South Fork Flathead River packrafting

Six Montana paddlers took a five day backpacking and packrafting trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to float about 56 miles of the South Fork of the Flathead River in mid-July.

Beargrass path

Beargrass path

Scott Bosse carries his backpack down the Lodgepole Creek Trail into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, one of many beautiful tracts of federal land in Montana.

Dusty trail

Dusty trail

Dust from the trail darkens Jared White’s calves above his sock line after he changed footwear to cross Youngs Creek.

The start

The start

After Babcock and Jenny creeks joined to form Youngs Creek, packrafters inflated their boats and lashed their packs to the rafts to begin their float. They went only about 80 yards before having to portage around the first of many log jams.

Inflation

Inflation

Packrafts are inflated by a fabric bag from which the air is squeezed, as Bill Cunningham demonstrates. Once nearly full, the rafts are tightened by blowing into separate valves.

Spray skirt

Spray skirt

A spray skirt and inflatable seat cushion help keep packrafters drier and more comfortable as they float.

Calm stretch

Calm stretch

Wildland fires have scorched many stands of trees along the South Fork of the Flathead River, providing an eerie backdrop to Jared White’s float.

Rocky portage

Rocky portage

Jared White, Erin Madison and Bill Cunningham walk their boats around a log jam on the South Fork of the Flathead River in mid-July.

Log jam

Log jam

Log jams are the most frequent cause of portages on the South Fork of the Flathead River. This one is just below Gordon Creek, a popular put in for boaters packing in from Holland Lake.

Portage

Portage

By lashing his backpack to the packraft with the shoulder straps up, packrafter Scott Bosse of Bozeman hauls his boat and pack in one piece. Chris Solomon, at right, chose to take his pack off the boat for this portage.

Busy intersection

Busy intersection

Scott Bosse paddles upstream to reach a rendezvous with his fellow boaters during a five-day trip into the wilderness section of the South Fork of the Flathead River. Other packrafters, not with Bosse, get ready to depart in the background.

Fishing stop

Fishing stop

Chris Solomon casts to westslope cutthroat trout rising in a wooded bend of the South Fork of the Flathead River.

Toy boats

Toy boats

Although small, packrafts are incredibly durable and well-engineered for their task. Left to right Erin Madison, Bill Cunningham and Jared White enjoy a leisurely section of the South Fork of the Flathead River below the Big Prairie pack bridge.

Loaded boat

Loaded boat

Jared White steers past whitewater during the fourth day of his five day trip down the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. His pack is lashed to the front of his boat to somewhat counterbalance his weight in the back.

Drying out

Drying out

Packrafting can be a wet ride on splashy water. Erin Madison dries her damp clothing out at camp in a well-positioned pine tree.

Takeout sign

Takeout sign

Easily missed by some boaters, the take out here sign signals the start of the 4-mile-long Meadow Creek Gorge which contains rapids rated for advanced or expert boaters only.

South Fork

South Fork

The South Fork of the Flathead River is born in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and flows into Hungry Horse Reservoir near the town of Columbia Falls.

Hiking in

Hiking in

A hiker pulls his kayak up the trail to the head of Meadow Creek Gorge for a wild ride down the whitewater stretch of river.

Meadow Creek Gorge

Meadow Creek Gorge

Far below a pack bridge, the South Fork of the Flathead River courses through a narrow gorge. The bridge was a good spot for Jared White to pose for a photo with his fellow packrafters last week.

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