Upper Missouri NWSR Canoe Trip 2009


Day Eight

When we woke up we started looking for the GPS again and scoured the entire area, including trees I may or may not have jumped over, etc. We couldn't find it anywhere so we had a breakfast of mac & cheese and crackers, shat in a bag for the first time as there were no vault toilets here, broke camp, and searched again. Finally we decided to cut our losses and move on.
I had previously decided that it probably wasn't a good idea to shoot at the prairie dogs as their town was separated from the campsite by electrical fencing and I wasn't sure who owned the land behind. Also, other paddlers had started showing up and seemed sufficiently excited about the little varmints to certainly be outraged at any butchery. The missed opportunity for killing added to the general feeling of dejection.
Once on the water however spirits lifted, buoyed in no small part by our mid-morning destination: Judith Landing. This is the take-out point for most paddlers coming down the river and we were hoping that there would be much more solitude once we were past. This however was all secondary to our main reason for excitement. There was rumored to be a country store with cold Cokes, beer, and perhaps even ice. We were entertaining paradisaical visions of our resurrected cooler brimming with cold libations and frosty chunks of ice.
We were also down to our last gallon of potable water, and pumping through the filter required more elbow grease than anticipated. For some reason the first two gallons had been a breeze, but after that it took far more pressure and we were not relishing the prospect of pumping 2-3 gallons a day using this method.
When we arrived at Judith Landing the rangers at the little station there informed us that the store was closed, and had been since 2007. However, when we asked them about drinking water - which we had heard would not be available here - they told us that a large party had an extra 60 gallons and was sending it back to Ft. Benton. We hurried back over to the canoe to fetch every container we could find and gratefully replenished our supply from the jerrycans on the back of their truck.
While disappointed at the lack of beer and Coke, and still crabby about the loss of the GPS, we were ecstatic to leave with 8.5 gallons of fresh water. We even filled up our river water container (unfiltered, for washing hands & dishes) and dropped in a handful of purification tablets.
We set out, making sure to ask the large party who were leaving at the same time where they were headed that night so we could camp elsewhere. We were starting to learn! Once on the water we gave up fretting about the Garmin and happily paddled on navigating by map only.
After some miles we saw an old homestead on the map and stopped for some pictures. There was an old log cabin with a plank addition, the remnants of a frame house, and a beautiful old cookstove. It must have been absolutely brutal to live out here, trying to scratch out a living from the unyielding earth. Frozen in winter, baked in summer, this was not a good place for a family farm - especially for folks used to Midwestern or northern European agricultural techniques.
We continued on our way, and noticed that the wind out here makes the strangest sounds sometimes. It's an almost industrial sound like a braking train or a steam whistle, but with many different notes, fascinating harmonics, and sometimes an odd trill or warble. I've never heard anything like it. With my younger ears I could hear it better than dad, but it was loud enough a few times for him to pick it up as well so I know I'm not completely insane. We saw a bald eagle too, attended by two smaller birds.
Determined not to end up camping surrounded by groups again we started perusing the map, looking for a secluded location to stop for the night. Many of the best sites along the river are not official camp sites and did not appear on our map, but have a stone fire ring and matted-down vegetation from prior use. We identified a large grove of cottonwoods on the map, and when we stopped to investigate found the loveliest campsite imaginable with shade, a fantastic view, a stone fire ring with metal grill, and a pile of firewood waiting for us.
The contrast with the misery of the night before could not have been more pronounced. We set up our chairs, started a fire, had a whiskey (I had been saving a flask of Glenfiddich 15 for a special occasion) and a smoke, made a yummy dinner of four cheese mashed potatoes with peas and tuna with a little tuna steak on the side, took some sunset pictures, and felt happy and at peace in a way we hadn't until then.
After dark we relaxed and caught up on some writing in our own journal, and then took turns reading from the Lewis & Clark journals. We had a delightful midnight snack of mandarin oranges in a can and some trail mix, and then a rare solid eight hours' sleep.

Jacob Saunders | Create Your Badge
Jacob Saunders