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Thread: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

  1. #1
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    Default Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    I read Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose a few years ago, and lately I've been thinking about what it would be like to roughly retrace the Lewis & Clark expedition's route up the Missouri and down the Columbia. It's a not very well thought out, bucket-list sort of idea at this point, but while I'm procrastinating from doing my schoolwork I thought I'd put it out here:

    What boat would you build for this trip?

    I don't think I'd be interested in listening to a motor for that distance, and it would detract from the experience, so it would need to be a sail & oar design. There would be portages, first for dams on the Missouri and later for rapids and the rocky mountains. I'm not enough of a masochist to want to haul the boat over the mountains by hand, but for the rest of it it would need to be light enough to carry. For safety's sake I'd want at least one other person with me, so say a crew of 2-3. There's a lot of research on the route that I haven't done yet, all of which would probably inform the ideal design, but off the cuff, what would you do?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Read William Least Heat-Moon's book River-Horse

    He crossed the continent by boat and followed the Lewis and Clark route
    Elect a clown expect a circus

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Another who's done something very similar: Sam McKinney. I'd read his book --

    https://www.alibris.com/Sailing-Uphi...607?matches=13

    Would be quite the adventure. And quite the accomplishment. If you can manage it... do it.
    Last edited by David G; 11-21-2020 at 05:20 PM.
    David G
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    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    We went to visit a friend that lived in Great Falls. We hired a boat to take us down the Missouri Breaks for a while. It was just a typical plastic powerboat. The head of navigation in the old days was Fort Benton. Spectacular.
    https://missouribreaks.org/the-break...ng-the-breaks/

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    A big canoe with a sail rig might suit.

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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcat View Post
    Read William Least Heat-Moon's book River-Horse

    He crossed the continent by boat and followed the Lewis and Clark route
    ^ This. He's a bit full of himself - but it points out a lot of the difficulties.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    A cargo canoe with a small sail and a small outboard...

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    One thing River Horse brings up is that most of these rivers are seriously dammed + controlled releases. This means trying to do it all at once is tough to schedule. They went from Atlantic to Pacific & most of it was done in a power boat - as they had to make really good time to make it all the way. They used 2 boats - the power boat & a canoe with engine.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Quote Originally Posted by Garret View Post
    One thing River Horse brings up is that most of these rivers are seriously dammed + controlled releases. This means trying to do it all at once is tough to schedule. They went from Atlantic to Pacific & most of it was done in a power boat - as they had to make really good time to make it all the way. They used 2 boats - the power boat & a canoe with engine.
    And a guided inflatable raft down the upper Snake River-- Hells Canyon
    Elect a clown expect a circus

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Are there any rules to this proposal? I.E., must be human powered, must be done in the course of one year, no outside support or limits on outside support, and so on.

    If I had a van and driver paralleling the route I'd want a kayak and not much else. If there was a paddling partner on the trip, they'd have their own boat.

    If limited outside support -- occasional contact with a vehicle to get supplies and help with big portages -- then maybe switch to a canoe. If allowed, add a small motor to the canoe.

    If no support at all, then I think canoe and no motor. Just like the natives did.
    -Dave

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcat View Post
    And a guided inflatable raft down the upper Snake River-- Hells Canyon
    Yup - forgot that.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Doing it all in one shot, self-supported with human and wind power only would be ideal, but it's unlikely I'll ever have the time to do it that way. I don't know what life is going to be like after grad school, but it's probably not going to allow for months long excursions. I'm also a wuss when it comes to being on the water in cold temps, and there's a safety concern as well. I'd be content with doing it in pieces over a few summers.

    I've spent a little time on and around the Columbia, but I've only ever looked at the Missouri from the interstate. Does anyone have experience paddling it? Is the current manageable? Would it be possible to sail at all? My experience with kayaks is limited to the plastic sit on top variety, but maybe a roomy touring kayak with an auxiliary sail would be a good option?

    Thanks for the book suggestions. I'll get ahold of them as soon as I have time to read for leisure again.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Quote Originally Posted by Galen C View Post
    Does anyone have experience paddling it? Is the current manageable? Would it be possible to sail at all? My experience with kayaks is limited to the plastic sit on top variety, but maybe a roomy touring kayak with an auxiliary sail would be a good option?
    I've only paddled the Breaks -- 6 people, 3 canoes, camping for a week in early summer. Water was fast and high because of a late snowmelt, the rapids were mostly under water -- easy paddling with the fast current. Sometimes we just rafted up and floated along, reading aloud to each other from, inter alia, Lewis and Clark journals. With the fast current we did 35 miles easily one day, though much less on other days. Water in this part of the river is not safe to drink even filtered because of agricultural chemical pollution; we had to bring good water along in large jugs -- needed more room than usually needed for gear and food. Great scenery, great side hikes, great wildlife big horn sheep, eagles, pelicans, prairie dogs and more). Other parts of the river, of course, are much different, but canoeing the Breaks was great.
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  14. #14
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Some of the serious folding kayaks, Folbot, Klepper etc are worth consideration. They can be had second hand, often reasonably. They have made epic trips before, are adaptable to sail and power, break down into duffel bags for portage and storage.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    That sounds like a great trip, Greg. I take it you were going downstream? Do you think it would be possible to make any headway upstream against that current?

