Saturday, May 22, 2004

Yough Ivy

Josh, Suzi, Maggie, Ian - Lower Yough

In May 2004 I had been paddling on and off for a total of about 13 months. I started off very conservative and mainly sticking to playing on the Potomac and perfecting my roll. I didn't know many people and hadn't been all that eager to go on trips. The previous October Ian L., whom I had met at Gauley Fest, took me on my first Lower Yough trip. The level was 3.8, a bit higher than usual newbie level. I recall being very nervous the night before, not really knowing what to expect and never having run a river before. The trip went great with only one flip followed by a perfect combat roll. I was greatly encouraged and pumped to get out again. As the winter months drew nearer I gathered more dry gear and continued playing on the Potomac. As my trusty boating partner Suzi, had abandoned me due to the cold, I found a few more people to paddle with. Over the winter I continued to stick to paddling on the Po and paddled with Ian at a few Dickerson sessions as well.

As spring rolled around my non-boating life took over some of the time I had hoped to spend on the river. I had bought a house in March and spent a good deal of time working on it. It was May before I was able to start thinking about boating seriously again.

But now I was determined, this was going to be the year. I was going to get on rivers as much as possible. Mid May I was able to meet up with a group going to the Lower Yough. This time the level was about 2.4. The run was fine, and I found myself being neither nervous nor particularly excited about it. It was only my second time down.

It was warming up now and Suzi finally returned to the river. Josh had also just moved back to DC from Florida and was ready to get back into boating. That week Ian contacted me asking if I was interested in doing a Cheat run. The idea made me nervous as I had barely any river running experience and the Cheat was definitely a step up from the LY. I wasnt sure that I was ready for it.

Ian, on the other hand, was confident in my ability and felt that I would do fine. That week the four of us did a run on Little Falls at about 4.2 (mine and Suzi's first run). We both did fine and I felt good about the idea of running something new. Since Suzi wasn't quite ready for the Cheat we decided that she and Josh would come along but raft instead.
Unfortunately that week WV got a decent amount of rain and the Cheat was at or above 3 feet, rather high for a beginner. So we decided just to head back to the Lower Yough. Suzi needed to get her first run in anyway.

We planned to meet in Ohiopyle Friday night. Ian and I headed out early to beat the traffic. When we arrived in Ohiopyle it was raining and had been for some time. As we drove into town we got our first glimpe of the river. It was huge. Ohiopyle Falls was no longer the pretty white curtain we're all used to seeing. Instead a giant gnarly maw formed at he base. The water was milky brown. We checked the gauge at the put in. It read 6 feet and we knew it had to still be rising as the rain had not let up. We got dinner in town and hoped that it would peak overnight and head back down. We'd driven all this way and really hoped we'd get to run something.

We drove to the campground, took one look, and decided we didn't want to sit there in the cold and wet while we waited for Josh and Suzi. So we headed back out and hung out at a bar for a few hours while watched the rain come down in buckets. We rejoined them at the campsite a while later. While Josh and Suzi slept in his van, Ian chose to put up his tent. I looked at mine for a moment and opted to just sleep in the back of his SUV, it was just too damn wet.

The next morning I woke up first and began checking gauges over the phone. It had finally stopped raining but the LY was at 8 feet and still rising and nothing else within reasonable driving distance seemed to be at a good level. We debated what to do. One thing was clear, we all wanted to be on the water. Josh had brought his raft just in case. Ian asked me if I was still okay with running it despite the high level. He assured me once again that I could do it. I was nervous but still wanted to go through with it. So the plan was for Josh and Suzi to raft while Ian and I kayaked. Josh had been a raft guide on the New and Gauley and was perfectly capable of getting them down safely.

So we dropped a car off at the takeout, grabbed our two playboats and the raft and headed back to town. In addition to the usual launch permits and bus tokens we had to sign waivers. Since the river was running high the park service gets nervous. The waivers basically had us acknowledge that the river was running at class IV-V at this level and that we took responsibility for our own safety, etc etc (ha ha... that made Suzi and I a little nervous). Ian had run the LY at high water before and assured us that this was not the case and that the park service was just being cautious.

