Sunday, August 05, 2007

South Fork Of The Flathead
July 14-21 2007

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since we got back from the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our trip along the South Ford of the Flathead River already feels like a distant memory. My primary recollection is that it was hot, very hot. A combination of low elevation and extraordinary heat meant highs in the mid 90s most of the week. Despite the heat and other difficulties the trip was a success. We all caught lots of fish saw beautiful mountains experienced rain, smoke, and sore feet.

The Trip Started 65 miles north of Hungry Horse Montana at the Meadow Creek Trailhead. The Drive was longer than we expected. We had anticipated 35 miles of dirt roads but ended up with about 55. About 29 miles up the road a red pickup almost hit us head on. We were going right around a curve when the truck came around the corner in our lane. The guy was about ten feet into our lane. Luckily dad was able to swerve into the hillside and a disaster was avoided. The truck did hit the front left corner of the Suburban, luckily only our bumper was damaged. We stopped to examine the damage as the red truck sped on down the road. We arrived at the trailhead at 9:00 pm. It took about 30 minutes to get our packs ready and stow all the extra gear in the Suburban. As we were leaving dad went to put the car key in his pack. Jon suggested that he keep the key in his pack since there is a clip to put it on. I took the key to put it on, but found that the large plastic top of the key would not fit on the clip. I decided to put it in the top of my pack since I have a smaller clip in there. There was so much stuff in the top of my pack that I could not easily find the clip. Instead of taking items out to locate the clip I just shoved the key towards the back and hit the trail.

That first night we hiked for about two hours, the last hour in total darkness. About 20 minutes into the hike dad turned his ankle on a loose rock. We were a little worried that he may not be able to go on, but he just tightened up his boot and kept going. With no experience on this trail I had expected it to more or less hike along the side of the river the entire time. Instead the trail runs a couple hundred feet above the river. The side of the mountain is so steep that it is nearly impossible to access the river. As out water began to run low we found a suitable site and stopped for the night. Jon and I hiked a little further down the trail to where a stream crosses the trail to get water while dad and the girls set up the tents. After dinner, another trip to the stream, and the hanging of our packs we got to bed; it was about 1:30 am.
To Be Continued Monday Night...

The next morning we got up late, but were able to hit the trail by 9:00 am. Pictured above are Dad and Jon looking down toward the river. The first few miles of the hike is up on the side of the mountain like this. I imagine that fishing is probably good down in this area, but I will most likely never know. This is near the area where most float trips pull out.

This is the first small tributary we crossed. Wanting to save the hassle of taking off boots and wading across Jon, Dad, and the girls crossed on this old tree. Luckily no one had any bad falls while crossing streams this trip. The South Fork of the Flathead has several bridges built across it to accommodate pack trains.

The trail tends to be pretty dusty especially in burned areas. There have been numerous forest fires in the area since 2001. Three fires were burning while we were up there.

Lizzy wanted to spend the night on the log, but Jon reminded her, "when the log roll over we will die, we will die."

Jon and dad eating Sunday dinner.

Here is my first ever fish caught on a fly rod. It was not as hard as I expected it to be. I believe that most the fish in the river get caught quite often. Still there must be enough competition for food that the fishing is fairly easy. Talking to some people floating the river most people can easily catch over a hundred fish on one float trip. During our trip the fishing was not quite that hot. The extreme heat probably pushed a lot of the fish down to the bottom of deep pools, and none of us where nymphing. Also we hiked more than we fished. When I got home and looked at my pictures I was surprised to find that this is the only picture of a fish that I took. I don't know if it is just because I did not catch tons of fish, or if it is just a function of not carrying my camera as much while in the river. I think that the latter reason is probably the best.

This is the pool where I caught my first fish. We swam out to the big rock and dove off. One benefit of the heat was that the river never felt cold. We could wet-wade all day and never worry about being cold.

Common view of the river through the burnt trees. Not having trees to protect us from the sun certainly made the hikes a lot hotter. There was the benefit of being able to see the river at times.

Ponderosa Pines. This was my first opportunity to see such large fir tree. I have never been to the redwood forests of the northwest so these are the largest trees I have seen in person. This was a real highlight of the trip. Most of the trees showed sign of having been burnt though this did not seem to affect them too much. It was really cool to see them towering above the other trees.

Smoke from the White River fire. The next day as the wind changed the air became very gray and smelly. The smoke became dense enough that it started to hurt my eyes.

I believe it was about 10 miles from the South Fork to the fire.

Third night's campsite. This was our camp after the hottest day of hiking ever. We made the mistake of starting at 3:30 pm the hottest part of the day. I believe that we did about four or five miles before running out of water. We bushwacked our way to the river filled up and followed the river for a mile or so to here. On advantage of backpacking in this area are developed campsites. It is also a disadvantage. Part of me wants no sign of other humans in the wilderness. The other part enjoys a log to sit on and an established place to put a tent. I feel that in a high traffic area like the South Fork of the Flathead designated sites are better than a hundred once used sites. As it is the pack guides also need more developed places to camp.

Looking North down the river.

Jon and dad fishing. I was surprised to see how far in Jon is. Just for the record Jon did catch the most fish, the largest fish, and the first fish.

Big Prairie Ranger Station. Established in the 1920's these cabins were built by the forest service. When the wilderness act was passed in the 1960's the buildings were grandfathered in. At the ranger station they served us cold lemonade, a real treat considering we had drunk nothing really cold for days, and cookies. The ranger station acts as a base for several fire lookouts. They also manage hundreds of miles of trails in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Lizzy won the award for the dirtiest legs of the trip. I never realized how much pine needles help keep the dust down. In the areas that were burned where there were no pine needles to fall on the trail it was a super fine powder.

Jon also caught the first bullfrog.

The West Trail, looking North.

This was our second to last camp (for Jon and myself). We saw it on the way up and debated staying here but decided to go a couple miles further up. It was nice because it was near the river, it had good shade, and there was no one else camped nearby. There were also some good holes near the campsite.

Packing up. Our morning routine consisted of eating granola, striking the tents, and perhaps a little fishing.

Some of the Ponderosa Pines.

The U of U tree.

The river runs like a highway through the forest.

Looking South up the river.

This is the Salmon Fork's Telephone. Even though this one does not work there are over 40 miles of line that connect Big Prairie and other stations. The Salmon Forks line was so devastated by a forest fire they have not yet run another line.

Just taking a late bath.

Finally on our way home. It was a relief to have the key back and the car working. I must say that it felt like I was headed back to school after a great summer vacation. Now that it has been a couple of weeks, I have forgotten most of the difficulties. I would love to go back to the South Fork. Just when it is a little cooler and less crowded.

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Blogger Caroline McCann said...

Those are some awesome pictures. I like the U of U tree! Owen liked the frog, he said "He's mean hu?" meaning the frog. Fishing with a fly rod sounds like a lot of fun, I'm glad you all caught fish. Thanks for the pictures it was great to see what I've heard about.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Laurissa said...

Greg those are some beautiful pictures. I'm glad you had a great time. It looks like a beautiful area. It's amazing the things you don't appreciate until they're gone like pine needles and shade. The dust sounds miserable. The lemonade and cookies sound like a dream, though. Cold lemonade in the middle of a backpacking trip? Wow! Well, I hope I can go with you on another of these trips!

4:58 PM  
Blogger Katherine and Rick said...

Wow, Those are great pictures. It brings back great memories. That was a fun trip. It was also my first fish caught on a fly rod.

8:30 AM  

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