Saturday, November 13, 2004

Upper Meadow Epic

This is a trip report that Mark wrote up after our Upper Meadow trip in 2004. Mark was still living in VA and we were at this place deciding what to run. I’ve edited a little bit:

Why is it I always end up with these epic tales of tragedy and woe? I guess I'm adding to my infamy yet again, anyway on to the fun!

So we wake up Saturday morning (11/13/04) excited to see the rain gauges peaking around 2 inches in most of the area and quickly checking the river gauges to find which of what must be the one of 100's of options we'll be running....unfortunately somehow 2 inches of rain doesn't seem to go that far. The Maury had peaked at 800 cfs and was already headed back down and the Bullpasture was already back to minimum! I love the Maury, but generally less than 1200 cfs just isn't that much fun when there are other options...and the Cranberry was our primary target if the local runs didn't look good.....the Cranberry had started before the rain had even fell at just a half foot under minimum so it HAD to be doing something good......or not… it had in fact peaked at just over 3.8 and was already heading back down (3.5 being the minimum). It was time to start searching, I began looking around and also trying to find someone else to boat with. After an extensive search I found that the Upper Meadow was running well and still heading up and I found an old boating buddy of mine that was interested. So we finally had some idea of where to go and we had a group….well the three of us.

We met at my place around 9:30 and then headed out for what is about a 2 and a half hour drive. I had only run the upper Meadow once before (and neither of the other two had ever run it) but with the trusty gazetteer we found our way to the take-out without any problems. I knew basically how to get to the putin (I know the take three right turns method and had actually driven up there twice even though I’ve only run it once) but we decided to try and find an easier method of getting to the river without having to worry about locked logging gates.

After 30-45 minutes of fruitless searching we decided to go the way I had gone before. Driving through the mountains toward the putin we passed what looked like a small driveway. I thought maybe that could have been one of the “3 rights” but I knew that wasn’t the way I had gone before so we continued. We soon reached the road I knew as the road going down to the putin and saw that it was gated. I knew of no other ways down, and it was already sometime after 2:00pm. We stood around a while trying to decide what to do, looking at the map it appeared that we had what looked like a 2 maybe 3 mile hike down to the river.

The hike seemed like the only option so we picked up out boats and started walking. We quickly realized that none of us had very much water at all with us, so we had to hike hoping that we wouldn’t dehydrate on the way. As a side note to those thinking of such boat hiking trips I might suggest that you NOT wear rodeo socks for these things….my feet are very much bruised even as I write this. After what felt like close to 4 miles of hiking we still saw no signs of the river and I was starting to doubt that I remembered the directions incorrectly (I have an excellent memory for roads and everything had looked about right on the way but it was starting to feel wrong). I felt like the trip leader here and was feeling rather guilty as well so I dropped my boat told the others to stay put and took off running. I ran about a mile up and down mountainous hills before I finally saw the river; I turned around and ran back to my companions to tell them the good news….the bad news: Another 20 minutes wasted.

When we arrived at the river we found that someone had somehow driven down and somehow parked there...and it had appeared in the time since I had run there and back. This was troubling since it meant there was some other way to get down to the river and we had foolishly assumed there wasn’t. There were even kayaks on the car and one of the kayaks had a full water bottle in it….ignoring the icky factor we took some grateful gulps of water emptying the poor water bottle. Since the car had appeared since I had run down we decided to try and gather the attention of the owners in case they were around…perhaps to be driven back to safety, but no answer was returned to our calls.

A quick vote determined that we didn’t want to have hiked all that way just to ride back to the take out, so despite being 3:30 we decided to trudge on. I knew that at the very least a railroad track followed the entire length of the river so if need be we could walk out on that. Clambering the last ¼ mile or so down to the river we started putting on our gear and readying ourselves for the watery portion of our adventure.

By the time we finally shoved off it was after 4:00… this being mid November it left us with about an hour and a half to run 4 miles of “The Rapid” and 3 more miles of nearly flat-water….on a river that none of us knew the lines to (I had run it one time almost a year ago so I knew next to nothing about the lines), a river known for having continuous rapids, with two of us (Mark and Maggie) in playboats. Certainly this had to be one of the worst judgment calls any of us had ever made.

I took lead and started boat scouting down the river with the others following my lines. Through one of the first harder drops I turned around to see not one but both of my companions flip and roll….I was glad they rolled well but I was a little worried. We continued speeding our way down, I remembered that the first time I had run this river we had gotten out three times to scout but wasn’t sure how to handle it all now. As we approached the blind drops I would ask the others to wait in an eddy while I would ferry back and forth on the brink of the drop looking for a good line, when I saw one I’d yell back that I was taking the drop and then run it letting them watch to see if a trashing ensued. All my lines turned out to be good lines and everyone followed through with ever growing confidence.

We had a flip or two by my companions but I’m proud to say we got down to “The Ledge” without any swims and without any incidents all of us running the river very skillfully considering the speed with which we were moving. I somehow recognized “The Ledge”, I remembered that it was on a sharp right hand turn and there was a big boulder on the right side…when I saw it I beckoned my two companions into a good eddy and told them this was the rapid that is called a class V by the AW page (by no stretch of the imagination is it class V!!!!) We decided to take the time to scout this one from shore. The purported class was enough to scare our companion. Maggie and I elected to run the rapid. A few quick moves and we were through, the run was beautiful and no issues were had. We regrouped and continued on our rapid pace knowing we were now past all the bigger rapids (based on my memory).

As the rapids slowly subsided, so did the sunlight. By our guess we had taken about 45 minutes to run the rapids and in the gorge the sun was already long since out of sight even at what was probably almost 5. The flat water was much slower going with the water moving much more slowly. The 4 miles of rapid had flown by but now we were trudging along again. We continued paddling but it was getting darker and darker. After about two miles into the three miles of flat-water I was starting to confuse waves and rocks and running some of the lesser rapids that were present was becoming very unwise even though they were minor.

We finally decided that we had to take off the river entirely. Luckily I knew that the entire right side of the river had an old abandoned railroad track. So we took out and began fighting our way blindly through under brush until we found ourselves on the railroad tracks, and slightly more cut up. There was no moon that night but the stars and remaining glow on the horizon provided just enough light for us to see the tracks….I just tonight bought a new head lamp to add to my kit in my dry bag that I always carry….too bad I hadn’t thought of that before this weekend. We made our way down the last mile of tracks to the take out not too much worse for the wear.

Overall this is one of those trips filled with bad calls and bad luck but at least I can say it’s one I don’t think any of us are likely to ever forget. I’m very proud of my companions for their tenacity, skill and for not deciding to burn me for warmth and revenge. For me at least this one was an epic and it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much excitement and stress on the river.

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