Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

October 1955

By Jack Clack
(Retired 1933)

During March 1917, after being tied down in the office all winter, Supervisor Page Bunker proposed that we take a snowshoe trip to Spotted Bear to see what things looked like along the river. I had made two pack frames during the winter, one for him and one for myself, and he was anxious to try them out. When we made up our packs for the trip we found that we had 62 pounds each. In addition, I had to carry a complete lineman's outfit so we could repair the telephone line as we went along, thereby keeping in touch with the office.

After starting, we found that we could not travel after 2:00 p.m. as the snow got too soft and was also granulated, which made it worse. So, it was breakfast at 5:00 a.m., get started at 6:00, and travel until 2:00 p.m. What with hard going and repairing telephone line, we only made about ten miles a day.

When we reached Spotted Bear we found that the granulated snow had worn our snowshoes so it was doubtful if they would last the return trip. The river was clear of ice so we decided to build a raft and go down the river. We cut a couple of dry spruce trees along the bank of the-river and built a raft twenty feet long and 4-1/2 feet wide. We sawed in the crosspieces, fastened them with 60 spikes and wrapped them with 119 wire so there was no danger of the raft coming apart. We built a deck about the center of the raft and lashed our packs and other equipment on it with rope.

We pushed off early one morning, with two poles and two paddles for steering purposes. We got along fine the first ten miles when in an eddy under a cliff we ran into a log which reached clear across the river and was about a foot above the water. The water was comparatively still, so we got down on our knees and started to work the raft along the log toward the small end where we could cut it off and get around it. We had not got far along the log when the eddy started to boil and the raft ducked down, went under the log and came up on the other side. When this happened I went over the log and caught it as it came up. I looked around and found that Bunker had not made it. He was lying on his back under the log. He had his arms over the log but he could not get his feet down because of the boiling eddy. I got the raft to shore as quickly as I could, but when I had done this and looked back I saw the eddy was quiet again. Bunker had got his feet down, crawled on top of the log and was working his way to the opposite shore where the log rested on a large rock at the cliff.

I pushed the raft off again and crossed the river, which took me another quarter mile down stream. I waited awhile for Bunker to show up but he did not, so I walked back to see what was the trouble. I found him marooned on the rock at the foot of a cliff about 30 feet high with a pool of water about 50 feet wide on three sides of him. I had to return to the raft, get a rope, climb to the top of the cliff, throw the end of the rope to him and let him climb out.

We got back to the raft and made Riverside Park that evening, having come about 30 miles. We made an early start the next morning and got along fine until we reached the lower canyon where the Hungry Horse Dam is now. Here we decided that we had better line the raft through. I would stay behind with the rope and Bunker would keep the raft offshore with a pole. Everything went well until we got in a side channel, where the only outlet was a narrow opening in the rocks with a large rock in the center, making it too narrow to get the raft through. During our efforts to get the raft back upstream, the current got the best of us, took the raft across the outlet and set it up on edge against the rock in the center. We tried to pry it loose with poles. We got it started but it fell over upside down. We managed to get it into the main stream and down a short distance to a small backwater where we could work. With the aid of some poles and rocks we pried the raft up and over. Our dunnage was wet but safe, so we decided to ride the rest of the way. We got through the Devil's Elbow without trouble and tied up where the foot of Main Street, Columbia Falls, would be if it extended to the river. We wrung the water out of our blankets, put our packs on our backs and hiked to the depot at Columbia Falls, where we caught a train to Kalispell, having made the trip from Spotted Bear to Kalispell in two days.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010