Into the Deluge

A couple of years ago, a mirco-cell thunderstorm stalled over the town of Florida, Ma. and nearby areas. The news service reported that over 7 inches of rain fell in the two hour duration of the storm. I chose that day to invite my Uncle on a paddle trip down Fifebrook. A year later I met a homeowner while catching a Dryway shuttle. He told me that he used to own a field on a riverbend that was now a pond, He liked the pond better. I have heard people say that a trip down Fifebrook is more like a float trip than a whitewater paddle. This trip however, proved to be as memorable as any I have taken.
10am at Monroe Bridge and it is already brutally hot. The sun beats down from a beautiful, robins-egg blue sky, unmarred by the presence of even a single cloud. The siren has already sounded, announcing the lowering of the dam gate to release the cool waters of the reservoir into the waiting riverbed below. Anxious to escape the sweltering heat, I shoulder my boat and push past the throng of rafters to join the line of paddlers snaking their way down the long stairway to the put-in.
I am bathed in sweat as I finally enter my boat and slide off the concrete dock to drop maybe a foot into the water below. There are several groups already in the water, everybody is just kind of paddling around and rolling in the cooling water. Nobody has started downstream. Wanting to get in a quick dryway run before meeting my Uncle at Fifebrook, I am among the first to turn and head downstream through factory rapid.
I don’t spend a lot of time playing as I make my way through Split Hair and past Dunbar, I told my Uncle I would meet him at noon so I have to press forward. I am alone by the time I am through Dragons Tooth and Labyrinth and arrive at the take-out. The clock in my truck reads 11:20 as I load up my boat and head to the Zoar parking lot. It also says 99 deg.
The Zoar lot is packed with people, all trying to escape the relentless summer heat. There are all manner of floatation devices, from brightly colored pool toys to rafts. Everybody is in the water. The weather report has called for scattered thunderstorms later this afternoon, but it looks like they lied. The sky is still cloudless as my uncle pulls into the lot.
My water bottle is almost empty and I am afraid that I will have to paddle most of Fifebrook without water. It is not a pleasant prospect. Uncle Dick however, has had the forethought to bring several frozen bottles with him. They are already partially thawed, so I greedily grab one and drink almost all of it. I am already dehydrated from my Dryway paddle.
I don’t get to see my Uncle all that often. I spent quite a bit of time with him when I was younger as his son Mac is my age and we both enjoyed spending time together tromping through the small streams that ran past our respective houses. I was looking forward to spending some time with him on the river doing something that I felt we would both enjoy.
We arrived at the put-in a little before 1 and started inflating the sea eagle. I had bought the inflatable canoe in hopes that my wife would paddle more often with me. That didn’t work out all that well but it is really comfortable to paddle as long as you stay in class II or II+ water. While I have had it on the Tohickon, it’s a little too flexible for heavier water. I thought it would be perfect for Fifebrook.
We start downstream, and while we still cannot see a cloud, we start to hear some distant rumblings of thunder echoing through the mountains that rise on either side of the river. Past the railroad bridge, we round a headland and there it is, a massive black cloud, low to the earth and obscuring the tree tops and oozing its way over the ridge down into the river gorge. The wind starts to pick up and lightning is everywhere, thunder reverberates through the gorge and the rain starts to fall. Concerned about the lightning, we pull off of the river to wait out the storm.
Its raining hard, really hard and the river is starting to take on a chocolate color as swollen streams cascade down the mountain and dump into the river. We wait another 20 minutes or so and the storm seems to abate slightly, the wind drops and while it is still raining, there does not seem to be much lightning although thunder can still be heard in the distance. We decide to put back on and continue downstream. Several other groups around us decide to follow suit.
While we cannot see it from where we are, another monster cloud is lurking, hidden from view about a ½ mile downstream. We round another headland and run straight into the maw of the beast. The lightning is horrific and the wind is howling in its fury as we pull of once again. The rain, already heavy intensifies as we join a group of perhaps 20 people huddled together at a flat spot on river left.
I have never seen rain like this. It comes at us in waves, driven horizontally upstream by the howling winds. The river surface is a mass of whitecaps and it seems as though the current has reversed itself, defying the law of gravity to obey instead the will of the wind. There are leaves, branches and limbs falling all around us but it still seems on shore than out on the water. The temperature has dropped drastically and our group stands shivering, wet and cold in the tempest.
Uncle Dick and I had removed or life jackets when we stopped but I soon realized that was a mistake. I go get them so that we can put them on for a little insulation against the cold. Uncle Dick puts one over his shoulders but can’t seem to catch the zipper, his hands are shaking too badly. I decide to help but it seems that I have the same problem but between the two of us we manage to get them both zippered. The rain comes down harder.
Everyone around is in good spirits despite the misery. It is ludicrous that we are out in weather like this. The storm is by far the most violent that I have ever witnessed and here we are standing in the middle of it. At times we laugh even without saying anything as none of us can imagine how hard it is raining and the ridiculousness of our current situation. Uncle Dick tells me he is having a great time and thanks me for inviting him on the trip. He says that maybe he will turn down the next invitation. The rain comes down harder.
I’m starting to get a little concerned about exposure. It has gotten really cold and we are not prepared. I am freezing and I know that my Uncle is also. We need to get out of here and back to the truck. It is a hard decision to make, but we decide to brave the risk of lightning and get back in the boat to start paddling downstream. To my surprise, most of the people who stood on the bank with us follow. Everybody has had enough. The rain comes down even harder.
The river has risen well over two feet in the 45 minutes that we have waited on the bank. Coffee colored water is steaming down the mountainside from everywhere. We paddle hard against the wind, into walls of water, joined by countless fallen branches. Someone dumps a bucket full of water down my back and I look around to see who it is. There is no one there. Is it even possible that it can be raining so hard?
Finally we arrive at the takeout. Earlier in the day, I had planned to run through the gap but I have no idea what it would look like at this level and want no part of it. I open the valves on the boat, deflating it so as not to be tempted to change my mind. We negotiate the torrent of water that was formally a pathway and arrive at the road. The rain starts to slow as we slog past the gap to the parking lot.
The thermometer in the truck reads 68 degrees as we start back up river road towards the put in. The rain has almost stopped but there are trees down all over. It takes almost 2 hours to run shuttle as we wait while rod crews, residents and paddlers work to clear the road. We turn up the heat and start for home.

