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A Little More From Montana September 2019
Gerhard Schroeder  

Escaping the Phoenix heat by visiting Montana seems to have become our summer tradition by now. This time, 2019, we almost got more than we bargained for. For one, snow melt was still going strong, turning rivers deeper and murky. I opted to buy waders. For another, here is what things looked like on 20 June, a day before the official beginning of summer. But hey, you can dress for that.

On a side camping trip with friends we targeted the Crazy Mountains. Camp sites were in timber. Above those, somewhere hidden over a crest awaited Blue Lake. The promise of trout inspired me to follow Ed up into the mountain, hiking that is, and constantly uphill. At first we followed a well-defined trail. But where it crossed Big Timber Creek, snow melt was still at full swing – make that raging currents. No go. Ed did not give up. Following the bank for a while he ‘lucked out’, sort of. A log jam offered a possible way to the other side.

Notice the remaining snow; water was over 4 ft deep and oh so swift; I’m holding on, hating Blue Lake.

Well, we did make it across. Only to face serious uphill hiking, at times in nothing but old snow. When we finally arrived, this is the view we were rewarded with. That’s after over 3000 vertical feet of hiking. It took us 3.5 hours to see the lake.

Blue Lake in July

Oh, the other reward? Trout? Not a bite for either of us. To get trout we visited the Big Hole River on other days.

A bite

There the trout did cooperate. But the picture is deceiving. We floated the Big Hole by canoe, and at sections further downstream both the current and number of (submerged) boulders increased. So did the scrapes and impacts on the canoe bottom. After that trip my Old Town needed fiberglass reinforcement again.

That got me thinking – always dangerous.

I traded in my 4Runner and travel trailer for this rig. Lousy on gas, but will cross many rivers AND motor along them. OK, he wanted too much for the bicycle in the back. But I did dream about it.

On a way back to Bozeman a short stop along the Yellowstone River was in order. More trout.

Montana has the Smith River. Must be something very special, because it requires permits to float it, obtainable by lottery. Don, a friend of Ed’s, drew such permit. He could take a party of up to 15. His ended up 12 people strong. The other 5 teams chose to do the Smith journey in either their own or a rented inflatable float boat. Mary and I were also invited, opted to use our well-seasoned Old Town Penobscot canoe.

You commit to 56 river miles, no other take-out. We all decided to break the trip up into 5 days/4 nights. The Smith River in late July was running low. Avoiding all submerged boulders and rocks was impossible. The float boats simply slipped over those, and occasionally needed to be pushed off low rocky sections. Our canoe did not need pushing, but its bottom got scratched and scraped an awful lot.

Then, about 6 miles into our little adventure, Mary noticed that there was quite a bit of water in the canoe! Indeed, a good 4 inches deep. Luckily, the bank at that moment was flat and grassy. We got on land, unloaded all our equipment needed for the 5-day trip, including food and drinking water. After turning the vessel over to dump all the water, I found it – a long crack terminating in a 2-inch hole, punched through by one of the offending river boulders. Now what? There were 5 days and some 50 river miles to go.

Don to the rescue – OK, more accurately FLEX TAPE to the rescue. Don had the foresight to bring along two rolls of this wonderful product. Luckily, we had been ahead of his boat, and he stopped to help, as did all the other boats in our group. The sun quickly dried the canoe surfaces. Then all it took was one section of FLEX TAPE on the outside, and one on the inside over the crack and hole, and we all were on the river again. By the end of our trip that FLEX TAPE had encountered who knows how many rocks. It got roughed up good but it did not rip, peel back or come loose, and no more leakage.

I’ll end with a picture from the Gallatin River, which we floated a few times with my son and his family. Of course there are trout in it also. And boulders. God’s creation is awesome!

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