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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fishing stop

Fishing stop

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spray skirt

Spray skirt

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

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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.

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Cool, clean water

Cool, clean water

Wilderness areas protect watersheds vital to agriculture, communities and fisheries.

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Photo op

Photo op

Bill Cunningham poses members of his packrafting trip for a photo at the takeout above Meadow Creek Gorge.

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Loading up

Loading up

After a 70-mile trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness earlier this month, Bill Cunningham loads up his pack for a shuttle ride from the trailhead.

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Morning wade

Morning wade

With his hiking boots hanging around his neck, Cunningham wades through Youngs Creek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, followed by Erin Madison.

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Dinner with a view

Dinner with a view

After two hard days of hiking and packrafting, Cunningham takes a dinner break along the banks of Youngs Creek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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Map study

Map study

Studying a topographic map and his GPS, Cunningham relaxes in a meadow below Hole in the Wall Cave. 

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Daybreak

Daybreak

The sun breaks over the rim of the mountains along the South Fork of the Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness earlier this month.

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Mule deer

Mule deer

Wilderness areas are important habitat for species like this mule deer doe, as well as elk, grizzly and black bears.

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Lunch break

Lunch break

With a mustard packet in one hand and some turkey jerky in the other, Cunningham takes a break for a lunchtime snack along the Youngs Pass trail.

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Tiny boat

Tiny boat

Folded into a tiny packraft, Cunningham starts out his 56-mile float on the South Fork of the Flathead River drainage by launching on Youngs Creek with fellow packrafter Chris Solomon.

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Big Salmon Lake

Big Salmon Lake

Big Salmon Lake is the largest lake in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Peaks from the Swan Range loom in the background.

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Wildflowers and smoke

Wildflowers and smoke

Wildflowers bloom in an avalanche chute in the Bob Marshall Wilderness as a haze of wildland fire smoke hangs over the mountain tops.

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Youngs Creek

Youngs Creek

Youngs Creek provided cool relief to Cunningham and his fellow backpackers as they trekked into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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Photo op

Photo op

Journalists Chris Solomon and Erin Madison snap photos of Bill Cunningham posing in front of the sign that marks the Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary.

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Wild Bill

Wild Bill

At age 71, Choteau's Bill Cunningham is still hard at work trekking into remote wilderness areas and advocating for the preservation of more wildlands. He marked his 71st birthday on a 100-mile trek in early July.

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Packraft

Packraft

Whitewater wasn't his cup of tea, but Cunningham still enjoyed a 56-mile float down the South Fork of the Flathead River in a packraft. To read more about packrafting, see today's Outdoors section.

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The Bob

The Bob

Cunningham has spent much of his life exploring remote areas of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Here he outlines the route he took on a 100 mile trip in July. The scab on his left hand came from a fall during that outing.

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Fire talk

Fire talk

Cunningham, at right, talks about wilderness with his fellow packrafters, from left, Jared White, Erin Madison, Scott Bosse and Chris Solomon, while relaxing in camp.

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Beargrass

Beargrass

Beargrass blooms in an avalanche chute in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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Last leg

Last leg

The last leg of Cunningham's packrafting trip required a 3-mile hike out around whitewater in the South Fork of the Flathead River's Meadow Creek Gorge. Cunningham joked he was carrying 60 pounds of lightweight gear in his pack.

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Fishing

Fishing

Cunningham, at right, took time out to fish a bend in the South Fork of the Flathead River.

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Portable kitchen

Portable kitchen

Camp cooking can be as simple as a fire or as elaborate as a propane-powered, two-burner stove.

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Tenting

Tenting

Tent campers can find sites specifically for them at many campgrounds. If you’re buying a tent, always get it a little bigger than you think you’ll need. A two-man tent is typically pretty small for two people.

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One burner

One burner

Backpacking equipment like this lightweight propane stove can also provide a cooking source at campgrounds but the chef will have to be more creative.

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Food prep

Food prep

Prepackaged food items like relish trays, crackers and bread, are great for camping. Any prep work that can be done at home helps ease chores at camp.

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Get out

Get out

Forest Service campgrounds are located around Montana in some beautiful spots, like this one at Georgetown Lake outside of Anaconda. Online reservations can be made for many of the campsites, easing the stress of finding a spot while your on the road.

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Immersed in the wild

Immersed in the wild

A backpacker with the trail name of Tater John hikes through a high mountain meadow in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in 2007.

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Leaning in the wind

Leaning in the wind

A wilderness signpost leans from constant buffeting by mountain winds.

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Goat guest

Goat guest

A mountain goat looks curiously at some backpacking visitors to its rocky home.

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Wild home

Wild home

A tarp tent’s support line is draped with wet clothing following a rainy hike.

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Park map

Park map

A map outlines the Trailside Bike Park in Park City, Utah, which features trails, ramps and routes for a wide range of riders.

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Wedding group

Wedding group

A wedding party pauses for a rest while cycling on one of the Round Valley trails in Park City, Utah, a town that has thoroughly embraced biking and cyclists.

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Bikers' park

Bikers' park

In addition to its mountain biker play park, to which new features were being added in June, Park City, Utah, also boasts about 400 miles of trails for a variety of rider abilities.

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