Beaverfest 2014

This account of the Beaverfest was written and paddled by Mark Hrubant
Friday August 29th, noon… I call the caretaker at Soft Maple campground & ask if he will hold a site for me as I am driving up from Bingo. While enroute to Croghan I learned there will be six of us camping for the Beaverfest weekend. At 4PM I arrive & the caretaker held a site! During our discussion I learn there are only two left; as only campsites #5 & #8 remain, I pay the man for both campsites. (Note for the future: the RV sites are $15 a night for up to 8 people. If you camp in the tent area, the fee is $15 per person per night!)
I scout the campsites, #8 is more isolated & backs-up into the woods…but the entire site is on a slope… Hmmm, tough choices… I start setting-up my luxury two-structure campsite palace on the level site #5.
Ed & Ross arrive just as I complete tent setup & my first beer. We’re psyched for the weekend & shortly head upstream to scout the dry Eagle & Moshier sections. The gates to access the Eagle section are padlocked; no scouting. Back in the car, we drive to the Moshier takeout. The trail on the south side of the creek permits easy access. There is water flowing, & we note where all the key drops are. With the low flow it’s not too impressive, just lots of verticality, jumbled rock, & pinning potential. The idea of a NFTL run is hatched! Yes, tomorrow after the T-ville section shuts down at 2PM, we’ll have the entire afternoon!! So back to the palace for beer & snacks; we’ve got a brilliant, aggressive plan for Saturday!
Saturday dawns, we emerge from our respective lodges & we’re eager like beavers to get going. We arrive at the T-ville put in & park 100 feet from the gate; not too many people… yet. As we unload & greet fellow paddlers, Rex & Dylan arrive. After shuttling cars, we gear-up & carry to the water. The tranquility of the river is being transformed as feverish boaters arrive.
Ed & I stop to talk to the Brookfield Power employee who is managing the flow. Brookfield allows 65 cfs through the gates 24/7. On the release days, 2 hours prior to the “release” they ramp-up to 200 cfs, then at the time of the release an additional 200 cfs is let go. We all deduce the ramp-up is for the fish & air-breathing river critters to accommodate to the higher flow. At the end of the day, they “step-down” the flow in the same manner. We thank the guy for allowing us to play for the weekend!
As we run laps on the Beaverator & Great White Slide, the pool gains more kayakers & OC1s. The carnage at the Beaverator hole draws a few spectators, but the Slide draws a gallery. I see a grey-haired couple sitting in lawn chairs nestled at the edge of the trees halfway down the slide; they smile each time I carry-up. The hole at the base of the Slide is a magnet for boats. I see a pink helmet in a pink OC1 go into the hole sideways, after a few seconds alternating window shading & side surfing, the pink helmeted lass washes out. The pink tub longs for a partner so a black OC1 joins-in. The hole says two’s a crowd so the girlie tub washes out while the stealth-colored manly tub goes for another beatdown. The gallery goes wild!!!
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Ahh, such is day one of the annual Beaverfest!!
The rest of our eclectic group (minus one) find us having too much fun, so we each do one last run of the slide before heading to Dogleg. For me the total is 3 clean laps of Beaverator, including the left boof line, & 5 runs of the Slide with one combat roll when the hole-magnet tripped my stern. Ed, Ross, Dylan, Rex… I lost count of their laps & successes. Rex, in his playboat makes his last slide memorable with a direct hit into the hole. All we see are 2, 3, 4, 5 ends as he is cartwheeled in the hole. We all wonder how Rex is going to escape! A moment later, Rex & the Kingpin are separated… the Beaver has bitten!!
We quickly dispatch Dogleg without scouting. I run the left side & with a powerful boof stroke at the rock pourover launch myself over the rock spine, & into the eddy. Wow! The first time I’ve done that!
There’s not much of a line at Mindscrambler, so we plan on doing laps. Three clean runs later, I decide to save energy for the rest of the day (AND our NFTL run of Moshier Falls!).
BE6
The crew take various lines at slide at Powerline, we boof the “boof”, & play a bit at the final play hole before pulling out & readying for the next run. Here we finally meet up with our final team member Mike S whom we’ve been looking for all day.
We load boats & drive up for run #2!   Being feverish, my memory is impaired if we were 6 or 4 for run #2… Dylan? & Rex?
As we carry to the water, one can easily discern that Beaver Fever has infected nearly all whom have touched the flowing water. Those whom have been least immersed are animated; those whom have seen & felt the depths of the waters are more withdrawn… such a strange affliction!
Another intimate stroking-by of Beaverator leads to 3 laps of the Slide. Each one of us are absorbed by the Beaver mantra to varying degrees. When the line of boats disappears for Dogleg, we paddle across & through the offset holes & diagonal waves to the pool below. Mindscrambler beckons us to toy with it. After two clean runs its time to continue. We power through Powerline with ease, arriving at the takeout near 2PM.
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What of our NFTL run of Moshier Falls that afternoon you ask????? I must restate: “Those whom have been least immersed are energetic & animated; those whom have seen & felt the depths of the Beaver’s waters are more lethargic & withdrawn…”
Needless to say, back at the palace, beer, tortilla chips, & homemade salsa are the prescription for Beaver Fever and by evening we’re all pumped for the next big day on the Moshier & Eagle. (That is except for Ed, as he exclaimed that a paper cut he sustained earlier in the week is dramatically impacting his roll. I offer to doctor the offending paper cut but he declines; Ed states he prefers to self-medicate & grabs another beer.)
Sunday dawned dark grey & rainy; prime conditions to motivate you to run the Class V Moshier & Eagle. Ed, Ross, Dylan, & Rex all pack their camping gear as they plan to extricate themselves from Beavervillle this afternoon. We arrive early at the put in & snag great parking spots. As we gear up, the flow of boaters increase & soon we hear the siren announcing the impending release. (By now Ed is sporting rings of duct-tape to suppress the paper cut’s pain.) We join the slow movement towards the launch point & soon are looking up towards the spillway, wondering if we’ll run it sometime…(ok we’re feverish). As we near the first falls, we split, some go right for the slide/boof & some head left for laps of the falls. Me, I work on my line & boof stroke on the falls. One lackluster boof stroke has me land on my right edge, a hard brace helps but doesn’t support me in the aerated water. I go over, wait a couple seconds to clear the frothy water & roll up. My other three laps are clean. Watching fellow boaters, the number of missed boofs, missed lines (too right), & missed rolls are alarming. I help chase a number of disassociated people, paddles, & boats.
As the fun-beavers (aka fun-hogs) increase in number, we gather & head towards the second falls. After a quick scout with Rex & Mike, I take point & go first. I clean the falls & navigate the choss afterwards to the pool below. Securing a perfect viewpoint in the eddy, I can see the entire falls & runout. The carnage is amazing after the falls & the ensuing runout, at least 5 swimmers, a dozen flips, a broken paddle, & one betty-boater whose head struck a rock so hard you could hear the thunk.
Ahh, such is day two of the annual Beaverfest!!
The 6 of us gather forces & move downriver. Being this is only my second year, the Moshier looks familiar but I can’t recall details of what’s coming up. All of us appreciate Rex & Dylan’s mentoring as we float our way downstream without incident.
We note the stack of boats as we pull into the eddy on river right just above Moshier Falls. Here each of us makes our decision to portage or run. I portage my boat, thinking that if I feel in the zone after scouting the lines, I’ll carry back up. I notice that Ed, Ross, Dylan, Rex, & Mike all grab their gear for the portage. Hmmm… no testosterone-filled challenges for the team today…
I grab my camera & GoPro to document the lines of Moshier Falls. Over time, my recollection of scouting the Falls last year had minimized the Fall’s volume, speed, size, consequences, & vertical drop. I want to run this, but I realize it is at the bleeding edge of my boating skills & mindset. I might be able to survive a run, but I’d rather run it under control with style. I’m satisfied with my judgment call & continue documenting. Next year I’ll evaluate it again.
BE12
Ross finds me & states that most of the others have paddled across to the takeout. We find Mike, & depart the intimidating Moshier Falls.   Next year…
As we change out of wet gear, the severity of Moshier Falls is discussed; we’re all satisfied with our decision to portage.
Ed/Ross & Rex/Dylan each head home while Mike & I head to the Eagle to watch the King of New York (KONY) race.
The Eagle is in full KONY swing by the time we arrive; racers yelling & passing the mortals wherever they can in the narrow run. Mike comes across some friends who are racing, they say the Eagle is easy, “All it takes is a strong right-side brace! Get in & do it!” Instead of gearing-up, we drink our beer & watch.
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As evening approaches, the clouds begin to break. While at the Soft Maple campground that night, we hear the partying in the tent camping area continuing well past 11PM.
We awaken refreshed on Monday, a National Holiday and the last day of Beaverfest!
Mike & I get to the Taylorville put in about 9:30 & it is already getting congested. While Mike shuttles, I do laps on Beaverator & the Slide with Kalon & the Byrnes. Today the B-fest definitely has a party atmosphere!!! One guy is riding an inflatable pool ring down the Slide to great cheers, while another has an inflatable 4 foot tall suit-wearing manikin hugging him!! What a hilarious sight!!
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While Mike & I are floating in the pool discussing that this will be our last run of the Slide, we see a kayaker head directly into the Beaverator hole. Many boaters have punched the hole & a few have had minor beatdowns, but this one is different. The boater windowshades a few times, side surfs, gets windowshaded again, & again, & again… now the inflatable 4 foot tall suit-wearing manikin boater decides to join in the melee. Now two boats, 2 people & an inflatable 4 foot tall suit-wearing manikin are in the hole being churned. Manikin boater & his hugging inflatable 4 foot tall suit-wearing manikin escape from the hole intact. The first victim is now separated from his boat & both are being repeatable gnawed-on by the Beaverator. Ropes are being thrown, 1, 2, 3, the boat is spit out…4, 5, 6, times… the hole is quiet… am arm surfaces 15 yards downstream from the hole & just 4 yards in front of me… and sinks out of sight. All boaters in the pool are now searching for a visual… a helmet surfaces face down with a limp body. A kayaker grabs the boater’s PFD & loses grip, solo shredder grabs the body’s PFD & hangs on. As he pulls the limp body on board it gasps for air… in the following seconds the kayaker takes several more breaths… the Dragon Beaver just missed capturing its prey… As the victim slowly regained consciousness & waived-off people, the party atmosphere becomes more somber… for awhile.
Ahh, such is day three of the annual Beaverfest!!
As Mike & I could no longer be of assistance, we slid the Slide & headed for Dogleg. Deciding to scout Dogleg for the first time this weekend versus just read n’ run, I thought I’d continue with the left line… a powerful boof at the pourover to get me over the rock spine then re-enter the main flow below… it has worked flawlessly two times before! Well the “third times a charm” rule turned out to be very charming! I boofed too early & hit a rock on shore, getting my stern swung so I am now running the right side backwards!! I rudder myself around obstacles and get sucked into the hole halfway down. I sidesurf, catch my breath, then try to escape. I inadvertently do my best 360 spin ever in the Burn & come out of the hole backwards! I rudder myself through the waves & holes into the pool below Mindscrambler… whew!
Proud of myself for running Dogleg backwards, I make 4 runs of Mindscrambler, with the last one being my worst one of the weekend, resulting in a combat roll in the pool.
It’s getting late in the day, the number of boaters has greatly diminished; time to move on!
We navigate Powerline cleanly & work our way to the takeout.
It’s 1:38! The release ends in 22 minutes!
Earlier in the day Mike & I entertained thoughts of heading up to the Eagle for the afternoon release. As we talk, both of us are tired after three days of paddling & quickly agree to pack it up.
Physically tired, mentally tired… ahh, the satisfaction of a gratifying Beaverfest!