So we inflated the raft, geared up and headed toward the put in. At high flows the park service limits raft size to a minimum of 12 feet. As the lady took our launch permits and waivers she asked how long it was. Sure its 12 feet replied Josh, and we were on our way. As we got down to the water we could see just how high it was. Instead of the usual beach the water was way up high into the bushes. We sat the raft and boats down and got ready. Ian realized he had left his throwrope in the car and ran up the hill to get it.

In the time that he was gone the park service lady had had a bout of conscience. She walked down the hill toward us carrying a tape measure. I'm sorry, but I have to measure your raft she said. Don't bother replied Josh, It's not twelve feet. She was very apologetic but ultimately quite stubbornly refused to let us put on. If only Ian hadn't forgotten that rope, we would have been on the river by then.

What to do now? Either Suzi was going to have to sit this out or we were all going to have to paddle. Despite obvious reasons why this was a bad idea, the guys opted for the latter. We were all annoyed and wanted to get on. Despite what I'm sure was her own better judgment, Suzi nervously agreed. "You'll follow me close, you'll be fine", Josh promised.

So now the problem was that we were all at the put in with 2 boats and a raft. Josh and Suzi's boats where with the takeout vehicle. So the guys headed back to pickup boats and gear and return the raft. It took them over an hour to deflate the raft and drive back and forth. In the meantime Suzi and I waited nervously at the put in. With everything going on I hadn't really had much time to think about what I was getting into, but sitting there now was making me nervous. Thankfully the boys showed up with the boats and we were ready to go. While we waited two more guys showed up (Bill, and I forget his friend's name) and asked if they could join us. They had run it at 6 feet the day before so we figured the more the merrier (and safer).

So Suzi was to follow Josh and I was to follow Ian., with the two other guys brining up the rear. We were instructed to follow close. So here we were, the river approaching 9 feet, my third trip, Suzi's first. Great...

The river was unrecognizable. A quick look up at the falls gave a glimpse of the intense power. The first rapid, Entrance, usually one of the easier of the major rapids, was a huge mass of waves and holes. The pool and large eddy between Entrance and Cucumber was non-existent. Instead a long wave train continued on through both. We followed our guides closely and I felt good hitting big waves and dodging holes. The water was moving fast and the tension was quickly starting to ease.

Ohiopyle Falls, Normal summer level (~1.8 feet)

Ohiopyle Falls, ~9 feet

Somewhere after what was normally Cucumber our group got slightly separated. The wavetrain had calmed and we were in fast moving, but fairly calm water. I had gotten ahead of Ian and was now following Josh. We caught a large eddy or river right. Looking around I couldn't see Suzi. I don't even remember at what point a lost track of her, but suddenly she was nowhere in sight. This was completely bizarre as the river seemed to be wide open. I could tell by the expression on Josh's face that he was wondering the same thing.

A second later I saw it... Her little orange pocket rocket floating down river a hundred or so feet below. Then I saw her, out of her boat. I'd never seen Suzi so much as miss a roll so this was even more shocking. Josh still hadn't seen her so I started yelling at him and we both gave chase. Ian and the other guys were still a ways back (I think they might have caught some waves to surf above or something). I knew there were no major rapids ahead but the water was moving fast and I knew that we had to get her out as quickly as possible.

Suzi later described what had happened. The rocks that normally form the small class II rapids below Cucumber were now creating large holes. She had paddled straight into a big hole and gotten caught in it. She couldn't get out so she swam. While out of her boat she swam into another large hole and was getting tired. She tried to swim to shore but got sucked under at the eddy line (the infamous human mystery move). She was exhausted and getting ready to give up. Josh got to her and started yelling at her to swim. So she did. He was able to help her climb up on a rock while her boat and paddle bobbed around nearbly.

While Josh grabbed her paddle and worked on calming her down I pushed her boat farther into a nearby eddy and back towards the rock. Ian and the other guys had caught up at this point. She sat there coughing up a little water and looking petrified. After a few minutes of rest and a good pep talk from all of us she was ready to get back in her boat. I was very proud of her. We talked a bit and told her she could take out at the end of the loop. There were no major rapids till Railroad so we had a few minutes of fairly calm water to get comfortable on again. Josh instructed Suzi to stay right behind him for the rest of the trip (which she did).

