Esopus Creek – Preserving Cold Water for Whitewater and Angler Recreation

It’s the time of year we look forward to being out on the river to renew and recharge after a challenging week; I’ve never contemplated the content of an email while navigating a rapid. I’ve enjoyed the Esopus Creek and what the town of Phoenicia offers since 1978; it’s just good for my soul.
But what do we do when recreational releases get cancelled? Who do we speak to? Do calls, emails and social media work? Fortunately, something is in the works to improve cold water management, the key parties are happily talking and your input would be greatly appreciated as we try propose and finesse these changes.
I was presented with an opportunity late last summer that looked like a promising avenue for promoting river recreation that could fairly address more reliable recreational releases. As a result, I became active in the AWSMP Stream Access and Recreation Working Group and I think we have a fantastic opportunity to enjoy more reliable whitewater releases on the Esopus Creek. I drafted a proposal “Budgeting Cold Water Reserves during periods of reduced insolation” to see if it’s feasible to hold back some water in the reservoir and reduce Esopus Creek Water levels when it doesn’t endanger the ecosystem; not too low to trap fish or risk the heat of the sun.
This proposal is transparent and available on Google Docs for anyone to read here. Again, I welcome your input. Please feel free share your thoughts via email ( or phone (845-418-4194) so together we can more reliably recharge our souls on the Esopus Creek and in the Town of Phoenicia.
I’m providing the minutes from the last meeting for the work group below to keep the club informed.
See you at the Esopus Whitewater Funfest.

AWSMP Stream Access and Recreation Working Group Meeting Minutes


10:00am to 12:00pm

AWSMP Office, Phoenicia, NY


In attendance:
Brent Gotsch, CCE Ulster County
Aaron Bennett, Ulster County Department of the Environment
Russell Yess, Trout Unlimited
David Gilmour, Gilmour Planning
Kathy Nolan, Catskill Mountainkeeper, TU, UC Trails Advisory Commission
Marc Hollander, KKCNY
Martie Gailes, Shandaken Recreation Committee
Harry Jameson, Town Tinker Tubes
Mary McNamara, Lower Esopus Working Group
Mike Flaherty, DEC, via phone
Shandaken Tunnel Meeting Debriefing
Overall everyone was very satisfied with the meeting and what they learned. There was a request to know more about the Operation Support Tool (OST) and how it works. Group found it interesting that the agencies in charge wanted very similar goals such as working within the current framework to get the best release strategy possible and not formulate new legislation. DEC representatives acknowledged that they could more clearly spell out in the permit how a decision is made and what goes into it. This can change because of emergency or unusual situations but overall they would like to have more transparency and stakeholder engagement.
There was a question about constraints to budgeting water releases for future whitewater events that would not harm the needed amount for healthy fisheries. It was explained that timing in these situations was key. It takes time for water to go down the tunnel to the portal and the resulting flow is not instantaneous. It was asked if ramping down for 1-2 hours a night would allow for increased whitewater potential. It was explained that they need about 150-200 cfs every day in the summer and that the additional 10-20 cfs would not make much of a difference towards savings of cold water. Potential formula to help figure this out would be how long it takes to ramp up/down the tunnel to ensure that no sunlight hits it (to help preserve cold water at night when temperatures are cooler so that could be used during the day for fisheries/whitewater). It was acknowledged that this may be something to try. M. Flaherty will speak with Brennan Terrier about this potential.
It was suggested that this group prepare a draft memo to be given to DEP and DEC on the idea of ramping up and down the tunnel releases to preserve cold water and to provide an idea for the experiment with appropriate numbers (for amount of cfs, flow rates, flow regime, etc.) for DEP and DEC officials to review. Suggested that experiment be done during a wet year to help offset the potential adverse impacts it may have.
Potential exists to have the gates at the tunnel open and close automatically so that no additional staff time is needed. Perhaps OST can be put into a spreadsheet to help with this determination and see what can and cannot be done.
As part of the SPDES permit DEP is required to have a plan on how it will keep a cold water reservoir for the summer. Measurements to determine this are taken in mid-June and the report is finalized and submitted in late-June.
Another consideration to take into effect is the void in the reservoir for flood control. It was stated that between March 15 and May 1 DEP needs to have the reservoir about 90% full and after that they like it to be as close to 100% full as possible.
How long does it take to water to get from the tunnel outlet to the reservoir? This is a key question that should be answered before too much time and effort is put into drafting the memo regarding ramping down during evening hours to preserve the cold water. Mike F indicated he may have this answer somewhere and would try to come up with the number of hours. If the travel time of the coldwater from Schoharie intake, through the tunnel, and down to the Ashokan Reservoir is close to 24 hours, then the evening ramp–downs would not really accomplish much.
It was brought up that some in the angling community are concerned about what ramping the tunnel up or down may have on the fish population. It is important to keep them in the loop on what is going on.
M. Hollander has agreed to begin drafting a memo in a Google document format and invite the working group members to participate. He is also willing to take anyone on the working group out for a day of whitewater boarding or kayaking to experience what it is like on the Esopus.
Shandaken Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Master Plan
M. Gailes and D. Gilmour gave a presentation on the Town of Shandaken’s newly updated Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Master Plan (available on Town of Shandaken website). The plan had its genesis when the Shandaken supervisor asked the Shandaken Parks and Recreation Committee to determine how to sustain the parks in the town. They designated park managers but realized that in order to get grant funding they almost always had to have a master plan. The committee got a Hudson Valley Greenway Grant to hire Gilmour Planning to create a plan. The committee also put out a questionnaire that was distributed to town residents.
Three main points of interest came out of the survey:

  1. Strong interest in swimming and swimming pools.
    1. Town is uneasy about this because of liability and maintenance issues associated with swimming pools.
    2. Strong interest in creating more walking, biking, hiking trails for all user levels.
    3. Strong interest in increased access to streams.

