Dec 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm #1311154
My wife and I are just breaking into packrafting. We have been backpackers for a number of years now so we're not new to the outdoors and elements.
We have some time this summer to take a trip (thinking between 5-7 days) and would like to head west for some packrafting and backpacking. Before i got the packrafting bug, we had intended to do a trip to the winds, but now after looking over Ryan Jordan's packrafting trip in the bob and also forrest mcCarthy's trip to the Bob, it piqued my interest. Forrest's Du Mor trip also looks very interesting, although the water in his pictures looks a little intimidating.
I'm looking for some advice on a trip that is OK for 2 novice packrafters (we are akin to off trail hiking, we did 7 days in the beartooths roughly 2 years ago where 75% was rough trail to off trail). Some time in June, july or early August would work best. We are both young and in shape, and have relatively lightweight packs/gear, so mileage and pace are less of a concern. I would like the trip to be a mix of floating and hiking, similar to the bob marshall trip posted on this site.
We have 2 alpacka rafts, hydroskin suits, booties, and gloves (as i assume the water will be cold during these months). Once the spring comes, we will be taking a number of trips to the creeks and rivers in PA and surrounding areas (in order to have some water experience under our belts).
Is something similar to the Ryan Jordan trip posted in the article section feasible for novice packrafters? Maybe a few extra portages required and/or aiming to go in the later months (early aug) for lower water levels/slower flow?
Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
~AidanDec 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm #2055692
Aidan, a loop in the Bob would suit your needs well, assuming you've done a decent amount of practice boating first on class II.
I'd recommend mid to late July if you can pick your window in advance. Any later and you risk lower than ideal water levels if spring comes early. Any earlier and the bugs could be rather irksome.
A loop out of Benchmark is the logistically easily way to go. In the summer any car can make it. Hike over Stadler Pass and put in straight away. Danaher might be a bit lean, but you should be floating with minimal dragging after you hit the South Fork proper. Take your time floating all the way to the Spotted Bear River. Even if you don't fish, I'd advise trying it out here. Hiking 5 miles up the White River and boating back down is highly recommended.
Hike the trail, or hitch on the road, upriver. Cross at Silvertip Creek and follow the faint trail to the summit of Limestone Peak. A good game trail continues down the other side, over the summit Ibex Peak, and along the flanks of Silvertip Peak to a pass which leads down to the headwaters of the White River. Stay high up the west side of the Wall Creek cliffs and you can drop to the trail with no bushwacking at all. The quality of this stretch cannot be overstated. Fit backpackers could go from the Spotted Bear to Juliet Creek in one long day.
From there you have two choices. First, hike over Larch Hill Pass and head down to the North Fork of the Sun, which should have water for floating. Hike the South Fork Sun back to the car. If you want more, even more rugged off trail alpine hiking, get up on top of the Chinese Wall and follow it all the way to White River Pass, then drop east back to the car.
This trip could be done in 6 days, but 10 would not feel like too many at all.
A trip in the Teton Wilderness would be a good option as well, but the paddling is tougher and the logistics more complex.Dec 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm #2055708
My wife and I did a similar trip in 2012 to what Dave mentions. Ours was a little shorter, as we took out sooner on the Flathead (at Bear Ck.) and crossed over Pagoda and Larch Hill to get back east of the divide.
In short, it's an excellent trip that's quite accessible to aspiring packrafters. The first few miles of Danaher Ck. require a fair number of take outs to get around logs, so if you guys aren't okay paddlers (ie. capable of exiting the river reasonably quickly) then I suggest walking up river the first couple miles until close to where the SF Flathead begins. Once you're on the actual SF Flathead you'll make much better time and it's low stress fun floating to Big Prairie. You could head over White Pass from Benchmark to start further downstream and skip the Danaher portion, but you'd miss a lot of great floating as well.
The only note of caution on the SF Flathead prior to White River is "Burnt Park" (labelled on the Cairn Maps). There's nothing major here, but the water moves a bit quicker with faster corners and a few rocks, so my wife (new packrafter) found it more stressful and elected to walk a few corners. I didn't see anything dangerous. White River is an excellent float, but keep an eye on the levels. My guess is you'd want to float it before mid July.
After White River joins, it's pretty friendly floating until Mid Creek Gorge. There are some rocks and holes to watch, but the river is much bigger so you can give everything a wide berth. After Mid Creek Gorge it's even friendlier and wider.
