June 27, 2007

Middle Fork Flathead (Upper); Montana (IV - IV+)


Sparky said...

The Upper Middle Fork Flathead is one of the most beautiful rivers i have had the pleasure of paddling. Originating in the heart of the Great Bear Wilderness, the Upper M.F. flows north through one of the most pristine canyons around and then forms the southen boundary of Glacier National Park. Needless to say, the scenery on this river is unimagineable, and the water is perhaps the most crystalline blue water in the country. There is also great whitewater on this stretch, and difficulties vary dramatically with flows.

In order to run this stretch, you have to get yourself to Schaffer Meadows, either by plane or horsepacking. I highly recommend taking the flight from Kalispell with Red Eagle Aviation - although somewhat costly (about $350 per plane, enough for about two people plus gear), the folks who fly you in are super friendly and the flight is out of this world. You fly over the Flathead Valley, through a notch in the mountain crest, and then through the middle of the Great Bear Wilderness, looking south into the Bob Marshall and north into Glacier. When combined, these wilderness areas comprise the second largest roadless area in the lower 48 - take the flight, it's worth every penny.

M.F. Flathead logistics: Class IV+ (IV- at low flows - below 6000 cfs at West Glacier), but solid IV/IV+ at all others). The water never really stops moving on this stretch, making it really fun and continuous. Rafters in your crew need to be pretty experienced as the upper part of the stretch can be very tight and technical. The Spruce Park series contains the best and most difficult whitewater, and is towards the end of the trip. The put in is Schaffer Meadows, where the river is but a small mountain stream, and the standard takeout is Bear Creek access east of Essex on U.S. Highway 2. You can also keep paddling past Bear Creek and take out at Essex in order to pass the Goat Lick - a popular gathering area for mountain goats.

If you haven't yet made this journey, you should really find a way to do so - the flight into Schaffer and float out on the M.F. is an ultra-classic Montana experience. This is one of the best stretches around.

dogscratcher said...

Great post. Next summer for sure. Great nickname.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a clue what the minimum flow is to float this section in 14' rafts? I'd like to do it starting the end of July this year and it seems like we might have the snow pack to support that.

Anonymous said...

we floated the upper middle fork Jun 26 through 30th. Beautiful area, the river was absolutely huge moving incredibly fast. you had to remain on your game or 911. Three forks was the most technical quick turns several drops a few trees in the way. Lunch box was just big. Spruce Park a trip in itself very big and lots of suck holes when you enter your committed.The water level was 6.25 at east glacier. I would never do it again at that level to dangerous I have lots of experience I just don't like the fact of being 28 miles back if you have a major problem, Lost 1 oar and bent the oar lock severely in three forks.

Sparky said...

Thanks for the comments! To address the question about minimum flows for 14' rafts, i would say somewhere around 5500 cfs at West Glacier would be a minimum or close to it. If i remember correctly, when we did it in 2007, it was around 5500 or so (maybe even lower) and the upper section was pretty low for the bigger boats (we did a little dragging). Of course this made the whitewater much more manageable in the more technical sections. You might be able to pull off a trip at lower water, but i'd say you'll probably want to do it by the fourth week in July this year at the latest - it's coming down pretty fast. Good luck and i'd love to hear if lower flows go for the big boats!

Brian, aka Sparky

Monte Ready said...

Do you have any more photos or video of the Middle Fork Flathead (upper)? Or any idea were I might find a some.

Sparky said...

Hey Monte,

If you get me your email address i'll send you more M.F.F. photos from our trip. You might also check out americanwhitewater.org - river database. Good luck and have fun out there.


Anonymous said...

We're planning a trip for July 12 this year. Having a few more photos would be great. My email address is mcostanti@hotmail.com. Could you please send some over?

Jamie said...

Hey Brian,
We are heading in and would love to see some more pictures if you could send them over. fittdog8848@hotmail.com


pharmacy reviews said...

It is one of my favorites places, I knew about it like four years ago, I have being going every year since then.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if anyone has ever taken a 16' raft down from Schaffer Meadows to Essex. I am flying in on 7/1/2013 and have a group with two 14' rafts and one 16'. Any input and advice is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

We are flying in on June 27, 28 and July 1. We take 16' rafts down quite often. Three forks may be a little low. You may want to travel light with a 16. 14 is easier but still be careful with weight.

Last year the water was high and the log jam after Cabin Creek was interesting....we lined boats but only because we had beginners....

In the Three Forks area take care to look directly right when you come to rock garden and try to hit the slot behind the large rock.

A little further downstream, at the rock shelf, go left at low water and right at higher water.

Once you are past Morrison Creek the water is a better level.

Be careful at 25 mile rapid....it's boney at low water.

Keep on your toes through Spruce Park...lots of potential for carnage.

This will be my 15th trip down. Best trip in Montana. If you have time, practice on the Kitchen Sink on the Madison.

If you would like more information and some pictures let me know.


J Gras said...

Just finished a three day fly / run in trip with 6 total at 8500-6500, a perfect level. We had a 14 foot paddle rig and my All star. Thought it would be a little too big for my play-boat but turned out to be perfect for the plane and the float.
I took many pictures of all the named rapids and when it came down to it everything was fun ran right of center with some scout on the fly moves.
The first day was a little bony but with our light raft it was not an issue, Three forks ran right side was so much fun I had to do it twice. Day two with 25 mile posed no issue just look out for Cye creek, there is a huge log jam in the main flow to left of center but easy eddy on right to escape decapitation. Day three at Spruce Park was a perfect level with all moves to center / right or right then left.
Overall a perfect three day pack trip and a must do for any class 3-4 paddler. I would call this section a solid 3-4 with Spruce Park a 4+ at top rapid. Please contact if needed to get more info with lots of pictures of rapids. I was told that some rapids aren't scout-able, this is not true, they just come up quick! Spruce Park can be scouted on all three sections on right, just a little walk and you can see what is needed. At higher flows I can't say but I would be willing to bet that this would be a great run from 10k to 5K.
Will be doing this on a yearly basis for shizzle!