Plan is a ten year plan and is recommended that it be reviewed every 5 years and updated. The plan looks at current facilities, trends and opportunities as well as community needs, etc. It also develops courses of action, activities, expansion of recreation areas, fees, etc.
Layout of plan is as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Community Characteristics
  3. Available facilities groups
  4. Service Standards
  5. Tracts and linear parks
  6. Signage (signage throughout town was inventoried)
  7. Detailed look at each town owned facility

Looked at 2010-2011 AWSMP Stream Access and Rec survey for needs across Ashokan Watershed when formulating plan.
During discussion it was found that there were a lot of potential opportunities to partner with AWSMP to implement some of the plan’s recommendations. For instance, access to the Esopus Creek at Big Indian Park or other trails and potential points of access along streams. Question becomes how do you design an access point/trail etc. and not negatively affect the stream.
D. Gilmour is working with CCE through the Complete Streets program and is looking for ways to connect communities, both their indoor and outdoor environments and using access points and trails is a great way to accomplish some of those goals.
Plan has been reviewed by Town board and will be considered for adoption during its monthly meeting in May.
Discussion of the group came to the agreement that another benefit would be for the AWSMP Stream Access and Rec working group to develop a set of rules/etiquette for all recreational users on stream (boaters, tubers, anglers, etc.) so all can enjoy the stream. These rules can be incorporated into signage, kiosks, and/or factsheets.
It was also suggested that the Town consider the possibility of keeping title to some of the flood buyout properties and develop them into multiuse stream access points for boating, kayaking, fishing, etc. Someone needs to approach Rob Stanley regarding this and to take a closer look if any of the properties have such potential.
Monday, April 29, 2013:  a fundraiser for the Shandaken Parks and Rec Committee will be held at the Emerson Resort and Spa in Mount Tremper. Tickets are being sold for a roast beef dinner. Tickets are $15/person and all proceeds go to the committee for recreation projects. Also a “Fishing Frenzy” will be held over Memorial Day weekend where the Parks and Rec Committee will have local youth who come to the event get a free fly fishing rods to keep as well as instruction and an opportunity to fish on the nearby stream. Will be held in the Simpson mini-park.
Next Steps
M. Flaherty will contact Brennan Terrier about idea related to differing release regime and on time it takes to get from the tunnel outlet to the reservoir
M. Hollander will draft a memo in Google document format that others can view and edit. This will eventually be shared with agency representatives from DEC, DEP, et al.
Someone needs to approach Rob Stanley regarding this and to take a closer look if any of the properties have such potential. If anyone on this working group is interested in taking this on please let either Brent G. and/or Aaron B. know. Contact Brent G. for appropriate contact information.
Next Meeting
TBA. Approximately September 2013.

Fun at the Esopus Whitewater Funfest!

KCCNY started the Esopus Whitewater Funfest four years ago to enhance and expand the traditional Esopus Slalom race held the first weekend in June every year for the past 47 years. It’s a club tradition and driver for the June whitewater release on the Esopus River in Phoenicia NY (Catskills). This year it is June 1-2.
KCCNY added many new whitewater activities to slalom race in order to attract a wider variety of boating interests and added a group dinner and camping for the weekend- all at a very reasonable cost. Our goal is to bring KCCNY club members and the whitewater boating community together in a single fun event for all. We still have the slalom race too for those who are traditionalists about the Esopus Slalom race. The Funfest is designed as an activity to bring all of us together in a social event. It’s the only KCCNY major on-river event for the whole boating season. We have lots of river runs all summer long, but only one Funfest.
What do we have?
On Saturday, we have a full day of events and you can join nearly all of them (some overlap) or pick and choose from them.
The day starts with the downriver sprint race starting above the race course and ending at the bottom of the slalom course. It’s a timed event with the goal to finish as fast as possible. There are classes for different types of boats so you don’t have to be serious racer with a long boat to give this event a try. I’ve tried it and it’s exhausting. I’m definitely not used to paddling very fast as speed is not usually my goal.
Concurrent with the sprint race is the river-run. This is for the mellow and non-competitive boaters who enjoy floating down at a leisurely pace, surfing and enjoying the scenery along the way. The river-runners start upstream at the cemetery and paddle a 5 mile stretch of river down to the campground. The river is Class 2 suitable for experienced novices who have run Class 2 rivers before. The river-run is led by ACA certified Whitewater instructors (Jack Moskowitz and others) and informal instruction is available along the way. The river-run repeats on Sunday.
Mid-day on Saturday there is a freestyle event. This event started last year and was run as a down-the-river style event, where boaters did as many moves as possible on a section of the race course. Each move scores points, and difficult moves score higher. Even simple moves like front surfs, side-surfs and flat spins score points. Getting the boat on end scores higher points. It’s fun and friendly and not very serious. This year’s location and style of event will depend on water levels and features available. The river changes course every year, sometimes dramatically so you never know what to expect.
The last on-water event on Saturday is the boater-cross. The boater-cross is a mass start race on a short course through the slalom course, with the first boater to cross the finish line declared the winner. Again, there are different classes for different style of boats, and sometimes a bit of carnage along the way as boats jockey for position. Last year, the men’s and women’s and events were highly competitive.
By now, everyone is exhausted but the day is not over yet. After a brief rest, we gather for dinner in the town of Phoenicia to enjoy Linda McLuckie’s delicious dinner followed by her even more yummy home-made desserts. Make sure you save room for those. Dinner is BYOB. It’s relaxed and informal. If you are camping, you can head back the Sleepy Hollow campground down the road to continue the camaraderie. Get a good night’s sleep because you have another busy day on Sunday! Note that friends and family are welcome for dinner and camping and can sign-up for a dinner only option. So bring them along. The more the merrier!
Sunday starts bright and early with the slalom race. It’s an all-day event for the racers. When they are not actually on the course, they serve as judges to spot each gate for touches and misses. It is common for the boaters to enter more than one race class and each class has two runs with the best score being counted for that class. Some folks take this really seriously and are highly competitive, and others are there for the challenge and experience and there are boater classes for each.
For the mellow folks, there is another river-run on Sunday. The river-run will stop at the race course for lunch and cheer the racers on. Since the river-run goes through the race course, it is possible to try the course, or at least a few gates on the way down. It’s harder than it looks to make it through every gate- there are about 20 of them and some of them you have to through them going upstream.
Now that everyone is completely exhausted, everyone pitches in to take down the race course as quickly as possible so that we can get the race results, announce and cheer the winners, and give out door prizes. Our sponsors have donated a variety of boating related prizes. There are also special awards given for boaters who compete in three or more events including the slalom. These are called the RiverMeister awards. It seems that the majority of winners are the teenagers who have the stamina to compete in multiple events. Some of us old folks aren’t up to the challenge.
As always, putting together this event is a team effort and volunteer help is greatly appreciated. It is especially helpful to come up on Friday and help set up the race course. Volunteers who help on Friday will be given free admission to the Funest. John Coraor works really hard at this and can use all the help he can get. Contact him directly at to volunteer. If you can’t make it on Friday, volunteers are also needed on Saturday and Sunday to run the activities and help clean up the dinner. (no free admission for those) Even a few minutes, or one event is greatly appreciated.
We hope that many club members, local boaters and friends and family come out and join the fun.
Check out my gallery of a few pictures from last year’s Funfest!
To sign up, go to to for more information and registration forms. There is an early bird discount for registrations received before May 25th. On-site registration is available, but we cannot guarantee that you can sign up for dinner as we order food in advance.
See you there! Sign up early and save $10.