As we pealed out I turned to one of the other guys and asked him to please keep an eye out for her. I told him that she seemed to be doing okay but that she was fairly shaken up. He asked me how I was doing. For the first time it occurred to me that I was perfectly fine. Sure this was bigger and faster than anything else I'd run but I was comfortable and overall having a good time.

We continued on and stopped to scout Railroad. Josh, Suzi and I got out and climbed up to take a look. The rocks normally forming the rapid where now mostly covered, forming 3 distinct channels. Josh decided that the river right channel looked easiest and that he would take Suzi down that way. The middle channel was good to go for the rest of us though. The left side of the middle channel was guarded by a tall eddy fence, the right side had a huge pourover. Josh explained the line: He wanted us to come down the center and catch the eddy just below the hole. This involved just barely skirting the bottom edge of the hole. Sounded scary to me.

I got back in my boat and Ian decided that since I was the one who got out and looked at it that I should lead him down this time. *gulp* I had never had to lead on anything. But he was right, I had seen the line. So we headed on down. I remember coming down and seeing the monster hole to my right. I came as close to it as I could and carefully skirted the edge and easily entered the eddy. I turned and watched as Josh and Suzi and Ian all passed by (apparently the right channel wasn't as appealing afterall). Everyone did just fine but I was the only one who had made the move. I did get flipped on the eddy line as I sat there watching (probably should have paid attention to myself more) but rolled up quickly and rejoined everyone at the bottom.

Suzi was doing fine now and we all agreed that she should be okay to continue on and that we'd make sure to continue scouting anything big. I reminded her that if she felt uncomfortable at any time that she could walk off on the trail that follows the railroad. It would be a long walk but better than being stuck on the river.

We stopped along the way for a few breaks and to look at the beautiful waterfall cascading down (well they looked pretty good as long as you ignored the fact that they were actually formed by large drainage pipes).

Suzi and Maggie

Suzi and Josh

We stopped once again to scout Dimple rapid. Dimple Rock itself was no more and in its place roared a large hole. The entire stretch from Dimple to Swimmers was again unrecognizable. Huge waves and holes everywhere and absolutely no rocks in sight. There was actually a fairly easy channel that had opened up on river right. However it had a good amount of wood in it. We watched as small group of commercial rafts blew on past. We did not see any other kayakers on the river that day.

So the only viable line seemed to be to thread the needle between two big holes. Didn't seem all that hard, just a little intimidating. We walked around on the river right shore looking for a way around it. Unfortunately the normal portage trail was underwater and we would have had to climb high up into the trees and hike all the way down below swimmers. Our hike to view the rapid had required fording a fairly deep and ice-cold creek and we were not too keen about having to do it a second time. We were all certainly way to tired to do this.

So once again we all chose to run the rapid, which proved to be pretty easy. Once you passed the two big holes it was just big waves all the way down past Swimmer's and on to the rapid known as Bottle of Wine. Beyond this we saw more big holes and waves which were mostly easily avoidable. "If it looks like a pourover, it is a pourover," was the rule. I recall getting surprised by one small hole but was able to get out easily.

River's End wasn't much different then before. Same left turn, just a lot more water. After that we continued on to the take out and all ended up running straight into a relatively small but mischievous hole. It was funny watching those behind me. We reached the takeout feeling pretty happy and accomplished. We were the only ones on the shuttle bus back to the takeout parking lot. It had been a good run. I think that even Suzi felt good at this point. We were all very proud of her for doing as well as she did, her first run ever, at almost 9 feet.

High Water

This trip gave me a lot of confidence. I felt stable and in control and although I was a bit nervous at first ultimately I felt great throughout the run. Many more trips followed this one and by the end of the summer I was running the Upper Yough and Upper Gauley.

A few days after the trip i noticed an itch on my foot. Turns out that the high water at the put in had washed poison ivy oils into the river. When we sat there waiting for the guys to arrive it must have gotten on me. My foot was absolutely covered in boils and it was impossible to wear shoes. I walked around my office barefoot for two weeks and had to take three separate antihistamines. I'm apperntly quite allergic to it. The scars lasted for months. I guess the river will get you any way it can!
Well i knew it would happen eventually. Someone read this post and left me a fairly nasty and ill informed comment (check it out in the comments section). I posted a response as well. If you found problems with how things were handled on this trip please take a look at my response, it should clear up a good bit. Thanks!

