Northern Lights Owner Weighs in on Whitewater Season

BEN PIERCE, Chronicle Outdoors Editor

"After a hot-and-cold start to the summer season, whitewater boaters are finally getting their fix. Since the start of the week, the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone rivers have all risen dramatically and high flows are expected to continue through the weekend.

Meteorologist intern Zach Uttech of the National Weather Service in Great Falls said snowpack in the Madison and Gallatin mountain ranges has dipped dramatically over the last few days. Uttech said snow levels at 8,800 feet on Lone Mountain dropped from a foot to an inch over the past week.

That water is making its way down tributaries to the Gallatin River where flows spiked over 5,200 cubic feet per second on Tuesday. Uttech said peak flows for the season were likely on Wednesday or today, dependent on the impact of rain water from severe storms that passed through the area Tuesday evening.

“The storms over Memorial Day weekend dropped 6-14 inches of snow, depending on elevation, and the warm temperatures have melted much of that snow out in the last few days,” Uttech said. “This time of year I would put more emphasis on the snowmelt in regard to river levels.”

No matter how high flows get this season, for whitewater boaters it’s sure to pale in comparison to 2011. Last summer’s runoff saw historic flows on most rivers across the state and caused severe flooding in parts of central and eastern Montana.

“Last year, we had big water into August,” said Mike Garcia of Northern Lights Trading Co. “This year we are going to be chewing our nails by mid-July. I think we are going to be way low by the end of June for whitewater.” Garcia said boaters planning river trips can access statewide stream flow data through the USGS’s National Water Information System website.

“The whitewater kayakers know what flows are best for what runs,” Garcia said. “The Yellowstone is at 19,500cfs, so they are heading down to the wave at Springdale. Canoers might look at the Yellowstone gauge at 20,000cfs and figure they may wait a week.” Garcia said the Mad Mile of the Gallatin River in Gallatin Canyon, Bear Trap Canyon on the Madison River and the wave at Springdale on the Yellowstone River will be popular spots for boaters in the coming days."

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