Monday, July 14, 2008

Rafting the Gallatin

On Tuesday, July 8, we started south from Bozeman toward West Yellowstone. We had wanted to go whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River on the way to Yellowstone, but Sarah called one of the rafting companies on Sunday, and they told her that the water level was too high to run the Mad Mile, reputed to be the most exciting section. We figured it wasn’t worth it if we couldn’t run the best part.

As it turned out, the road to Yellowstone followed the Gallatin, and we drove right past Montana Whitewater, the rafting company that we’d called earlier. It was only a little after eight in the morning, but we figured we might as well check in, see if anyone was around and if so, whether the water level was down enough to run the Mad Mile.

So we made a U-turn and headed into the Montana Whitewater office. Turned out that there was a woman working there, and she was answering pretty much constant phone calls from people inquiring about rafting. So much for our thought that a rafting company would be quiet before nine in the morning! Between phone calls, she checked the water levels. Score! The river was running a little over 3100 CFS, just below the threshold where they’re allowed to run the Mad Mile! We signed up for the 10:30 raft trip.

They gave us some great costumes:

As it turned out, the outfits – along with jackets thrown over the top – would be totally necessary to protect us from the chilly water.

They drove a group of 60 or 70 of us up the river on a school bus to the put-in point. We got hooked up with a group of three guys and a woman from Bozeman who was by herself. As it turned out, our raft was one of only two that were planning to run the Mad Mile – all of the other groups had chosen to run the upper river only, not the more exciting lower river.

This meant that we got one of the two most experienced guides on the trip, Mike, who regaled us with tales of his feats of rafting daring and skill. He had a half-dozen first rafting descents of rivers, including 60-foot waterfalls. Based on that alone, you’d think maybe he was some crazy daredevil, but actually, if anything, he was the consummate student of rafting – he carefully analyzed the risk-reward profile of every run and even every move on our run. So he was fascinating to listen to – he had great stories, but along our route, he would tell us about the decisions that he was making along the way and how he had decided to hit particular spots to maximize the splash, to keep us safe, and so on. He would probably make a great rafting teacher.

The beginning of the trip had a few exciting spots, but a lot of it was pretty calm. Then, suddenly, it was one rapids section after another, as the river built up to the Mad Mile. Mike apparently could have decided that we weren’t qualified to run the Mile, but we got passing grades, and in we went. House Rock is this enormous boulder right in the middle of the river with hardly a raft’s width on either side, but following Mike’s commands, we slipped past it safely, apparently unlike one of his previous groups (described as 275 lb. couch potatoes…) that nailed the rock and flipped. From there, it was more fun rapids, but no more death-defying feats of daring and newfound rafting skill.

Too soon, it was over. We looked at the photos that the rafting company had taken of us, saw the smiles plastered on our faces as we romped through the rapids, and were satisfied that we’d had a good time. We were also satisfied that the photos were more expensive than we wanted to pay, so we headed out on our way toward Yellowstone.

Since we’d be getting to Yellowstone in the afternoon, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a campsite in the park, so we camped just outside West Yellowstone in the Bakers Hole campground. We got a site with a very pretty view.

Then we headed into West Yellowstone to get internet-connected at the library and inquire about backpacking at the visitors center. As it turned out, the Yellowstone West Entrance Station backcountry office had closed at 3:30, and the ranger on duty was unable to offer even the tiniest shred of useful information about backpacking, so we planned to come back the next day. We had dinner in our campsite and headed to bed. The next morning, we’d hopefully get a backcountry permit and then start hiking!

1 comment:

David Deland said...

Ok, your rafting experience seems really fun. I wish I could have that kind of experience, but my schedule doesn't allow it as of the moment. But I might try rafting once my leave was approved.