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Blogger KennethF said...

My wife & I did the Cheet River (upper due to high water) about 30 years ago!
It was great fun in our 6man rafts. Your photos of the Yough are exceptional and I took the opp to send them to a friend. Jim would like me to be his pick-up-man the next time he & jr does the Clarion... I would take to many pix! KennethF

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bad Form.

You're third time down the lower yough and you decided it would be a good idea to ignore the parks service, common sense, and your own personal judgment and run the river anyway. Not only that, but by your own admission, you peer pressured your friends into paddling.

AW along with several other local paddling clubs have been working very hard over the past decade to maintain a good relationship with the state park service and allow private boaters to safely enjoy the yough at all levels.

Throwing class II boaters into class IV water is egregiously irresponsible and presents a significant risk to paddler safety. These are the situations where people get hurt, access gets denied, and our sport gets a ton of unwanted bad press.

I have no idea how qualified your friends are, but the fact that you didn't realize a member of your group was missing until she was swimming pretty much says it all.

I agree that the lower yough at high water has mile wide lines, but it also has killer features requiring class IV skills to avoid and an intimate knowledge of where there at.

If I was a “newbie” reading this post for the first time, I would think that the lower yough at 9 feet is no big deal, after all this person did it her third time down and she was fine. Not the kind of message you should be projecting.

I do enjoy your enthusiasm for the sport and the river in general; and appreciate your creative writing style and your willingness to share your stories. Take it easy , be safe, and see you on the river.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

So someone posted the above comment. I couldn't help but post a response . This person may never come back and read this but I felt it important to me to clear a few things up.

First off, i dont have to publish your comment but i think i will leave it up for the time being at least . Second, i can see how you may have come up with this rather melodramatic point of view . You are certainly right on a (very) few points. But get your facts straight before you step up on your soapbox there.

You're third time down the lower yough and you decided it would be a good idea to ignore the parks service, common sense, and your own personal judgment and run the river anyway. Not only that, but by your own admission, you peer pressured your friends into paddling.

1) The park service did not actively discourage any boaters from paddling the river. The only warned people that higher levels can be dangerous (you sign waivers everywhere you go nowadays, this wasn't much different, mostly so that you can't sue them if you hurt yourself). In fact they were still running the shuttle service and issuing launch permits that day. Not a really good way to dissuade people from running a river... ya think?

2) At what point did i say that this was against my personal judgement to run the river? I was nervous but i wanted to do it. Sure it was a risk, but one i was more than willing to take. Common sense? Let's see: I felt confident with my skills, i had two guides who i trusted and who's ability i was confident in, as well as three other competant boaters for support. I also had Ian's encouragement and assurance that I had the ability to paddle this river. In fact he had already been prepared to take me on the Cheat, a step up from the LY. So its not like this was a situational choice. I'd paddled with him before and he was aware of my ability so I think he was very much qualified to encourage this. Yes it's always a risk to trust someone else's assessment of your ability but otherwise how are you ever going to get on new runs? Stepping up is, by definition, running something more difficult than you had done before. To do this you have to be confident in your own skills (which I was) and also have the support of the people taking you on the new run (which I did). I had months of experience paddling solid class III water on the Potomac and at the whitewater course and felt ready to step up. So yes I do think it was a very good idea to run the river anyway. I had an absolute blast and if I had to do it all over again I would in a heartbeat.

3) I pear pressured my friends into paddling!! LOL okay now that one is priceless. Are we in grade school here (maybe you are but we were all adults at the time) Let's see Ian and Josh were class IV and V boaters at the time... so yeah i pear pressured them into running a class III/IV river... i'm SOOOO sorry.... hee hee.. sorry, couldn't resist that. Seriously though. I did not pressure Suzi into anything. I even told her i didn't think it was a very good idea. I admit that i probabably should have been more vocal about this but i dont know if it would have made a difference. She was pretty determined. I was also pretty nervous at the begining and didn't really have the energy to try to disuade her. I was doing my best to stay calm and prepare myself. I know it was a bad choice to take her on the river that day. But ultimately it was her choice to do it and i wasn't in a leadership position. I know that that is not a great excuse for not stopping her. But ultimately she was quite capable (see below). She was well warned of the risk involved and it is not very likely that i could have talked her out of it too easily.

