Weather in Montana can be unpredictable and often changes quickly. People who live in Montana sometimes use the phrase ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ regarding erratic weather behavior in March. But some years the saying may go ‘In like a lamb, out like a lion’. As my wife, myself and a very good friend know, this year it was more like ‘In like a lion, out like a lion’. On March 30th we went on an annual fishing trip to the Land of the Giants for Chevonne’s birthday. We were excited to get out in the jet boat for the first time this year and to try out the new Orvis H3 on some big rainbows. The day started out very well with mixed clouds, sunshine and very little wind. We knew the weather was going to change by the end of the day. There was a good chance of rain and/or snow with up to 20 mph winds. The fishing was very good. As the day went on and the fish count went up, so did the wind.
We decided to start making our way back to the marina around 4 pm while it still seemed to be relatively nice out. It was still sunny and about 52°F. As we worked our way toward Upper Holter Lake from the dam, the wind became more and more intense. A few larger waves started to splash over the bow and we laughed a little as each of us got wet. We started approaching the lake and I noticed a large white storm coming up behind the marina. At that time I started to get a little concerned because I knew we were not quite going to beat it and I figured the wind in front of it was going to be wicked. I have dealt with the wind on this lake before and have made it safely across by hugging the west side and ultimately making the turn into the marina. But this time, as we worked our way down the bank, I noticed the waves were coming at us from a completely different angle. As we traversed further across the lake, I noticed there was another white storm emerging from the other side of the lake out of the Northeast. Eventually the waves were hitting is from the side and we had to turn more into the middle of the lake. We took a couple huge waves that breached our vessel from the bow to the stern of our 19’ boat. It was at that point I looked in the direction of the marina and saw nothing but huge waves and frozen mist that made it look like a raging arctic ocean. Waiting for a chance to turn the boat, I took the first opportunity and quickly lead us to a calmer part of the lake to regroup. At this point I was covered in ice and so was much of the boat. Having difficulty controlling the boat from the ice on the steering wheel, we tied off to a private dock next to an empty boat. We didn’t know who the dock belonged to but we found out soon as two trucks pulled up. As we were in the process changing out soaked clothes for dry ones, we were quickly relieved and surprised when the two strangers welcomed us to stay at the dock as long as we wanted. As they started to board the other boat they told us they were going to go pick up a couple of family members from the marina. I tried warning them of the severe conditions but they were confident in their boat with higher sides and larger windshield that would likely be better for the situation. As they rounded the corner out of site, we tried to stay warm by standing behind one of their trucks out of the wind. We stood curious if they knew the severity of the storm and if they really could make it across. Our questions were answered as they returned in less than 10 minutes with their boat covered in ice. As they got out of their boat soaking wet, one of them jokingly said “Hey, did you know it’s really crappy out there?!”. Realizing we were not going anywhere, they invited us up to their cabin to get warmed up. While up at the cabin, we found out just how strong the wind was blowing from a weather station that was located not far from the marina. There was a 30mph sustained wind mixed with 55mph gusts. As we waited to see if it would let up over the next hour, it only got worse and ended up becoming a total whiteout to boot. At that point we came up with a plan to get back to our vehicle and get home. With help from our new friends, were able to get a ride to the York Bar to meet up with yet, another good friend who kindly gave us a ride back to our rig. As we drove away with the day’s events on our minds, we realized the true importance of friends and how you never know when and how you will make new ones. The following morning, March 31st, a blanket of snow was on the ground and it was still snowing. March really did go out like a lion.