Trouble on the Toe

I don’t see it until I am at the lip of the drop, the large trunk wedged diagonally in the slot. Its really nasty on the upstream side, a frothy mess, barely bigger than my boat, with the current pouring over the lip and slamming the rock on the right before surging beneath the trunk. A drowning machine with no way out. Downstream, the water boils up from below and races off, frantically hurling itself off of the rocks on the river left bank.
I clear the lip with an adrenalin-fueled boof stroke, hoping to land on the sloped trunk and ride it down, similar to what a snowboarder does on a rail. Its the only think I can think of trying, and to my surprise, it kind of works. My boat jumps off the ledge and onto the trunk, starting its downward slide. Its still touch and go at this point, I’m in a world of trouble if I slide backwards into the pit of doom on the upstream side, so I lean aggressively forward and claw desperately at the log with my paddle, urging my boat forward to the downstream boils.
My downward slide on the trunk is checked by the stub of a broken branch, a foot or two above where the log disappears beneath the froth. I’m not going to make it all the way to the water. This is it, I’m either going to fall back into the pit, or forward into the current exiting the slot. Reacting purely on instinct, I twist my hips forward and bend my body upstream, desperately thrusting the boat over the log. The boat hesitates, twists sideways and falls the rest of the way to the downstream side of the log. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky.
I got up early that morning to paddle Ken Lockwood with Sean. He had never paddled it before. It was running a little over 8′, a good level, so it was worth the early rise. I had intended all along to go to work after the morning paddle but the weather and water got the better of me so I decided to call in sick. I was thinking of heading out to the water gap but wasn’t sure who I would find up there so I opted instead to stay closer to home and headed for the Lock.
The Lockatong, while still at a runnable level, had already started to crash yet I was surprised to find the takeout lot empty. It is a little more than I care to run alone, so I waited for a while, calling the office, answering e-mails and hoping that someone would show. Nobody did so I headed over to the Toe, there is always somebody there.
The water at the Toe is huge, higher than I’ve ever seen it, and there is nobody here. I can’t believe that I have taken a day off and can’t find anybody to paddle with. I consider going in to work but decide to wait a while. I really want to paddle and work just doesn’t have the same allure. I put my seat back and settle down to wait.
Nils wakes my up by tapping on the drivers side window. I don’t know Nils but he introduces himself and asks if I am waiting for anyone. I tell him no, that I am just hanging out hoping someone shows up. He came with the same plan in mind so , after a shuttle, we are all set to go.
The river is HUGE, 4′ high waves everywhere, even in the normally flatter sections. We fly down the river, Nils in the lead. He has paddled it at this level before and tells me that the lines are basically the same, just way bigger. An enormous 8′ wave waits for us at No Fish, Swim and I dig in hard and punch through it. Everything is a surging mass of waves and whitewater. Having paddled the river many times, I know where we are but the familiar features have almost all disappeared. The 3′ ledges that mark the river have been replaced by enormous holes and waves.
We get to the top of racecourse, there is no boof rock, in fact there are no visible rocks at all, just an enormous hole stretching nearly all the way across the river, with a single narrow entry hard against the brush on river left. Racecourse is a mess of diagonal waves and offset holes. I have to paddle hard just to keep my boat headed downriver as it is assailed on all sides by the tormented whitewater.
A huge diagonal wave lies lurking halfway down the rapid, erratically surging up to an incredible heights only to break and fall back down upon itself. My plan is to square up on this monster and punch through, hopefully before it has had a chance to build. It doesn’t go according to plan as by bow is pushed to the left and I slide in kind of sideways. To further complicate things, The wave has built again and now towers at least 4′ over my head. I dip my shoulder into it as it crashes down upon me, obliterating my boat. I am sure that I am going to flip, but I pop out like a cork, shake the water out of my eyes and keep going.
Down through racecourse, we continue fighting hard to stay online as we are constantly battered from all sides by the surging waves. A big wave rises to the left of Nils and he flips as it crashes down on him. He misses his first roll but I’m not all that worried as he had told me that he was a very experienced water gap paddler. Then he misses his second and I start to pay a little more attention. I try to get over to him but the river has other ideas and to my great surprise he is swimming by the time I arrive.
There is not much that I can do to help him as he flushes through the remaining holes and waves at the bottom of the rapid. He has held onto his boat and paddle but I have all I can do to keep my boat under control and can offer little more than encouragement. I paddle hard ahead of him into a small micro-eddy on river left, just above the incredible hole that has formed where Hat Rock used to be and grab my throw rope.
Nils, having apparently decided that he cannot get his boat to shore and has released it, and has managed to swim into an eddy above me. His boat continues without him and disappears into the gaping maw of the hole at Hat Rock. I tap my head to ask if Nils is OK and he taps back. I look back into the hole and see the boat thrown up, over and through the waves to continue downstream. as Nils climbs out of the water, I stow my throw rope and start after the boat
I depart the relative calm of the surging micro-eddy, paddling frantically in an attempt to ferry all the way across the swollen torrent to run the river right line. Behind me, the river pours over the ledge above Hat Rock, forming an enormous, chaotic, churning, river wide hole. I want no part of that, but it soon becomes apparent that the river is much too powerful and my feeble attempt to ferry across is doomed. I hear the roar of the hole getting closer and am seized by a moments panic. Abandoning my plan to ferry, I turn back for the safety of the shore, but having already swept past the last eddy I aim for a small slot, hard against the river left bank and what appears to be a soft spot in the hole.
The stub of branch that had stopped my boat catches underneath my pfd and I am slammed hard against the log.
The current catches my boat and pulls it perpendicular to the current as I am pinned harder, the branch crushing against my ribs. The boat pulls even harder, and threatens to tear me in half. My knees up and almost out, but I am determined to stay with the boat. God knows I don’t want to swim through this mess, so I hang on hard and fight.
I finally manage to rotate my hips and pull the boat a little more parallel to the current, easing the pressure that has been threatening to tear me in half. I am still concerned that the bow of my boat will wedge beneath the strainer if I let go but I have to get out of here. I haul myself up a little, lift myself off of the stub and drop into my boat.
I’m free but really loose in the boat. My thighs are out of the braces and I am basically sitting on my backband. There is no time to adjust anything as I am swept away from the strainer into the massive waves waiting below. I’m actually doing pretty well but it is only a matter of time as I hit the last wave and flip. I am thinking that there are probably going to be two boats headed downriver without paddlers but am not ready for that to happen just yet.
Fortunately I have been pushed into an eddy and can kind of work my thighs back into the braces before attempting a roll. I come slowly upright, not exactly textbook form but at least I’m on the breathable side of my boat. I pop the skirt to adjust the seat, get my thighs back into the braces and tighten myself in place as I scan downstream for Nils’s boat.
All this has taken quite a while and the errant boat hasn’t had the decency to wait. Way up ahead I see a flash of green and I am off in pursuit. It doesn’t seem as though I am gaining on it at all as I have to fight my way through the confused waves. I pass pyramid rock, at least where pyramid rock should be, the rock itself is under water and I still haven’t caught the boat. I keep paddling hard, determined not to lose that boat but I am tiring quickly.
I am just above the takeout when I finally catch it. For a while I am too out of breath to do anything. Its too rough to try and empty it and I cannot let go of my paddle to attach my tether. I decide to push it into the gigantic eddy at the takeout. I paddle hard, but I am exhausted and it is difficult to keep the boat headed in the right direction amid the choppy waves. I push harder as the eddy comes closer and closer. I never get there. I pass agonizingly close by, missing by only a foot or two, and find myself back the current.
I decide to try my tether again and almost have it hooked when I take a quick look downstream. A huge pillow of water coming up in front of the bridge abutment is staring me in the face. It looks like I will pass to the right but Nils’s boat doesn’t have the good sense to follow and seems to prefer to left side. Reluctantly, I forget about connecting the tether and set the boat free once more.
We are in the Delaware before I finally manage to corral the boat. I tip it on its side and empty what water I can before attaching the tether and towing it to the shore. I’m exhausted and take a little time to rest before leaving the boats and walking back to the takeout. I wait at the bridge for Nils. He has had to walk down river left from Hat Rock and it takes a while. He asks me where my boat is and I tell him I left it at the Delaware takeout with his. He wasn’t sure that he would be seeing his boat again and is pretty pleased to hear that I have it. He asks If I want to go run it again, so we do.
I had intended to write this just after it happened, but procrastinated for a good 6 months or so. As I remember, it was sometime in the beginning of April. The gauge said that the Toe peaked at a little over 9000 CFS while we were running it. As a point of reference, the release level is 900 CFS so things were just a little bigger than I was used to seeing. The water at the put in was halfway up the hill and higher than the painted gauge on the bridge. We were able to paddle up to the cars at the takeout as the water level was about even with the small river right parking lot. At that level, class V skills definitely come into play as the waves and holes had a kind of Upper Gauley push and feel. We really had a great time but technical moves in very heavy water were required to paddle it at that level. I know I kind of changed tenses part way through the narrative and while it didn’t make my editor very happy, I didn’t feel like reworking anything so you are stuck reading it as it is.

