For several years I have been providing transportation for a photographer who documents the travels of the Corps of Discovery. Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River in May of 1805 and spent time at Point Decision where the Marias River flows into the Missouri River. They spent a week or so deciding on which river was the Missouri, finally choosing correctly. Point Decision is just a few miles downstream from Fort Benton, Montana, which is a few dozen miles or so downstream of Great Falls. My photographer friend has documented all the places that he can drive or reasonably walk to but has been working with me to document campsites and landmarks as well as wildlife and the landscape only reachable by rivers.
We have been planning this trip for a couple of years and have more trips yet to do as the majority of their travels was by water rather than by land. We launched from Loma, MT just above the mouth of the Marias river. The weather varied between windy, wet, wet and windy, windy wet and cold and a few minutes of sun shine. For those not familiar with Montana weather on the Missouri River the wind blows upstream the majority of the time! It can blow with great force which means that to achieve downstream travel you must continue to row with equally great force to achieve downstream travel. We were trying to make between fifteen and twenty miles per day. The original project called for floating almost 150 miles in a week.
For those of you that haven't reached your golden years let me tell you that 65 is not the new 25! Eight hours a day rowing is a lot of work, not the same a day floating and fishing. We had quite a load of gear too. Multiple cameras, computers, a very high quality drone to photograph campsites and such from the air along with a generator, fuel, 25 plus gallons of water, food camp gear and more. Below is the boat in an "unloaded" condition! Note the water line.
It is a beautiful place to boat, here are some pictures that give you an idea of the area. We think we may have proof that Lewis and Clark shopped at REI before their journey. The artifact in the picture below seemed to have the letters REI printed on it. I wonder if REI knows about this antique?
I wish I could say that I have a lot more pictures to document more of the trip but this was the rare time that I wasn't rowing, that the wind wasn't blowing upstream or it wasn't raining. Here a couple more from this beautiful early morning.
By the time we made it to Judith Landing, a popular takeout point for summer time river trips and the end of the White Cliffs section and the start of the Missouri River Breaks section. I was completely worn out and couldn't row anymore. We still had more than seventy miles to go with a 28 mile day still to come. We bit off more than we could chew. We try to travel on the rivers as close to the same days as the Corps of Discovery did. It makes for accurate photographs but at times challenging conditions. I would travel this river again but I think I would enjoy the section near Craig, MT where there are trout to fish for!
Wow awesome pictures, thanks for sharing. It looks like that was quite a load by that water line. I`m only 60, but I know what you mean :)
Not knowing what rei is, I thought you really found something cool, till I enlarged the pic and saw what it was. I`m thinking they didnt have that style of cup top back then, but what do I know :)
Recreational Equipment Incorporated, a popular outdoor gear store started in the 1960's in Seattle.
Much later then Lewis and Clark then....
Only about 211 years!
Great trip! We are floating from Coal Banks to Judith Landing starting on the 19th, with a little more conservative miles/day goal and an outboard motor. Thanks for the info!
More about selecting and fitting the motor on another post - that's a story in itself.
It is quite a surprise to me that others are planning this trip too. The shuttle folks that we used weren't used to having drift boats on the river, it is almost all canoes and kayaks. As the river meanders the winds direction doesn't change but your orientation to it changes so you will encounter downstream winds. Then you can maneuver your boat sideways to the wind and use one of your oars as a rudder and your boat as a sail. We reached the intense speed of six, yes six MPH in this manner! My boat wanted to weathervane and so it still took concentration and hands on the oars to keep it oriented for the best path. I would use my upstream oar to judge the depth of the water as you couldn't see bottom. Using your downstream oar can be problematic!
The scenery is wonderful and I would like to see it looking downstream with sunlight on it. We had grey, flat lighting which was accurate for Lewis and Clark's travels but not ideal for photographs and scenic viewing. I am spoiled by boating in the summers on Idaho's desert rivers. I spent sixty plus days one summer floating the Middle Fork, the Main Salmon and the Lower Salmon and the only time I needed more than a pair of shorts was when we went back to town for food and another group of people. I have been wet and dealt with winds there too but often it is in triple digits, bright and clear.
The campsites are nice and often large with concrete outhouses built a few miles from my house here in the Spokane Valley by CXT. We in fact used one one night to shelter gear we didn't want wet from the sideways blowing rain! Not quite a brick .... house but it was a great port in the storm! As the river has been harnessed by dams the campsites are located on a bank six to ten feet above the common water level. When you combine the rainwater and the Montana gumbo mud it can make the trip to and from your boats for loading and unloading very slippery. We had mud everywhere, in fact I still have mud that refuses to be removed from my rubber floor mats and some of my gear. Be prepared to deal with this wonderful material if it is wet. I wore my wading boots and waders from put in to takeout, sunup to sunset. I wonder what the dried soil will be like when the wind blows, will it now occupy every crevice left exposed.
I have spent a lot of time in Western Montana and always heard the statement, "If you don't like the weather wait five minutes it will change." Apparently Central Montana in May must observe the statement, "If you don't like the weather, wait five days it will change."
I was hoping to use my shiny new Montana fishing license to try for smallmouth bass, by the time we got off the river, hauled gear up the banks and set up camp I didn't have the energy to try it. Oh well, I guess I will have to go the the Clarkfork River closer to home and fish for the trout I know that are there. Drag me to the bramble bushes said Brer' Rabbit!
I hope that you both come back with some good photos and stories from your trips. It is a neat place, very scenic and unique. It was fun to compare the Missouri Rivers canyons to the Grand Canyon. Not as majestic, but beautiful and unique in it's own way. The Deschutes, Grande Ronde, and John Day Rivers have their own beauty too. They are all wonderful, wild places.
When the wind wasn't blowing and the birds were quiet it was an absolute, pure silence infrequently disturbed by noises of civilization. When the numerous geese honked it was a different story. They do know how to make themselves heard!
We plan to go back next year and float the Marias (Maria's river) next year, should be more of a white water float.
Good info! Who did you use for a shuttle? Could you recommend them?
Micheal and Meredith were nice people and did a good job of helping us. Yes I would recommend them. The other group we met on the river used them as well.
Another good trip is from the highway bridge over the Judith, on the road between Lewistown and Denton, down the Judith to that same Judith Landing on the Missouri. 4 days on the river. Three nights camping in a narrow coulee canyon where you will see no other boat the entire time. There are a few fences across the river. You can go under most of them. We had to unpack the boat and go over top one such fence. But that's why nobody (nobody) ever does that float. Small mouth bass Sauger and catfish. Rattlesnakes Mule deer. Bear. Dinosaur bones. Even a few elk.
Marias is white water? I don't think so. From Tiber dam down it's slow moving catfish and pike water. All the way to Loma on the Missouri. There is some white water way up above the Reservoir, closer to the Blackfoot Reservation. But then it's the Two Medicine and not the Marias.