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Waterlust Sailing Canoe? Between the sails, Hobie Mirage drive and a paddle no need for a motor.

    They are a little heavy for solo-portaging but as part of a team effort
    Steve

    If you would have a good boat, be a good guy when you build her - honest, careful, patient, strong.
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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    If you have a Facebook account, Galen, I recommend getting in touch with Norm Miller via his Facebook group Missouri River Paddlers. Alternatively, he has a website (missouririverpaddlers.com). I believe Norm paddled up the Missouri.

    I built a Gartside Coastal Rowboat for rowing DOWN the Missouri. I would use a sea kayak (with a downwind rig) for going UP the river.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    I have often fantasized this, and my thinking is 4 people, two canoes, lashed together as a catamaran to hold sail in the big wind of the great plains but which become two canoes when the water gets thin. one 3-5 horse motor for headwinds, jury rigged awning to keep from baking, large cooler, much beer. When I have driven the Hwy 2 route West and back I experienced heavy westerlies, so you might consider doing the Lewis & Clark "return trip" :-)

    Ken

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    Quote Originally Posted by Galen C View Post
    That sounds like a great trip, Greg. I take it you were going downstream? Do you think it would be possible to make any headway upstream against that current?
    In the fast high water in which I canoed the Breaks, it would have been quite difficult to make sustained significant headway. I suppose if you stayed in the more-or-less slack water close to a river bank, you might be ok, but as the river twists and turns (as it does a lot) there is generally slack water only on the inside of the curve -- and you would have to change sides of the river, going through the fast current, for the next alternating curve.

    Unless you are in very, very good shape (are you a competitive tri-athlete?) I don't think it would be so enjoyable. Don't forget that L and C travelled this part of the river both ways, so if your intent is to cover the same stretches of water, it seems to me that going downstream would be the way to go.

    I don't know how fast the water normally is -- but even with somewhat slower current of lower water, there would be a few rapids to deal with while going upstream. I have no experience running any rapids or portaging in the area I travelled, and I was not viewing the river with respect to portaging possibilities, but I think that in some places, it might be difficult or impossible, and might mean climbing some very high and steep banks. Of course, getting out and walking while dragging the canoe along, or lining, or poling (if you have poling skills) are other possibilities for dealing with upstream travel. And I have no knowledge of paddling conditions upstream from where I paddled.

    We put in well below Great Falls. I have no ideal of what either the current or the rapids above Great Falls might be like. When commercial shipping started up the Missouri not so many years after the L and C expedition, the head of navigation was generally at a couple of points not too far below Great Falls, a sign that travel downstream even today should be generally unimpeded (except for modern dams). But keep in mind that L and C took more than a month to portage the 18 miles around the Great Falls and the rapids above them. Of course, they were dealing with keel boats and pirogues, but dealing alone with a good-sized canoe and camping impedimenta does not make for such easy portaging.



    But one direction or another, I hope you do it -- it should be a blast.
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    Last edited by Greg Nolan; 11-23-2020 at 11:28 AM.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    I used to live in SD, on the Missouri - there's quite a bit of info on L and C there, dept of tourism would undoubtedly be useful. The Missouri has been 'tamed ' from those days, now a series of dams until you get to Yankton - and paddling below Yankton could be 'interesting', depending on weather. But that route has been paddled many times, though most do only stretches of the journey. We'd occasionally have a traveler paddle into town, ask directions around for cafe's, grocery etc., camp in one of the local parks. Most paddled downstream, but I've paddled the river quite a bit, in an ocean kayak, and upstream, on the dammed rivers, is pretty easy. Pretty nasty wave action when the wind comes up - I learned early to get off the water when that happened. Had about 15" to do so, before the waves got rough.

    Ah well. Good times! And I'd encourage you to go for it! And post your story here, of course.
    There's a lot of things they didn't tell me when I signed on with this outfit....

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    It seems to me - from my memory of reading their Journals - that the Corps of Discovery went upstream mostly by poling, not by rowing. Is poling more efficient than rowing for going up a shallow river? Should you consider some sort of pram made for poling?

    Maybe the reason they poled was that their riverboats were much larger than a canoe or rowboat.
    I will beg you for advice, your reply will be concise, and I will listen very nicely and then go out and do exactly what I want! (Apologies to Lerner and Lowe.)

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Retracing Lewis & Clark?

    You won't be doing much 'poling' up todays Missouri! With the dams in place, the river is much deeper than L/C encountered.
    There's a lot of things they didn't tell me when I signed on with this outfit....

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