Moose River Chapter 2: In Which I Join the Swim Team

The water picks up speed as I enter the narrow channel that marks the entrance to the right side line of Shurform rapid. I’m running right down the center of the channel. away from the curler that lurks just to my left, hoping to catch an unsuspecting paddler and send them down the center of the blocky slide.
Past the curler I paddle hard left and punch my bow up and over the enormous reactionary pillow piling up on the rocks on the left edge of the channel. Misjudging the speed of the water, I’ve broken left a little too late and pass by the rocks a few feet farther right than I would have chosen. Paddling hard, I try to run the slide angled to the left in order to avoid the huge rooster tail that rises up dramatically from the center at the bottom.
It doesn’t work out all that well as the water shallows out and catches my bow, spinning my wayward boat to run the last quarter of the slide backwards. After a moments panic, I settle down as my boat seems to know where to go and its a fairly smooth ride. I slide neatly into the slot just to the left of the rooster tail, pass easily through the seething crevice, get pushed right and take up residence in the sticky hole below the rooster tail. It looks like I may be staying a while.
I had a few concerns coming into this Moosefest. My roll had gotten sloppy and I had wanted to tune it up at the pool prior to jumping on the Moose. An ill advised raft trip down the lower Lehigh Gorge disrupted those plans and I was heading north without brushing up on this vital skill. On the ride up, I kept reminding myself that in six years of paddling, I could count my swims on the fingers of one hand and despite paddling some fairly difficult rivers, I hadn’t been in the water for over a year. All of my swims have been the result of circumstance. Either stuck in a hole, having my knee pop out from the thigh brace or being pinned against a rock. I have never missed a combat roll. So I manage to convince myself that I’ll be fine and my roll will be there when it really matters.
I’m also worried about the trim of my boat. I had been pushed around a bit on the big water Gauley release a few weeks previously. A few people had recommended moving my seat forward as a way of countering bow drift. I had followed that advice and relocated the seat perhaps 2″ toward the bow but had not had a chance to verify the results. I really didn’t know how the boat would react to my meddling and maybe the bottom Moose wasn’t the optimum setting for a test drive.
Down Fowlersville, through the funnel, knifes edge, double drop and over Agers I am thrilled with the boat. Its punching everything without getting blown off line. After a quick stop below Agers to sample the chili provided free by NRS, we put on again. Shurform looms just ahead
Its not really a bad hole as holes go, pretty gentle really. I’m stuck behind the rooster tail and what little water coming over the top crashes down on top of my boat and feeds into the center of the hole. The main difficulty is the two strong tongues of water that are formed as the current splits around whatever rock is creating the big plume of water immediate;y upstream of where I sit in my hapless craft. Both tongues curl around the rock and feed back into the shallow hole.
I try paddling forward, pulling hard on my downstream blade and trying to draw myself out. I’m not going anywhere, I don’t think I’ve moved even a foot. I try going backward but again cannot move as the eddy lines on either end of my boat push me back to the middle. I bounce around for a while, leaning into the foam pile to my right.
Steve comes down, having run the drop perfectly despite using hand paddles and recognizing my predicament starts to paddle back upstream to try and rope me out. A minute or two later and I’m still stuck. I’m getting really tired of this. I can’t spin or even try to ender out as its pretty shallow here and I could be in for a beating if I flip.
Eventually though I kind of give up and let my boat slide a little further under the water coming over the rooster tail. Immediately I’m upside down, my head scraping and banging on the rocks below. I have no idea where I am as I try to roll up. It doesn’t work, I totally miss it and out of breath from fighting the hole, I reach for the grab loop.
Not a bad swim really. I’d already run the main drop and am swimming the shallow runout below. I still have my boat and paddle as I get to the right shore where Steve waits, shoving his throw rope back into the bag. I had flipped and was out of both my boat and the hole before he had time to use it. I drain the boat, climb back in and head towards Powerline.
Nothing to worry about here although Powerline is a little bigger than I’m used to seeing. The river is at 3.8′ today and I’ve only paddled at levels just above 3′. The wave train is big but we pound down through it and past the pourover at the bottom. Next up is Crystal.
Steve asks if I’d like to scout. He doesn’t need to, having made countless runs on the bottom Moose. He tells me that he paddled at the first Moosefest and every one of the eighteen after that. I know the line through Crystal pretty well and tell him a scout isn’t necessary.
I run it first, lining up just to the left of the large rock in the center and continuing down to the 1st little 5′ ledge drop. I don’t pick up much speed and kind of plug in after the second ledge and am pushed backwards against the rock. Not a problem though, I simply push off and back into the main current screaming down towards the final 14′ ledge.
It looks pretty big down there with a huge standing wave guarding the top of the drop. I quickly decide to eschew the standard left line and turn to run the right side race line. Its really bumpy over there at low water but everything is well padded today. I crash over the wave, wash a tad to my left and then turn to run the drop on the right.
Its pretty scary as I drop onto a boiling mass of frothing water. There are all kinds of rocks below there but my boats rides up and over everything. Down I go, bouncing up, down, left and right in the midst of the confusion. Sometimes I just hang on, having pointed my boat in the right direction. there is little I can do to control it in this mess.
I come through cleanly, down through the main drop, over a couple of big standing waves below and out into the main channel. I don’t know what causes me to flip in the squirrely water but over I go. No big deal, I am through the drop.
I set up for my roll and miss it. I set up again and miss a second time. I tell myself to relax and take my time as I set up for the third attempt. But I can’t seem to bend well enough to reach the surface with my paddle and the boat is sill bouncing around quite a bit. I wait patiently until it feels right, but it never does. My head and shoulder slam into a rock and I’ve had enough. Out I go.
By the time I leave my boat I am through the channel and into the lake above the dam at Magilla. Its really embarrassing and I’m quite a bit disgusted with myself. At least Steve and I were among the first paddlers on the river and there aren’t a bunch of fellow paddlers to witness my ineptitude.
Steve comes along, tows my boat to shore then goes off to run Magilla. I am left to backstroke across the lake to the takeout, climbing out of the water while being watched by two of the locals who had come to witness the carnage. It is not my finest hour.
The next morning we are at it again. I take a few practice rolls above Fowlersville and come up each time. Its really sloppy though, While I have never had what could be described as text book form, I am completely out of sync now. My left hand never comes to my chin, my hip snap isn’t great and I just kind of pull down on the paddle instead of sweeping it. In short, I’m not doing anything right but it seems to be working.
Coming to the top of Fowlersville I paddle hard to my left in an attempt to reach the boof ledge over there. I don’t quite make it but do manage to start down the slide slightly sideways. I scrape my paddle hard on the shallow slide as I work to get straightened out before I slam into the hole at the bottom, but I come in slightly angled and flip.To my great relief, I roll up easily. It looks like today will be a better day as we head off downstream.
My boat punches easily through the hole at the top of funnel. Moving the seat forward has made a dramatic improvement in the way the boat tracks through waves. I’m really happy with it and we pass through funnel and head towards knifes edge
Ahead, the river splits around a large island and knife’s edge sits in the right hand channel. Normally I run hard right, turn left and drop over a small ledge then paddle across the mank before turning back to the right and finishing the drop by running through a surging slot.
Steve asks if I have ever run the boof line. I have not but tell him I am willing to give it a shot. To run the boof, you must stay hard right and ride the Knifes Edge, a narrow ledge of rock extending from the slab of bedrock at the side of the channel. The current drops off the left side of the ledge into a nasty, narrow little slot on the left. The object is to ride the ledge to the end before boofing off to land 10′ below at the mouth of the slot.
Steve goes first and,of course, nails the line as I follow. I think Iv’e got it made but slide a little to the left and off the ledge slightly early. Its a good boof though. I come down in the slot really flat and think I’ve got it made. But the water is super aerated and my 90 gal boat just sinks taking my with it. Down I go, my head completely disappearing beneath the foam as I am swallowed whole in the slot. Everything is white as my boat claws its way back to the surface. I think its all OK until I flip.
Not a problem. I’ve rolled up below knifes edge before. I set up and miss. Take some time and miss again. I’ve drifted across to the rocks on the left as I set up again. I’m not even coming close and my rolls are getting worse instead of better. I miss for the 3rd time and I’m out of the boat again.
Steve waits yet again as I get back into my boat. I know that he is in a hurry so that he can spend some time with his family and I am slowing him down. This is getting tedious.
I am really concerned as we run Double drop and Agers. I don’t want to be upside down in between the drops at double drop and while Agers is relatively benign for an 18′ falls, the runout is shallow and a swim there could be nasty. I manage to stay upright through them both.
Here comes Shurform, the start of my swimming lesson from the day before. Not so today, I’ve already gotten todays swim under my belt so I run it cleanly. Not so at Powerline.
Steve runs first as we pound our way just a little right on the first set of waves and then down the middle on the second set. Its really a lot of fun as I love big wave trains. I’m not sure exactly what causes me a problem. Once again I am through the biggest part of the drop when I am suddenly upside down.
I try to set up but my head and shoulders are taking quite a beating in the shallow water. Downstream, the river gets nastier, battering its way towards Crystal through a jumble of jagged rocks. I really don’t want to swim there.
I miss a hasty roll and set up again. but I keep hitting rocks and can’t maintain my set up position. I’m a mess and pull my skirt for the 4th time this weekend. Luckily I’ve drifted off to my left and out of the main current so I can hod onto both my boat and paddle as I make my way to shore. Steve follows and empties my boat as I catch my breath.
Crystal is next but in my head is a picture of me flipping after the 2nd ledge, missing my roll, and being swept down the race line upside down. I think of getting battered against the rock below the drop and being pinned or paralyzed. My confidence is shot. I walk the drop.
That how my weekend ends. Steve waiting for me as I drag my boat through the woods to the parking lot in front of all of the other boaters. Its a really bad feeling and I am quite subdued as I change. I’m sure that Steve will really think twice before paddling with me again. It is without a doubt the worst experience that I have ever had on a river, especially one that I have paddled numerous times before. Time to get back into the pool.
 
 
 
 