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 Paddling- Costa Rica

I read Andy’s article about paddling the Shohola in the winter and thought I would share an opposite point of view on the subject of paddling in the winter- Go somewhere warm! Shorts and flip-flops work for me.
This January I paddled in Costa Rica with some friends. I have wanted to do this for a long time but didn’t want to go alone. Chris Scalisi has been raving about how wonderful it is for years. So when Butch and Monica told me they were going this winter, I asked to join them and Cameron and Kerri on their trip.  John Hense also joined us at the last minute. We left NJ in mid-January during one of the many cold waves (it was as low as 4°C the week were gone). It’s a constant 70-80° with moderate humidity in Costa Rica in January. It’s the dry season, so it only rains once in a while rather than all the time. We paddled with Costa Rica Rios, a very reputable outfitter in Turrialba Costa Rica.
I admit I was more than a little nervous about paddling in a strange place, in a different boat, in a country with snakes and bugs, but there really was nothing to fear. The water is warm and clear in January, and the rivers are relatively low since it is the dry season so most of the Class IVs turn into Class IIIs with a lot of rocks.
Our first task was to pick out and outfit a boat from the large selection at Costa Rica Rios. I had selected a Mamba 7.6 as it is somewhat similar to my boat (not so much, but it was a good thought). It fit well and was comfortable. The more adventurous of our group selected play boats for the first day. We headed out to the Paso Marcos section of the headwaters of the Pacuare. Don’t ask me where it is, you get on a dirt road and drive a long way into the wilderness, the road gets worse and worse and finally you are there. We paddled a short section before lunch to warm up. It was labeled Class II, but a bit different than our home rivers. There a lot of rocks and the rapids are nearly continuous with lots of bouncy wave trains. I had a bit of trouble getting used to the boat and didn’t handle it too well. John took a real beating on the second rapid as he bounced his way down a rock garden upside down, finally rolling up at the bottom. It was very beautiful and remote. After lunch, we drove even further on the dirt roads, which got worse and worse as we drove up the mountain. The river may be Class III, but the road was Class V. We had to leave the van behind and all rode in the pick-up truck with the trailer of boats behind us. We got to the end of the road where a small stream crossed the road and the road continued straight up from there. We walked. I was amazed that the pick-up truck actually made it up the hill from there. We were at the put-in for the afternoon run which was called Class III, even further upstream on the Pacuare. Again, the rapids were nearly continuous with lots of rocks. It was challenging and fun, and again very beautiful. We are survived the first day, with only John taking on a few bruises and scrapes. We went back to the B&B, sat in the Jacuzzi and drank beer before dinner. After dinner, we were treated to a dance lesson. I am much better than kayaking than dancing, but after a few beers, who cares?
The second day, the playboaters all switched to river-runners for the Sarapiqui river. It was a long drive, but at least the roads were paved the whole way. The Sarapiqui was also Class III for the first day, and again, shallow and full of rocks. The character of the scenery is a bit different here. The river is wider and the surrounding land flatter and more open, but full of birds and other wildlife. We saw monkeys in the trees and identified lots of different birds on the trip.
A few of us spent a second day on the upper Sarapiqui while the others suffered through an intestinal distress. The boys all started on the Class IV section. Since I am basically a chicken, I opted to start further down and meet them. Big mistake! One guide and I started on a small side creek with no water and bumped and scraped our way down to the meeting place. It made Class IV look like a walk in the park. I’ll know better next time. The rest of the trip was more bouncy Class III. We scouted one drop and I got back in my boat to head down and immediately flipped over while leaving the eddy at the top. Luckily, I rolled right back up and made the line. Definitely not a place I wanted to by upside down. Butch and John were quite relieved to see me come back up as there were no guides left at the top.
The guides were all terrific and very friendly. I especially liked our videographer, Steph. She’s from Canada, an awesome boater and really encouraging and supportive. She really helped me calm my nerves about being in a new place and encouraged me to go for it. I made a special effort to smile every time I saw her out on the bank with the video camera.
We spent the last three days on different sections of the Pacuare, starting on the Upper and ending on the lower, while by-passing the Class V section in between. It was incredibly beautiful, with steep mountains on both sides, waterfalls rushing down to meet us, birds flying, lush greenery everywhere. I got so wrapped up the beauty that sometimes I forgot to look where I was going. We stayed overnight in the jungle camp on the riverbank, just watching the birds and enjoying the view. I found the famous frogs of Costa Rica when I turned on the shower in the morning. They jumped right out of the hot and cold knobs. (It was a very short shower for me).
One of the awesome and special things about paddling in Costa Rica for me was the wilderness and emptiness of the rivers. Most days we were the only boats on the river. On the last day, we probably saw 10 rafts go by. Ten rafts in a whole week! That’s a big change from paddling in the Northeast. The rivers seemed more continuous and had more gradient than I usually paddle. I did have a bit of trouble learning to handle the steep walls and sharp turns. They got me every time. The Mamba turned out to be an ideal boat for this style of river. It was maneuverable, stable and punched holes well. I’d better be careful when I get back in my boat. If I try to punch holes in that one I will spend a lot of time upside down.
Would I go back? Yes, absolutely. It was a great experience and I think I would enjoy it even more the second time as the nervousness that I experienced this time would be gone. I’ll probably spend even more time enjoying the scenery instead of gluing my eyes to the guide in front of me.
Here is a link to the video of our whole trip.
Enjoy and join us next year![vimeo]

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.

