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Clark Fork cruise, part IV

August 27, 2010

John and Sierra rounding a bend topped by one of several cabins—probably hunting retreats—on the upper Clark Fork near the Sager Lane crossing.

Little late posting this, but last Sunday I took my Helena friends John and Sierra out on the latest leg of my 120-mile Clark Fork expedition. We put in at Racetrack, where I took out at the end of part III, and paddled about 7 miles down to Sager Lane, a ranch road that crosses the river at a little bridge east of interstate 90.

We saw three big riverbank slickens in the early going, but otherwise the obvious damage seems a little less obvious on this run of the river, which is bordered in its entirety by agricultural land—primarily cattle pasture. The sediment caps on the cutbanks seemed less dramatically discolored, and except for the hills in the distance, I could almost have convinced myself I was paddling any number of cattle creeks back in Texas. John, too, said that except for the preponderance of sage, the river reminded him of a lot of his homewaters back in Wisconsin. I suppose any river that reminds that many people of that many other rivers can safely be described as nondescript.

Heron perched on a cottonwood snag.

What set this stretch apart from those that preceded it—aside from our sharing the river with a guided trout-fishing driftboat—was a relative abundance of wildlife. We chased a great blue heron down most of the float, saw a giant golden eagle, a bald eagle, and three deer swimming the river ahead of us.

The river channel also began to cut more deeply through the surrounding ranchlands, and a good number of turns ran the river beneath high dirt banks you could almost call bluffs, most of them pocked with abandoned swallow nests. We saw our first shoreline cottonwoods, which will become more common as the river moves downstream, though these were dead as doornails.

Baling-wire bloom on a riverbend. Presumably this is low-budget erosion control, meant to collect debris and thus protect the bank from washing out.

Another thing new on this stretch was previously unseen evidence of ad hoc erosion control measures instituted by local landowners, not so much to reduce copper sediment loading into the river, one presumes, as to keep loose acreage from sloughing off downstream. There was one old car dumped at a bend, and a stretch of several hundred yards was lined with tangles of oxidizing wire.

FInally, we had to run a few small weir dams across the river, little 1- and 2-foot drops, and after one of them we pulled over to a low sandbar that was suffused with the smell of presumably wild mint.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 5:24 pm

    I did not know that deers swim.

    Read up on your cabin dwelling – sounds swell. Would love to see that!

    p.s. don’t get eaten by bears.

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