AW along with several other local paddling clubs have been working very hard over the past decade to maintain a good relationship with the state park service and allow private boaters to safely enjoy the yough at all levels.

Yes AW does a great job. But please, let's not turn this into some sort of political drama. Okay so we should have been honest about the size of the raft but i seriously doubt that would have any real impact on relations with the park service. It's a ridiculous rule anyway and we all know it. You can take any size kayak down the river but god forbid your raft is 12 inches too short...please!! The lady wasn't the least bit upset, if anything she was very apologetic for not being able to let us go and it seemed like she might even have felt bad. As far as any problems on the river having an effect on relations with the park service (if that is what you were thinking). Well first off nothing happened that required any interaction with the PS at all (see farther down). People get in trouble on rivers. It happens at any river level and at all levels of skill and preparedness. The park service has no problem with allowing completely inexperienced people get in an unguided raft and run Dimple and get killed. I somehow doubt that a group of experienced boater's leading two less experienced boater's is any worse. That day we saw several raft fulls of river tourists with one guide per raft, a ratio of 6 : 1 vs. our ratio of 1:1 plus 2 more to help when needed. hmmm... let's do the math here.

Throwing class II boaters into class IV water is egregiously irresponsible and presents a significant risk to paddler safety. These are the situations where people get hurt, access gets denied, and our sport gets a ton of unwanted bad press.

Whoa there! Who said anything about class II paddlers? Our group consisted of two class III paddlers (myself and Suzi), and four class IV and/or V paddlers. Even at high water the LY is mostly class III water. I know this is a matter of opinion. But that is mine. I agree that there are certainly some class IV moves that you can choose to make, and some class IV consequences if say you unwittingly paddle over the top of some giant pourover (but they were pretty obvious). But overall it was just a high water run on a class III river. It was certainly a step up from what i'd done before but not a big one. Part of the excitement of paddling is the challenge. Boating things that are at the limits of your ability is a great way to challenge yourself and learn and improve especially with the support of more experienced paddlers.

So that brings me to this specific situation. For me, a class III boater at the time, it was not at all unreasonable to get onto a class III/IV run. Something tougher than i had run before but well within my limits. For Suzi obviously this was a bigger step up. Her first true river run and it was at high water. But that doesn't mean she wasn't completely capable of doing it. Yes she did swim at the beginning. A big part of that i'm sure was nerves though. And guess what, people swim, all the time, at low water, at high water, it happens, and it can happen to anyone. However that was the one and only problem she had on the ENTIRE run. After she got back in her boat she hit all her lines great and even ended up having a pretty good time. Sure she flipped a few times here and there but rolled up quickly otherwise. I would say that for a first time newbie run that is probably one of the best i've heard of. A lot of people will have numerous swims on their first run (and at much lower levels). And yes I understand that the potential consequences of swimming in this case were much higher than what a regular newbie run would have been so let's not get into that.

After we got Suzi back in her boat we made sure to tell her that she had the option to walk off at the loop takeout. There was just some boogie water till Railroad which we planned to scout. After scouting and running that rapid successfully she felt confident enough in herself and declined the chance to walk off. She also knew that the railroad/trail were right there too in case she got uncomfortable at any point (she did not). I'm very proud of her for sticking with it and i stand by her choice to continue on. She made no more mistakes of any consequence and finished the run beautifully and safely. Had she walked off i think she would have felt very discouraged.

So let's review, we had two very capable class III boaters, two class IV/V boaters to lead, and two more class IV boaters to help out on a class III/IV river. We were able to get Suzi to shore and recover her boat all within a few minutes from the moment she swam . In fact two of us were able to do this without even needing help from the rest. She was maybe in the water for all of 3 minutes. We scouted the major rapids that were too blind to just follow the leader on and took multiple rest breaks along the way. So yeah i'm sure it was "egregiously irresponsible". Big words, not much meaning.

I have no idea how qualified your friends are, but the fact that you didn't realize a member of your group was missing until she was swimming pretty much says it all.