Beaver Weekend Taylorville

The wispy tendrils of ground fog had reluctantly released their tenuous grip on the wooded mountain slopes to the mid-morning sun as our small group of paddlers arrived at the Taylorville put-in. The road and pathway seethed with chaotic activity as enthusiastic paddlers parked cars, changed clothes, greeted friends and carried brightly colored boats, all while holding general road safety rules and courtesies in random regard.
Ed, Wayne, Rich and I, having paddled the Beaver on numerous previous occasions, were rather unimpressed by the melee, but the trip was a personal first descent for both Steve and Sam. Thier reaction was somewhat different as they stared about at the simmering confusion of the put-in.
A short walk ahead, at the end of a forest path over pine needle strewn bedrock, the class III/IV water of the Beaver river waited patiently for the onslaught of boaters to begin.
At the top of the path we made a quick right on the sloped surface of the exposed bedrock and stared down at the surging hole known as the Beaverator. Wayne has already put on and is one of several boaters located across the dark, tannin stained waters of the eddy, happily snapping pictures of Beaverator carnage.
A few years before, prior to embarking on our first descent of the Beaver, Ed, Neval and I had watched in abject horror as a boater was repeatedly pummeled by the sticky hole, disappearing beneath the surface with an odd appendage sticking up every so often but never for very long. Finally, the hapless soul disappeared altogether for perhaps thirty seconds, only to emerge battered and bloody a few yards downstream. Someone posted a similar incident on video and that paddler is quite famously referred to as the “Beaverator Kid”. I elected to portage the Beaverator that day and have done the same on every trip since. The reward does not seem to justify the consequence of a blown line.
Sam has elected to run the Beaverator and asks that I stand by to set safety. I send Steve downriver to scout the next big drop, grab my rope and wait anxiously on river right for Sam to make his run. He appears in a river left eddy, and then makes his cautious way across the main current to a smaller eddy just above the hole on river right, Hugging the river right bank, Sam punches through a diagonal wave that feeds into the hole, and much to the disappointment of the gathered crowd, runs safely down a small slide, well to the right and away from the churning maw of the hole.
The excitement over, I join Steve at the edge of the huge Taylorville slide. From the eddy above, the river pours over a small ledge and begins its frantic journey down an immense slab of bedrock, dropping maybe 30′ in 100 yards. The cascading torrent charges down the slope, funneling boaters toward the gaping orifice in the water lurking below. On river right, the naked expanse of rock extends from the water’s edge in a gentle slope for another 20′ before at last yielding to the vegetation of the forest.
It is on this dry bedrock slab that another crowd has assembled. Nature has created a convenient viewing platform for those wishing to observe the bravado of humans risking all against the power of the river. A steady stream of adrenalin fueled, kayak laden adventurers snakes back up the slope, some pausing occasionally to hug wives, husbands or friends and to regale each other with tales and pictures of their death-defying plunge.
In truth, while it does present an imposing visual spectacle, the great white slide is fairly straightforward and easily negotiated by an intermediate paddler. The relatively smooth expanse of bedrock beneath the slab feels similar to riding a sled down a snow covered hill, except of course, for the water constantly slamming at your face and body. The hole at the bottom of the slide can be slightly sticky, but most paddlers simply wash out once they flip.
As there is no decent carnage to witness and being tired of waiting, I ask Steve if he is ready to go. He assures me that he is, but does wish that he had a little saliva flowing. The slide has that effect on the uninitiated. We jump into our boats and join Sam, Rich and Eddie patiently waiting in th dark pool above the slide.
We gather in a group of paddlers just above the slide. The current has picked up a little and we have to paddle every now and then to maintain our place in line. Other boaters are joining the line from the right after having carried their boats up the slope upon completion of an earlier run. It’s a little confusing trying to figure out who goes next.
Eddie peels out 1st and disappears over the horizon line quickly followed by Rich. We can’t see the bottom of the slide so we have no way of knowing if any of the intrepid paddlers have negotiated the drop successfully. Never one to be bashful, Steve follows Rich to the edge of the precipice and beyond. He’s on his own now.
A couple of paddlers jump in between us and I have to wait, uncertain as to the fate of those who have preceded me. Finally its clear and I’m off. I paddle slightly to the left center and look for the tongue of water beginning its descent down the slope. My bow jumps to the right and I feel the embrace of the recirculating current as I punch a small hole at the bottom of the tongue. The slide flattens out for a moment and then I’m on my way down.
My boat accelerates down the slope, caught up in the torrent of water paying homage to the law of gravity.  I have chosen to run the slide slightly down the river right side and work my paddle frantically in the shallow water in a vain attempt to ensure I stay there. The cascading water has its own agenda and I begin to slide inexorably to my left toward the center of the hole waiting below. My bow catches in a stream of deeper water channeling down from my left side and pushes the boat slightly back to the right. The hole rushes toward me as I lean forward and brace for the impact.
I slam into the hole a little  to the right just as planned, but I don’t hit it square. The curling wave lifts my bow and throws the boat back to the right. Not even a quick brace can save me from the ignominy of having to roll up in front of the spectators. I paddle out a little sheepishly, realizing that I am th only one of our group who has failed to make a clean run. Oh well, a little carnage is always a crowd pleaser.
Puffy white clouds floating in a deep blue sky are reflected on the placid surface of the water as we paddle across the pool to the next drop. It is truly beautiful here, with the verdant green of the forest interspaced with mottled grey-brown slabs of granite reaching down to drink from ebony waters at the river’s edge. The river flattens out in large, calm pools between the drops, allowing time to look about at the magnificence of the natural surroundings in which we are immersed. It is a scene similar to so many others that I have observed on countless rivers, sitting silently in my boat, paddle across my lap, absorbing the beauty around me. I never grow tired of it.
Ahead, a large island divides the river. We will paddle through the river right channel. The rocks push into the channel from both sides, creating a narrow canal, perhaps 10′ wide into which the river flows, picking up speed ans siphoning paddlers into the rapid waiting below. The canal ends abruptly with a small boof on the right or a large hole into a standing wave on the left. Below that is a shallow diagonal shoal extending from river left 3/4 of the way to the opposite bank. Past the shoal is a small eddy and then the river makes a sharp left turn and batters its way through a jumbled mass of rocks before settling into the serene waters of the pool below.
