We had a lot of snow this past winter, promising some great white-water boating. But Spring was a long time coming, and when it did finally arrive, the rivers came up in a hurry and were well past flood stage. As they started to recede, they were perfect for boating. My friend Stan Bradshaw sent me an email with an offer to float the Dearborn, a tributary of the Missouri. It's hard to pass up a trip on the Dearborn in spring, so I finaggled Dona's blessing and got my kayak out of winter storage.
The squirrels or packrats or weasels or something had chewed off the bow loop, and the foam blocks supporting my seat were missing. I sprayed some acrylic laquer over the outside to keep down the s-glass itchies, mopped up the animal droppings out of the inside, fitted some new foam blocks, and I was ready to go.
I met part of the crew at the put-in, but half of them were missing. They were still setting the shuttle, and apparently had to improvise because we had a raft with us and it wasn't clear the raft could make the upstream ferry across the missouri to the normal take-out. The Dearborn was down to 1000 cfs, a nice runnable level.
We had one cat-a-raft, one open canoe with two paddlers, two single canoes, and me in my kayak. For the uninitiated, most of those things that look like baggage in the canoes are floatation bags, designed to take up space so the boat can't fill with much water. That way it doesn't sink if you swamp, and is a heck of a lot easier to bail out if you take on a big wave, or to swim or pull to shore if you go over and can't roll up. Kayaks should have the same things in them, but you can't see them because of the deck.
|Some of our crew at the putin||My old reliable kayak|
We didn't put on until after 11:00. It was a partly-cloudy day, warm enough but not as hot as we might have liked given the cold water.
We ambled down the river, enjoying the scenery and the non-rainy, warm-ish weather for a change.
|Tony, Karen, Stan and Glenda||Stan, Glenda, Meagan|
|Tony and Karen||Tony and Karen|
Stan and Glenda have been paddling together for years, and it shows. Stan is an expert canoeist, and they make a great team. It was a treat to watch them put the boat right where they wanted it, without any theatrics or seemingly much effort.
|Stan and Glenda lining up...||... and peeling out|
This was a new raft for Tony and Karen, and it was the first time they had had it on moving water. They didn't have any trouble other than finding a line wide enough with room for the oars. They were pretty much high and dry the whole trip.
|Tony and Karen|
Meagan was taking a break from studying for the bar exam, having just finished law school at the University of Montana. This was a short trip for her; she has taken some several-month long trips up in Alaska. One could easily get jealous... She had great strokes and was fun to watch. Her banana boat would spin on a dime; it has so much rocker it seems like it's hardly in the water.
|Stan and Glenda|
We didn't see much wildlife. There were a few ducks on the river, most with fuzz-balls tagging along behind them; and we saw a Bald Eagle watching over its large immature youngster in a nest.
There are only a couple of significant rapids on the Dearborn. They aren't particularly difficult, but like a lot of things in the outdoors, if you mess up the consequences can be pretty extreme if you aren't prepared or don't have a clue what to do if something does happen.
|Stan and Glenda||David and Meagan|
The last significant rapid on the river is longer than others, so it takes a little more concentration. In an open boat it's relatively easy to swamp part way through, which makes finishing a lot more difficult. Here are Stan and Glenda working their way down the last bit.
|Stan and Glenda||... concentrating hard ...|
|Still a little concerned...||Ah... looks like we've got it!|
|Smiles all around.|
Meagan came through in fine shape as well.
|Meagan wasn't really grumpy...|
|But she was happy to be upright!|
Everyone except me got out and was stretching on shore when someone yelled there were boaters in the water. I looked up to see two kayakers swimming down towards us holding on to their boats and paddles. One of out crew yelled to them that we would throw them a rope. At first they tried to refuse, saying they would just "float on down." Yeah, right. Not a good idea. The water was cold, barely above freezing; and anyone who dumps gets chilled in a hurry, usually with some hypothermia. On top of that, there was more broken water below us; we were in by far the best place to get to shore.
I shoved off and paddled over to them, planning on telling one of them to grab the loop on the stern of my kayak and I would tow him to shore. When I got there one of our party had already thrown them a line and the guy farthest upstream grabbed it. Then they threw another line which landed perfectly for the second guy to grab, but he was confused and didn't see it and didn't seem to even know it had been thrown to him. I picked it up and handed it to him and told him to hold on and they would pull him to shore. Neither of them knew how to hold a line when being towed to shore, but they managed to stay attached.
I backed off and went over to pick up a hat I saw floating downstream. After picking up the hat I looked back and discovered one of them had let go of his kayak. I went after it and managed to push it to shore a ways down river. Meagan and Karen were bashing through the willows along the bank, and managed to make it down to me and grab it and pull it out.
It was a perfect example of how things can go wrong on what starts out as a nice day on the river. Almost entirely due to inexperience and being ignorant of the dangers and difficulties that arise when things don't go as planned, these guys were lucky. But once you're in the water and getting cold in a hurry, it doesn't take much to end up seriously hypothermic or pinned on a rock or a tree.
The sun came out as we finished our float. When we hit the Missouri, there was a noticeable change in the water temperature; There was clearly water spilling over the top of the dam, since the water at the bottom of the reservoir would be cold. The Missouri was running 20,000 cfs, big and in a hurry to get to the Gulf of Mexico. We passed vacation cottages on our short float to the take-out which were either flooded are almost flooded.
All-in-all, a great way to start the boating season!
Gary's home page