Packrafting McDonald Creek

McDonald Creek, roadside in Glacier, is closed to boating April-October to protect Harlequin Duck nesting (and to keep tubers from killing themselves).  In March the creek is usually frozen out, and getting enough rain to up the levels in October is a transient moment.  Fortunately this week, everything came together.  Today I had just enough water to make packrafting worthwhile.

I also succumbed to on of those events which is inevitably, but not to be looked forward to: I put a hole in my packraft.

Beware the sharp limestone ledges between Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls.

On the one hand, it was a worthwhile endeavor.  The creek is set in a beautiful valley, and as usual a boat provides the best setting for appreciating it.  The creek is also just far enough from the road for most it’s length that you feel very much apart from the RVs and drivers from Washington State (visitors this time of year seem to be middle ages couples congenitally incapable of driving faster than 35. Grr.).  The autumn water is absolutely crystalline, and the polished limestone cobbles on the river bed are good even by Montana standards.

On the other hand, the rapids on McDonald are either mini-golf or pretty damn hard, hard enough that I’m not running them.  The big bedrock drops would be fun for better boaters with quite a bit more water, a set of conditions even more unlikely to happen this time of year.  For me they were portages over some of the most comically slippery slabs I’ve ever encountered.  And if my experience is any indicator, cut boats are a serious concern when you get a butt boat near this sort of exposed bedrock.

But this week saw what is likely to be the first permanent snow fall of the season, and the pines above 6000′ were looking quite frosty.  In all likelyhood we’ve got two months to look forward to ski season, while enjoying what is shaping into an extraordinary show by the aspens and cottonwoods.

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