MISSOURI RIVER TRIP

From the ferry crossing it was only a mile float to McGary Bar Primitive Campground. “Primitive” means it lacks a toilet. That loss for me was more than compensated for by the lovely location – a grove of over-arching cottonwoods with a fire ring overlooking the swift-flowing river.

My upper back is in major pain tonight. My right shoulder with its capsulitis from the Juniper Springs canoe trip in February was supposed to be my major problem, not my trapezius muscles. We have two hard days of paddling ahead – 28 and 20 miles.

We are camped tonight at another site of the Corps of Discovery.

May 27, 1805. The wind was so high that we did not start until ten o’clock, and even then we were obliged to use the towline during the greater part of the day. The river has become very rapid…In the evening, after making 12 ½ miles we camped on the south near two dead cottonwoods, the only timber for fuel which we discovered in the neighborhood.

Concerned about firewood ourselves, we had gathered wood under the cottonwood tree at hole-in-the-wall and piled the sticks on top of the wet bags in the center of the canoe. But McGary Gap has been so little used this year that there is plenty of firewood available.

June 1, 2009
Day Four on the River

We went to bed last night with a few showers creating a pleasant rat-a-tat on the tent fly. I woke at 4 am to a major storm – winds that shook the tent and a rain that hammered us. By 8am it was obvious that the rain was not going to let up. I put on my rain jacket and woke Tori from her small tent: “Rise and shine! Greet the lovely day!”

Ralph and Judy were already stirring, packing their gear as best they could. Barb discovered that the foot of our tent was in a puddle of water. The wind had blown the rain up and over our ground cloth, soaking the bottom of the tent. Our sheets, blanket, inflatable mattresses and sleeping bag were wet from the mid-point down. We stuffed everything into the “dry” bags as best we could, piled it into the canoe and broke camp without breakfast.

Our first two hours on the river we paddled in a light, cold rain. Heavy clouds hung in the sky, dark tendrils dragging behind. Fortunately the wind had died and we made great progress with hard paddling and a stiff current.

A group of five white pelicans bobbed on the water’s edge until we came within a hundred yards of them; then they flew ahead of us in great lumbering strokes. They settled in the water again about a quarter mile ahead. This process repeated itself several times. Surely these birds have some short-term memory.

In the murky water twice my paddle hit a large sturgeon that was decidedly unhappy with the disturbance. In a frightening thump and swoosh he bounded away from the canoe.

The rain stopped by noon though the sky remained filled with dark and drooping clouds. Ralph and Judy beached their kayaks on Sturgeon Island for lunch. After no breakfast we needed the break, but this was not a hospitable place. The river island had sticky mud, dried mud and mud splattered grass. A rise of three feet down the spine of the island appeared to be the reason for its name. We ate the last of the bagels with peanut butter and strawberry jelly and treated ourselves to some dark chocolate and granola. Haute cuisine on the Missouri River.

By 4 pm we had completed the 28 miles to Lower Woodhawk Developed Campsite. (“Developed” meaning it had an enclosed pit toilet.) The site is nearly inaccessible. Unlike other campsites that had a long, gentle sloping shoreline with lots of space for canoes, in this site there was only a single backwater that led to a spot where boats could beach. The remainder of the river frontage was a tangled, impenetrable thicket of small willows. There was an additional problem. The sole site to beach had another canoe already there. He was parked lengthwise on the shore so that access was denied to anyone else. We weren’t there observing this problem for more than a minute when a man appeared on shore with his growling dog.

The man merits some description. He was barefoot with short pants and legs and feet crusted with mud. His belly bulged over his belt – if indeed he had a belt in his pants. He sported an Australian hat with one brim turned up. It was as dirty as his legs.

A scraggly beard covered his face which had one distinctive and disconcerting feature – His right eye was only partly open. The combination of beard, hat and eye would have cast him as a pirate in a Hollywood movie. Or maybe as the fat cook.

The dog was as nasty as his owner. He growled at everyone so that no one felt left out from his negative attentions.