Big Water Gauley

A roar of the water assailed us as we left our car and walked through the parking lot. Up ahead, the massive earth and rock dam rose nearly 400 feet up from the river bed, holding back the clear waters of the 2700 acre Summersville Lake.
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photoWater poured into the river through an enormous pipe located perhaps 20 feet above the surface of the river. Driven by the tremendous pressure of the 300 foot deep lake, the water thundered through the pipe and slammed into the river, creating a huge standing wave of churning, chaotic whitewater. The wave rose and fell. Fed by the gushing torrent, it undulated as high as 30 feet before folding in on itself  and crashing into the river.
Guided by the locals, we walked past the powerhouse and up against the base of the dam. A metal stairway took us to a flooded rock at the base of the dam where we joined several other people already gazing at the awesome magnificence of the raging water screaming out of the engorged pipes just feet away. On the rock and along the shore the water surged haphazardly up and down, random 3 foot waves fueled by the power of the cascade as it forced its way into the river to begin the tumultuous journey downstream.
We strike up a conversation with a fellow onlooker. A short, squat woman of an indeterminate age somewhere between 30 and 60 with stringy bleached blonde hair and missing a few teeth, she looks like every caricature of the stereotypical West Virginian woman I have seen. She tells us that she has come with her husband to fish for the monster rainbow trout that patrol the normally placid waters of the pool beneath the dam. She has delayed her fishing to come and stand like us, marveling at the spectacle before her. She is extremely conversant with a heavy West Virginian accent and we both enjoy talking with her. She snaps pictures of us beside the water, declines to have her photo taken, then says goodbye and ambles off to join her husband. We turn and head back to the car.
A few days prior, I had sent an e-mail to Wayne asking if he had any plans for the Gauleyfest. We have traveled down together for the past 3 or 4 years to paddle the release and attend the festival. He wrote back and said that he had no definite plans and was I aware that they were releasing 5500 cfs, nearly double the normal release level, on Thursday. It sounded good to me but I told him that I would have to get an extra vacation day. After a myriad of e-mails in which we discussed everything from getting our wives’ blessings to how many boats would fit on the truck, we finally agreed to meet at my house after work on Wednesday to begin the 7 1/2 hour journey.
As I loaded the truck I debated about which boat I would bring. I have always paddled my 4Fun on the Upper Gauley but was a little uncertain that it would be the optimum choice in big water. I finally decided to bring my creek boat, a Superhero, as I wanted to get a better feel for it and figured the extra volume and stability couldn’t hurt. Wayne arrived at 6pm and we loaded his canoes onto the truck. He had brought his old Detonator and his Blackfly Ion, intending to paddle the Detonator for the double release run on Thursday. He loaded the rest of his stuff into the truck as I said goodbye to Carole and we were off.
As we drove, Wayne expressed his apprehension about paddling an open boat in big water. An open boat often provides the additional challenge of paddling a semi-swamped, non-responsive, barge-like craft through a difficult rapid and Wayne said that he had not been as nervous about boating a river in a long time. That got my attention as Wayne is an accomplished boater, much more so than I. I hadn’t been that concerned with the river before but now started to rethink my position, not a good thing but it gave me something to do while driving.
We got as far as Friendsville before my 5am wakeup got the better of me and  we decided to pull off. Earlier, Wayne had called his friend Art and inquired whether we might spend the night at his cabin if we decided not to continue all the way down to Summersville that evening. Art told us that while he would not be at the cabin, it had a large front porch and we were welcome to spend the night there. So we did.
We stop the next morning at Sheets for gas and I feast on a nutritious breakfast of an egg, bacon and cheese croissant and a blueberry muffin washed down with chocolate milk. Wayne finishes off the remnants of a hero that he had bought the previous night and follows that up with a bag of rye & garlic bagel chips topped off with Gatorade. Ahh….life on the road.
We arrive at the put in some time after 10am. There are a bunch of people already there, some of whom had camped overnight in the free sites provided by the Corps of Engineers. We spend some time talking with other boaters about what to expect downstream. The general consensus was that all of the normal lines are still in play, but that there are certain places where we have to be extra careful. One person warns us away from the center line at Sweets Falls, another tells of a harrowing experience below Buds Boner and there were vague reports of something at Iron Curtain, a normally benign rapid by Upper Gauley standards. Everybody agrees that the water is huge, fast and very pushy. We unload our boats and gear. Wayne continues to canvass the growing throng of boaters while I run shuttle.
After several wrong turns I finally find Backus Branch road. You would think that I would remember that name especially after I play a word association game with the Greek God Bacchus, but I don’t and spend some time traveling along the scenic dirt roads of backwoods West Virginia. At one point, the road dips down and travels through a stream, no bridge and there are signs that someone has previously camped right in the middle of the road. No traffic problem here. I turn around, find Backus Branch and finally arrive at the Masons Branch  takeout where I catch an immediate ride back to the put in.
Most of the other boaters have already departed downriver. Wayne has carried his boat down the ramp to the put in. I gear up, grab my boat and walk down to join him.
The water is really moving. During a normal release there are several large rocks just out of the water to the right of the put in and the river surface  is generally smooth with only an occasional riffle to mark the passing current. Today there are no rocks visible and the angry water seethes with boils and eddys where the racing current slams into an underwater obstruction and is forced to the surface.
A feeling of trepidation strikes us both and we debate whether we should head down the river alone. Despite speaking to so many paddlers, we are uncertain as to what we will encounter as we proceed down the river. Hoping for a little more support, we put in alongside a small group of kayakers and a raft to be immediately swept away.
The river is huge, wide, powerful and fast. I have never seen the Gauley like this. Enormous pillows rise in front of every rock, forming impenetrable eddy lines as the water sweeps past.  I am impressed by how wide the river seems and once again marvel at the power of the current that is bearing us towards our rondeavous with the monster rapids lurking below.
At normal flows, the first few rapids following the put in are class II/III warmups for what is to follow. Not so much today. We are greeted by multiple 6′ wave trains we drop into the rapids and I spend my time paddling hard up the front slope, flying off the crest and landing with a splat in the trough to start the cycle again. I’m having a blast and starting to relax. We lose touch with our small group as Wayne has to stop to empty his boat. The kayaks and raft disappear quickly around the bend and we are alone.
Soon we arrive at the top of the first of the 5 big rapids of the Upper Gauley, “Insignificant”. I was told that the name originated from an early survey report on the Gauley that stated there were no significant rapids above pillow rock. They must have missed one.
The standard line is to enter the river to the left of a line of single rocks stepping out from the right shore, paddle right around a massive hole on your left, back to the left around an even bigger hole on your right and then ride the wave train down the left center.
I am not even sure that we are at Insignificant as the line of rocks coming over from the right are covered by the water and have ceased to exist. As I get a little closer I notice the horizon line dropping off quickly, giving way to the steep gradient. Wayne was right, we have arrived.
I cautiously approach the entry, desperately scouting for any landmark that can give me a clue as to where I am. I have no idea how large the holes at the top will be and don’t relish the idea of an up close and personal encounter with either one of them. Wayne had said something about trying a right side line but it looks pretty sketchy over there so I stay to the center. I have no idea where Wayne is, my focus is in front of me.
The acceleration hits as I enter the rapid, still uncertain if I am on the correct line. There are holes all over the place but nothing looks familiar. Finally I pass what I assume is the left side hole, I can’t tell for sure but I know that eventually I will have to move to my left, so I convince myself that it is the hole I was looking for and paddle through the waves to my left.
Down I go, up, over and through the enormous 10′ waves that come at me one after the other. There is no time to scout as I am constantly battling the push of the water so I am praying that a monster hole hasn’t developed in a new location. There simply isn’t enough time to see what is ahead of us in this swirling madhouse.
Its fun though. I no time at all the waves lessen and I turn to look for Wayne. To my surprise he has eschewed the right line and elected to follow me. Looking back upstream, I can see that we had actually followed the smoothest line through the rapid. Wayne emerges from the last of the waves relatively dry despite having forgotten to turn on his pumps at the top. I’m feeling a little full of myself now. We have passed our first test and I feel that I am up to the challenge.
Iron Curtain looms ahead. I really don’t know where to go. I normally run down center left but we heard reports of something really funky going down on the left side. The right side doesn’t look so good either so I elect to run my normal left center line.
I pick up speed as I enter the drop, crashing through 6′-10′ waves. I love big waves and am having a blast. I really don’t see anything here that has me worried. I crest the next wave and there it is. I actually say “holy crap” out loud although there is no one to hear it. A gigantic wave rises in front of me, its top crashing back on itself. I have never seen a wave so big on a river and I’m headed right into the teeth of the monster.
I lean forward and paddle frantically up the face of the thing, but its steep and I’m losing momentum as I near the top. Suddenly it folds over and comes crashing down on top of me. I’m not really sure how it happens but I emerge safely on the other side, negotiate a few of the smaller siblings then turn around to watch for Wayne.
Wayne, having run a little to the right of my line, is slightly off center on the big wave. I turn just in time to see his bow clawing into the sky, almost vertical as he crests the wave. I think for a moment that he will flip end over end backwards but it looks really cool. The Detonator flies over the top of the beast, coming almost completely out of the water before slapping down hard in the trough below. We are both really pumped up .
We pull out at the normal spot on river left to scout Pillow Rock. Normally it is a short walk from here to the rock itself and you can sit on the rock to watch the carnage as other boaters run the class V rapid. That option does not exist today. The higher water has created a stream of fast moving current between the takeout and the rock, we cannot get there without risk of getting swept away.
I keep a close lookout for snakes as I pick my way toward the end of the island to get an eyeful of Pillow. One of the boaters had mentioned that the higher water drove snakes out of their dens and that many people had been bitten. It doesn’t seem like a fun prospect so I take my time and watch where I put my feet.
Pillow Rock is enormous. The corner of the rock, normally 2 to 3 feet out of the water, is completely covered and the guard rocks at the top of the rapid simply do not exist. There is a huge eddy line cutting across a small niche known as the “room of doom”.  Nobody wants a piece of that today. The line through the rapid however looks pretty straightforward. Enter center left, ride the tongue (not much of a tongue really, just a spot where the whitewater isn’t totally insane) then paddle right  through the massive wave train and past the pour over created by the submerged Volkswagen Rock. I’ve seen enough and head back to my boat.