The rest of the group pulls up at the large rock on river right and gets out of their boats to scout the drop. The entry is blind  so it makes sense for first time paddlers to get a look at it before dropping in. I wait in my boat until they are at the top of the rock and then begin my run.
The water picks up speed as I enter the narrow chute between the two rock walls, drawing me inexorably downstream towards the confused mass of boiling whitewater below. I paddle a little to my left and lean forward as I plunge over the edge and down into the hole. The water rises up to smack me in the face as I punch the hole and I angle my bow right to run down the shoal. There are a couple of boater waiting in a large eddy on river right but I’ve seen a few boaters pinned on the large rock just below the eddy and want no part of that.
I drop off the end of the shoal, put my boat on its left edge and paddle into the eddy located behind the shoal. From there I pick my way through the boulder garden. I’m having a blast as I work my boat from edge to edge, taking advantage of the numerous pillows afforded by the jumble of rocks lurking below the surface. I pull into an eddy, jump out of my boat, grab my throw rope and clamber back upstream to watch the rest of the group run the drop.
Rich and Sam are next and both of them have huge smiles as the bounce their way through the boulder garden. I can’t see the beginning of the drop from my vantage point and have to wait until the boater has cleared the first hole before I can identify who is next. Its Steve. He has punched the hole and rides down the shoal to the right perfectly, but catches an edge trying to turn back to his left and starts to flip.
I watch helplessly as Steve works his low brace frantically, trying to remain upright. It starts to look as though he will be successful but another surge of water catches his boat and thwarts his efforts. Access denied, Steve sets up for his roll as his boat crosses the small eddy below the shoal. Unfortunately, Steve starts his roll just as he is dropping into the manky stuff below the eddy. Again, it looks as though he will remain upright, but the chaotic water has other ideas, Steve gets most of the way up, but then hits a pillow of water and is thrown back under.
I watch uselessly as the bottom of Steve,s boat bounces up and down through the rocks and know that he is taking quite a beating down there. Then he is out of his boat and slamming through the rocks at the bottom of the drop. I have chosen a poor spot to set safety as I cannot make a throw to Steve from where I am. I’m not sure a rope would be that much help anyway as it would probably just set up the swimmer for a horrific beating. I’m extremely concerned as I race down the bank to where Rich has pulled Steve into the pool below.
Steve is OK. I guess he is pretty tough, it is certainly not a spot to be taking a swim, but he’s ready for more. We pick up the pieces, empty his boat and wait as Eddie completes his run through the drop.
We paddle over to river left to run a little slot move located in the outflow of the left fork in the river, right at the end of the island where we went right through the last drop. We get out of our boats and portage up across another large slab of rock. The area is abounding with huge boulders everywhere.
The water here enters a slot from river left and drops maybe 6′ down a slide slated from left to right before slamming into yet another boulder on the right, forming a huge pillow. Its pretty narrow here, maybe 7 or 8′ wide and the pillow wants to throw your boat back against the boulder on river left before settling into the pool.
I tell everyone that the trick to running this drop is to lean heavily into the pillow, I know from 1st hand experience what happens if you do not. My first few times down, I tried to bank off the pillow by dropping my left edge and putting the bottom of my boat against it. While it seemed like a logical move to me at the time, the result was less than satisfying as I went flying back to my left and finished out the drop upside down, scraping along the narrow rock walls until I reached the pool. Not what I had planned but at least it made the spectators happy and I gained some valuable knowledge on how, or as in this case not, run up against pillows.
Sam and I go first, each of us running the drop cleanly. Steve is next. Undaunted by his recent swim, he has elected to try his hand at this drop also. He is at a distinct disadvantage paddling his Fuse, lighter boats tend to get thrown about quite a bit more and the hungry pillow is anxiously awaiting his arrival as he starts down the short slide.
Its pretty intimidating driving down a slide and looking up over your head into a huge pile of frenzied water for the first time, but Steve doesn’t hesitate. He plows into the pillow and is violently cast aside to finish his run upside down yet again. Steve rolls up with a smile on his face, saying maybe he should have leaned in a little harder. There just might be something wrong with that guy.
The next drop lies across yet another huge pool fo calm water and the group has gone ahead to scout it as I check with Wayne to make sure he is planning on staying with a group of friends. They are all gathered at the river left slot, having a great time photographing each other running the drop. He tells me he is OK and I paddle down to the rest of the group at the next drop.
There are several options for running this one. The easiest option is to run to the extreme river left and down a slide, punching a small diagonal hole at the bottom. The more adventuresome can make a 6′ boof off a flake of rock located in the right center. Immediately below the flake is a large rock, splitting the current into left and right channels. It is important to come off the flake ito the left channel as it is really manky, swift and shallow over on the right. The AW page says that there has been a lot of skin donated in the right channel and I have a scar from several stitches below my chin that can attest to that. Finally, you can run down a tongue all the way over on river right, deliberately setting yourself up for a trip through the right channel. Although a few paddlers opt for this route, it is generally avoided.
The others are out of their boats scouting so I line myself up for the boof as they watch. Starting from river right, I drive hard to my left over the flake of rock but slide off to my right a little early. Circumstances have now altered my plan and I am, unfortunately, headed for the right channel. The 90 gal displacement of my Super Hero handles it pretty well with just a quick brace here or there needed to stay upright. I hope the rest of the group doesn’t think that is the preferred line.
Sam comes next, going for the boof with the same result as I had. Miraculously, he too remains upright through the right slot. AS we watch, Eddie and Rich make clean runs off the flake into the left channel. Steve, in a rare show of good sense, has elected to run the river left slide and negotiates it perfectly.
We weave our way through slabs of rock and come to the last drop, a 6′ waterfall. There is quite a crowd waiting in an eddy above the fall so we take our turn in line. Its a blind landing from where we are so we have to wait until the previous paddler appears below the horizon line before proceeding. While the drop can be run almost anywhere, the hole below is stickier on the right side, so most people run it on the left with a left boat angle.
We all run down the left side, the entire group running it cleanly and then bounce our way through the remaining rocks below. Steve and Sam have completed their first run at Taylorville. We hang out for a while as Steve, Rich and Sam try out the play wave at the takeout, then carry our boats through goldenrod choked fields for another run.

