Several creeks from the golden age of my explorations in Glacier and the Bob stand out for their blankness, the extent to which specifics were and remain washed out by fear. I’ve begun revisiting some of them, haphazard fun which has self-organized into a project, to delve into how far modern boats, modern rigging, improved skills, and matured confidence have altered my perception and experience.
The answer has generally been; an enormous amount, and not in the ways I would have expected.
Monture Creek is another Colburn find, though in this case I had walked or skied down or up the trail adjacent to the creek several times. On each occasion the dark gorge hinted through the deep, old trees was something I saw as too dark and janky to be worthwhile. Then Kevin et al ran it, and I felt compelled to go check it out. I all but don’t remember that day. It was one of the peculiar summer days where fog and rain make July seem like later October. A conventional Bob creek, 10 yards wide with quick gravel riffles and forested banks dumped into tortured microgorges, my fear of swimming and of the unknown layering up quickly until I climbed out for a long portage, the thrashing water out of sight below telling unknowable stories about a creek that defied the expectations I had built over the past four years.
I mostly wrote Monture off as not for me. Until another Mike invited me to have a second look.
I found that my original fear had been well built. Compared to its neighbors, indeed, to any other creek in the whole southern half of the Crown complex, Monture is a bizarre outlier. Compared to the creek next door, the North Fork of the Blackfoot, the contrast is even more incongruous. The North Fork is a clean, straight valley, the rapids boulder drops between rocky, sparsely forested banks. Sight lines are, by most standards, vast. Monture is (or, temporarily, was) thickly forested. Dodging willows is in the milder stretches a vital part of efficiency. What makes Monture not another II+ little bushwack is the series of bedrock traps, steep, tight, often undercut and usually janky and complex. What makes it currently unrunnable, for practical purposes, is the Rice Ridge fire, which in the late summer of 2017 burned hot through all of the runnable section of the creek. In the warmup stretch we found a log portage every 100 yards on average. In the technical parts every third drop had a log wedged in at provocative angles. Combined with walls tight enough that both portaging and scouting were marginal, at best, and we had a quintessential day of packrafting: 7 miles of walking, a mile or so of boating that took 3 hours, and a six mile hike back out. It was like 2012 all over again, when at least every other packrafting trip was perhaps 20% boating.
The combination of matured confidence and enormously improved visibility had the whole endeavor feeling like a first (to me) descent. Rather than careening around a corner to find yet another small gorge diving below the horizon, we could scout the big picture from the trail, or a short descent off it. By the time we blew up we knew what was downstream, how good it probably was, and how unlikely a coherent run would be. And so it proved. Would I have been able to see so well 6 years ago, with just the burnt trees, and with my default attitude to whitewater still unquantified fear? I imagine not.
Sadly, I’ll only ever get to guess. Many of the other creeks of fear on my list (Nyack, most prominently) have also burned big since my first trip. And one of the privileges I expect most of experience is a much improved run to shutdown ratio.