The guy on the rocks: Missoula photographer nabs boaters in Alberton Gorge
If you’ve boated through Alberton Gorge, you’ve likely seen him on the rocky perch above Tumbleweed rapids, standing behind his tripod, camera clicking away, maybe waving and shouting a few ‘yeehaws’ of encouragement.
He’s commonly known as “the guy on the rock.” Those who know him call him “Montana Mike.” He’s spends about 120-days a year along the river capturing images of most all who float, paddle, row, tumble, flip and sometimes inadvertently swim through the whitewater.
His name is Mike Malament, owner of Montana River Photography, and he has been photographing boaters on Alberton Gorge for 11 years now, from about 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., usually beginning in June (“depending on weather and water conditions”) and ending in September.
“When football starts and temperatures cool down it gets pretty slow on the river,” he said.
His bird’s-eye view of Tumbleweed – one of the most challenging rapids in the Gorge – gives him a fun and unique perspective.
“I get some pretty wild photos of people coming through, sometimes flipping and bouncing out of rafts,” Malament said. “People are usually coming through with guides and outfitters, usually with family and friends, having a great time, and so I try to capture their whole experience – the surrounding landscape, their approach, the thrill of going through the rapids, the excitement afterwards, their continuation downriver.”
Alberton Gorge is a 10-mile-or-so stretch of the Clark Fork, about 30 miles west and downriver of Missoula, flowing through several steep-walled canyons from Cyr to Tarkio. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, responsible for management of the Gorge, calls it a “paradise” for whitewater enthusiasts. In addition to Tumbleweed, there are dozens of Class II, III and IV rapids with names like Triple Bridges, Cliff Sides One and Two, Split Rock, Fang and Boateater.
In addition to private boaters, many local commercial outfits – including Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures, Montana River Guides, Zoo Town Surfers and 10,000 Waves – take people through the Gorge each season. According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, more than 2,000 boats float through the Gorge each year, carrying more than 10,000 passengers and totaling nearly 12,000 user days.
“On my busiest days, I go home with about 4,000 photos,” Malament said.
Malament developed a passion for rivers through his own rafting and kayaking, including an adventurous three-month kayaking trip in Uganda.
After graduating with a degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana, in 2007, Malament guided trips through the Gorge for a few years. At the time, a photographer named Jeff Childres of Clark Fork Photography was capturing people’s trips on the river, but he was getting ready to call it quits.
“I loved his photography, and I had guided guests through the river and knew how important his work was to many people,” Malament said. “I thought, ‘how crazy awesome to be the one taking the photos.’ So I kind of took over when he left.”
After a decade, he’s experienced the Gorge during all sorts of weather, lighting and river conditions.
“I’ve been here during some pretty crazy lightning storms,” Malament said.
Malament said he’s currently in a “redevelopment” phase of life, with photography becoming more and more of a passion.
Last year, he graduated from the eight-month professional intensive course at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula. This coming fall, he will share his passion, experience and knowledge as an assistant instructor in the same course.
“I’d already been photographing for 10 years when I took the course,” Malament said. “I was self-taught. But the school breathed new life into my business. It inspired me. And it definitely improved the quality of what I’m able to offer clients.”
In addition to his river photography, Malament also does portraits, weddings, landscapes and other work.
“Mostly though, I’m in love with rivers,” he said. “It’s a pretty special thing to be out here and be able to capture and share some fun, exciting and special experiences in people’s lives.”
The only downfall: “It’s definitely cut back my own time kayaking,” Malament said. “But I do a lot of kayaking in the spring and fall, and I also kayak through the winter.”
To find and order photos, people can go to the Montana River Photography website and find their trip images organized by year and date. Prints cost $15.99 for 4×6, and $16.99 for 5×7. Customers can also order greeting cards, calendars, mousepads, coffee cups and other items adorned with their photos.
Individual digital downloads cost $19.99, and a complete, “full-gallery” set of digital downloads – usually containing 30-plus photos – costs $84.99. The digital downloads allow for unlimited copies and use, and a password can be shared with friends and family to allow them to also download and share photos.
Malamet works with local guiding services to let clients know about his business. He also meets with people at the boat-launch sites, hands out his cards, and puts up signs.
“A lot of locals know about me,” Malament said, “and so mostly people learn about me through word of mouth . . . I’m ‘the guy on the rock.’”
For more information about Mike Malament and Montana River Photography, check out his website at: https://www.montanariverphoto.com/