Dona had never seen the White Cliffs section of the Missouri River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River; we've talked about doing it for the past many years but have had trouble fitting it in. Our neighbors Tom and Ann hadn't done it either, so we found a slot and planned a four day trip. Luckily, we had a flexible schedule. We post-poned putting in for three grey, rainy days, then headed out on a prediction of mostly-good weather. It turned out to be mostly-correct.
Dona and I were rowing our "Hunky Dory", a Vermont Fishing Dory made by Adirondak Guide Boat. Tom and Ann have their own raft, but the Missouri is a slow river and frequently has an upstream wind. It could take forever to paddle a raft down it. So they borrowed a canoe from friends. I was a little concerned about them tipping over, so I rigged a set of outriggers on it; fortunately, they didn't actually test them out. I thought they would be riding lower in the water than they were, so the outriggers are too high; I'll modify them to ride a bit lower if I ever use them again.
I had made a sailing rig for the dory, but we didn't use it this trip because Dona likes to row so much and we didn't want to get too far separated from Tom and Ann. I thought if we switched around some I might use it if I was in the canoe, but we never did that.
We drove to the put-in and then Tom and Dona and Ann set the shuttle while I loaded the boats. The sign at the put-in said the river was running 7200cfs. I don't know if that is high or low for this time of year, but in any case it worked out to be fine.
We had talked about bringing Sophie, our Australian Shepard who loves the water, with us, but we haven't trained her to leave snakes alone and there are rattlesnakes along the river so that didn't seem like a good idea. The Dory is only 14 feet long but everything still fit fine, although it would have been a bit of a squeeze with Sophie. I think if we do that I will paddle a canoe with most of the gear, the sail, and Sophie, and Dona can row the Dory with the sliding seat, which she really likes.
What with stopping in Fort Benton for breakfast on the way over, setting the shuttle and stopping for ice-cream, we didn't get on the river until about 14:15. We had a mild downstream wind part of the time, and made about 14 miles before stopping to make a primitive camp.
Along the way we saw numerous bald eagles, an osprey and white pelicans.
We started looking for a place to camp after about 8 miles, but because all of the public lands have grazing leases and are unfenced or interspersed with private land, most of the potential spots we checked out were overrun with cow-pies and unappealing. One good spot was already taken by a couple in a canoe with two spaniels and we didn't want to bother them; we finally found a tolerable spot downstream of Burnt Butte, an igneous plug intrusion in the white Virgelle Sandstone.
It was getting late, so we quickly unloaded the boats. Dona, Tom and Ann set up camp while I started cooking. Since we had coolers we had a deluxe first evening meal, steak with couscous, onions, garlic, and salad. No leftovers on that one!
There was an interesting break in the sandstone walls just upstream of camp which I enjoyed exploring a bit the next morning.
La Barge Rock and the Eagle Creek developed campsite were a short ways downstream of our camp, but we preferred having our own peace and quiet, even if it did mean setting up the port-a-potty. It had a great view.
We had bear vaults and ice-chests along to store our food, and I also had one of the fancy kevlar bear bags. We weren't worried about bears, but there are plenty of other critters around to get into un-protected food. Unfortunately, I had left a day bag with snacks in it in the dory, and whatever-it-was that night shreaded the dry-bag and ate all our nuts, dried cherries, and dried apricots. Dangit! It tried unsuccessfully to get into the kevlar bear-bag, but it left teeth marks with about 3cm between fangs. We also had some boxed (individual serving, as in kids' lunches) fruit juices which the critter didn't touch. Apparently the odor doesn't get through the box seal on the juice.
In the morning I explored the draw behind camp. Besides a great view, it had some cool basketball-sized knobs on the rock. There were other places where it looked like some knobs must have broken off, leaving an orange stain where they had been.
After a breakfast of bacon, eggs and orange juice we packed up and paddled down the the Eagle Creek developed camp, where we hiked up "Neat Coulee".
Neat Coulee is a slot canyon with a fork part way up. It's possible to hike up one fork and come down the other. I'd done that on a previous trip but on this trip we only went part way up.
One of the cool things about the rock formations along the river is the mixing of igneous intrusions with the Virgelle Sandstone. There are crazy fins and plugs sticking up all over.
It was a blustery day on the river, with an upstream wind of about 8 knots. As afternoon wore on it alternately looked like we were going to get dumped on or enjoy sunshine. We passed Citadel Rock and arrived at the Hole-in-the-Wall developed camp where we stopped for the night. At first we thought we would have it to ourselves, but then a whole flotilla of people showed up.
Hole-in-the-Wall is just that... We hiked up to it on that other trip, but not this time. There are so many places to explore on this river... next time I would like to take six days and have time to really wander around.
We had an outrageously nice evening with a bit of rain and wind and then wonderful light as the sun set on the rocks all around us.
The next day we headed off down river without any particular destination. We just knew we didn't want to camp at Slaughter River, where most parties spend their last night.
As we got further down the river I was disappointed to see several power boats operating illegally, racing up the river. One of them is pictured below. They clearly knew they were operating illegally and slowed down when they came abreast of us and I pointed my camera at them, but then they took off upriver at high speed anyway.
While it is legal to operate a motorized craft in this section of the river, the regulations for travel through September 15 are for downstream travel only and no-wake speeds.
We didn't see a lot of wildlife on this trip — not even rattlesnakes — but we did see a lot of Bald Eagles.
Our last camp was a primitive camp at Flat Rock Riparian Project. It was ok if you ignored the cow-pies. There was no fence around the campsite, and you had to be careful about the cottonwood trees if it was windy. There were hairy woodpeckers working in the cottonwoods; we saw flickers as well.
A bunch of guys from Saskatachewan put on the same day we did. They came floating by all rafted up; it looked like quite a party...
In the morning, Dona poached an egg in an orange peel, something she learned when she was a kid. It came out pretty well. I'd never seen that done before, although she had told me about it previously.
We packed up and had a leisurely float down to the take out, and then a long drive home.
Unfortunately, we ran into more illegal boat operations before we left the wild section of the river. The boat pictured below was anchored and fishing. They did not pass us going downstream, so they clearly motored upstream to get here. It is highly likely they were exceeding no-wake speeds, as they had to fight the current to get there.
In addition to the above boat, another boat flew past our camp going upstream earlier in the morning before we packed up. Unfortunately, I didn't get a pictue of it. If you notice any illegal activity, please report it to the Lewiston BLM office, 406 538 1900; or the Ft. Benton BLM office, 406 622 4000.
On this trip we brought 1 gallon of water per person per day. That turned out to be too much. We started with 16 gallons and took off with 6. So 3/4 gallon / person / day would have been more than enough. As it was, we even used some of our drinking water to wash dishes.
All-in-all a good trip, but next time I'd like to take more time to explore. Maybe go with enough food and time to just have it be open-ended, and have time to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast...
On a vaguely related topic... I had purchased a pair of light-weight travel / adventure pants from ClothingArts.com. The pants are supposed to be "pick-pocket proof," and that they surely are. Or at least highly pick-pocket resistant. They have zippered pockets inside the main pockets, and a button closure flap over the main pockets in some instances. However, they are also virtually owner-proof as well.