The line of my paddling “career” has been an idiosyncratic one, such that it has only been recently and occasionally that I’ve had cause to see it as such.
Late in 2011 I sat down with a pile of maps and a laptop and made a spreadsheet of all the waterways in Glacier and the whole Bob complex that seemed like they might be worth paddling. At that point we had lived in the Flathead for a year, and had been in Missoula for two years before that. A number of the most obvious runs I had already seen, and knew just enough to start making estimates on what I’d find elsewhere. By the time we left the area, five years later, there were very few things on the list I had not personally investigated.
Plenty of those investigations resulted in no paddling, and plenty more of the paddling which did happen involved enough scrapping, bushwacking, portaging, and swearing that the p word doesn’t seem the most appropriate descriptor. Many of these ended up in the Packrafting Guidbook. Some did not, both for reasons of quality and environmental impact. Many of the ones I did put in the guidebook have always been thin on details and publicity. I paddled most alone, and enough of them were scary and remote to the point where I saw no reason in helping their discovery along. I went in with no information, had no way of knowing if I was either the first or last to paddle them, and assumed that folks with the right preparation would find them with no help from me.
All of which made it particularly nice to get together with Casey and Nathan and paddle a new creek. Nathan is a fellow aficionado of inflatable boats and very small waterways, had been in to a few of my exploratory runs, and most importantly had designs on more than a few which I had always overlooked as either too small, too hard, or both. The creek we paddled certainly played out far better, and more forcefully, than I would have assumed, and formed a very good wake up that I should start looking at Montana creeks a bit differently.
It was also a reminder of how ridiculously capable the new packrafts are, and has me wondering how many of the terrors of 2012 and 2013 would be much less so with better technology. Memory is an odd thing, and one of the major reasons for getting the current draft of the guidebook together last spring was to codify my recollections before they drifted any further. Some creeks from 5 years stand out clear as their water, while others are murky. In the past decade I’ve paged through climbing guides and read descriptions of interesting routes, only to see myself at the end, credited with a first ascent I cannot really remember.
I don’t understand why some things stick and some things float along, but wrangling all these memories is a good problem to have.