That's right, you have NO idea about anyone in this story so maybe making all these generalizations isn't a good call. But one again: Four class IV and/or V boaters...not qualified...uhuh...sure... As for not realizing she was missing... Ummm did you actually read what I wrote? The time she was "missing" was about the five seconds that i turned my head away. I wasn't responsible for leading her, i was trying my best to keep my eye on her too but ultimately i was at a similar experience level as her and mainly had to worry about myself. Just the same... whe wasn't actually missing so once again, stop being so melodramatic.

I agree that the lower yough at high water has mile wide lines, but it also has killer features requiring class IV skills to avoid and an intimate knowledge of where there at.

Unfortunately i haven't had a chance to run the LY at high levels more than this one time (would like to sometime though). At this point i don't really remember too much of it. However, i don't remember anything that required class IV skill to avoid. Sure if you ran the whole thing blind, with no guide and without scouting then yes i'm sure there would be some serious moves to make if you weren't careful. However three people in our group had run the river at high water (two of them the day before, granted a somewhat lower level) and were well aware of the potential danger spots. The fourth (Josh) was a experienced class V boater capable of boat scouting a class III/IV river easily. We also got out and scouted a few of the bigger rapids. With competent guides and getting to take a look at the big ones the moves were all quite straight forward. There are plenty of rivers on which you have to have a good guide to take you down and warn you of danger spots, we were aware that this was one of them and had it covered.

If I was a "newbie" reading this post for the first time, I would think that the lower yough at 9 feet is no big deal, after all this person did it her third time down and she was fine. Not the kind of message you should be projecting.

Well i hate to break it to you but the Lower Yough at 9 feet ISN'T a big deal! To people capable of handling it that is. It's not a good first time run for sure, but overall it isn't super difficult. This blog isn't meant as a newbie primer. I'm making no recommendations for anyone. This is just documentation of my experiences. People need to have the sense to make their own choices. I'm not telling anyone to go out and run anything. I'm not trying to project any message other than "here's what i did and how it felt". And yes i did it on my third time down and I DID JUST FINE! In fact i think i did GREAT. I felt confident and in control the whole way and had absolutely no problems. I even lead one of the major rapids (Railroad) after scouting it. After the first few rapids i wasn't even nervous. But just because that was true for me certainly doesn't mean it will be for everyone. So if anyone reads this and goes and gets themselves in over their head then that is their own choice.

So if you were a newbie reading this and thinking that you should go run it at 9 feet, well they you'd be pretty dang dumb. I don't know a single person who would jump to that conclusion without first doing some serious research.

Oh and additionally, believe it or not, people progress at different rates. Just because some people spend months or years on runs like the Lower Yough doesn't mean everyone does. I was 100% ready to step up and really could have done it earlier. My initial progression was pretty quick compared to many. I ran lots of rivers, each being a slight step up from the previous for my first 6 months with no swims and no serious problems. Can't say that about too many newbies can you? I know many people have this predefined schedule they expect you to be on. First you spend a dozen trips on the LY, then you run the next class III river on your list. Ummm no, sorry that's no fun. I ran the LY as preparation for better things, and it simply did not take me that long. There's nothing wrong with taking your time for sure, but if you don't need to and don't want to that is just fine too! Time in a boat doesn't necessarily equate directly to skill. Some people have hundreds of hours logged paddling and can barely roll or paddle straight. Others learn more quickly and can be running class V after just a few months. It's all in how quickly you can learn. There is no predetermined time frame in which you're allowed to step up. I learned a lot in a short time and did so very safely. I wonder how much of the melodrama in the above comment stems from an unrealistic expectations. Let's not project our own limits onto others!

I do enjoy your enthusiasm for the sport and the river in general and appreciate your creative writing style and your willingness to share your stories. Take it easy , be safe, and see you on the river.

Whitewater boating is so much about the challenge and experience. Sometimes we take big steps and high risks. It is for each of us to decide what our limits are and how much or a risk we're willing to take. You can certainly disagree with peoples choices. However judging a person or a situation you know very little about makes you look pretty ignorant.

So get out there, challenge yourself, that is what this sport is all about after all. Definitley be safe. Maybe i'll see you out there. High water Upper Gauley run? Maybe take some newbies down?..... oh come on get a sense of humor!! :)



12:54 PM  

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