Water Under the Bridge

The voices echoed around me in unison. "Ten, nine, eight…" There was time for just one more splash of water to wet the lips and ease my nerves before dropping into one of the largest class-V rapids in the state. The other racers yelled “Go!” and I dug in. Instantly the current grabbed my kayak and I began to accelerate down the low-angled entrance slide and into a mind-bending racing experience that I will never forget.

On June 9, 35 whitewater kayakers and a handful of dedicated volunteers set off up the trail from Big Timber Creek Campground in the Crazy Mountains to see how fast a kayaker could descend the steep section of creek that lays upstream of the first bridge. This stretch, containing two fearsome class-V rapids, has been popular with local paddlers for years and “Big T” is now known internationally as one of the steepest runnable creeks in the world, dropping just over 700 feet per mile.

Paddlers from Montana, Colorado, Idaho, British Columbia, and Alberta all competed in the first heat, with hopes of landing in the top ten and having a shot at a second run in the finals. The best times came in at just over two minutes 15 seconds, a blistering pace considering the steep and technical nature of the creek.

For most of us, the race was simply a perfect opportunity to run what many paddlers consider to be the finest piece of whitewater in Montana. There were EMTs at the critical junctures, safety boats in the water, and trusted personnel in place with throw ropes wherever needed throughout the course. The excellent safety setup definitely helped put competitors’ minds at ease, and after 50 runs the race ended without a single swim or injury.

When all was said and done, Team Strongleaf, (maple, of course) from BC/Alberta, swept the podium decisively and also filled out the bulk of the top-ten slots, leaving a hodegpodge of American steep-creekers little choice but to begin enjoying the barbecue, perfect weather, and fine, frothy offerings from the always-generous folks at Big Sky Brewing.

The Headwaters Paddling Association would like to thank River Source Outfitters, Jeff Clark, and Dick Lewan for providing much-needed donations and also give special thanks to the Lazy K Bar Ranch and the Van Cleve family for allowing the event to take place on their property and for working with us to ensure that access to this whitewater gem remains intact.