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.
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.
Dust from the trail darkens Jared White’s calves above his sock line after he changed footwear to cross Youngs Creek.
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.
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.
A spray skirt and inflatable seat cushion help keep packrafters drier and more comfortable as they float.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Chris Solomon casts to westslope cutthroat trout rising in a wooded bend of the South Fork of the Flathead River.
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.
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.
Packrafting can be a wet ride on splashy water. Erin Madison dries her damp clothing out at camp in a well-positioned pine tree.
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.
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.
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.
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.