Esopus Funfest Report and Pictures

We just finished the third annual Esopus Whitewater Funfest. For those of you who did not make it this year- you missed a great time on the river. We had the most popular activities carried over from last year and some new ones to spice up the weekend with even more fun.
Here are some of the highlights from my perspective- and we would love to hear yours also. The pictures are all by Linda McLuckie. Thanks Lin for these! [slideshow]
The boater cross competition was especially exciting this year. The river under the Woodland Valley bridge has changed dramatically since Hurricane Irene and now flows on river right instead of left, and over a few hidden rocks. The mens group of 5 boaters hit the crossing under the bridge together, one flipped and swam, and three went after him to help. Once Vincent saw that he was ok, he powered down the course in front. Scott did his best to catch him, and it was a photo finish with Vincent ahead by a nose! Vincent was competing in the men’s class even though he is 12 years old. He loves the competition and is certainly not intimidated by anyone and he held his own in all events.
We had a freestyle competition for the first time even though the Esopus is not known for it’s play features. Again, the changes in the river caused us to move the event from the DEC drop to the race course and we ran it as a “run of the river” style competition, with competitors using every available feature to make play moves. Scott Sailor and I scored it somewhat generously (after all, it was for fun) and gave every surf and stern squirt points. We saw quite a variety of moves, including some cartwheels, and bow stalls from James, who ran away with the competition with his difficult moves. However, everyone gave it their best and really worked the river for all it was worth.  We gave extra style points for exceptional performance: Vincent for the most stern squirts, Andy for the most vertical stern squirts and the longest single surf, James for hand-paddling his second run, Adelene for attempting to surf a Wavesport Diesel and Kaja for her big smile all the way down the river.
We had another new and very popular event on Sunday- team slalom. Groups of three boaters of any gender and boat type teamed up. Each team had to run the slalom course together and make one upstream gate and the finish line within 15 seconds of each other. So it’s like boater cross, but you are all on the same team. It’s quite challenging to make all the gates and keep up with your team. The Coraor team in their slalom boats, the Slimy Wombats, took first place. I gave it my best effort and was happy to get down the course without missing any gates. I thought our team did a great job of staying together and making the moves. Not bad for me who had only run the course once before the team race. Overall, it was the best attended event of the weekend.
The down-river sprint had a competitive finish in the Men’s division. James took first place in a slalom boat, but his dad Scott was only 6 seconds behind in a REC division boat. Way to go Scott and James! We should give Bill a special award for the most self-rescues on the course. We will be kind and not say exactly how many.
We gave out many “Rivermiester” Awards this year for participants who entered two or more races on Saturday and the Slalom on Sunday. Congratulations to all who endured multiple races over two days. For some this required sharing boats and many trips back up the hill carrying a boat at the end of a race in time to enter the next one, or to give the boat to a fellow competitor.
The river-running group had a challenging time as the debris from hurricane Irene is still in the river in many places, and carrying over it and portaging were required. Everyone made it in good spirits. The DEC drop was really fun at this river level, although it did it’s share of turning the boats over. You have to watch the cross-currents as they jump up and bite you. Special congratulations to all who made it down the Esopus for the first time. Special congratulations to Loretta for braving the river for her first time in our only OC1 this year. She made it through to railroad with no swims and no incidents. Her biggest challenge was avoiding all those kayaks in her way.
As usual, we battled the rain and thunderstorms periodically throughout the weekend. I think that everyone enjoyed the camaraderie with their fellow boats, made some new friends, and caught up with some old ones. We gave out a great selection of raffle prizes at the end of the day on Sunday. The AW/Keen Backpack and the 2-day lesson at Zoar Outdoor were greatly appreciated by the winners, as well as lots of hats, t-shirts, booties, fleece etc.
I would like to thank all our volunteers who worked hard to make this Funfest a success and to our sponsors for the donations of the prizes and the support for our Funfest.
Our only regret is that more of you did not show up. Attendance was very light this year. We would love to know from those of you who didn’t make this year why you didn’t come. What can we do to improve this for the future?

