Back in the USA - Montana

7th - 23rd August 2011

Our return to Montana found us re-visiting a previous favourite spot in Kalispell. We checked into the Spruce Park on the River RV Park (, which we'd visited three years earlier. This gave some of us the chance to get the laundry done, attend to internet chores, clean the RV's interior, whilst others of our party fished the river running right through the park.

After two nights there, we headed out to check out some potentially good fishing we'd been told about on the North Fork of the Flathead River. What our map didn't show us, however, was that the last ten miles or so of the route was on rough, washboard gravel. Harvey does not appreciate the rustic charms of washboard gravel and by the time we finally decided to give up our quest and turn around, the contents of the overhead cupboards were mostly strewn on the floor and the paper towel in the kitchen had completely unwound!

The Harvey Washboard Effect!

Instead, we headed to Glacier National Park, another spot we'd previously enjoyed visiting. We checked into the Apgar Campground on the western side of the park for a couple of nights, having camped on the eastern side before. From here we rode the free shuttle bus across the striking "Going to the Sun Road" and through its traffic chaos. Trying to carry out major roadworks on a very narrow, precipitous road during a season only three or four months long without snow, whilst at the same time around 2 million vehicles are trying to do a spot of sightseeing, inevitably lead to delays and chaos. We were just glad that Harvey exceeded the permitted vehicle length and we hadn't attempted the trip under our own steam. From our base at Apgar, using the free shuttle, we took a beautiful hike up towards Siyeh Pass. We couldn't actually walk all the way up to the pass as the trail was closed due to a recent grizzly bear attack and we weren't arguing! The next day we walked up to Avalanche Lake where the biggest threat seemed to be chipmunk attack!

Our bikes finally got the dust from the gravel road washed away when we went to an evening ranger talk. As the talk began at the appointed hour, the heavens opened and the audience were forced to take refuge under a large tree. Eventually the poor, dripping ranger abandoned hope of continuing his talk and we had to ride back to the campsite in the pouring rain. At least we got clean too, as these were the only type of showers in the park!

Hiking at Siyeh Pass

Even if you threaten to eat my shoe, I'm not allowed to feed you!

Finally on the North Fork, without the paper town unravelling!

On our last afternoon in Glacier Park, we attempted another trip to the North Fork of the Flathead River. This time our route was through the National Park, on the opposite bank of the river, where the road was paved. When we finally arrived, it was a stunning spot although the fishing proved underwhelming, possibly because of the constant threat of thunderstorm which seemed to be building.

We were back in Kalispell for the weekend where we decided to attempt a float trip, in our inflatable canoe, down the Flathead River. This was only possible with the assistance of our new friends Don and Connie from Alberta, who drove us and our canoe seven miles upstream to the launch spot, saving us a very long bike ride after the float, to collect Harvey.

By the time we'd spent four hours paddling down the beautiful, wild river, riding a few rapids on the way and having to do a spot of portage now and again, the paddler, especially, was relieved not to be faced with that seven mile bike ride. In fact, as soon as she got home, she fell fast asleep for several hours!

We had such fun floating and fishing the Flathead that we decided to stay at Spruce Park longer, to do it all again on Monday, when Don would be floating down himself on his new inflatable one-man float boat. The weekend in the big city also gave us the chance for a trip to the movies for a birthday treat for Christine!

Taking a break from paddling

Look what I found while you were just paddling!

Don riding the rapids

We finally dragged ourselves away from the lovely Spruce Park to start heading south. We were bound for the Bitterroot River but first made a stop in the city of Missoula for a visit to the Smokejumper Center.

Smokejumpers, we learned, were highly trained firefighters, who parachuted directly to the scene of forest fires with their fire fighting equipment. On the whole they used the old fashioned, round style of parachute, purely because they often had to land in a very small space, between trees or on a cliff top, jumping from only 1500 feet above. As they dropped, they needed to have with them all the equipment they needed in case they got "hung up" in trees, having to cut themselves free of the chute and get down, before climbing back up to retrieve the parachute.

The teams of skilled firefighters were dropped in pairs and could end up miles apart by the time the aircraft had circled again. Behind them was dropped all the necessary firefighting equipment and supplies for anything up to five or six days they may have been required to be in the forest, hard at work.

It was strenuous and hot work, requiring them to be supplied with several gallons of drinking water each day. Once the strenuous work of firefighting was completed, they would have to hike their way back to civilisation, carrying everything that had been dropped with them. It was definitely not a job for the lazy or unfit, possibly not even for the sane, once we'd heard the list of injuries the team had sustained during training and active service this season alone.

Our fascinating tour by an active smokejumper took us through the ready room, where crews had two minutes to get into their chute and gear, through the supplies packing area, parachute inspection, repair and repacking areas and finally onto the small planes used to drop the fire-fighting teams. The smokejumpers often made or altered their own gear, using sewing skills they learned during the course of their work.

Subtle reminder to the chute packing team of what happens when your parachute doesn't open when you jump from 1500 feet.

Chute repacking loft.

On board the smokejumper plane.

Next we headed south from Missoula along the length of the Bitterroot River. We found a campground right on the river, which also ran a shuttle service for river floaters. This gave us the idea to take another float trip in our canoe Sevy Paddlesteerus, to explore the section of river from the Angler's Roost down to the town of Hamilton. We had our doubts about the depths of water in the river but actually ended up doing less portage than on the Flathead, mostly when we were too chicken to ride down the rapids! We got a little wet at the end of our trip when the rapids coincided with a 90 degree bend in the river and poor Sevy ended up bouncing off a large rock, his bow taking on a wave. Still we survived unscathed and our shuttle arrived right on schedule to transport us back to Harvey for a change of clothes!

As we were being shuttled back to camp we had an "only in America" moment. We drove by an electrical store where they were displaying a sign "Sign up for Direct TV and get a free gun!" Unfortunately in our damp condition, we didn't have the chance to snap a photo.

Taking a break on the Bitterroot

We were really enjoying the scenic Bitterroot Valley and decided to explore the West Fork of the River, a 23 mile detour down a dead-end road. Here we came across the stunning and mysteriously almost deserted Rombo National Forest Service Campground, where we based ourselves for five nights. This was a beautiful and tranquil spot, which we explored on foot and by bike. More generous new friends, Ted and Caitlan, first invited Phil to take a float trip with them and then the next day, shuttled us and the canoe up the river for us to try it by ourselves.

Unfortunately between Phil's earlier float trip and our own, someone had decided to increase the water flow from the upstream dam. This meant less portage over shallow stretches but infinitely more and faster rapids.

Caught this one from the riverbank!

Concentration, a little skill and a lot of luck got us safely back down the river, nerves a little frayed, having mounted only one large rock! The fisherman had hooked eight fish, one of them being a rainbow trout rather than the protected cutthroat trout meant we even had a fish supper to enjoy by our campfire as our resident deer population took a stroll by to check us out!

Riverbank fishing and wading on the West Fork of the Bitterroot also proved very fruitful and kept the fisherman happy during our stay, except for the time he bumped into a very large moose!

Phil, Caitlan and Ted heading downstream (look who's doing all the work while the boys fish!)

Pyromaniacs of the world unite!

Painted Rocks of the Bitterroot River Valley

Managed to stop the canoe long enough to land this one (which promptly jumped out of the boat again!)

Not a bad spot to call home for a few days!

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