Eight days of wilderness: Rafting the Middle Fork of the Flathead

The Middle Fork of the Flathead below Granite Creek.
The Middle Fork of the Flathead below Granite Creek. (Click image to buy print)

I’ve always wanted to float one of the Flathead Rivers and this year my dream came true. I was invited on an eight day trip down the Middle Fork of the Flathead in the Great Bear Wilderness. It was probably one of the top 5 trips of my life! What beauty!

The trip started with a bush plane trip to Schafer Airfield. This is also one of the main hubs for the forest service. The river is roughly a quarter mile from the airstrip, and being that it’s wilderness, no wheeled assistance is allowed. We had to truck out 1,300 lbs of gear on stretchers. Yeah, it’s a bitch! But the views, the river, everything was well worth it.

 

I think Rick is excited!
I think Ricki is excited!

 

We flew over Hungry Horse Reservoir on the way in.
Flying over Hungry Horse Reservoir on the way in.

 

Argosy Mountain, as seen near Schafer Air strip. (Click image to buy print)
Argosy Mountain, as seen near Schafer Air strip. (Click image to buy print)

We were told there were signs of wolves in the area. I saw a couple tracks, while wondering around taking photos. I also saw Grizzly tracks and a TON of moose tracks. While I wondered around, my dad Ricki and Tom fished the river. Tom apparently caught a white fish.

 

Tom Butz fishing.
Tom Butz fishing. (Click image to buy print)

 

View from the put-in.
View from the put-in. (Click image to buy print)

 

I stumbled upon a seep with amazing reflections.
I stumbled upon a seep with amazing reflections. (Click image to buy print)

 

I just loved the seep. Had to take a couple. (Click image to buy print)
I just loved the seep. Had to take a couple pics. (Click image to buy print)

The next morning we weighted down our boats and headed into the unknown. Lucky for me, and my group, we had the luxury of following an experienced rafter, my new and good friend Mike Field. He has run the river more than a dozen times. And it was a good thing we had him to follow because as it turned out, when the guide book said class IV, it meant it. The majority of the technical water was simply finding the right channel, all the while not getting hung up on small rocks. There were a couple decent sized drops, particularly the “ledge,” which is a good 4 foot drop. Super fun and super rowdy! Sorry, no photos from the rapids (my camera gear was stashed away).

 

Lisa enjoying the river life.
Lisa enjoying the river life.

 

Tom's glamour shot!
Tom’s glamour shot!

Our second, third and fourth nights were spent right below Morrison Creek. Amazing way to do it, because it gave us time to hike up to Flotilla and Scott Lakes. Flotilla was formed by a massive landslide and has no surface outflow. It’s subterranean outflow forms Scott Lake. Super cool area.

 

The trail to Flotilla Lake.
The trail to Flotilla Lake.
Bear's Grass was out.
Bear’s Grass was out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We came across this young moose eating in Scott Lake. (Click image to buy print)
We came across this young moose eating in Scott Lake. (Click image to buy print)

 

My dad fishing Flotilla Lake. He caught one almost every cast. We kept 3 for dinner.
Ricki fishing Flotilla Lake. He caught one almost every cast. We kept 3 for dinner.

 

Flotilla is stacked full of logs. (Click image to buy print)
Flotilla is stacked full of logs. (Click image to buy print)
Too many logs not to snap photos. (Click image to buy print)
Too many logs not to snap photos. (Click image to buy print)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Lake in the afternoon light. (Click image to buy print)
Scott Lake in the afternoon light. (Click image to buy print)

Each night we celebrated our good fortune like kings. We put a dent in our hundreds of beer cans, knocked off inches in the whiskey bottles and made the Grizzly Bears salivate with sizzling fat. I don’t think I’ve ever camped so lavishly in the wilderness.

Our second day at the Morrison camp (third day in the wilderness), my dad and I bushwhacked to the lower sections of Lake Creek. Lake Creek is the outflow of Scott and Flotilla. Not a ton of big fish, but what we lacked in size, we made up for in quantity. Every cast, NO JOKE!