I’m really wishing I hadn’t gotten out of my boat. Prior to stopping I was relaxed and confident. Now I’m starting to get a little feeling of impending doom. I’m questioning my breakfast choice and worried about my ability to roll this boat. The thought of walking the rapid briefly enters my mind as I wonder if I’m good enough to run this stuff. In short my confidence is shot. But I tell myself that is the way I always feel when looking at a gnarly drop for the 1st time so I climb into my boat and paddle out.
It goes pretty much according to plan, for a while. I enter center left and come down onto the tongue, so far so good. Its time to start paddling to my right. I dig in hard, too hard, turning slightly sideways to the current. The next wave catches me off center and finishes the job as I am now completely sideways and even a little backwards as I start up the face of the largest wave. There is no time to turn around so I spin a little and try to run the wave completely backwards. It doesn’t go well and I am upside down.
I’m getting buffeted pretty good so I set up and wait for a little calmer spot to roll. I feel my helmet scrape across Volkswagen, get swirled around a little more, then finally find a spot to roll. I come right up. Much to my chagrin there is a group of kayakers camped out below the drop on the rocks to the right. They got to see the whole sad show and signal to ask if I’m alright. I tap my helmet and nod.
Wayne had been taking pictures as we scouted and it is quite a while before he follows. I have climbed out of my boat, rope in hand, and settled down to watch his run. My thought is that I can toss him the rope should he encounter any problem. At last I see the bow of the Detonator peeking out around the bend on river left.
Wayne runs the drop cleanly, catching a perfect line and running right down the tongue. But he has taken on a little water and the canoe is sluggish the respond as he tries to paddle to his right. He washes over Volkswagen and flips in the violent eddy below.
I scramble to my feet and get my rope ready. Wayne had told me that he was concerned about rolling the Detonator. I have been told that rolling a canoe is a much more uncertain thing than rolling a kayak. He tries and fails 3 times before electing to bail.
I see him look toward me as he begins to be swept past, but I slip as I shift my feet to throw and fall into the water. The current starts to catch me and threatens to pull me away from shore but I get a hand hold on the rock and manage to claw my way back up. Wayne is on his own.
Back on shore, I look down and across the river to see that Wayne has caught an enormous eddy on river left and has his boat against the shore. I motion to see if he is alright and he motions for me to come over. It takes me a little bit to shove my rope back into the bag and then I paddle over cursing under my breath. I am not pleased with myself in the least. My friend needed help and I didn’t get it done.
Wayne is putting a breakdown paddle together as I reach him. He is not happy. An unseen  river current had reached up and grabbed his paddle from his hand as he struggled to shore. Had I been in the water instead of on the shore I could have recovered it. I feel like crap and explain to Wayne that I had thought I could reach him with the rope but had fallen into the water. Wayne accepts that but it doesn’t make me feel any better. He finishes with the breakdown and we continue downstream.
Lost Paddle, the rapid, not Wayne’s actual paddle. This is the one that has been giving Wayne nightmares. Three distinct drops in quick succession followed by a fourth, it is a  technical rapid  full of undercuts and sieves and is the longest on the river. Being swamped early on in an open boat could have extreme consequences. We pull off river left on an island to take a look.
You can’t see the entire rapid from where we are, from anywhere for that matter. The best we can do is to take a look at the first drop with a partial glimpse of the second. We pick a line and agree to meet in a large river left eddy just below the 1st drop. I paddle out, enter the drop in the center and quickly squirting to my left through the big waves to avoid the even bigger waves down the middle, arrive safely in the eddy as planned to wait for Wayne.
He arrives unscathed right behind me and we plan our next route. Wayne wants no part of the normal line just to the right of an enormous wave known as the Hawaii 5-0. Its got to be big if it has its own name. He elects to run a creeky river left line. I am uncertain. I see him disappear down a shoot but the violently pop up again and continue. I have no idea what he hit but my mind is made up. I am not going that way.
I peel out to my right, actually to my left but towards river right, and paddle hard to get across the racing current to the right side of the 5-0 wave. I crest the wave as planned and cut hard left, away from the monster hole on my right and down into a trashy wave train. I take several big hits but manage to stay upright in the furious current. I pass Wayne in a micro eddy and ask if he is alright. There is no room for me in the eddy but he nods his head OK as I am swept past and have to paddle hard to my right to avoid a huge undercut rock in the center of the river.
We are halfway through and there are limited options to stop so I keep going. Paddling hard to my left to avoid yet another rock known as six pack, I enter the 3rd drop. Its kind of a ledgy thing and there is a boof option all the way on river left. But I’m not really sure what might be lurking below the boof so I turn and paddle back hard to the right to avoid an enormous left center hole that marks where the ledge should have been.
Its pretty bumpy over here and I’m getting pushed around a lot. Ahead, the river slams into a rock extending from river right. There is an absolutely gigantic pillow of water against the rock and I have to turn upstream and ferry across the face of it to reach the final drop known as tumble home. I drive through the hole at the bottom and turn to wait for Wayne.
As I wait, another group comes through and some of them join me as they wait for the remainder of their paddlers to complete the run. Wayne comes around six pack and paddles back to his right. But he is really far right. The boat is partially full of water and the current is pushing him hard right. He disappears behind the big rock on river right and I start to worry that he might be pinned.
At last I see him surfing across the pillow but he still has a problem.There is a nasty little slot known as the mail slot between Wayne and tumble home. I’ve been told to stay out of there due to high pin potential. Wayne has no choice, he’s going in. Wayne enters the slot and much to my relief has no pin problem. He drops down the shoot and…..disappears. The river has swallowed him and his boat.
He emerges from the hole, breaching the surface like some yellow whale. The woman next to my shouts and pumps her fist and turns to me. I smile and nod but she’s from Quebec and I have no idea what the heck she is saying. She is however pretty stoked.
Unfortunately the swamped boat has gotten the better of Wayne and he is once again in the water. Having learned my lesson at Pillow, I am much better prepared to deal with the situation. I am at his side immediately and tow him and his boat to shore. At least I try to. I am paddling furiously but we aren’t going anywhere. Wayne finally tells me to head downstream. That works much better and we are soon back on the river.
Iron Ring. I don’t know what it is about this one. Everybody has someplace that kind of has their number, for me this it it. I have never had a clean run through it. Its not difficult really, just a fast, steep drop down a narrow tongue followed by some big waves and a jumbled mass of holes. I just can’t seem to get it right. Wayne suggests we get out to scout. I’m all for that. We pull off on river left.
It doesn’t look too bad over there. The two small waves that I normally use to line up on the tongue are missing but it makes the approach cleaner. Of course the wave at the bottom of the drop is massive but it looks like there might be a small seam just to the right. The water below is really manky, a boiling mess of waves and holes with the current driving into a huge rock on river right, but it looks manageable. But then, it always does. I climb back into my boat feeling a little uneasy. Wayne stays behind to film.
I paddle out high in the eddy to make sure that I can get far enough out to hit the tongue on river right. There aren’t that many landmarks left so I head towards the horizon line marking the begining of the drop. As I crest the horizon and accelerate down the narrow tongue I see that I am a little further left than I had anticipated. The seam I had noticed is about 18″ to my right. I take a paddle stroke on my left to try and move right, but the water is fast and pushy so I don’t get very far but do turn slightly sideways. Hesitating, I try to decide if I want to break left or right. I’m afraid I will go completely sideways if I try to go right. My mind made up, I straighten up and try to drive through the huge wave in front of me.
Everything kind of whites out for a moment as the wave slams me in the chest and stops my boat. I shake my head and blink furiously to clear the water out of my eyes. To my surprise I have made it through the wave but appear to be backwards on the back side of the wave. Not really much time to ponder the circumstances as I fall off the back and promptly roll. Iron Ring has gotten me again.
I set up immediately but the water is pulling me every which way and I don’t have enough control to tuck and roll. My boat is bouncing furiously above me as I continue searching for fish in a confused  sea of white . Not finding any, I hit a relatively calm spot and roll up, still backwards. Before I can react, I am swept sideways into a hole, get stopped by yet another wave, and flip again.
My head scrapes along a rock as I start to set up and suddenly my face is out of the water. I decide to catch a breath while I can and my boat decides to come upright by itself. Another hole has flipped me right side up and I am surfing the wave. As I peel out, I’m thinking to myself that at least that part must have looked pretty cool. Can’t say much about the rest of it. Panting heavily, I pull into a river left eddy and wait for Wayne.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/75418609]
To my chagrin, Wayne runs it perfectly, catching the seam on river right and even having time to throw up a brown claw as he tops the wave. In an open boat no less. I hate him just a little. He catches an eddy on river right, dumps his boat and we continue on.
Sweets Falls looms ahead. Wayne has been instructed to run it on the left but other people that I have spoken to have told me that the normal center line will go. Wayne pulls off to the left to scout, but feeling confident, I paddle to the right of the large rock marking the top of the rapid. The waves are really big over here and the eddy fence is huge and gnarly. I paddle hard and think for a moment I will be swept over the edge of the falls. Momentary panic fuels an even harder paddle and I arrive safely in the eddy.
Now that I am here, I don’t know what to do. The small curler that marks the center of the drop is nowhere to be seen. I can’t see the bottom of the falls, but I can see frothy water surging up over the horizon. There is something really big down there and I’m not sure I want a part of it. I motion to Wayne to see if he thinks the center is OK. He picks is way along the shore to a better vantage point and shakes his head.
Wayne motions to a little channel running towards river left, I point to it and he nods. Off I go. Its a really clean line, punching through a series of small holes and 5′ waves, I paddle left and then right down the left side of the falls. Its so easy I feel kind of whimpy for having chosen that route but looking at the center line from below I’m glad I did. The center tongue just drops into a boiling mess. Maybe it spits you out and maybe it doesn’t, somebody else can run probe.
Wayne follows the same line that he laid out for me. He too has a clean run but gets a little too much water in his boat as his pumps are no longer running. The boat is too sluggish to ferry across the current to river right and he has to run into a small slot known as “postage due”. I’ve seen pictures of rafts in there and its not pretty. I’m really concerned but he emerges cleanly through the other side and says that it is not a problem for boats. Better him than me.
We are done as there is really nothing left to the takeout. I guess its not really nothing as there are still a couple of drops to go. But the 5′ waves that seemed so big at the beginning of the run have lost a little something considering what we have paddled through.
At the takeout I run into Eric Jackson and his group as they load their boats. They have just completed their 2nd run of the day. We talk for a while about how much fun it was to paddle the river at this level. All of his guys are in complete agreement. Its pretty cool that although they paddle as their profession, they still come out on the river just to have a good time. I’d love a job like that.
Wayne and I load our boats onto the truck. We are done for the day.

