Monday, July 25, 2011

North Forking

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Friends and I make it a habit every July to brave the washboarded North Fork Road from Columbia Falls up to the Canadian border past Polebridge for three days of paddling on the North Fork of the Flathead River. We did it a little differently this time.

North Fork Flathead

The North Fork is typically running close to 3,500 cfs in mid-July, but in this high-water year it was closer to 14,000 cfs when we arrived. Not having paddled it anywhere near that high, and wary of the twisty river's sweeper potential on the tail of even higher early-season water, we decided to forgo our standard m.o. — canoe-camping our way down to Polebridge in gear-laden boats — for a more conservative strategy, setting up a base camp just upstream of Tom Ford landing and launching day trips from there.

North Fork camp

The river dropped from 14,000 cfs to about 10,000 over the course of three days, but even at the high end the river wasn't pushy so much as wide, making for an easy float minus much of the usual rock dodging. And the river's only semi-sketchy stretch — the Kintla II rapid just downstream of the airstrip access near Wurtz Cabin — had enough added width to make skirting the big rock/hole combo at center-left a relative breeze. Added high-flow advantage: stretches that in typical water make for a more or less full day of paddling can be done in a couple of hours at this level, leaving lots of time for lounging in camp. On day 1 we warmed up paddling from our campsite down to Polebridge for pastries at the Mercantile. Day 2 we did the upper stretch, from the border back down to the campsite through Kintla II. Day 3 we did the Kintla II stretch again, just for giggles. And because we could.

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