Canoeing the Missouri River

Every May long weekend, we try to kick off the paddling season with a multi-day canoe trip – but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans.

Watching the waves! (Photo: M.Kopp)

Our goal was to paddle a short section of the White Cliffs downstream of Fort Benton on the Missouri River.

Wind howled as we set up tents and unloaded boats in preparation for the next day’s launch. Our group gathered and watched the rollers on the river, acknowledging that we might have a slight delay in the projected start time.

Day two, we saw another group load their canoes with great determination and set off. Two hours later, they were back. It was faster to go upstream than down.

On day three, the wind died. Consulting the map, we revised our plans, did a quick vehicle shuttle, and set off.

No time for hiking along the fossil-rich sidehills, but the sun was out and a light breeze at our back had us putting up a tarp sail, slung between the three boats. Tugging on the tarp, the wind picked up. We looked behind and saw an ominous black cloud bearing down with impressive speed.

Before we could get the sail down, the front of the storm struck pushing the boats sideways in the river. Stuck in the middle, we couldn’t move. The downstream canoe started to take in water as it ploughed through the water.

We managed to separate the boats and take control. The rain hit. As we dug out rain gear, rain turned to drizzle.

Flash, crash – lightening and thunder had us seeking the safety of shore once again. We grabbed a tarp, sat down on edge and pulled it over our heads just as the hail hit.

As the storm moved on, and light rain returned, we agreed to push on to the takeout point. Daylight turned to dusk. We were the lead boat in a narrow side channel.

“Rock”, I’d yell and we’d go around.

“Rock…” Bang.

Bang. “Rock.”

In a deluge of rain, we could just make out a camping area with picnic table ahead. From the map we knew it was just upstream of the shuttle vehicle. We pulled out.

Two of the guys ran to get the vehicle. Three of us three a tarp over the picnic table for a makeshift shelter.

I took the kids inside to change soaked clothes and eat a little food while the others starting shuttling dry bags – the side road was too slippery to bring the truck down.

On first pass, the little dip in the road was wet. By the time we finished hauling three boats and all the gear to the truck, it was past my knees.

Loading three canoes, four adults, two kids and two dogs into a Toyota pickup seemed to be the easiest part of the adventure.

Hard-won wisdom:

No matter how badly you want to do a trip, always check the forecast first!

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