Kayaking the whitewater on the West Fork of the Stillwater River seems like an easy adventure to enjoy for Pete and his pal, Bill.
Bill, the daredevil of the twosome, pipes up, “What can be so tough about navigating this river?” The duo has spent many hours on the water back in Billings at Lake Elmo, a serene and small lake at a city park.
Now traveling to the Beartooth Ranger District of Montana’s Custer National Forest, the two men figure they can comfortably kayak the Stillwater as well.
The adventurers arrive at the river, and they have never seen whitewater turbulence quite like this. The river is running fast as the thundering rapids bubble with extra amounts of energy splashing off of the numerous, large boulders in the channel.
Thinking to himself, Pete looks with a bit of apprehension upon the scene, “This might be more than we bargained for.”
Bill looks ready to take on anything, and soon the adrenalin rush consumes any nervousness left in the kayaking tandem.
Both men are equipped with helmets and wetsuits, and each will be piloting his own kayak for the next few miles.
A harrowing journey awaits the two river crusaders. Their eyes grow bigger with worry as they pilot around blocks of stone in the water. The spray from the fast-moving water hides some of the other dangers . . . concealed tree snags and submerged rocks. Occasionally, tree branches reach out into the river from the bank.
Paddling and steering their small crafts, the men try to allow the river’s downstream current to propel them along. Soon both men realize . . . much too late . . . the Stillwater reminds them of who really is the one in control.
Just missing another oversized boulder, Bill flips his kayak over and then pops back up above the river’s boiling, frothing surface. His “Evil Knievel” eyes are filled with fright. He thinks to himself, “This ain’t Lake Elmo!”
Pete dodges a series of low branches near the far shoreline of the river. He overreacts and dumps himself upside down into the river as the kayak takes him for a short submarine ride. He loses sight of Bill as his kayak returns to the surface, minus his paddle.
Eventually, the tired and haggard pair of kayakers stagger to their destination, pull their battered kayaks out of the river, stumble into their pick-up trucks, and cautiously drive over to the Cowboy Bar and Supper Club at Fishtail. As the humbled duo walks into the restaurant for a quiet, relaxing meal, Pete is heard to say, “Lucky we made it!”
While I have never used a kayak, I have floated a few rivers. However, they seem quite tame compared to the energetic Stillwater River. The story is pure fiction, but the locations are “real” Montana places. Here’s a short video clip of kayaking on the Stillwater. Enjoy!