After several backpacking trips this summer, car camping feels like staying at a 5-Star Sheraton Hotel. After work on Friday, we loaded up the Honda with our thick, cushy Thermarests, big, comfy down sleeping bags, the roomy tent, real pillows, musical instruments, chairs…and beer!…and headed east toward the Smith River.
The Smith is one of Montana’s premier floating and fishing rivers. Normally, when someone says they’re “going to the Smith” they mean they’re floating the windy canyon, launching their drift boats, rafts or canoes near White Sulphur Springs and spending 4-5 days floating 50 miles north toward Great Falls.
But that’s only during the spring and early summer. Montana has a competitive permit system to divvy out coveted float trips during those precious few weeks when snowfall subsides, the runoff from spring thaw calms down, and before the river shrivels from irrigation withdrawals and hot, dry weather. We’ve snagged a permit many years during that narrow perfect window. (Check out this sweet canoe setup from our 2011 Smith trip!)
No one really floats in September, since the flows drop drastically. This weekend, the river was flowing at a meager 100 cubic feet per second. Luckily, though, September is a great time to camp and fish.
Our friend, Mike, is the son of a smart, smart man who chipped in with friends to buy property along the Smith River years ago. Mike invites his friends to enjoy this remarkable riverside property during the last weekend in September each year to celebrate birthdays, whiskey, trout, and the onset of autumn. Lucky us.
And celebrate we did. We caught big trout, shot rifles to bone-up for hunting season, played guitar boisterously, ate like royalty, and sat around with good friends telling funny stories.
This particular outdoor adventure–like most we undertake–underscored the bottom line for how to return home with a satisfied glow. It’s the people. The community. The shared experience is what brings the rivers, forests, fish, and wildlife into sharp, 3-D focus in our memories.
On the September Smith trip, that means repeating the same inside jokes, eating Corey’s Stupendous Smith River Chili, singing along to Mike’s rockin’ set list on guitar after dinner, and giggling when we hear Ryan’s booming Fireball Whiskey-inspired laugh. It means creating new traditions due to campfire restrictions, like roasting marshmallows over a Coleman lantern and snuggling like inchworms in our sleeping bags around a single candle. Most of all, it means simply being with each other with no “real world” distractions near a clear stream, under a full moon, beneath a big, bright Montana sky.
Check out photos from this past weekend’s camping and last July’s float down the Smith River.
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