Rivers Are On The Rise In Western Montana


Rivers are on the Rise in Western Montana, and it’s a great time of year to take advantage of spring flows.  The local river users are bursting with joy as the water levels continue to rise.  Although it’s a great time of the year, it’s important to slow down, take a deep breath, and consider some important factors and variable before you head out to the river.

The bottom line is that most accidents can be easily avoided.  I like to call this “the big picture”.  Taking a look at the big picture allows us to be aware of accidents and situations that can be easily avoided by taking simple steps.  Here are some things to consider before heading to the river:

Know the Flow Before You Go!  Go to American Whitewater, the USGS site, or call a local guide company to find out what’s going on with area rivers and conditions.

Know Your Personal Ability.  Be honest with yourself about your experience, technique, and skills.

Know Your Group’s Ability.  Do you have young kids, older friends, folks with injuries or disabilities, past/present medical conditions?  Sure, you might have the skills and ability to swim back to a raft, or self-rescue but does the rest of your group?  Remember, the river is supposed to be fun, so don’t just think about yourself, but others as well.

WEAR YOUR PFD (personal flotation device)!  Make sure your PFD fits and take personal responsibility to fasten it securely.  Read more about the 5 Things to include in your Personal Flotation Device.

Whitewater Rafting by David Berkowitz via Flickr.

Proper Gear.  Check your gear and more importantly know how to use it! Read more about Kayaking Safety Gear.

Hazard Recognition and Avoidance.  Be able to recognize strainers, bends in the river, friendly/unfriendly holes, friendly/unfriendly rocks.

Safe Swimming Position.  Know when to employ aggressive versus defensive swimming techniques.  Water above knees, should be crawling to shore.

Maintain the Unbroken Chain.  The lead boat should always be able to see the sweep boat.

Dress for the Takeout.  The weather can change quickly.  Be prepared for long shuttles, misadventures, etc.  I like to always stuff a fleece hoody in my dry bag.

Proper Footwear.  Flipflops just don’t cut it for running, hiking, or swimming in the river.

No Alcoholic Beverages.  Drinking can lead to impaired judgment which can cause accidents. And as the temperatures heat up, alcohol can lead to dehydration.

Hydration.  Bring some powdered Gatorade or Emergen-C.  Easily fits into your PFD

Snacks.  It’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll need something to eat.  Bring snacks that fit in your PFD.

Rivers are a way of life here in Western Montana.  They are beautiful, powerful, dynamic, and constantly changing.  Respect them.   Please add to this post, comment, or share with anyone who might be heading to the river.  I’m also happy to discuss any of these thoughts or ideas with anyone, whether they agree or disagree.  Have fun and be safe out there folks.  And remember:  “The River is forgiving, until it isn’t”.


Visit Jason Shreder's blog archive  River season is here! Jason’s got tons of awesome kayaking posts to get you stoked for summer surfing in his blog archive.


Jason Shreder just wants to have fun.

Jason Shreder is the owner of local whitewater company Zoo Town Surfers. He loves Missoula, the great community, and all the awesome water that surrounds it. He’s constantly moving and 90% of that movement involves kayaking, rafting, working, and hanging out with his awesomely supportive girlfriend and dogs.

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