Story by Jason Frounfelker

The ground is cold and hard at 7 a.m.,
and I’m having a difficult time getting
up. My 6’4” body was not meant to
sleep in a bivy sack. The pain in my
head matches the feeling in my stomach—
nervous excitement for today’s
mission, combined with the beer I
chugged from my neoprene river booty
last night (traditional homage to the
river gods for unintentionally exiting
my kayak and swimming).

I feel a little better after coffee, bacon and
eggs. After cleaning up camp, I sling my
favorite creek-boat on my back and start
walking up the steep, rocky trail.
The sound of Big Timber Creek, full of
runoff, fills my ears. Passing Big Timber
Falls, I stop to peer over the edge. The
water cascades down the 60’ lead-in drop
and rushes out of sight over the final
30’ waterfall. My pulse races and my
stomach churns.

Butterflies at full flutter, I continue up
the trail, which only occasionally reveals
the mysterious creek. Montana Surf
describes Big Timber as a “world
class experience” descending over
700’ per mile and containing many
class V-V+ rapids. These thoughts
do not ease my trepidation.

A resonance of rushing water
filters through the woods again.
The bacon has started to wear off
as I approach the second bridge,
and from this point it’s only a
few hundred yards to the put-in.
I’ll be relieved to stop carrying
both my kayak and my angst, and
excited to paddle one of Montana’s
best creeks.

There is no warm up. The first paddler
heads straight for the narrow and rocky
‘No Worries Falls.’ He misses his roll
after the first 15’ drop and goes over the
next five-footer upside down. Out of
his boat, he scrambles to shore with a
bump to his cheek and ding to his pride.
He elects the safer route of walking
back down the trail.

I’m next. I get just a few paddle strokes
before the short free fall and face full of
water. Instinctively, my body reacts to
the pushing currents, and I slide gently
down the second part of the drop. My
apprehension lifts while I sit in the
eddy and watch the next boat drop in.
The others follow suit with successful
lines.

We sluice through the next rapid, ‘O’s
Woe’s,’ and now we’re in the zone. We
take turns scouting, walking around
log-choked sections, and paddling
between boulders.

After twisting through the tight slides
of ‘Fine Line’ and ‘Triple Dipple,’ I enter
‘The Pinch’ with a newfound courage. I
paddle hard, then the angle steepens. All
I can see is horizon. My speed increases
as I drop into a cliff-lined waterslide and
then launch into the air. Barely keeping
my boat pointed downstream, I scream,
but nothing comes out. The canyon walls
narrow, and I shoot out into a pool.
Next it’s an S-bend double drop and
then ‘The Gambler,’ which is named
for the hole that often holds at least one
weary kayaker. We exit safely, but it feels
like another close escape.

The bridge comes into sight. I sigh, and
calming relief covers me. I exit my boat
and offer to run to safety for anyone
brave enough to hit Big Timber Falls.
We all opt to sit in the sun and enjoy
the impressive waterfall from the shore.
Maybe next time.

Jason Frounfelker (aka Frouny) is the
winner of Mountain Outlaw’s Write
and Win contest. Want to be published
in the next edition? Submit to
emily@theoutlawpartners.com

Logistics:

On the east side of the Crazy Mountains,
Big Timber Creek is a serious
place to kayak, and a beautiful place
to hike or backpack. The forested walk
up from Half Moon Campground is
gorgeous.

According to montanaeddyhop.blogspot.com, This class V – V+ run “consists of
unbelievable slides, boulder gardens,
and waterfalls that will challenge and
excite even the most experienced boaters…
If you are up to it, this is arguably
the best creek run in the state.”

Take I-90 to the Big
Timber exit, and go north
on the main road out of
town. Follow signs for Big
Timber Canyon and Half
Moon Campground. This
is where you start hiking.
Scout thoroughly, as
there often strainers. You
can portage most rapids.