Saturday, October 02, 2004

Hand paddling the Upper Yough

The Ohiopyle Over the Falls festival had been postponed from September due to high water. Mark and I had signed up to volunteer. Unfortunately I had a wedding to go to on Saturday so I could only be there for part of he weekend. He decided to go run the Upper Yough. Bellow is his trip report from that day:

Well the weekend started with a new challenge for me. Which is exciting as I haven't had anything really challenging in a while (save for maybe that pour over on the upper Gauley hahaha). I was going to hand paddle the upper Yough! Having used my hand paddles on the Cheat Canyon, then the Maury, then North River gorge and then finally back on the Maury I felt that I.........hadn't really done anything that proved to me I could use them on the Upper Yough so it was going to be a fun day! The excitement was further compounded when NO ONE from EITHER of the two groups I was planning on paddling with showed up. One group wimped out and went to the Lower Yough (some excuse about bringing a newbie) and the other one (Bobby Miller aka Zone Dogg) was sick and the other was MIA (still don't know what happened to him). Luckily I know about half of the boaters in the east (or at least it seems like it sometimes when everyone says hi to me and I have no idea who some of them are!) so I just found someone else I knew and went with them.....trying to decide if it was an omen for what was about to happen.

Putting on I quickly figured out I was the only hand paddler on the river that did I find out? Everyone, and I mean just about everyone, made a comment! It was actually funny as person after person walked/paddled past me and asked if I had forgotten my paddle. The best part of that was I actually had my breakdown packed away in the back of my boat, so if I lost the hand paddles I would just have to break out the paddle (which for some reason still feels backwards but funny). After the grueling flatwater (not too bad with a paddle with hand paddles it's kinda like scooting up hill on your butt just using your hands!) we finally arrived at Gap Falls. Being pretty much continuous except for three or so pools until the flat water starts back up again I knew I was going to find out quickly how the trip was going to go.

I opted away from some of the fun lines that I would normally run while getting used to the rather dramatic loss of power. After a little while I found myself back to my normal self trying anything stupid I could find that I hadn't already done. Before I knew it we were at Charlie's and the site of my first problem of the day. I ran the first two parts of the rapid as I always do and then arrived at the slot line on the right of the bottom drop. I had decided that I could still do the pillow bouncing line here even without being able to muscle the line like I normally do. Just as I dropped into the slot I decided to pad the line a little and catch the micro eddy that's halfway down the slot to move myself a little higher so I could catch the eddy at the bottom more easily, as I hit the eddy someone dropped down right into were I was planning to go next so I had to start back paddling to keep from having a collision in the middle of the convergence of the two tight slots. I quickly realized this was not that kind of eddy, I hadn’t intended to stay in and didn’t even really think you could….and I couldn’t. I immediately began sliding out of the little 3x2 foot eddy…not that there was much to slide out of so I was face with a choice, run a line that I had never run before and didn’t know was safe or run my normal line backwards and MAYBE avoid that rock that looks like it could pin you. I picked the new route because it sounded like more fun in my head. So I slide out pointing to river right and powered as hard as I could toward the drop that I hadn’t even noticed being there before that day. As I hit the horizon I realized the drop went into a small slot that angled to the left so I had to quickly redirect my boat to the left to avoid slamming into the rock wall that made up the side of the slot. The problem is I was already going slow and taking a left boof meant I didn’t get out beyond the edge of the hole that the 5 foot vertical drop created…so in I went. During my short flight I had seen that I was pretty much in the clear as soon as I was clear of the slot I was in. So I just laughed as being stuck in another pour over and practiced something I had thought about a the last time I used hand paddles….I paddled the boat upside down. Which you can kinda do with hand paddles. I moved myself to the edge of the hole, rolled up and paddled hard to move myself the rest of the way out. I got some cheers by two guys sitting at the bottom of the slot, one saying he had swam out of the same hole I was just in. Overall a very fun new line to take the next time I’m there!

After that it was just more of the usual until we got to National Falls. I got ahead of my group so I waited in the river left eddy as they all went by running the left side. I haven’t run the left side since my first trip down the UY and I wasn’t about to let hand paddles scare me into it! So I peeled out and began working….against the odds. Hand paddles are remarkably slow…at least compared to my paddle. I quickly found that there was much more push in the water than I remember there being and I wasn’t able to move to the right side of the river nearly as quickly as I normal would have. I had to make something up fast! I saw that I could either turn left and make for the sneak or…..catch the back wash of the hole above the drop and ride it to the right then peel off and make for the boof. So that’s where I went, I was driving as hard as I could straight down the center looking like I was going to try and punch the hole (good luck) and I think that’s what the people on shore thought I was going for because I heard some cheers already! Unfortunately I disappointed them and managed to hit a very hard right thanks to the help from the hole above the drop, maintain my momentum heading toward the boof rock and then slammed into the eddy. The guide in a raft sitting below looked at me, laughed and said “that was a hairy line man”, all I could do is laugh back and think WHEW made it! After that not too much excitement, had my best line a Lost and Found (or F-Up Falls) ever, catching the little micro eddy on the right side of the drop but otherwise just a fun day. The paddle out (flat water again) was hell…after completely losing everyone else in group I decided to simply float my way down river and not take another unnecessary stroke.


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