Rafting Bear Trap Canyon on the Madison River
One of the fun summer activities in SW Montana that you can count on is whitewater rafting. This part of Montana is known for pristine wilderness rivers that draw trout anglers from around the world. These same rivers also offer outstanding rapids for the intrepid floater. If you know the Martins, then chances are you will be invited on a weekend float trip sooner or later.
These pictures document one of the best trips of 2008, which just happened to be a great year to float in Montana. Winter and spring conditions combined to create water levels far above normal, lasting through the entire summer. This was the year for big waves and gigantic holes. Early spring we started off by rafting the Gallatin River -- while it was snowing! But the weather finally got warm enough and the water low enough to tackle the Madison River.
The Bear Trap Canyon lies just North of Ennis/Ennis Lake, Montana. It stretches about 10 miles below the dam to where the river meets up with a Montana highway near Norris. Extremely isolated, this stretch of the river features all kinds of wildlife. I have seen black bears, golden and bald eagles, white pelicans, rattlesnakes, and other most interesting things during the calm stretches along the way. A trail parallels the east side of the river which allows access for fisherman or hikers who sneak up the canyon a few miles to watch the rafters.
What really draws the floaters (beside the trout fishing) are the four rapids that lie in the canyon. This stretch of whitewater is recommended only for those who have serious gear and plenty of experience. The most intense rapid is called the Kitchen Sink. It is a long, dangerous rapid with lots of (big) rocks. In order to get through the Kitchen Sink intact you'll need to make two turns to stay in the main channel. A screw up at medium to high levels can lead to a flipped boat causing the entire crew to swim the gauntlet. I've watched boats get just plain eaten in the sink. I've seen this rapid flip boats on more than one occasion. (Tim was the one who perched on a rock to take these pictures a few weeks ago. That day, we carried the boat around the Sink. The water was TOO BIG).
In fact, I even had the honor of swimming the sink on one occasion in July a few years back. I wouldn't recommend it. Do you know what is usually under a kitchen sink? Well, the rocks below the water simulate that very well as you grind over them at the speed of the water.
Number one rule: STAY IN THE BOAT. Oxygen masks will not pop out of overhead compartment in case of emergency! If you do fall out (get thrown out by the waves is actually more likely), then float with your feet down river to give you some protection against the rocks. If you are headed for a big hole go into a cannonball and HANG ON TIGHT. Good luck...We try to get everyone back in as soon as possible, but the hydraulics usually force a swimmer away from the boat very fast because of the different boat-swimmer dynamics in the river.
Our crew for this July weekend trip came from all over SW Montana and from Idaho and Washington State. (Tim's rafting buddies love to drive all night Friday nights to meet up for a weekend trip). Special thanks this weekend go to Adam, Matt, Tyler, John, Lane, Esther Ruth, Micaiah, Sage, Chris, Ryan, Andre, Micah, and Dennis. A good paddling crew is essential for a safe trip for all.
Below is the sequence of our run through Kitchen Sink Rapids. Special thanks to Esther Ruth Martin who perched out on a rock halfway out on the river to get these fantastic photos. (Did she just use the photo excuse to play chicken and get out of the run????)
Welcome to God's raw, majestic, amazing and dangerous creation!
Note the same sequence with description below :