Bottom Moose

This post about my first Moose run is out of sequence from my last couple and jumps forward about 5 years from when I ran the Moodna.
I peel out gingerly from behind a large rock and work my way cautiously to the right around a shallow rock ledge. The current isn’t very strong here but I am worried about straying too far to the right as I’ve heard that the hole at the bottom of the drop is terminal over there.  I clear the ledge and paddle quickly back to my left to line up for the drop.
The current begins to pick up as I enter a little slot and start towards a small trashy hole. I lean forward hard to punch the hole and it kicks my boat a little bit left. I’m moving faster now and headed towards a rock perched at the lip of the drop, jutting out from the left bank. The rock looms nearer as I frantically paddle right. My mind conjures up an ugly scene with me hitting the rock and being spun around backwards over the lip.
Closer now, and I’m OK missing the rock by at least 6″ or so, but there’s no time to celebrate as the boat clears the lip of the drop and starts down.
Below me is a boiling mass of chaotic, churning white. The water races down the steep slide, slams hard into the pool and violently folds back  on itself. A huge wave rises like a wall from the middle of the confusion below. I’m flying down the slide now, scraping  my paddle left and right in the shallow water, struggling to keep the bow pointed straight down the throat of the beast below. Halfway down  and I tuck my paddle hard against the left side of my boat, lean forward, duck my head, close my eyes, and brace for impact.
I had arrived alone to scout the drop. To my disappointment, the group I had paddled with yesterday elected to run the middle Moose. I had hoped that one or two of them would accompany me on the bottom, But it wasn’t happening.
I had driven to the county park as it was spring Moosefest and I hoped that maybe someone I knew was there. Not finding anyone I recognized I headed out towards the put in thinking I might  have better luck there.
I stopped at Agers Falls to scout the drop, but the water wasn’t running yet so I decided to head back to my truck. Halfway up the path I ran into a young woman shivering in the cold,grey drizzle. She explained that she was recovering from surgery and could not paddle but had volunteered to photograph her group as they dropped over Agers. I handed her my coat,told her to leave it for me back at the campground and headed towards the put in.
I didn’t know anyone there either so I decided to walk downstream and scout Fowlersville Falls. Its pretty impressive, maybe 40 or 50′ high and sloping down at maybe 45 degrees or so. The river is pretty wide here and I’ve heard all kinds of stories about people having to get roped out of the hydraulic if they stray too far right.
A group of paddlers runs the drop as I watch. One by one the hurl themselves down the slope and slam into the wave below, each one punching through with varying levels of success. One or two even manage to stay upright. I’m really disappointed that I’ve driven 5 hrs to run this thing and can’t find anybody but I figure at least I can huck Fowlersville a few times as long as I’m here.
I head back to my truck, grab my boat and gear and put in above the bridge. I pull into an eddy near the top of the drop. I had hoped that there would still be a paddler or two but everyone has moved  on and there is no one in sight. Telling myself that this is what I came to do, I pull out from behind the rock.
The river swallows me and my boat as I hit the surging mass of water at the bottom of the slide hard. I am completely engulfed and knocked back despite my best efforts to remain locked forward over my bow. The water coming down the slide continues to drive my stern down and my bow shoots skyward as the river spits me out. My boat dances briefly, straight up on it’s stern at the top of the swirling foam then crashes down into the chaos and flips.
I roll up, paddle to the big eddy on my left and get out of my boat for another run. It’s not an easy climb back to the top, especially dragging a boat and I’m a bit winded so I sit down to catch my breath.
As I get back into my boat I see another group coming towards the falls. Most of them pull into the eddy to scout but one guy stays in his boat. I guess he’s the probe and the others will watch as he shows them the line. I decide to follow him, they can watch me too.
I usually don’t remember much when running a waterfall. You are at the top and then you land. Not too much time to think about what is happening as you fall. There’s plenty of time to think at Fowlersville. The slide is big, steep and long so it gives you lots of time to contemplate hitting the bottom. Not that you can do much about it anyway, you’re going to take a hit.
I do a little better this time down and manage to stay upright as my boat kind of squirts left out of the hole. I didn’t really do anything different, it just kind of worked out that way.
I meet the probe in the eddy and we both share a smile, bonding over the run down the big drop. He introduces himself as Steve and we talk for a while as we wait for the rest of his group to screw up their courage and get into their boats. I ask him if he would mind me tagging along with them. He says OK but that they will be doing a lot of scouting so it could be a long run. Perfect, just what I’m looking for.
The rest of the group comes down the slide one by one. Two more guys named Steve and a couple of others. They are all older, like me, and have paddled the Moose a bunch of times before. It seems like I have gotten really lucky to hook up with this group.
Next up is Funnel. We pull out river right on a wide pebbly beach and walk downstream to scout. The river turns to the left and narrows down, racing through a small slot. At the top of the slot is a diagonal wave that threatens to throw you to the left if you don’t hit it square. The river then pours over and through a narrow drop where the main current is split by a sharp rock rising up right in the middle. There is also a boof move on the left side but the backwash looks a little sketchy to me.
I follow one of the Steve’s down towards the drop. I line up on the diagonal hole and paddle hard into it. It kicks me a little to the left but I make it through without falling too far off-line. I run down the tongue a little bit left and catch a bit more of the center rock than I had planned. I ride up high on the pillow but a quick low brace on my right keeps the bottom of my boat in the water and I eddy out with Steve to watch everyone else.
One of the guys, maybe its a Steve, typewriters left down the hole and goes straight over the top of the rock at the bottom. We all kind of hold our breath and I’m already paddling out of the eddy to pick up the pieces when he rolls up, none the worse for wear. It wasn’t a line I would have chosen but it worked out.
Across a couple of pools and through a small rapid we come to the next big one, Knife’s Edge, and pull out on river right to scout. The eddy’s are smaller here and the rock slopes steeply down to the water so we have to pick our way cautiously to a good vantage point.
The river is divided by an island and we are looking at the river right channel. The channel is further divided by a large rock and we need to stay away from the left side of the rock as there is a huge hydraulic over there. On the extreme river right is the ledge boof from whence the rapid is named. You have to paddle hard right and ride along a narrow ledge before dropping off into a slot. Steve #1 explains that the traditional line is to make a sharp left off the beginning of the ledge, paddle across the current past a rock in the middle then make a sharp right through a narrow slot between the rock and the island. It looks a little intimidating. I kind of like the boof line better.
Steve, (I’m not sure which one) elects to take a sneak line in the river left channel of the island but the rest of us are going to run the drop. I’m the last one in line and watch as all of the other guys make a left and disappear over the ledge. I’m still tempted by the boof line as I paddle toward the drop but decide to follow the rest of the group as I get nearer to the ledge. Concentrating hard, I drop my left edge to carve a sharp left turn.
It’s a mistake. The current catches my edge and pushes me high up on a submerged rock. I drop off the ledge sideways to the current on my upstream edge and immediately flip. Thoughts of pinning on the center rock or getting stuck in the pothole I was warned about are racing through my head as I’m getting swirled about. There’s not much I can do in the middle of the violent water so I stay in my tuck and wait for the boat to settle.
The boat knows which way to go and makes the right hand turn without any assistance from its occupant. I bump my way upside down through the narrow slot and roll up in the calmer water when it widens out. Everyone asks if I’m OK and says they were sure that I’d be swimming. Everything is fine’ nothing bruised except my ego. I’m the only one who had a problem with the drop.
We pull out on river right again to scout Double Drop. Steve says the traditional line is to punch a big hole at the top then make a sharp left down a short tongue into some gnarly looking water below. You have to paddle back to the right in the manky stuff to boof the second ledge center right. There doesn’t look to be anywhere to roll up if you flip.
