings. He writes, “I felt my Self verry unwell & took up Camp on the little river 3 miles above its mouth.” As we arrives to swarms of welcoming mosquitoes, I was thinking that I might have like to have taken up camp 3 miles from here, too!

So, while I’m keen on preserving the historical name of this site (“Philosophy River”), I too am open to the thought of renaming it for the month of June to Mosquito Island, a name proposed by the Scouts.

The island here, and the land across from it, is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is one of the very few spots to find legal and decent (apparently between July and May) camping (i.e., that which offers the comfort of grassy pitches and sheltering trees) between Canyon Corner (upstream of Lewis and Clark Caverns) and the mouth of the Jefferson at Headwaters State Park.

This weekend, we are canoeing (and rafting, and pack-rafting) with our Boy Scout Troop – Troop 676 of Bozeman, so the camp here is buzzing with the activity of learning and practicing wild camping a la leave no trace. We’re even using firepans, recycled from the large tin tubs that house an assortment of popcorn from Trail’s End – our primary annual fundraiser.

So, the island’s terra notta so firma and blood-sucking fauna aside, the camp is abuzz with the activity and enthusiasm of boys outside – which provides plenty of reward for being here.

We had a pleasant and beautiful float today, allowing the current of the Jefferson do its work for us. Chase and I rode together, with all our gear, in the 5.8 lb Alpacka Double Duck. It’s our first big trip with the boat, and in spite of it lacking an upturned bow or stern, it kept us high and dry loaded with 300 lbs of people and gear, and has been the most comfortable Alpacka model for the “two in one boat” trick, which will be featured as a gear list theme at BPL in a few weeks in the context of the river trip that Chase and I are on right now.

It’s dark now, and the sun, heat, and bugs have taken their toll today. I can’t wait to put in my earplugs, go to sleep, and rest up for tomorrow’s float.

Enjoy today’s photos below (especially the mosquitoes in the sunset shot), Godspeed, and go light.

— RJ (from Latitude 45.8269 / Longitude -111.6677)

[SPOT map added 6/15/09: View Trip @ SpotAdventures]