Sunday, August 01, 2004


After a summer of waiting in line for play at MD chute, a welcome treat presented itself one weekend in late July. Holtwood on the Susquehanna was in. Holtwood is a high water play area with many good playspots that come in at a range of levels. It is rare for the Susquehanna to be running high enough mid summer. Since Josh had non-boating plans on Saturday Ian and I decided to head there ourselves. My only previous experience with high water had been the Lower Yough back in May and I was excited to see more. I was slightly nervous but Ian was confident that we would have no problems. He did caution that a swim would most certainly be long and result in a lost boat. I wasn’t worried.

We arrived at the put in and inspected the warning sign:

We locked up the car as securely as we could and took put our wallets in a drybag and took them with us (the Holtwood put in is notorious for break ins). The put in was just below the base of the monstrous low head dam. The boil line was a good 50 feet from its base. Where we put in the water was high into the trees. The level was about 8.5 feet, just over 100,000 cfs. We paddled up as close as we could to the dam to take a look at its awesome power. We had printed out the Holtwood Surf Guide so we knew approximately where to find the playspots. Powerline and Playspot II seemed to be the best choices as we wanted something relatively tame and didn’t want to go too far downriver since we would have to walk the shuttle.

High Water

First we hit Powerline, a fast bouncy wave with a big eddy beside it. Playspot II came next and we spent a good bit of time there. We had a great time surfing and taking pictures, carefully looking out for each other. The access eddies were big but missing one would surely have required a hike back up. We’d had a great time and had barely seen one or two other people all day. Quite the contrast to the 20 or 30 people waiting around for rides at MD chute.

Ian at Powerline
Maggie at Playspott II

Ian at Playspott II

We took out not too far from the put in and Ian ran back up to get the car. While there he ran into Pete who had arrived after us. Pete urged that we come back the next day. We had made plans with Josh to run the Tygart the next day but he insisted that the Tygart would always be there but a warm weather day at Holtwood was not likely to happen again soon.

So we called Josh and told him of the new plan. He wasn’t too thrilled about giving up a day or river running for more play boating but at least Holtwood was only a 2 hour drive instead of four. Ian had planned for us to meet Pete at the put in the morning. The three of us met at Angler’s Sunday. That night Ian had gotten a message from Pete. Apparently he had lost his car key on the river and wanted us to go to his apartment in Alexandria and get the spare. We had gotten up early and were rather cranky. Pete had left his address in the message but no instruction as to where to find it or if there was going to be anyone there to let us in. We tried calling him but he wasn’t picking up (apparently he had to walk way out to the bridge in order to get cell signal).

We wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. So after some debate we decided that driving out of our way to Alexandria without actually knowing if we could get the key wasn’t a great idea. So we headed north instead. We hoped that we’d be able to help when we got there, call AAA or something. As we drove past Columbia we finally got a call from Pete. He explained that his roommate was home and that we could get the key from him. We weren’t thrilled. But Ian wanted to help his friend and as he was driving it was his choice. So on we went to Virginia. After some searching for Pete’s apartment we were able to get the key and were now finally back on our way to PA, 2 hours after we’d started.

When we arrived at the put in we found a very grateful Pete sitting by his car (with a smashed window, ironically he had had to break into his own car). We set shuttle and finally were ready to put paddle. The level had dropped some and Powerline wasn’t as good anymore so we spent most of the day at Playspot II again. As the level slowly dropped throughout the day different features began go form, giving us plenty of play options. At the end we paddled down to Rock-n-Roll hole. We were all pretty tired at this point and didn’t stay long. Overall it had been a great day despite the extensive detour that morning.
Put In
Natural Beauty at Holtwood Fishladder
Holtwood Dam
Pete at Holtwood Dam
View down river, Playspot II on left
Horizon Line
Holtwood Fishladder
Ian having fun

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