Rescue on the Neversink Part II: The Saga Continues

I told Fran that I would rewrite the rest of this if she worked at Paddlesport so I guess I’ve got to finish. Heres what happened next…….
It was an easy choice to make, I abandoned Nate’s sodden craft, hoping that Neval might be able to grab it and went after her boat
It was easier to catch than Nate’s had been. It was kind of unconcernedly bumping down the side of the river out of the main current and I caught up to it immediately. So now I had it but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I lifted her boat across my bow and threw it towards a fortuitous flat spot on the otherwise steeply sloped shoreline. Surprisingly two things happened, The boat actually reached the shore and then had the decency to stay there.
Meanwhile, Nate’s boat had rather unsportingly left the party and was once again continuing its meandering journey down river. I picked up my paddle which had loyally stayed at my side as I threw Neval’s boat ashore and started once again to chase Nate’s errant vessel.
Up ahead, a short boulder garden jutted into the river, extending from the right shore into the main current. I wanted no part of that in this high water so I abandoned the chase and cut to my left into the big water of the main current but away from the rocks. Nate’s boat, being much more experienced than I was, wasn’t bothered by the rocks at all and disappeared among the boulders, funneled down a shoot of rushing water.
I fought my way through the waves of the main current, passing the jumble of rocks and paddled back to my right, searching for the wayward boat, but it wasn’t there. It must have been tired of boating alone and decided to wait in the rocks for the rest of us to catch up.
It took another 100 yds or so before I was able to find an eddy large enough to permit me to exit my boat. I got out carefully, holding tightly to my boat to avoid letting it loose in the current, wedged it into a deadfall, and started my tortuous journey back upstream along the shore.
It was a nightmare. The steep sides of the gorge were a jumble of boulders, dead trees, brush and assorted flotsam all twisted together and left behind by the receding water. There was no clear path anywhere and I had to climb over, under around and through the jumbled mass. I was exhausted by the time I reached the boulder garden.
I had hoped that Nate’s boat would have the common sense to get pinned against the shore but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t pinned anywhere and had just disappeared. I looked about again and then a 3rd time. Finally I caught a glimpse of bright green beneath a breaking wave in the middle of the shoot of water gushing between the rocks. It was pinned deep beneath the wave and had I not seen his boat enter the shoot and had it not had a few bright green patches of color,I would never have located it. The boat would have been lost and Nate would have had a long walk out. I had no idea how to get it out of there so I sat down to wait.
Eddie was next to arrive on the scene. He had utilized the same eddy that I had and had followed my serpentine path back up to where I sat. After catching his breath, he inquired as to the whereabout of Nate’s boat. I pointed to the wave and told him it was there. He asked me again where it was. Again I pointed to the wave. I let him ask a 3rd time because it was a little funny before telling him to look for the green spot beneath the wave. He wasn’t all that happy when he saw where the boat was lodged.
Neval arrived next followed by Dan Spencer. The rest of the group figured that we had enough people to retrieve one boat and continued downstream to wait  where the river slowed in a large eddy at the end of the gorge
Nate was the last to arrive, exhausted after having fought his way downstream through the tangled maze along the the shore. He also asked where his boat had gone, we all pointed. He asked again. It was getting fun now but Nate was in less than a party mood so we didn’t wait for him to ask a 3rd time and showed him where his trapped boat lay. None of us knew how to reach it.
Finally Eddie said that he had a device in his boat that he thought might work. He carries everything in there and is pretty well prepared for anything he might encounter on the water. He left us and began his arduous journey down to his boat and back again. I was starting to get pretty cold. We had been there for a while, I was wet and it didn’t look like we would be leaving anytime soon.
Eddie made his way back to us carrying a piece of aluminum cut in the shape of a large Vee with a rope tied to one end. He explained that the V would catch the lip of the cockpit and allow us to pull the boat off of the pinning rocks. In theory anyway, Eddie had never used it.
Our problem was that you couldn’t see the cockpit, you really couldn’t even see the boat, and the water was racing. Eddie tried a few throws but the current swept the V away immediately and it was soon readily apparent that we would have to try something different.
Eddie said that he would go into the water for the boat. It was incredulous that he would even consider it. I wanted no part of that as I was already freezing and my dry pants weren’t living up to their name. I couldn’t imagine anyone going into that water.
Ed asked us to tie a rope to his vest. Having been taught never to tie off on a rope when in the river, I wasn’t to keen on that idea.  I had never seen a rescue vest and Ed explained that it had a quick release latch that was made for the purpose. I was a little skeptical about the whole thing.
We tied Eddie off and then he and I hopped from boulder to boulder as we made our cautious way out to the large rock nearest to the pinned craft. Neval, Nate and Dan stayed on the shore and payed out the line as needed. We were using two ropes, one for Eddie and the other to pull the boat free..
I stayed dry on the rock, holding both ropes as Eddie slid into the calm water behind the boulder and immediately went in over his head. The current had scoured out a deep hole behind the rock and Ed had to swim to  where the water was shallower. He must have been freezing, I was really glad it wasn’t me out there.
Ed made his way out to a shallow spot and inched cautiously towards the boat into the main current. The furious water was up to his mid thigh and Eddie had to keep both feet firmly planted or risk getting swept away. We tossed him a paddle, and using that as a support, he was able to make his way toward, but not next to, the boat.
The water was just too fast. Ed was within a foot or two of his destination but could not take another step without being swept away. After working his way backwards and then slightly upstream of the boat, Ed launched himself out into the current, grabbing frantically at the boat as he was swept past.
Miraculously he made it, clutching desperately at the boat while trying to gain a foothold as the water surged over and around him, battering him against both boat and rock. Ed finally stood up in the waist deep torrent but was unable to let go of the boat long enough to clip a carabiner into the grab loop so he just kind of shoved the V thing into the overturned cockpit and told us to pull.
WE pulled and the V held, but we couldn’t pull the boat off the rocks. Ed had all he could do to keep himself in place, but tugged viciously and the boat while we pulled again and suddenly the boat popped free.
So did Ed. Losing his handhold on the boat, Ed was instantly swept downstream by the gushing current. Letting go of the rope holding the boat, I hauled back on the rope attached to Ed, dragging him through the current and into the eddy behind the rock where I sat. Neval, Nate and Dan still held the rope that was attached to the boat, but as they tried to haul it in, the boat rolled over and the V came free. In a desperate bid for freedom, Nate’s errant boat had struck out on its own once again.
We all stood dejectedly and watched it go. After all of the magnificent effort that Ed had put into freeing the pinned boat, Nate was still condemned to making his way down the tortured shoreline on foot.
Fortunately, the boat didn’t go very far. We were almost to the end of the gorge and it washed into a large eddy at a bend in the river and then lodged on an island allowing the rest of our group to drag it ashore. Nate’s boat had at last decided to stop and wait for it’s owner to catch up. We ferried it to the shore and waited for Nate to make his exhausted way downstream  to us.
I’m still a little in awe of the effort that Eddie was willing to go through to help his friend. He took quite a beating in the freezing water and I’m sure he was heavily bruised and sore for a few days afterward. He told me that as the most experienced paddler in our group, he felt that it was his responsibility to rescue the boat. It was amazing.

Rescue on the Neversink

“Nate is out of his boat!”
We had pulled up on a beach to scout the entrance to the gorge on a cold day in mid-March. The river was running high, around 1400cfs and the temperature was in the mid 30s. The water was cold, chilled by the remaining snowmelt from the ski area at the put in. Eddie was leading the group and had chosen to stop at the beach to get a look at what the water looked like within the narrow confines of the gorge. Nate had either chosen to continue without scouting, or had missed the eddy and caught up in the current, had elected to continue ahead on his own. Most of the group was already out of their boats when Ed called out that Nate was in trouble. Neval and I had been at the back of the group and were still in our boats. Neval immediately pushed off into the current after Nate, I popped on my sprayskirt and followed.
Around the corner the river narrowed, the water funneled into a narrow channel by the steep slopes rising up from the waters edge on either side. The current raced through the narrow confines of the gorge, expending its energy in massive wave trains. What few rocks remained at or above the raging torrent created enormous holes. Eddys were few and very far between as the  trapped current had nowhere to go but to continue racing downstream, carrying everything else with it.
Every now and then I was able to catch a glimpse of Neval when we happened to crest a wave at the same time. Nate was somewhere up ahead, hidden in the chaotic , frothing mass of whitewater.
I was just finishing my 1st year of paddling and had never encountered water like this. It was huge. The waves were over my head and their faces were longer than my boat. I would paddle hard up the front of a wave face and fly off the crest, frantically looking around to scout ahead before slamming down into the trough below. The water surged everywhere and the sound of it filled the gorge with an overwhelming roar.
I had almost caught up to Neval as I started up the face of an enormous wave when suddenly it exploded back down on me. The surge lifted my bow as it slammed into my chest, the current caught my stern and continued to drive it downstream. My bow lifted higher until it rose above my head and I flipped over backwards into the trough behind me.
My first thought was that I had committed the worst possible error. In my zeal to help Nate, I had put myself into a situation that was over my ability to paddle without the support of the group. We would now have 2 swimmers to deal with. I had never before tried to roll in water as big as I was encountering that day. I doubted that I would be able to complete my roll but had no other option so I set up slowly and tried.
To my great surprise and even greater relief, I popped right up. I was extremely relieved to say the least. At the top of the next wave I could see both Neval and Nate. Nate had made his way to the edge and was climbing out onto the slope while Neval had caught up to his boat and was trying to push it towards the shore. I quickly caught up to Neval and we worked together to push the water filled craft into a micro eddy on river right.
The eddy was only big enough for one boat, leaving Neval and I out in the somewhat slowed current as we struggled to hold Nate’s boat in the eddy. We had been pushed a good 400 yards downstream from where Nate had gotten out so he was unable to offer any assistance. Neval asked if I could hold the boat myself while she got out and grabbed it. I told her that I would try.
Neval up behind Nate’s boat, quickly popped her skirt and slipping on the steep bank promptly kicked her boat out into the river. I now had a dilemma, should I continue to try to hold Nate’s sodden boat, an uncertain proposition at best, or should I go after Neval’s. Not much of a choice really, Neval is a lot better looking than Nate,

