By Taylor Anderson
As snow fell before a 9:30 a.m. departure, shouts proclaiming “perfect rafting
weather” echoed inside the Geyser Whitewater Expeditions headquarters.
They may have been right.
After 20 years providing raft trips to adventurers and families, Eric Becker
might know better than anybody that a hot cup of coffee is a good way to start
the day, but nothing beats waking up in the morning with a splash of 40-degree
water in the face.
“I’ll get up at five in the morning and kayak the river with some friends,”
Becker says. “The Gallatin is something I really cherish.”
Becker started Geyser in 1992 with his friend Jim while the two attended
business school. The company, which was once used as a way to get credit
from the school, has become one of the biggest rafting companies in the area.
Guides warn rafters of the swiftly approaching features on the lower section,
known aptly as the Mad Mile. Rock areas bearing names like ‘Snaggle Tooth,’
‘Boulder Garden’ and ‘Rodeo’ may pass unnoticed by the rafters in the front
of the boat gulping water from a five-foot rapid.
Entrance Exam. Show Stopper. House Rock. Was that a 15-foot boulder we
almost hit? You bet. Two paddles forward. Hard!
The Mad Mile gives rafters a chance to see a slice of Montana others have
cold sweats just imagining. But the guides at Geyser are well trained and
perfectly capable of steering clear of every spot of danger on the “Swift
River,” as the ancient Shoshone people called the Gallatin.
Visitors looking to take the kids on the river often take the upper or scenic
trips. Without worrying about the more technical parts of the river, they
can admire the towering, tree-covered mountains that form the Gallatin
Geyser is known for going out of its way to keep clients safe, so there’s
strict age restriction on the different sections of the river depending on
how high they’re flowing. Later in the season, after snowmelt, the river
will tame down a bit, so mothers can breathe a sigh of relief when their
10-year-olds call ‘shotgun’ and jump in the front of the 14 1/2’ boats. Besides,
as all river rats know, kids in the front of the boat make for the best
shields for the frigid Gallatin water.