A Day On The Missouri River USA
Taken From My Diary.
Sunday 17th August. Paddling on a knife’s edge.
At the moment I am taking shelter at a boat ramp car park waiting for the gale force winds to calm. My tent is pressed hard against a barrier of bushes as I’m trying to get as much protection as possible from the storm winds and rain. I have just come in from paddling in near suicidal waters on Lake Sharpe, which is one of the smaller lakes on route down the 4000km Missouri River. The lake is only 140 kilometres long but it is proving to be more difficult to navigate than the larger ones due to the weather conditions and the trees stumps that are in the water. Cold, strong westerly winds have turned the lake into one big mass of whitecaps with huge waves.
I couldn’t believe how rough it was, I was really fighting the elements and I mean that literally, it was so cold with the temperature around 5?C, it was very wet and not just from the rain that came down in heavy showers but also from the large waves that pounded the boat and washed over the bow and stern. The wind was blowing a gale, and the large waves that were whipped up were forever swamping me, predominately smashing me from the side and behind. This was making it hard to keep control of the kayak and making paddling that much more difficult. When the really big waves rolled violently over the kayak the whole boat was virtually underwater, I had to be prepared for a severe destabilising, as the kayak would wallow and flounder with the weight of the water. At these times my spray deck often supported several litres of water and occasionally allowed the cold water to drip onto my legs and sending a chill through my entire body.
To counteract the boat from submerging, whenever I heard a big set of waves rolling from behind I would angle my boat into the wave hollows and ride up the wave sideways. Although I still got wet from the wave breaking and had to be ready to do support strokes, I had more control of the kayak and it felt a safer method of paddling. But this method was far from safe on much of this lake, as tree stumps that were once living trees but now flooded by the river being dammed, were lurking above and below the water surface. Hitting one of these stumps broadside could destroy the kayak and bring an end to my life’s journey, the water was so cold and wind so strong it would be hard to survive more than half an hour in the water. As you can imagine, keeping a straight course where-ever there were tree stumps, although nearly impossible with such high winds, was vitally important for my survival.
If these conditions weren’t bad enough to contend with, I also had wind gusts that were so strong that I had to stop paddling to prevent the paddle from being wrenched out of my hands. These severe gusts brought another dangerous element to my paddling, the wind alone could have easily capsized me if caught at a time I was most vulnerable. I virtually had no control of the boat when the wind gusted severely and I was always praying there were no tree stumps in my way. Nevertheless, I was alert for any sudden increase in wind and kept paddling with caution. For much of the time I was paddling on a knife’s edge and pushing my limits and although I knew that I wasn’t infallible I just wanted to keep going and keep on schedule, taking as much care as possible.
I have paddled in the ocean for thousands of kilometres in all conditions but the conditions on the lake were equal to or even worse, than what I have ever encountered on the ocean. Unlike on the ocean, where the swells can get big but the waves are usually less steep and longer, the lake waves were quite high, steep and rolled in much closer together making them impossible to surf. As a result, the kayak spent a lot of the times with either the bow or stern submerged in the waves.
Kilometre after kilometre the shore was lined with a large number of big floating trees that had been washed up, making landing in these trying conditions very difficult if not impossible. As nightfall was edging closer, the wind getting stronger, the temperature getting colder and the shoreline in sight almost impossible to land on, it was with great relief when I saw a boat ramp in a small bay, free of trees. My spirits soared as I spotted my home for the night and a place that I would be safe.
As I dragged my kayak up the boat ramp the cold was so intense it was hard for me to function properly and to get motivated to find a place to erect my tent. The days paddle had been a trying experience. It had been like playing Russian roulette in gale force winds and rough seas with the tree stumps that littered thickly at times along my path. This is expedition paddling and not all things go to plan or are easy going, I just wonder what tomorrow was going to bring.
Lake Sharpe, located on South Dakota Highways 50 and 47 near Chamberlain, and Reliance, is one of the four reservoirs constructed along the Missouri River in South Dakota. (The other three are Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Oahe, and Lake Francis Case). Lake Sharpe was named after a former South Dakota Governor, Merrill Q. Sharpe, who was influential in the construction of the dams and reservoirs along the Missouri River. Stretching 80 miles long and with 200 miles of shoreline, Lake Sharpe is a great place for, fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, camping, hunting, boating, or wildlife observing.
Lake Sharpe was created by impounding the Missouri River near Fort Thompson. Seven miles upstream from the dam, is a unique bend in the Missouri River. At this bend, the Missouri makes almost a complete loop, before returning to the “neck” where the land is not quite a mile wide, hence the name Big Bend Dam. Construction began in 1959, as project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer under the Pick-Sloan Plan. The Dam was completed in 1964 and measures approximately 10,570 feet long and 95 feet high, it now provides flood control, conservation of fish and wildlife, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation.
Fishing and Hunting are two popular activities along Lake Sharpe. All public lands around the Lake Sharpe are open to hunting, except for developed recreation areas. Hunting opportunities include, water fowl, upland game birds and big game. Whitetail and mule deer, as well as elk, bison, coyotes and wild turkeys, are the big game animals you can expect to find. The waterfowl and upland game birds include ducks, grouse, prairie chickens, geese, and pheasants. Hunting regulations are established and enforced by the State of South Dakota, and the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Tribes. Walleye, large and small mouth bass, northern pike, catfish, and white bass are the fish of choice in Lake Sharpe. If fishing on reservation land a Tribal license is required
There are 19 recreation areas along Lake Sharpe operated by the Corps of Engineers, the State of South Dakota, and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Highly developed recreation areas like Left Tailrace and West Bend, include campsites with electrical hookups, shower houses, picnic shelters, boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, and amphitheaters. Primitive recreation areas are also available, such as the North and South Iron Station. Lake Sharpe is a great family retreat. Whether you are looking for a relaxing time on the sandy beaches, or to be exhilarated by the hunt of big game there is always something to do at Lake Sharpe.
Ed & Sue were waiting at the end of the Missouri River to take my kayak back to their home in Ogden, Utah and store it there for me. Ed had very kindly taken me to the start of the Missouri River (a day’s drive from where he lives) and he also met me halfway to see how I was going. I had been very fortunate to have had Ed and Sue’s wonderful support.
As a footnote, Ed and Sue also drove from Utah to Vancouver, Canada to pick Tony and I up to take us to the start of our Mountains to Arctic Ocean trip in 2008. This journey took them several days and thousands of miles. Again their support was invaluable.