Boy Scout Troop 13 faces many challenges canoeing the Upper Missouri Breaks


Recently 18 Boy Scouts and seven adult leaders of Boy Scout Troop 13 in Brookings traveled to the Missouri Breaks in central Montana, canoeing the Upper Missouri river from Fort Benton to Judith Landing. After two days of driving, the troop spent five days canoeing from camp to camp along the Missouri River.  

The Scouts covered almost 100 miles during their time on the river, spread out in 12 canoes, carrying more than 1,200 pounds of water alone.  The troop traveled along the same route Lewis and Clark did on their epic journey back in 1805. The Scouts even stayed at some of the very same campsites the adventurers did, but traveled the route downstream, in the opposite direction.   

The Scouts faced some tough challenges along the way, including two extreme weather events: a hailstorm lasting more than 15 minutes consisting of quarter- to nickel-sized hail (followed by an amazing double rainbow), and another storm of sustained 80 mile per hour winds that destroyed three tents and blew some of the canoes down river (luckily the canoes were caught just in time).  

One Scout shook hands with a prickly pear cactus during a hike, enduring more than 100 tiny spines that had to be pulled. Many bull snakes were encountered in the camps and on the trails, and on one hike some of the adult leaders spotted movement a few feet away in the tall grass that turned out to be a rattlesnake. The Scoutmaster, Neil Thomas, even had the unfortunate mishap of stepping into waist-deep quicksand but kept his composure and calmly pulled himself out. All along the riverbanks was very thick clay-like mud called “Gumbo” – many shoes and even a paddle got stuck in the muck and had to be dug out.

The Upper Missouri Breaks in Montana is considered one of the most remote and rugged parts of the country. It was described as “breaks” back in the 1800s, meaning “rough, irregular country” or “broken lands,” and was adopted under the French expression mauvaises terres, translated as “badlands.” The Missouri Breaks national monument spans over 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River. The area remains largely unchanged in the more than 200 years since Lewis and Clark traveled through it.

The scouts worked on the Geology, Canoeing, Nature, Exploration, and Sustainability merit badges while on the trip. Besides canoeing, activities included hiking a slot canyon, climbing to the famous “Hole in the Wall” in the White Cliffs, and many competitive sports, such as tug of war while standing on buckets.

Scouts had to work hard to help pay for the trip, working at many fundraising events over the last year, including wood cutting, helping at the Lions Booth at the summer Arts Festival, and a spaghetti feed at St. Thomas More.  

Young men between the ages of 11 and 18 or their parents interested in Scouting can contact Scoutmaster Neil Thomas at 695-5188 for information on Boy Scout Troop 13 (chartered by St. Thomas More). 

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