Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 2

Unlike the occupants of the abandoned plane up above, we came to the upper Missouri river valley by a more conventional way but traded that off for the less popular canoe. There were several reasons we wanted to do this. First and foremost with populations ever on the incline, the time when we will be able to go somewhere and find pristine conditions is finite. Although there were already signs of civilization creeping closer like the plane above and a few ghost towns, the river was for the most part untouched and felt like we were just minutes behind the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The second big reason is that we wanted to see the upper Missouri before it all disappears underneath stagnant waters. Sure the Wild and Scenic designation should protect it but so was the designation supposed to protect Dinosaur National Park which is now under the stagnate waters of Lake Powell. Finally, after three successive years of hiking in the mountains and generally fighting gravity one way or the other every step of the way, we were looking to let gravity due all the work for a change.

Like the lower reaches of the river, there are lots of islands to camp on in the upper reaches created from an ever shifting and restless river. To my recollection, we camped on islands a couple times but most preferred the shores of the river which had much less vegetation to fight and less stagnate water to harbor mosquitoes. The bugs were really bad in places along the river during the end of July/early August time frame we visited it.

We weren't completely slaves to gravity this trip and would often stretch our legs by climbing the several hundred feet out of the river valley to the surrounding plateau to take a gander at our surroundings. I'm sure Lewis and Clark both did that quite often as well. We got quite adept at picking out particular suitable places for old Indian encampments on these plateaus and quite often would find 'teepee rings' scattered throughout the scrub. The one pictured above isn't very clear but it was a ring of rocks probably a dozen or more feet in diameter and were one of dozens scattered throughout the area. I spent quite a bit of time scratching the dirt here and there looking for arrow heads, which I'm sure were very illegal to touch anyway, but never found any during the trip.

I don't remember if it was two or three days into our trip but we soon came to a particular beautiful stretch of river that bordered the Missouri Breaks. The 'Breaks' are a badland area of steep white bluff outcropings bordering both sides of the river as seen in the picture above. They were eroded here and there by 'coulées' or slot canyons formed by intermittent streams and millions of years. It didn't take up long to discover the beauty of hiking up these coulées looking for geological oddities or just napping in the refrigerated depths on beds of fine sand. Several times our lunches were followed by a two or three hour siesta in one of these coulées until the sun's intensity lowered just a notch. Cool dry air, a fine sand bed and a good book made fighting gravity a real challenge.


sage said...

Sounds heavenly... I take it from your first post the flow rate was so fast you had little paddling to do, mostly floating and enjoying?

Ed said...

Sage - When we went, it was pretty high from earlier rains and remained high the entire trip thanks to the damn dam upstream of Fort Benton. It was fast enough, you could always hear the grit scrubbing the underside of the canoe whenever you stopped paddling. I highly recommend this trip to anyone.

Vince said...

Why on earth has the owner of that aircraft allowed to abandon his rubbish in such a manner. For heavens sake if he littered in the middle of a town he would be fined.
For that matter I wish all 12/16/20 bore cartridges had a unique identifier so that those under&over guys with the 15ft extractor blowback were forced to pick up their rubbish. Or fined severely.
Nor do I much care if the fellow crashed himself to death in the above 'plane. His estate or his flying insurance should pick up the tab for a heavy lift.

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for this report.

Query: Are the places to re-provision along the way, or are you limited to gearing up at the beginning of the trip for the entire 150 miles?


Ed said...

Vince - Probably the only way to retrieve that plane in such a remote are is with a very large helicopter.

R. Sherman - At the time, there was only one place along the river and it was kind of a ghost town with one place of business that sold knick knacks and a hydrant to fill water jugs. It was a long haul back to the boat with the water jugs. We brought all our food and I believe six of the water jugs pictured in the first post for four people and two canoes. I think we also filtered cooking water from side streams and just used the water we brought mainly for drinking and low temperature cooking.

Vince said...

that's the kind of thing I had in mind. If the Chinook can lift a 15000lb gun it can hoist the carcase of that 'plane without even feeling it. And one of those things cannot be all that costly for a days work. Surely, the National Guard has one or two.
Sorry again, but it is one of the things that gets to me. There is so little semi-wilderness now, that anything other than footprints.
We have little nutcases splashing graffiti on rock faces 2500ft up a mountain.