The water starts to pick up speed as I approach a huge horizon line. Art has already disappeared over the edge and I am following his line. I’ve never run a waterfall this big and I’m hoping everything works out OK. I enter the top of the drop a little left center and really lean forward to punch through  a small, worrisome hole at the lip of the drop, and plunge over the edge.
I had been putting the bug in Wayne’s ear about running the Raymondskill with him the next time he was going up. He had called me once or twice already but it seemed that my work schedule was always getting in the way. Its a problem when work gets in the way of good water but unfortunately there are college loans to pay off and so I had to tell him I couldn’t make it. Finally, he called to say the creek was running and he had a trip planned for Saturday. I jumped at the chance and we made plans to meet the next day.
We met down in Bridgewater and made the drive up route 206 together. Wayne had skipped breakfast and asked if we could make a stop in Dingman’s Ferry. There was a little store there he wanted to check out.
We walked in and I was immediately taken back to the country store in Liberty Corner that I had frequented as a kid. We passed through an open screen door into the dimly lit interior. On the left there was an old serving counter with a couple of stools and beyond that was a glass front candy display case. It looked like every 40s era candy store in every movie I’d seen. Really cool and worth the stop in.
Next up was the bridge at Dingman’s Ferry. I’d never been across the bridge before and was surprised to see a small single lane steel bridge across the Delaware. We were stopped at the other side by an older man standing in the middle of the road wearing a lumber apron (he had other clothes on as well, not just the apron. That would have been a little disconcerting). Apparently it is a privately owned bridge and this guy was the toll collector. I’ve never seen anything like it. Next to him was a VFW member looking for donations. I gave him a dollar thinking that it would make a good impression for future boaters. He gave me a little fabric flower. I threw it on the dashboard.
Wayne told me that we would be meeting his friends Art and Jeff for a quick first run and then would be making a second slower run with a few other guys, none of whom had run the creek before. He said that the second run might be a little more problematic than the first.
We got to the take out 20 minutes or so before Art and Jeff so Wayne asked me if I’d like to scout the river. Of course I agreed. We walked down a slippery, muddy path that led to the top of Ramondskill Falls. The creek dumped over a 6′ ledge into a large pool above a 50′ drop into a narrow crevice. Wayne explained that we would be taking out here. He also pointed out that there was a nasty hole below the 6′ ledge that had to be punched. We had to eddy out in the pool and there was little or no time to roll up if you were caught in the hole.
As we continued up along the river a series of ledge drops came into view. Wayne explained the lines through each and let me know what to look out for. I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into and was considering if I should opt out of the trip. Everything looked big and scary and I was thinking that I wasn’t good enough to run this kind of stuff.
Art and Jeff were waiting for us when we got back to the take out. They had already transferred our boats to their truck and were ready to run shuttle. Wayne and I changed into our paddling gear and off we went.
The first stop was the bridge over the creek. We got out to look at the water level on the bridge footing. Apparently its the gauge that the locals use to determine the level. It was a couple of inches over the footing. Jeff, Art and Wayne joked that it was high for a first time run. I didn’t feel any better about that.
We dropped the boats off at a small pull in spot along the road. There was no place to park there so Art had to drive back to a spot down the street. It was maybe a 1/4 mile hike in to the put in. I started out carrying my boat but soon was dragging it like everyone else.
The put in is mostly moving flatwater, nothing there to suggest what lies just a little way down stream. Around the corner is the first drop, Hackers Falls, an 18-20 foot drop into a flatwater pool. I haven’t seen it before so Wayne suggests that we get out and scout it. Jeff and Art stay in their boats. We take out on river left and walk to the edge of the drop. The creek narrows and drops over a small 2′ ledge before making the big drop into the pool. As we watch,  Jeff runs the drop and lands unscathed in the pool.
Wayne wants to wait a little so that he can get a picture of me running the drop. I don’t really want to wait. I hate standing around once I have seen the line and made up my mind to run it. I go back to my boat, get in and follow Art over the edge.
Funny thing about running waterfalls, one minute you are at the edge, and the next thing you know you are at the bottom. I don’t really remember seeing anything in between or even having time to brace for the landing. I guess I did OK as I’m still upright and paddling through the pool at the bottom. Wayne takes my picture there.
Next up is a long slide that we need to run down the river right side. I follow the group down but get caught in an eddy near the bottom of the slide. Its pretty narrow and swirly in there and I have to paddle out hard into the racing water to avoid a rock shelf that threatens to flip or pin me if I’m not aggressive enough. Adrenalin kicks in and I clear the rocks to join everybody at the bottom.
At last we come to a drop that I have scouted. The creek flows under a bridge and then drops maybe 12′ over a blocky ledge. after maybe 20′ the creek drops over a 5′ ledge and drives hard up on a river right boulder before dropping  another 3′ back to the left into a nasty hole. Wayne tells me that the hole is a bad place to be and to make sure that I boof off the boulder on river right.
Wayne tells me that he likes to run the 12′ drop a little right center with the boat angled a little to the right.  Art and Jeff have already run the drop and I follow Wayne to the edge.
I come off the lip of the drop fine but have too much boat angle. Instead of landing straight and sliding over the rocks near the bottom, I hit the bottom ledge kind of sideways and tumble down the remainder of the drop. No style points there.
