The annual visit
Let us suppose you win the lottery with the ticket you’ve never bought, or some other comparable hypothetical, and have practically infinite leisure options for the rest of your life. Let use further suppose, given that you’re reading this, that outdoor pursuits would feature prominently in the eternally recurring debate which would no doubt ensue. Amongst all the options vying for your attention, which places would you return to every year? Which would get the annual visit?
The South Fork of the Flathead would be on my list, along with a very few others. Specifically, the section between the origin at the confluence of Danaher and Youngs and the mouth of the Whiter River.
It’s not the most gobsmacking valley. The treed foothills rise a thousand feet from the broad river plain, only occasionally hinting at the big mountains 3000 vertical feet and 10 or more linear miles away. The glory of the upper south fork is in the remoteness, the subtle terrain, and the feeling of a raw landscape. The valleys have never been logged. The flora and fauna have survived european colonization largely intact. The native fishery is intact, guarded from Lake Trout by the reservoir below and Rainbows stocked in alpine lakes by the rugged and cold streams. Aside from the trails and the remenants of the old phone line, it’s easy to imagine you’re looking out as a trapper would have circa 1830.
And the water. The water and the riverbed below it might be the most gorgeous on earth. I’ve yet to see their equal.
After this trip I’ve floated every stretch of the wilderness South Fork at least three times. While the options for new entrances and exits, and unseen seasons, remain immense, I do have a certain familiarity with the South Fork. The best thing about our route this past weekend wasn’t seeing new terrain, like White River Pass above, but in seeing M, Luke, and Spencer witness new-to-them terrain. I can never recreate my own first trip four years ago, but helping others have their own experience is a very nice substitute.
I think we’ll all be back.