 

Ricki takes a break after bushwhacking through thick undergrowth.
Ricki takes a break after bushwhacking through thick undergrowth.

 

Just one of the many amazing holes.
Just one of the many amazing holes.

 

Ricki pulls in his line to reapply floatant.
Ricki pulls in his line to reapply floatant.
This was just the beginning.
This was just the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Morrison we floated down to Granite Creek. This next section of water had some more rowdy rapids.  There was one drop that provided some fun, adrenaline. A little further down, the river begins to braid, which created great fishing. I caught a hog of a Cutthroat, among several other smaller guys and Tom pulled out a good sized Bull Trout.

 

Tom's Bull Trout.
Tom’s Bull Trout.

 

Fishing one of the many runs.
Fishing one of the many runs.

 

Fishing the gorgeous Middle Fork of the Flathead
I just loved the green color of the water!

That night at Granite Creek, I hiked out of the canyon, following sketchy animal trails, to get a different vantage of the area. The view from up there was spectacular! And so were the flowers! I was in photographer heaven. Such an amazing moment!

 

One of the many cliffs that break up the trees. (Click image to buy print)
One of the many cliffs that break up the trees. (Click image to buy print)

 

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush
Unknown blue flower. If someone knows what this is, please comment below.
Alberta Beardtongue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosehip blooms
Rosehip blooms
Thimbleberry blooms
Thimbleberry blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Middle Fork of the Flathead below Granite Creek.
The Middle Fork of the Flathead below Granite Creek. (Click image to buy print)

The following morning, we decided to hike/fish Granite. We walked upstream roughly 2 miles and, after some bushwhacking, made it to the stream. We proceded to fish each hole on the way back to camp. I only caught two fish, which seemed about par for everyone else as well. I’m sure fishing it later in the day would have proven more fruitful. I did though catch a large 22 incher that evening. The bastard stole my fly after I landed him. Let’s just say, he never gave up, even when I had him in my hand.

 

One of the many gorgeous holes on Granite Creek.
One of the many gorgeous holes on Granite Creek.

 

Looking upstream in Granite. (Click image to buy print)
Looking upstream in Granite. (Click image to buy print)

 

Chomping flies. (Click to buy print)
Chomping flies. (Click to buy print)

 

Like I said, just gorgeous! (Click to buy print)
Like I said, just gorgeous! (Click to buy print)

 

Tom catching logs. (Click to buy print)
Tom catching logs. (Click to buy print)

The following day we departed early so we would have ample time to hike Castle Lake. Rumors had it the fishing was spectacular up there. I caught two decent sized fish, but it certainly wasn’t a-fish-a-cast. The lake was pretty, but the forest and outflow were amazing!

Below Castle came 25 Mile Rapid. A fun series of drops, some pinches (be sure to watch out for log jams) and a couple rowdy train waves. Nothing in here to really get worked up about, just be sure to stay attentive.

 

First view of Castle Lake
First view of Castle Lake

 

Castle Lake and a waterfall.
Castle Lake and a waterfall.

 

The forest and creek were my favorite part of the hike to Castle. (Click image to buy print)
The forest and creek were my favorite part of the hike to Castle. (Click image to buy print)

Our last camp was right above Spruce Park. We found a wonderful campground, with views of snowcapped peaks, a nice sandy beach and a wonderful stone riddled shelf. I found two rocks for my personal collection and had an awesome time snapping some pics. It was hard knowing that this was our last night. But with everything it must end.

Perspective, it’s needed.

 

Looking downriver from camp. (Click image to buy print)
Looking downriver from camp. (Click image to buy print)

 

Running for first rapid of Spruce Park.
Running the first rapid of Spruce Park.

 

One of the last rapids of Spruce Park. (Click image to buy print)
One of the last rapids of Spruce Park. (Click image to buy print)

One Response to Eight days of wilderness: Rafting the Middle Fork of the Flathead

  1. excellent report thank you very much! What was your departure date? Just curious since my brother and me are going summer 2015. thanks

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