I watch as one of the guys punches the hole at the top and runs the tongue without a problem so I guess its OK. I paddle hard, pick up a lot of speed and punch the hole without a problem. Then I make a hard right and paddle down the tongue. Maybe a little unsteady at the bottom but a couple of quick braces and I’m headed towards the last ledge. I get a great boof off the second ledge and land softly below, surprising myself with a textbook run. I’m starting to feel better about my Knife’s Edge incident.
We paddle across a large pool and take out to portage around a dam. The portage itself is worth mentioning. You have to carry your boat across a strip of concrete maybe 18″ wide and 10′ above a jumbled rock pile. There is a step that you have to negotiate in the middle of the wall. It’s higher than a normal step and you have to decide if you want to jump down and land on two feet or step down and land on one all while carrying your boat. There’s no place to set it down. I elect the one foot method and do fine but my mind still has pictures of me wobbling over the edge and falling to certain injury on the rocks below.
We paddle across another large pool, there are lots of them, and get out to take a look at Ager’s Falls. Its a pretty straight forward 15′ drop with an interesting little runout on the bottom. The guys in my group wave across to Angela who is there to photograph them. She’s wearing my jacket. Maybe it wasn’t just the luck of the draw that I ended up paddling with the Steves.
Agers is pretty easy. Paddle over the edge, drop and land. Not a lot of skill required there. Theres a little bit of wood stuck in the runout so we have to paddle around it but nothing of consequence. We continue downstream towards Shurform.
The river splits around an island and again we take the right channel. Its really nasty over on the left side and most people stay away from it. The right channel features hole at the top and a rock jutting out from river left. Once past the rock you have to drive hard left across the face of a blocky slide to avoid an enormous roostertail shooting up maybe 6′ in the center. You finish up the drop in a little slot left center. As we watch a couple of guys try to skirt the hole on the left and end up hitting the rock. It throws them off-line, stalls their momentum and sends them toward the rooster tail. I watch uneasily as they enter a seething slot on the left side of the rooster tail and emerge upright on the other side.
I get in my boat and head downstream. My plan is to catch the right side of the hole and then drive hard left past the rock. It works perfectly as I pass the rock, right on-line and relax to enjoy my ride down the slide. The water pulls me to the right as soon as I stop paddling and now my line isn’t looking so good. I’m headed down the center and its too late to recover. I end up high and dry, stuck on a little ledge to the left of the roostertail. I have to drop into the same slot the other guys ran. It doesn’t look to inviting in there but they were fine so off I go and run it cleanly. I tell the guys that was the line I planned on all along.
Downstream, the river narrows to the right and races between a couple of rocks. We fly right along with it, crashing through 5′ wave trains to the huge eddy on river right. This is Powerline, named for the electric line that passes overhead.
From the eddy, I work toward river left to avoid a pourover on the right. I’m thinking about catching another eddy on river left before punching through the hole below but change my mind halfway through the move. In my experience, indecision is rarely a good thing when running a rapid. I miss the eddy, hit a rock and drop into the hole backwards with no momentum. It occurs to me that I might be staying in there for a while as I flip and get worked for a while,  but it lets me go fairly quickly and I roll up at the bottom of the drop.  To my chagrin, everyone else runs it cleanly.
We pick our way through some rocks and small ledges then take out to scout the big one, Crystal. As a novice paddler I was awed by the pictures of this rapid on the AW site. There doesn’t appear to be a discernible tongue anywhere and the water pours over a series of 4′ ledges as it snakes its way downward to the final 10′ drop. Over to river left is the alpine line, which cascades straight down the tiered ledges, joining the main current from the right as it pours over the last and biggest drop. Steve points out the classic line dropping over a ledge to the left of the U-shaped, raft-munching, mega hole known as Nemo. He tells me it would be prudent to stay away from that. He points out a small wave near the top of the final drop and tells me to make sure I line up on that. To the left of the wave is a swirling eddy that will catch your bow and throw you off-line. We can’t see the landing of the 10′ drop from our vantage point but Steve tells me that its pretty narrow and I want to stay to the right.
We watch as a bunch of paddlers run the drop. Some work from right to left and some run the alpine line. Everyone we see flips at the bottom and rolls up once they pass the big rock that is blocking our view of the landing zone. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence but they all seem to be fine.
Some of our guys elect to portage this drop, it might be a smart idea but I came this far and don’t want to go home leaving something undone. I urinate for what seems to be the 3rd time since getting out to scout and head for my boat.
My mouth is dry and my legs feel like rubber as I climb in and snap on my spray skirt. Its kind of scary thinking about this drop. I pull out into the current and pick my way towards the first ledge, lining up on a small rock outcropping towards the left center.
One of our guys, probably a Steve since most of them are, is paddling quite a bit further left than I am. You can’t really tell where you are but I’m fairly certain I wanted to be near the rocks so I stay where I am. Steve bottoms out in the shallow water to the left so I start my run.
I drop over the 1st ledge to the left of Nemo as planned. The backwash tugs breifly at my stern but I have enough speed to push through to the 10′ or so before boofing the next ledge. My boof isn’t great and I pencil in a little, right into the current coming out of Nemo from my right.
My bow jumps to the left and it takes a quick brace to keep upright. I spot the wave that Steve had pointed out earlier and lean forward aggressively, paddling hard in the racing current. I punch it right in the nose and slide easily past the eddy to my left. The water coming down from the alpine line to my left pushes me towards th right but I’m exactly where I wanted to be for the last drop.
I don’t really see the landing zone until I’m at the lip of the drop. It’s wider than I had anticipated but I’m already committed to the right and tuck myself into a little crease in the water as I go over the edge.
I pencil in pretty good, The water coming over the drop driving me still deeper. Its pretty dark down there and I have to wait anxiously for a couple of seconds, although it feels more like 20, before my boat can claw its way upwards taking me towards the light. I roll up and join a Steve in the eddy.
We paddle across another large pool, Up ahead, Magilla lurks behind a low dam. Nobody in my group plans on running it and we take out on river right. I walk around the dam to take a look at Magilla from below. A couple of guys run it as I watch. It doesn’t look too bad, I think I’m going to try it.
I run into Ben and his friend on the way back to my boat. They are novice paddlers and had run the Middle Moose with Ed, Neval and Myles this morning. They ask if I’m going to run Magilla. I tell them yes. Having an audience makes things a little easier.
There isn’t much water running over the dam. Most people are getting out of their boats at the lip of the dam and then lifting them down before running the drop. I decide to adopt the same tactic, so I don’t snap my spray skirt as I paddle and roll out of my boat as I near the dam. I swim the rest of the way, pulling my boat behind me.
The dam drops 4 or 5′ onto the bedrock that forms the top of Magilla. Its mostly dry there today with the water running through narrow slots before pouring over the precipice. I’ve seen pictures where the whole rock surface was covered and the drop was full of water but thats not what I’m dealing with today.
I lift my boat over the dam and carry it down below a U-shaped hole to put in. I don’t see much sense in trying to punch the hole. Only bad things can happen. I paddle down the slot, start over the edge and hit a little boof ledge landing cleanly in the water below. Pretty anticlimactic but I’ve run the drop.
Ben and his friend are waiting for me at the bottom. I feel like a superstar and don’t want to tell them how easy it was at this level. I send them upstream to take a look a Crystal as the Steves and I shuttle back to the put in.
On the way there we stop at a power company building so that I can sign in. I didn’t realize that was a requirement before running the river and had passed right by the sign up this morning.
We are all pretty animated discussing each little aspect of our run. I thank them profusely for taking on a 1st time Moose run and they jokingly tell me it was a HUGE problem. I feel good that they’ve accepted me as one of their own. We’ve all bonded quite well. Running a river together kind of does that.
I stop at the campsite to pick up my jacket and head back to Neval’s house, still high on adrenalin and quite a bit full of myself. The group is all there and they pepper me with questions about running the bottom. I can see that a part of Eddie kind of wishes he had run it too.
Its getting a little bit later and I’m starting to feel tired. Really tired. I stop at a pharmacy to pick up a 5 hr energy drink and a coke before starting the drive home. Its going to be a long one.