The N Fork Sun R seems a bit more challenging than the SF Flathead – particularly the first mile after the bridge at HQ creek, which has some fast corners. However, by this point you'll have spent quite a bit of recent time on the water, so you'll likely be more confident/warmed up as well. My wife actually found the NF Sun to be less stressful than the SF Flathead because of the experience she'd gained.Dec 19, 2013 at 5:05 am #2055871
Thank you all for the insights.
Im really excited to start planning the trip (more reason to procrastinate through my last few classes till break)
As far as maps go, I came across this website and I'm curious if anyone has experience with these maps? Are there any other good resources to use?
~AidanDec 19, 2013 at 5:29 am #2055874
Yes those maps are good. They're what I use. The North and South Bob maps should be all you need for this trip.Dec 19, 2013 at 6:07 am #2055879
David and Dan
I am planning a route in the Bob that sounds exactly like what Dan did. I had to cut the Pagoda Mtn section out of my last trip to the Bob and want to see it. However the route David described from the S Fork of the Flatehead to the N Fork of the Sun sounds really scenic. I also like off trail stuff. Which one of those routes back to the N Fork of the Sun would be most rewarding in terms of scenery and solitude?Dec 19, 2013 at 7:47 am #2055896
The Pagoda route is good. You can also head off trail near the summit of Pagoda and traverse Silvertip Peak. The Limestone-Ibex traverse is better than either.
The Cairn maps are the only decent maps of the Bob. They'll get you where you need to go. My packrafting guide reiterates most of what has been said here, and has some suggestions for ideal flows on the major rivers: http://bedrockandparadox.com/glacier-np-packrafting-guidebook/Jan 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm #2060927
Couple more questions
Curious how long it will take to float from danaher to spotted bear? I know this is extremely variable but is it doable in a day or is this a 2 day float (or more).
Hiking from limestone to ibex to west wall creek. The map shows a slight trail up to limestone. How is the Hike to ibex and west wall creek? Looking at the map briefly, it seems we should be able to follow the ridge line and pick our way across?
Regarding the trails marked on the cairn maps, are the trails marked in the bob? Via signs or anything?
I'm sure I'll have more questions down the line. Really looking forward to this trip. Right now we are going to shoot for early July. Although I think we'll hold off booking until we can confirm snow levels, flow rates etc. are there any decent resources for flow and water levels for rivers in this area, or would a phone call to the rangers be the best source of info?
AidanJan 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm #2060941
Danaher to Spotted Bear is two full days at typical July levels (ie 2-3300 cfs @ Twin Creeks). For example, this past July I floated from the White River mouth to Spotted Bear in one day, which amounted to nine hours of rather focused effort. Danaher itself will be slow, as will either hiking around Meadow Creek or scouting a bunch if you run it. Budgeting 2.5 days would be advisable. Much below 2k cfs, Danaher and the part of the South Fork above Big Prairie will be quite slow. Also, keep in mind that at any of these levels floating speeds will increase significantly below Salmon Forks.
The turnoff of the trail up towards Limestone is obvious, as is the first mile or so. The trail is faint but clear all the way up to the summit, though there are a few spots through meadows when it's vague. The game trail down from the summit and up towards Ibex is plain to see, and right up near the ridge. The trail up towards Ibex is used by horses in hunting season. Once up high the terrain gets rocky and the trail is harder to see, but line of sight route finding is simple. Going under the flanks of Silvertip there's only one way to go, and a good game trail throughout with occasional signs that it was once a maintained horse trail. Once over the pass, stay high and hikers left until you can eyeball a clear shot down to the trail.
Trail signs in the Bob are irregular. Generally, they exist when they are least needed (ie obvious junctions). I've missed several turns by walking right past a junction in the woods, when the trail was not much used and the sign was tiny, sunbleached, and covered in moss.
The USGS streamflow site and various Snotels can be used to generate graphs of (respectively) when in past years the rivers rose and fell and what sort of snowpack said activity was correlated with. Mid-early July really is a safe bet. Flows could range quite a bit either side of normal, but you can count on floatable levels regardless, short of armageddon.Jan 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm #2061033
This the gauge for the SF Flathead. You can view historical data to get a sense of what it's normally like around the time you're going, as well as what it's like in high and low years.Apr 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm #2097686
Any idea how this years snow pack might affect water levels for early july?Apr 29, 2014 at 8:09 pm #2097754
Given the big snowpack, and the fact that the high elevation melt hasn't really started, the reasonable assumption would be that things will be at least a bit higher in July than usual.
