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June 1, 2014

High Water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first experienced the spring runoff while on a family vacation in Yosemite.  We went in June when the spring runoff peaked and the waterfalls were fullest.   It wasn’t just the waterfalls that caught my eye, though.  Trickles of water passing out of and over rocks were everywhere.  Having grown up in Southern California where even the local mountain ranges are quite dry, this amazed me.

Near home, the only real experience I had like that was during rainstorms.  Southern California doesn’t get thunderstorms, but a normal winter storm can drop four or more inches in 24 hours. 

I remember as a kid heading down to a local undeveloped canyon during one of these storms.  The canyon had a bridle trail through it at the bottom and right next to the water course.  During that particular storm, I watched as the creek went from dry to a foot deep and a few feet wide, a flash flood in miniature. 

Hiking in the Sierras during high school and college let me see real rivers and lakes.  The Sierras are a wet range during the winter and a dry range during the summer---almost all of the annual precipitation comes during the winter.  I did most of my hiking and climbing during the summer, after the spring runoff.  Still, I remember hiking up canyons in the Eastern Sierras during June and July, and hearing the streams roaring below the trail, often completely hidden by cliffs, but sometimes visible.

While in grad school, a favorite climbing area was Castle Rock, just outside of Leavenworth, Washington.  There, the spring runoff of the Wenatchee River always caught my attention.  I loved watching the big standing waves.  If it weren’t for too many other high skill sports on my plate, I’m sure I would have taken up whitewater kayaking.

Throughout these years, my love for high water hasn’t changed.  And here and now, June in Seeley Lake, it’s all around.  It’s warm, there’s still lots of snow on the peaks from a very wet winter, and the ground is totally saturated.  The streams aren’t quite as high as they were two years ago---then I could hear a mild roar from the Clearwater River from my house, a mile away---but they’re close.  We’ll see though.  June is Seeley Lake’s wettest month and I think the rivers will rise some more.

The nearby river with the best standing waves, at least for me, is the Blackfoot.  Highway 200 runs along it for five miles, breaks away for ten, then follows it down until it hits the Clark Fork river, just outside of Missoula.  The Blackfoot roars every spring with huge standing waves in both sections.  I have to force myself to keep my eyes on the road while I drive by on trips between Seeley Lake and Missoula. 

Mountain biking, I’ve paused to check out a beaver dam recently built on Deer Creek.  The dam appears to be history.  Torrents of water are washing over whatever is there and have been for several weeks.  I’ll be very impressed if any of it survives. 

Closer to home, I walk to the bridge that crosses the Cleawater River and just watch.  It’s different from being hypnotized by a fire, but not much.  The random energy of both awakens something primal that realizes that fire and water are our greatest friends and our worst enemies, all at the same time. 

We’re clearly going to have high water for at least a couple more weeks.  There’s a spot along the Blackfoot where I think a moonrise photo would be perfect.   Big standing waves and the full moon in the background, just clearing the mountains.  I’ll have to see.  Even if there’s no shot, it will be something to behold. 

Growing up, I lived an easy two mile bike ride away from the ocean.  I’d often go there and hike down to the tide-pools and watch the breakers hit the rocks.  I liked the ocean.  Still, mountain streams and lakes and rivers have been where my real passion has been, particularly during high water.   And now, they’re an easy drive or bike ride or walk away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
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