Winter in the Shahola gorge

The mid afternoon January sun sends shafts of sunlight streaming into the gorge from the upstream entrance as John and I sit in an eddy waiting for the rest of the group. Above and around us, solid rock walls rise straight up from the narrow river bed, climbing 30′ or more to reach the snow covered floor of the hemlock forest above. Giant icicles hang from the sheer rock walls, gleaming brightly when the catch  the penetrating rays of the sun. Its magic, and both John and I, having never paddled the upper gorge,  are enthralled by the beauty surrounding us.
It was still fairly cold when I had arrived at the put in. I had gotten in touch with the group through the PA Creekers Facebook site but I had never paddled with them. We had agreed to meet at 11am but I, wanting an opportunity to scout the gorge, had arrived early. In addition to my kayak and gear, I had also loaded my ski equipment into the car, with some kind of vague plan to go skiing should the trip not pan out, or to hit the slopes once we had completed the run through the gorge.
Scouting the gorge must be done from the top of the canyon as the river fills the narrow slot from wall to wall, leaving no room to walk the banks. It occurred to me that my scouting trip might just be more treacherous that the boating as I clutched trees, roots and rocks in an attempt to keep myself from slipping in the snow and plummeting over the edge to start my river run sans boat.  It doesn’t look too bad down there, the level is fairly low today and the enormous, terminal ledge holes that I have been told can form at higher water seem relatively benign.  At last I reached the pool that marked the end of the upper gorge and turned around to trudge the 1/2 mile up the snow laden trail back to the put in.
It took a while for the rest of the group to assemble. I introduced myself to the rest of them as they arrived. Last to arrive was DJ. At last, someone I had at least met before having paddled the bottom Moose and Independence with him at the fall Moosefest. DJ was the only member of the group that had actually paddled the gorge before so we were all glad to see him.
Having not paddled in a few weeks, most of the group elected to pass on running the first drop, Shahola Falls, a series of ledges, slides and waterfalls that drops maybe 70′ in total. To run river right, the boater must navigate several small ledges in the 6′ range and run a slide down into a mid level tier before dropping a 20′ waterfall into a deep pool below. There is also a tricky center line that puts you behind a curtain of falling water before depositing you in the main flow coming from river left. I elected to run the river left line, following the current down a steep bumpy slide.
We put in at the base of the dam and paddled across the flat water towards the horizon line looming ahead of us. My plan was to pass just to the right of a large rock at the top of the 1st ledge and drop into the shallow pool formed by the tier below. I wanted to angle my boat to the left to avoid landing on the flat slab of rock to my right. Not far enough left, I boofed the ledge but my stern landed hard on the rock. I heard a crack and was concerned that I had broken my boat.
I didn’t really have a lot of time to be concerned about that as I had to paddle hard to my left to set up for the next slide. The water was shallow in the pool and not being able to grab much with my paddle. I was worried about slipping over the ledge and running down the middle line sideways. I finally reached deeper water in a large eddy on river left and turned to run the slide.
Paddling forward, I dropped off a blocky ledge onto a sort slide, my bow kicked slightly to the right at the small wave formed by the tier below and I was off, hurtling down the huge, chunky main slide.
It’s steeper than it looks and I started to lean back, away from the fall line before reminding myself to sit forward and attack the slope. My boat bumped and banged wildly as it accelerated down the cascade, I’m not in control of anything now, going wherever the boat and water decide to take me before finally dropping off the final 6′ ledge into the calm waters of the pool below.
The pool is remarkable, bowl shaped, big, round and deep. On the other side, away from the falls, sheer rock walls rise up from the water’s edge. The main current coming down the river left slide slams up into the wall and banks hard to escape the bowl on the left. Some of the water breaks to the right to navigate the bowl in slow, lazy clockwise circles. Remembering the crack I had heard while boofing the top, I popped my skirt and looked to see if I have taken on any water. To my immense relief, the boat is dry and there is no crack. The few of us who had decided to run the falls spent our time knocking icicles off of the walls, creating mini icebergs as we waited for the remainder of the group to carry their boats down the steep trail and put in at the pool.
We paddle aimlessly about the pool for a while. Nobody seems to want to be the first to enter the outlet of the pool and lead the group through the gorge. I think about heading off but , in a rare show of good sense, decide to wait and see if someone else will step up. Finally DJ has had enough, he paddles over and drops into the current racing towards the yawning mouth of the canyon. I wait as a few more boaters follow and then turn downstream to join them.
The walls close in as the water picks up speed and hurtles toward the first ledge. I have fallen behind the lead boater and must rely on my own instincts to find the line. I paddled left around a large rock then back to my right before finally booting left again and punching through the hole at the bottom of the drop.
What follows is a series of 4′-5′ river wide ledges and slides through a narrow, boulder choked canyon. Eddys are infrequent as the water has nowhere else to go and has to push its way through, over or around any obstacle in its path. Encountering a strainer could easily be life threatening as there is no place to get out of the surging river.
We’ve picked a good day for our inaugural trip through the canyon. The water level is low so the ledge holes aren’t grabby and the entire creek has more of a class IV feel. Still, I am surprised as a few members of our group decide to take a swim every now and then, getting a thrashing as they bang over the ledges, down the slides and into the holes waiting hungrily below.
I peel out of the eddy that I had shared with John while enjoying the scenery and am in front of the group now, most of them have pulled off into whatever small eddy they can find and are leapfrogging their way through the maze of rock. Looking ahead as I paddle to my right and start down a longer slide, I am surprised to see the pool marking the end of the gorge, It has been a quick trip through and I am full of adrenalin and ready to push on. But it’s a long carry back if I go past this point so I paddle over to river right and get out of my boat.
I follow the footprints I had left behind in the snow while scouting and begin the climb back to the parking lot at the put in. The path is snow covered and slippery and occasionally have to slow and pick my way cautiously around a few spots where the path comes right to the rim of the gorge. It’s a little unnerving to think about sliding over the edge.
My boat is starting to get heavy and a couple of the younger guys pass me as I leave the path, cross Route 209 and head up the road to the put in. It has warmed up to the upper 30s and I’m sweating as I at last reach the parking lot, drop my boat and sit on the snowbank to wait for the remainder of the group.
A family comes by with a young boy in tow. They had been looking at the falls and ask if we planned on running them. We tell them yes and they decide to wait and see the show. A couple of the big dog Pocono paddlers show up to join us on our 2nd run while we wait. I recognize Jeff from my 1st run on the Raymondskill but I don’t know the other guy. Our group keeps straggling in as two young women come by and also decide to wait and watch the run. Finally a pickup truck pulls up carrying the last of our group and their boats. Out pops a young guy sporting a mullet, his girlfriend, another young couple and a dog. Mullet asks if we are planning on running the falls and excitedly claims that he has been waiting his whole life to see someone run the falls. I’m thinking that he has led a very sheltered life but keep my mouth shut and tell him that his prayers are about to be answered. They go off happily down the trail to join the growing contingent of spectators as we finish our beer and get ready for our 2nd run.
A few of the guys have decided against a 2nd run and are also waiting to watch the rest of us run the falls. I follow DJ past the large rock remembering to stay further left and boot over the 1st ledge, no problem this time. DJ elects to pull off and scout the slide so I am the first to start down. I follow the line I had previously run, paddling over the edge and then settling down to enjoy the ride. It’s kind of like riding a sled down a very bumpy hill, hold on, enjoy the ride and hope you make it to the bottom without falling off.
I come off the last ledge a little unbalanced and even a quick brace cannot stop my slow roll into the icy water. It’s frigid down there as I set up for my roll and pop back up, thinking that I screwed up in front of all the spectators. It doesn’t matter to Mullet. He’s going crazy at the top of the rim above me. Screaming at the top of his lungs about how awesome that was and that I’m his hero. It’s funny and cool at the same time.
One of the big dogs decides to run the river right line and plunges over the last 20′ ledge to drop into the pool next to me. Mullet is going berserk. Jeff decides to run the center line known as the white room. There is not much water flowing there and he has to push of the rock with his hands to drop off the ledge and enter the white room behind the curtain of falling water. Mullet is beside himself with excitement as Jeff joins us in the pool. We can’t see him from where we are but we can certainly hear him. We are all finding it rather amusing.
One of the open boaters flips at the 1st ledge and we have to hold up to recover his boat and gear. It takes a little while to find an eddy big enough for him to get back into his boat. Our pace slows down as we proceed further into the gorge. Everybody is tired from the 1st run and is taking a little longer in the eddys before proceeding.
I paddle in front of the group at the last ledge. It’s pretty big and you have to paddle left around a boulder, turn back right over the ledge and the paddle hard down the river rift side of the small slide to punch the hole at the bottom. My paddle catches on the river bottom as I pass the big rock and I flip in the shallow water above the ledge. I really don’t want to run over the ledge and down the slide upside down but it’s too shallow to roll. I push up hard off the river bottom and the ledge helps me roll up as I drop over sideways. Halfway down the slide I realize that not only am I facing upstream, but my paddle shaft has snapped and I am only holding one blade. I wonder what will happen when I hit the hole at the bottom.
It goes pretty much as I thought. I flip in the hole and am now trying to roll with half a paddle. I almost make it up on my 1st attempt but don’t do as well on my 2nd. I’m almost out of air when my 3rd attempt fails and I ineptly paw for my sprayskirt loop with my mittens. I experience a slight moment of panic when I can’t feel the loop through the mittens but settle down, grab it and punch my way out of the boat.
I drag my boat over to a ledge and while dragging it up to empty it discover that there are disadvantages to paddling a 90 gal creakier. The darn thing is heavy and I am really struggling. Luckily, nobody has seen me swim and I am out of the boat and assembling my breakdown paddle by the time Jeff and his friend paddle by. They think I stopped because of the broken paddle.
It takes a while to assemble the paddle. But at last I am done and can finish out the rest of the run. I hate that the rest of the group had to wait for me but it doesn’t seem to bother any of them.
I’m exhausted as I plod my way back up the trail. I have to stop and catch my breath numerous times. My shoulder aches from carrying my boat and my legs feel like lead. Everybody passes me as we make our way up the trail. It seems the trail will never end as I trudge onward. At last I reach Route 209 and start up the paved road to the parking lot. It’s not any easier plodding up the hill but at last I make it to the parking lot. Everyone else has already gotten out of their gear. Maybe the 2nd run wasn’t such a good idea. Three times up that trail and I’ve had enough. There will be no skiing for me tonight.
I strip out of my drysuit, say goodbye to everyone and drive home where I promptly crash, unmoving onto the couch in front of the TV. My wife asks me what is wrong with me. Sometimes I wonder myself.

Personal 1st Descents 2012

As the year comes to a close its always kind of fun to look back at the rivers we paddled. Besides, there is no water anywhere and there’s not much to do besides read about boating.
2012 was kind of a down year for me. I had only 2 personal first descents,  the Stoneycreek and Tygart. Not too impressive. I’ve got to do a bit better than that but it was tough for me to get out early in the season and the fall was kind of a bust.
Other people must have done a lot better. Jordan in particular really stepped up this year and ran some impressive stuff.
So lets hear from anyone who ran something for the 1st time this year. Remember that we all started somewhere even the Lackawaxen is impressive to a 1st time boater.

Open Boaters – A Kayaker's View

They seem to be popping up everywhere, swarms of open boaters descending class 4 and 5 drops previously paddled mainly by kayak and one or two reckless souls in an open boat. What is the cause of this phenomenon?
It really can’t be the sleek lines of the newer model boats. Most of them kind of resemble a skinny plastic bathtub. But recent design innovations have seemingly spurred interest in what once was more of a fringe area in the world of class 4 & 5 whitewater boating.
It surely cannot be because of the convenience of paddling an open boat. Most of them have to stop to dewater more often than my 10-year-old daughter after sucking down a “Big Gulp” on the car ride to Disney World. And lets face it, the things are heavy and awkward to carry around.
The eastern open boaters seem to be divided into two separate groups with decidedly different personalities. The northern group seems to tolerate kayakers pretty well, often paddling alongside kayaks in mixed groups. Then there are the southern boaters. They are almost militant in their fanatical devotion to the sport, openly derisive of the “butt boaters” paddling kayaks. Taunting them with claims of “half the paddle, twice the man” and other emasculating statements. It’s a game really, while most of them wouldn’t be caught dead paddling a kayak, the taunts are all good-natured and everybody is out having a good time on the river.
As much as it pains me to admit, I have quite a bit of admiration for open boat paddlers. Lets face it, it is harder to paddle with one blade. I have heard the open boaters discussing the lines when scouting a drop. They have to plan each paddle stroke, timing them so that they are on the correct side to make a move through the current. Some lines are easier for right hand paddlers while others are more suited to left hand paddlers. The open boater has to be much more aware of the water and how his boat will react than a kayaker need be.
Open boaters also have to look for a “dry” line through a rapid. They have to be very conscious of a large wave or hole swamping their boat and leaving them to paddle a sluggish unresponsive tub down the remainder of the drop.
In short, open boaters have to be much more aware of what the water is doing and of what they will have to do to compensate for the currents. I just think it takes a little more skill.
So why do I paddle a Kayak? I simply love to get wet. I am always looking for what the open boaters are generally trying to avoid. I love crashing through holes, sitting up to my neck in the middle of a writhing pile of foam then having my bow shoot skyward while I frantically brace to keep myself upright. I love the chaos in the middle of a class 5 drop and riding down the center of a huge wave train getting thrown left and right.
I even enjoy the feeling of getting swirled around while inverted in a hole. Its kind of fun. I know I’m not the only kayaker to feel that way. There were plenty of people jumping into the frantic, seething class 5 water in front of Pillow Rock at the Gauleyfest. We did it for the adrenalin rush of being at the mercy of the raging torrent, uncertain of when and where we might emerge to catch or next breath.
I guess I’ll keep my kayak