It all really depends on how warm the next ~six weeks are, though.
If I were buying plane tickets into Great Falls right now, I'd be fairly confident that the later half of July will still provide good floating on the upper reaches of the South Fork, and most likely on smaller tributaries like the White and lower Youngs.Apr 30, 2014 at 3:56 am #2097803
Thanks for the reply. So I have tickets already for July 3-9. I believe I'll be able to change if need be as the airline has altered the itinerary. The only other available dates we can go are the 22-28. I know it's hard to estimate what the river might be like since the melting hasn't begun. Would you push for the later part of July?Apr 30, 2014 at 5:51 am #2097813
The only real downside to the earlier date is a decent probability of more/worse bugs. It is conceivable that if May stays cool and runoff is quite late, the rivers will be intimidatingly big (say, South Fork above 10000 cfs) with poor fishing in early July, but that is very unlikely.Apr 30, 2014 at 7:08 am #2097839
Hope you don't mind my jumping in.
I'm trying to work a similar trip into my summer schedule. Do you think the last week of June would be scary? I'm leaning towards a later trip, sometime after the PR roundup so after July 13. Sounds like this would be a good year for a later trip.May 1, 2014 at 9:20 am #2098205
Mid-July is a safer and more enjoyable bet all around.May 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm #2098311
Thanks Dave, that should work well. Can't wait.May 1, 2014 at 3:23 pm #2098328
Appreciate the comments. I'm going to hang tight on my tickets, watch the water levels and temperature for may, and get in contact with the rangers in the Bob. Hopefully I won't need to postpone the trip…(hoping for a warm May and that spring melt!!!)Jun 8, 2014 at 7:11 am #2109741
Still have my trip scheduled for July 3 – 9. I've been watching the gauges for the flathead and can see that water levels are still rather high. I understand that water levels are predicted to be above average for this year, but I'm curious how that will translate to floating on the flathead and eventually the Sun river.
My wife and I have gotten some rafting trips in already this year (hit some class II and III on water levels that were above normal). So im confident that we can handle class II in the wilderness.
So i'm trying to decide whether to push our trip back by 2 weeks (this option is not as likely as it conflicts with work) or maybe still go to the bob and raft less…:(.
Would 5000-6000 cfs be a reasonable estimate in about a month, and would those levels be manageable? I really want this trip to happen, although definitely not willing to sacrifice our safety.
Any help/insight is appreciated.
~AidanJun 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm #2109832
I think 5-6k @ Twin Creek is a reasonable guess for early July. This is a dandy level for the White River and the South Fork. If you go as far north as Black Bear Creek, just be aware that a few rapids in that stretch can be a bit pushy at that level. All easy to scout and portage. I'd keep the trip on that date as the N Fork Sun would be more likely to be floatable. I did the Wrong Creek to Headquarters stretch last weekend and it was outstanding, fast and scenic without much wood or any significant rapids.
Bring bug protection. We're working on an epic skeeter season at the moment. Camping either high or on the river (for the breeze) is a good idea.Jun 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm #2109872
Thank you so much for your help with this trip! This just made my night.
Ill be sure to post a post trip with some pictures and videos.
~AidanJun 9, 2014 at 7:49 am #2109953
Please do! Hope you have a great time.Jun 9, 2014 at 11:09 am #2110020
NMJun 16, 2014 at 8:26 am #2111881
Not 100% sure we are going to have time to float above black bear creek (might have to take out there and cross silvertip to then link up with the North fork of the Sun R.). I am planning for an alternative longer route where we float up to Mid Creek, take out and bypass the river until cedar flats, put back in and float up to spotted bear creek R. Can anyone tell me what the river is like beyond cedar flats? Does it start to mellow out, or is it still pretty gnarly?
Thanks.Jun 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm #2112054
@chadlLocale: Teton Valley, Wydaho
Quite mellow, class 2 water (tops) that slows in spots. Spotted Bear is easily visible from the river and had lots of folks milling about when I floated there last summer.
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