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Big Timber Misadventure

Desperate for a vacation after several months in the office working on the new RiverGypsies Guide to North America, we piled our stuff in the van and took off for the West to get a break. We haven't been boating much or really doing much otherr than office work, so it might be a bumpy summer, but we're gonna have some fun anyway.

The drive across the country went pretty smoothly until South Dakota, where in the first storm I got to see golfball sized hail for the first time - it hit the windshield right in front of my face and I actually saw the glass flex in. Scary! But not as scary as the super cell thunderstorm we drove through in a construction zone in the dark a few hours later. The spray, sidways rain, and 50-60mph cross winds were pretty intense, especially when we would pass a truck head-to-head in the construction zone. In the end we made it safely to Montana, driving up to Big Timber Creek to try for a run on this creek that we've been hearing good things about for years.

As we were nearing Big Timber we got a couple of calls that it might be too high, but we figured we would stop and camp and check it out anyway.


When we finally saw the first Big Timber slide, the water didn't look too high at all.


The Crazy Mountains are a small range that springs up in the Montana Plains.

We arrived at the creek and camped for the night, walking up to check out the rapids and the level the next day. Although the creek was on the high side, it was looking really good and we were looking forward to a run. We got to watch a couple of guys from Bozeman run the pinch - they walked up to there and put in for a run on the lower stuff.


The Pinch with Conical Peak in the background.

That evening our friend Jesse arrived from Missoula, and we were stoked to get a run on the creek. We got up a little bit late and began the walk up the hill. According to the beta I had gotten from the Bozeman boys, I thought we were going just a little but above the Pinch. The reality was that it was almost a mile above the Pinch to the put in, and it was slow going hiking boats 2 miles and 1200 vertical feet up there at high elevation for southerners who have been sitting in the office for a few months. It was 3 by the time we got up there, and the sky was cloudy and the weather turning cold. Combined with the highish water and the fact that none of us knew the wood situation on the creek, we decided to leave the boats and hike back in to start fresh in the morning, scouting the creek on our hike out so that we would know what to expect on the following day.


Jesse and Leland in the campground, ready for the hike up.


Jesse on the lower part of the hike in.


Almost there - the second (upper) foot bridge.


Jesse chilling by a snow patch up at the top.

We hiked down and scouted, and things looked really good. We were getting super excited for the next day's adventure! As we hiked around the lower gorge and Big Timber Falls (unrunnable right now due to a new rock that fell in right at the lip), the rains began. We got to the van and hid inside for an hour as about an inch of rain dropped. It finally let up, and we hoped that the resistant soil and small drainage would mean that the water would rise quickly, and then fall quickly and still be at a reasonable level tomorrow. We went to bed feeling like odds were still good for running at least some of the rapids, but the couple of hours of rain just before dawn really sealed the deal on our skunking. The next day was spent hiking back up the hill to get our boats and hike them out. Bummer, but it was a beautiful place to spend a few days and to get to experience the Crazy Mountains.


Big Timber Falls before the rain.


Big Timber Falls after the rain.


Hudson wasn't the least bit bummed about having to hike up to get the boats.

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