I’m still in the main current line and trying to stay calm. My head and shoulders bump along on the rocks as I set up for my roll. The next ledge is coming up quickly and I know that I will only have time to make one attempt. I’d better make it a good one.
I roll up about 5 feet from the lip of the next drop and immediately have to paddle hard to river right. Everything is moving so fast and I don’t really have time to plan my next move. Relying mostly on instinct, I lean forward hard into the next ledge and drive the boat up onto the river right boulder. The water pushes me back to the left but I still manage to get enough of a boof stroke to clear the hole at the bottom. I wait calmly in a pool for the others like I had it all the way.
Next up is a steep slide followed immediately by a small ledge. There is a tree in the river right line but Jeff says there is an alternate line on extreme river left. You have to drive into a big pillow of water which will push you back to the right and down a blocky slide. I pull into the current and pick up speed, aiming for the pillow on river left. My bow hits the pillow hard but I don’t have enough speed and I am maybe a foot off line. The river throws me violently to the right, into the crease between the left and right lines and I promptly flip. Once again I am upside down and scraping along the river bottom, but at least the top of the ledge is smooth and I don’t bang around too much. The water is shallow so I push up off the bottom and run the next ledge. Art asks if I’m ok, everything is fine except my ego.
Around the corner we come to the biggest drop on the river nicknamed “Flirting with Disaster”. We all pull into a big eddy and get out of our boats. The river narrows and falls over a 25′ drop onto a flat slab then accelerates down past a big overhanging rock on river right and over another 8′ ledge into a pool. Its really pumping today and Jeff says that at higher levels like this the overhanging rock comes in to play. Id kind of like to try it. I always feel that if I come to run a river I should run it all. Jeff, Art and Wayne aren’t even thinking about running it today although they have run it numerous times in the past. If boaters like that aren’t running the drop, I have no business trying it. Common sense prevails and I pick up my boat to portage down the hill.
The hill is steep, slippery and really hard to manage with a boat. Art places his boat in the middle of the path and lets it go. Everything is going fine until it hits a rock and caroms off a tree, leaving a huge dent in the bow. My boat already sport a dent courtesy of a piton on the Lock and I’m not sure it can stand another hard shot. I continue to slip, stumble and slide my way down the hill with my boat on my shoulder.
I follow the group over a series of ledges and slides separated by short sections of boogie water. I know that this is the section that Wayne and I had scouted but everything is moving kind of fast and I don’t really remember what comes next so I follow along like a little puppy.
At last we arrive above the two small ledges above Raymondskill Falls. The river narrows to roughly 25′ and flows through a small gorge with sheer rock walls rising up 10′ from the water’s edge. There’s no way out except to run the ledges and catch the eddy above the Falls. Wayne tells me to run the 1st ledge hard against the river right wall and boof over the hole from small tongue of rock. We will also run the 2nd ledge hard right and down a small slide, avoiding the hole. Going into the 2nd hole could be a disaster as  the current is pushing hard across the pool towards the falls.
We all make clean runs through the ledges and arrive safely in the river right eddy. The last thing to do is ferry across the current to the takeout on river left. Its a little scary ferrying across 20′ above an unrunnable falls. I make sure I get really high and adrenalin kicks in as I paddle hard  through the boil line left by the ledge to the safety of the river left eddy and takeout.
Art and Jeff leave to paddle the Shahola while Wayne and I wait for the next group of guys, all 1st time Raymondskill paddlers. I’m a little surprised that Wayne is counting on my support with these guys, but it makes me feel pretty good. I try to ignore my upside down runs the previous trip and act like a veteran. Wayne stops at every drop and scouts the lines with them. I run the drops while he stays with the group pointing out the finer points of my run (there aren’t many worth noting). I paddle with a bravado that I don’t really feel and give the guys the benefit of all my first run experience. Inwardly, I think they are all better paddlers than I am.
Everybody does pretty well. Jeff catches up with us at “Flirting”. He has had time to drive to Shahola, decide it was too high, drive back, put on and catch us. The scouting has been taking a while.
Once again I find myself in the last eddy above the two ledges leading to the falls. Joe is with me and is looking up at the walls thinking he may try to climb out. I tell him that it is not that difficult, explain the line, and paddle across the current towards the river right wall.
As I near the wall, I take a moment to look back for Joe and miss my line. Instead of being hard against the wall I am perhaps a foot away from it and drop of the rock tongue a little early. Immediately I feel the pull of the current grabbing my stern and pulling me backward into the hole. I try to paddle out but am kind of tired and don’t have enough to muscle my way out. I know that I’m in a bad spot but I don’t have a lot of choices so I surrender to fate and side surf into the hole.
I concentrate hard on keeping my upstream side out of the current. I can’t afford to flip and I’m not sure how long my boat and I will be visiting the hole. To my utter amazement, I surf quickly across the hole and out the other side. Sometimes its good to be lucky. Joe runs a clean line. So much for the experienced guy showing people the line.
The water level has dropped quite a bit and its not nearly as difficult to ferry across the pool at the top of the falls. We take out and stop for some pizza before heading home.
Morning dawns and I can hardly get out of bed. Everything aches. My stomach is so stiff that I can hardly sit up. I don’t even remember using my stomach muscles that much but apparently I did. I feel every bit of my 53 years old and I thought that I was in fairly good shape. Maybe I need to start working out a little more.