Jerry Dixon, of Seward, Alaska
Zac Cavaness of Bozeman, Mont., and I paddled up the Missouri River
from Gates of the Rocky Mountains beginning May 12. Three months later
to the day I would ride my mountain bike onto the sandy Pacific beach
near Astoria, Ore. The Gates of the Rocky Mountains are a beautiful
gorge where Lewis wrote, We entered much the most remarkable
clifts that we have yet seen ....the river appears to have forced
its way through this immence body of solid rock for the distance
of 5 3/4 miles .... nor is there in the 1st 3 miles of this distance
a spot except one of a few yards in extent on which a man could rest
the soal of his foot.
Meriwether Lewis, July 19, 1805.
We saw peregrine falcons, eagles, ospreys, hundreds of white pelicans
and geese. Here was the largest herd of mule deer I have ever seen
and I got to within 50-feet of a pronghorn antelope. We portaged Hauser
Dam (even though it was previously closed for national security) and
paddled up to Canyon Ferry. Then I mountain- biked along the Canyon
first stop on the first morning kayaking up the Missouri was Mann
Gulch. Zac and I hiked a stunning ridge to the site of the 1949
conflagration. Like most smokejumpers, I knew well the story of
Mann Gulch: 100-degree temperatures, fire crossing below the jumpers
and exploding up the hill, the sprint for the ridge top, and the death
of so many brave young men, some of whom had parachuted into France
on D-Day and fought their way across Europe to the gates of Berlin.
What I didn't expect was to be so moved by the scene of the monuments
very close to the safety of the ridge. I was moved to tears.
They were so close. Where each jumper fell is a cross (except for
the Jewish jumper, whose place is marked with a headstone) and a recent
marker. There are footpaths connecting the monuments. On each monument
and cross are small stones left by family, jumpers, and those who
come to remember. Like the mani walls of Asia, visitors have placed
a small stone on top as a sign of remembering. I placed one on each,
The date August 5, 1949, the day of the Mann Gulch Fire, was my first
birthday. But like all smokejumpers this day is seared in my memory,
as is July 6, 1994 when two men from my McCall smokejumper unit were
lost with 11 others on South Canyon Fire in Colorado. Seven of the
pilots I flew with also died in the line of duty. I am privileged
to not only do wilderness ultra-marathons across mountain ranges but
to have jumped from DC-3s with the best wildland firefighters in the
When I stood on the hallowed ground of Mann Gulch I could see that
in 54 years the timber had just started to return as the soil was
sterilized that day from the blast-furnace temperatures. One day the
trees will return, but I imagine another generation of family and
the family of firefighters will keep the paths open. We should never
forget those who fell here. As the national debate rages on about
the role of fire in our wildlands and urban interfaces (and southern
California burns) we need to remember the young men and women who
put themselves in harm's way managing wild fire. Like many with whom
I jumped, I am a conservationist and a smokejumper.
As an Alaskan who is fortunate to live in the midst of some the wildest
country left on earth, I was truly surprised to see so much wildlife
in the Gates of the Mountains and Mann Gulch section. There are several
views from here where only the mountains are visible, and a voyager
from 200 years ago would still recognize the country.
the next section, I paddled with Zac from the Madison River into the
Jefferson, then a short section up the Gallatin. These three rivers
form the Missouri. It is a magnificent spot that should be protected
forever with Wild and Scenic River status, as should many sections
of the Lewis and Clark route. (The Sierra Club and other organizations
are trying to do this.) With Mike and Robyn Cavaness, Zac and his
new bride Erin, I floated to Toston Dam. I would go in a paddle raft
on a section of the Jefferson and raft the upper Beaverhead River
with the Cavaness clan. The intervening sections I would mountain
bike. From the Forks of the Jefferson River I rode to Lemhi Pass where
I met Bob Clark and others of the Missoula Sierra Club for a hike
and wildflower photo session.
What magnificent country with a spectacular view there is to see at
Lemhi Pass! When I arrived on my mountain bike I had this scenic pass
to myself because a snow drift blocked the road. Riding along the
Continental Divide headed north, in some places I would push my bike
through miles of snow. The solitude was sublime. I spent wonderful
afternoons high on ridges looking out over the Big Hole and Beaverhead
valleys of Montana, the Salmon River country of Idaho, while Clarks
nutcrackers called from the forest canopy.
Read the six-part account of Jerry's trip:
of the Mountains to Lemhi Pass
Pass to the Salmon, float Salmon to the Lost Trail
of the Beaverhead Mountain Range
Trail Pass to Lolo and across the Lolo Pass
the Clearwater to the Snake, Snake to Columbia and Columbia to Wallula
Biking to the Pacific
Back to main page of this journey.
Photos by Jerry Dixon. Top: Camp on the Missouri
River. Middle: Boat next to cliffs on Missouri River. Bottom: Storm
on the Missouri.
For more information about the Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark campaign or to find out how you can help, contact email@example.com.