Walk up to a friend or family member and tell them you’re planning to pack an AIRE Super Puma on a mule, 15 miles over the Rocky Mountains, and float a river over the next 8 days in the heart of the wilderness. . . I have $20 that says the most common reply is, “Wait, you’re going to do what?”
That’s exactly what friend Jay Nichols and I did a few weeks ago. After months of planning we loaded our deflated boat, frame, and other rafting accoutrement on opposing sides of a mule and set forth to explore Montana’s South Fork of the Flathead and its tributaries.
We launched in Youngs Creek, a floatable fork of the mainstem, and found the best westslope cutthroat fishing we’ve ever seen and scenery equally extraordinary. While some stretches were skinny, the boat performed flawlessly, especially in nail-biting 1½ mile-long canyon nobody bothered to tell us about.
Compared to Youngs Creek, the mainstem was easy street. In the stern we stashed our camp gear, food cache, clothing, and fishing gear in personal duffel bags, and took turns between rowing duties and getting first crack at some of the river’s plucky cutties (and bull trout) from the bow. Every riffle and bend of the river provided something interesting—there was never a dull moment.
What’s more we felt like we had it all to ourselves—we infrequently encountered a hiker or packrafter on one or two days, but otherwise we were likely the only raft on the water for miles. That in itself was an unbelievable feeling.
We slept wherever we stopped for the day, managed to stave off any g-bear encounters, and ate more freeze-dried meals than I care to admit. By the end of the 8-day voyage, we were both tired of sleeping in the dirt. Now that we’ve packed out, grabbed a much need shower and cold bottle of suds (not neccesarily in that order), and rejoined the real world—we can’t wait to strap the Super Puma back on to a mule and go back.