North Fork floaters, beware
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: April 24, 2016

Flathead Search and Rescue had some advice for traversing the North Fork Wave, a frequent spot for summer rescues that has already had one incident this year. This stretch of river has claimed more than one life, and the organization had the following advice:


“The warm weather has brought river levels up considerably, and folks are getting out on the water. The “shelf” (aka. North Fork wave), the large hydraulic approximately 1 mile upstream of the Glacier Rim launch– 1/2 mile downstream of the Canyon Creek culvert– looks deceptively like a simple, short stretch of whitewater. It is not. It is a strong hydraulic which can easily flip and/or trap a raft. Rafters are either thrown out into the frigid water, or trapped on the floor of their raft as it’s held in place mid-river and pummeled by the water.

The shelf is visible in this Google Earth satellite image. The Canyon Creek culvert is in the upper left of the frame. The channel then widens and splits around the island, then narrows again. At the narrow point before the channel turns southeast, there is a very distinct line of whitewater that extents approximately half way across the channel. This is the ‘shelf,’ and it is best avoided, by staying river left (on the left side of the channel, when facing downstream.) Please exercise particular caution in this section of the river. And please, please, PLEASE wear a life jacket (aka personal flotation device). Everyone in every boat should be wearing one.”

The comments on the post verfied the river is dangerous:

Summer Alexander I was just on this stretch Sunday-I was in my own boat/ myself and two dogs- I have been thru this stretch over and over and felt that this section was harmless- I did everything right to set up and hit it hard. After dropping in it seemed all was right- well it wasn’t! My boat was to light and I didn’t have the momentum to brake over the top- I was thrown from my boat and almost drowned fighting to get to shore. One of my dogs was also thrown from the boat and barely made it to shore/ the other dog was stuck in the raft for at least 11/2 hours until flathead search and rescue came to save the day.THANK YOU SO MUCH TO FLATHEAD SEARCH AND RESCUE!! The outcome if they didn’t show up would have been awful!! Please take these suggestions with care and be safe! Float hard-raft hard but be smart and safe even harder!!! Thank you again to the brave people that volunteer to put themselves in danger to get us out of danger– God bless!

Flathead County Search and Rescue Thank you so much for sharing your story. The jetboats and crews from North Valley Rescue in Columbia Falls and additional Swiftwater Techs from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office responded on Sunday to the North Fork. All your responders are very thankful no one was hurt, and we hope your dogs are doing well, too. (The lab shared a few puppy kisses on the way back to Glacier Rim. smile emoticon

Wendy Lee Sullivan I know right where this little ledge Is… Thank you very much. Actually from upriver you cannot see it if you don’t not know it’s there he drops Right off. Thanks Friend Good homework for the season start.

Flathead County Search and Rescue This week, there are some sizeable roller waves preceding the shelf, but, as you noted, it can be far less visible at times. Thank you sharing that observation. For river users, do please note that the appearance changes considerably depending upon river level. At a lower current flow, there may be only a thin, white line visible. Knowing the location of this hazard and how to avoid it is key!

TE Lewis I would like to respectfully suggest to those interested in the NF Flathead River – if newer to river recreation in NW Montana the wild and scenic North Fork Flathead River is a more technical float. I recommend staying on the Flathead River main stem till a sportsman or enthusiasts has at least 100 river hours logged and they are confident with their watercraft and can maneuver around potential hazards. Also, if you’re confident with your skill level but not familiar with this river section please go with someone who is to become familiar with the potential hazards and hydraulics of this beautiful and exciting float. cc. Flathead County Search and Rescue

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