Ken Lockwood Gorge

Mid-January and I haven’t paddled in a while so I thought that I would write a series of articles chronicling my paddling experiences from beginner through easy class V. As this is a blog format, I welcome any discussion both negative and positive, or maybe a post from someone with similar experiences. Not being a good note taker, I am writing mostly from memory and the details may be a little sketchy. I am also trying to relate what I was thinking at the time, however flawed or misguided that thinking may have been. The following is an account of my 2nd day in a whitewater boat.
Ken Lockwood Gorge 
Saturday afternoon and its raining hard, really hard. Its been an absolute deluge for the past 1 1/2 hours. I’ve been dying to get back in a whitewater boat ever since my first trip down the Musconetcong with my friends Ed and Dan. Zelma and I hop in the truck to go check out the water.
Zelma is our 6 year old yellow lab/golden retriever mix. We raised her as a puppy for the Seeing Eye and got her back when she flunked the entrance exam. The Seeing Eye designates their puppy litters by letters and each puppy gets a name beginning with that letter. There aren’t too many names starting with “Z” but at least she wasn’t in the “X” or “Q” litters.
We drive up to the Hoffman’s Crossing and enter the gorge from the Califon side. The rain ahs kind of slowed down by the time we get out of the truck but there is water everywhere. The river is a brown surging mass, with the water up to the edges of the road. Water is till pouring down from the tree leaves and we are soaked in a matter of seconds.
I walk along the road and stare at the raging water, planning my line through or around each obstruction. There aren’t too many to worry about as the storm has filled the normally boulder strewn stream bed. The Gorge is filled with the deafening sound of the frantic maelstrom of rushing water. Zelma spend her time racing happily along the river bank but surprisingly does not even attempt to enter the water. Even a Seeing Eye reject has more sense that I do.
I am disappointed when Ed tells me he cannot make it out this afternoon but we agree to meet tomorrow morning. I mention that PFDs and Helmets might be a good idea and Ed grees to bring them along.
We meet Sunday morning at Califon park. I am paddling the same Diesel 65 that I had borrowed from Ed on the Musconetcong. Ed is paddling a Dagger Animas, he doesn’t like the Diesel as he thinks it doesn’t track very well.
It’s mostly flat water as we paddle under the bridge in Califon but there is a small dam at the end of the pond. I’m a little hesitant as the water drops about 2′ over the rocks at the dam, but Ed paddles over and bumps down the rocks. I follow, it’s a little scary but actually kind of easy.
The river has dropped quite a bit from the previous afternoon. The water is well within the banks and the rocks are back in view. We paddle maybe a mile of moving water with a couple of small riffles before we see the bridge at Hoffman’s Crossing that marks the entrance to the gorge.
I don’t feel nearly as awkward in the boat as I had my previous time out. I can, for the most part, paddle straight and get the boat to go where I think it should be going. The water picks up speed once we pass the bridge, we paddle past a few houses and start into the gorge.
It’s a little nerve-wracking in here. There are rocks everywhere. Ed and I are constantly paddling back and forth across the river as we search for a line through the jumbled boulder garden. The waves seem huge to me, some as high as 2′. Every now and then one comes up and smacks me in the chest. I nervous and thrilled at the same time.
We pass a deadfall in the middle of the river and start toward a channel on the left side of an island. I tell Ed that I have looked at this route and kind of know which way to go. He lets me take the lead. The current really picks up as the river narrows and drops over a series of small ledges. We are swept along with the racing water and try to keep toward the left bank with our bows pointed downstream. Water crashes in on us from everywhere. There’s a big curling wave off to my right and I fight hard to stay away from it. The current seems to be throwing my boat all over the place and I am alternately paddling like a mad man, hanging on and praying for the best. It all kind of works out and we both emerge unscathed and upright.
Things slow down a little as we enter a section that loaded with smaller boulders and not as steep. I’m feeling pretty good in the boat by now, pumped up by having run the shoot past the island. I’ve discovered that I can put the bow of the boat into a chute between the rocks, plant my paddle and swivel my hips to snap the stern around past the rocks. I amuse myself by trying to get into tighter and tighter spaces. I’m having a great time. Ed tells me that it looks like I know what I am doing. I don’t know about that but it feels right and I having fun.
We are almost to the end of the gorge and the current starts to pick up again as the river makes a turn to the left. We pass a large boulder in the center of the river and paddle back to river right to avoid a tree that has fallen and jammed on a boulder, blocking the left side of the river. I get to the right of the tree and am slightly terrified as I am looking down into a huge hole in the river with a gigantic crashing wave behind it. The wave didn’t look nearly this big yesterday as I scouted from shore, maybe only 2 or 3′ high. It seems as though it will swallow me as I start down the slope into the hole. I am blinded as the wave comes up and smacks me in the face. I have to shake my head to clear the water, but the boat has pushed straight through and I am out on the other side of the hole.
The river then makes a turn to the right around another island. I haven’t really been able to see what is here since the road is on river left and the island blocks the view of the right side. The left side of the island is completely blocked by dead trees.
We start down the river right side and there are rocks and waves everywhere. All I can do is paddle and try to keep the boat headed downriver as I bounce off rocks and through holes. I’m just kind of going wherever the water takes me but again it works out as we both get through the right channel intact.
From there the action slows a little more as we paddle out of the gorge to our cars. Both Ed and I are really pumped up and excited. neither one of us has ever paddled in water like this and it’s always been something I wanted to do.
I arrive home full of excitement and start describing the trip to me wife. She starts to get a little worried look on her face and tells me not to get too crazy. I tell her not to worry, that I can’t imagine paddling anything harder than Ken Lockwood.  I had agreat time, I’ve got to get my own boat.

3 Replies to “Ken Lockwood Gorge”

  1. Ignorance is bliss. If only we knew what could go wrong when we were beginners and did foolish things. Only by luck do we survive. We started out our first year by reading the Gertler books on NJ and PA and saying “Oh that sounds like fun” and just showing up with the two of us and running it. We did the Ken Lockwood that way too. Now I teach all my students basic safety and judgement skills and tell them not to do this.

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