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.


9 responses to “The annual visit”

  1. If I am to “return” to a place every year I am then limited to places I’ve already been. I thoroughly enjoy the thrill of a new place and living somewhere that I will essentially never be able to visit all the ecosystem’s nooks and crannies I have a lifetime of exploration ahead of me. However I’ve lived and explored in some other very fine other ecosystems and if I was to pick three that I definitely want to return to it would be another northern traverse of the Pasayten Wilderness, another thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail, and another traverse of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness complex.

  2. Great to read that you were up there this weekend. We went up to White River Pass (were there on Saturday) via Benchmark and Indian Point (a very quick intro to the Bob for me). I do really want to float the White River and out the South Fork Someday. Thanks for the inspiration.

    I seem to go to a high point in the Lionshead mountains near West Yellowstone every year, but that’s also probably because they are out the back door from my uncle’s place. Other points to hit every year are the classic mountain biking loops around Missoula, and the hunting spots, which acquire a certain reverence as well.

    Thanks for the writing – I always enjoy it.

  3. It Is an amazing place, Thanks for the help planning Luke’s and mine trip.

    1. I trust you two had fun.

  4. […] South Fork has a lot of good campsites.  Last month, Spencer, Luke and M got to witness my boorish hagiographic habits as I narrated significant bends […]

  5. […] favorite places. There are the most spectacular and most memorable places, and the places worth an annual visit because they make such pleasing routes. There can be remarkably little overlap between these two. […]

  6. […] and floating either Youngs or Danaher Creek down into the South Fork.  And for good reason, as these trips which see the drainage grow and evolve are the best in the Bob.  This year they are just not going […]

  7. […] and highly entertaining.  I certainly had less water than five years ago, and barely more than July two years ago, but that was mostly fine.  It would take longer to float the 30 miles down to Little Salmon […]

  8. […] I decided to do something unreasonable.  Our loop 6 years ago took us a solid, if not hurried, three days.  If I woke very early I had a day and […]

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