Bitterroot Bridge , 2004

Bitterroot River Conner, MT

Satellite View of Bridge View Larger Map

USE:  Pedestrian

SPAN:  200'


TOWERS:  31' tall, A 588 Weathering Steel

ANCHORS:  5' x 5' Earth Anchors, 12' Soil Coverage

MAINLINES:  1-1/2" Galvanized Structural Strand

Bitterroot Bridge, 2004

Sahale's Bitterroot Suspension Bridge is located on a private ranch near the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot River. The bridge spans the West Fork, affording access to the sizable peninsula between the rivers. A Sahale cable bridge was selected for the project by the Owner because of his strong interest in erecting a light weight structure with little visual impact. In particular, the Owner wished to be a conscientious steward of both the environment and the history of his land.

The Bitterroot River and Valley is both magnificently beautiful and steeped in the lore of the old West. The Salish people (aka Flathead) occupied the valley from distant pre-history to the contact period where there were numerous interactions with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and subsequent explorers. The Corps of Discovery passed by the future bridge site on Saturday, September 7th 1806, stopping briefly for lunch. Two journal entries for the day describe the scene:

A Cloudy & rainie Day the greater Part of the Day dark & Drisley we proceedd on down the river thro a Vallie passed Several Small Runs on the right & 3 creeks on the left. The Vallie from 1 to 2 miles wide the Snow top mountains to our left, open hilley Countrey on the right. Saw 2 horses left by the Indians Those horses were as wild as Elk. One of our hunters Came up this morning without his horse, in the course of the night the horse broke loose & Cleared out- we did not make Camp untill dark, for the want of a good place, one of our hunters did not join us this evening. He haveing killed an elk packed his horses & could not overtake us.

---Captain William Clark

We set out early in a cloudy cool morning; and our hunters went on as usual. We proceeded down the creek, and in our way we were met by a hunter, who had not come in last night, and who had lost his horse. We halted at 12 o'clock, and one of the hunters killed 2 deer; which was a subject of much joy and congratulation. Here we remained to dine, and some rain fell. On the south of this place there are very high mountains covered with snow and timber, and on the north prairie hills. After staying here 2 hours we proceeded on down the creek; found the country much the same as that which we had passed through in the forenoon; and having travelled about 20 miles since the morning, encamped for the night. The valley is become more extensive, and our creek has increased to a considerable river.

---Sergeant Patrick Gass

In the years following Lewis and Clark, the Bitterroot Valley became a nexus of sorts for almost every pioneering explorer of renown in the Rocky Mountain West during the fur trade/mountain man era. Between 1822 and 1829 alone the valley was visited by trappers Michel Bourdon, Finian McDonald, and Alexander Ross leading dozens of men in various trapping expeditions. Competition was keen over trapping, particularly between expeditions launched by Canada's Hudson Bay Company and the rival American Fur Company. Of the latter, Americans Jedediah Smith, William Sublette, David Jackson, Thomas Eddie and Arthur Black all passed near the site of Sahale's Bitterroot Bridge. Peter Skein Ogden, William Kittson and 56 men of the Snake River Brigade passed near the site too, as did Thomas Fitzpatrick and a party of trappers including Kit Carson who entered the valley from the Salmon River.

Later, in 1877, Chief Joseph and his valiant band of Nez Perce fleeing General O.O. Howard brushed past the bridge site en-route to the Big Hole Valley, Yellowstone, and their eventual surrender near the Canadian Border. A scant two years later a pony express route was established past the bridge site to carry mail between emergent Missoula and Bannack, the Territorial Capitol.

Rivers are eternal, when viewed from a human vantage point. The Bitterroot, like many rivers, is a manifestation of enduring natural beauty but also a witness to grand human aspirations, suffering, and failings. Bitterroot waters flowing today beneath Sahale's Bridge are little changed from those that slaked the thirst of the Corps of Discovery over lunch one Saturday in September of 1806, or did the same for a Salishan hunter one thousand years earlier.

Ramp to East Tower.


Mountains through the mainlines.