Madison - 2) Quake Lake to 1.5 miles downstream

Madison, Montana, US


2) Quake Lake to 1.5 miles downstream

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 1.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 155 fpm

Mark at S-Turn

Mark at S-Turn
Photo of Mark by David Schroeder taken 9/2002 @ 1000

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Madison River bl Hebgen Lake nr Grayling MT
usgs-06038500 700 - 2700 cfs IV-V 00h53m 985 cfs (running)

River Description

On August 17th, 1959 at 11:37 PM a major earthquake rocked the Greater Yellowstone Area. Rating a 7.5 on the Richter Scale, this quake was the largest in the documented history of Montana and took the greatest toll on human life. An entire mountainside came tumbling down on a crowded forest service campground before charging a full 400 feet up the opposite mountainside. This slide completely dammed the Madison River, eventually forming Earthquake Lake. The Army Corp of Engineers cut a new path for the river through the debris and this is now a SW Montana padling classic.

The run starts across from the Quake Lake visitors center on Montana Hwy 287. A dirt path leads down to where the lake once again becomes a river. From the moment you drift through the skeletal reamins of the forest poking up from the lake bottom, you are faced with continuous class IV boogie water requiring good read and run paddling skills. Though not overly difficult, the upper section is shallow and extremely sharp. A swim would be painful at best.

As you fly down the run, keep your eyes peeled for a big eddy on river left, just before the river bends hard to the right. You will be directly below the main part of the slide. Catch this eddy and scout the next 120 yards. This rapid, known as the S-Turn, is known for carnage and has drawn its fair share of blood. It is a definite class V at all levels but can easily be portaged on the left.

Below this drop, the river mellows quickly and you can take out wherever you like as Hwy. 287 follows this run in its' entirety. Most folks run it two or three times in a day. Enjoy!

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2007-03-27 19:57:44


Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 15 2008 (3775 days ago)
x (1)
Because of dam maintenance at Hebgen Lake, the water level at Quake Attack is the highest I have
seen. It has been ranging between 3200 cfs and 3800 cfs. The character of the river demands full
attention and endurance at these flows, as it more resembles a North Fork Payette than a Madison
River Run. Although the majority of the rocks are underwater, they are still sharp and will leave a
strong impression should you decide to face off with them. If you are in the area, it's worth a
trip to look at it, as it is very easy to scout from the road and there are eddies above the S-turn
rapid for an easy portage. It's a great run that demands your respect and attention to safety.
May 8 2008 (3905 days ago)
x (1)
Matt Larson Quake attack! I was lucky enough to catch this stretch at 2700 a couple years ago.
Sick!! If it happens again, go get it. The S-turn is the class-V ish section, more so because of
consequence. The only time i have gone upside down, my helmet was destroyed after the same rock
broke the shaft of my paddle. The run is Incredibly a fun continuous drop. worth many laps. I've
often traveled through lines that i wasn't planning on and they were cleaner than expected. keep it
June 21 2002 (6053 days ago)
David GarrityDetails
I did this run at about 1100cfs and it was fun without being scary. The lines are fairly standard
western runs - inside the bends and down the middle of the straightaways. You could probably run
this as low as 800 cfs, but be careful the rocks are really sharp. No clue as to a maximum level. A
couple of the bends are run in small chutes on the inside to avoid large holes running the width of
the main channel.