Monday, May 31, 2004


After the excitement of our high water Lower Yough run, I couldn’t wait to get out boating again. That week I paddled with Josh and Suzi more on the Potomac. It wasn’t even summer officially yet but it was Memorial Day weekend, which meant of course more time to go boating. I asked Josh to plan something fun for us to do and he followed through. That Monday we met at Angler’s to go on our next adventure. His friend Ian was meeting us as well. Unfortunately Suzi couldn’t make it so it was just me and the boys (and so it would be for many weekends to come).

Ian arrived and I was finally told of the plan (Josh wanted to be secretive). We were going to the James River in Richmond. We arrived in Richmond realizing we had no idea how to get to the put in or takeout. The guide book wasn’t very clear. We called around to some local outfitters and with a little bit of searching were able to find our way.

For some reason Ian seemed rather familiar to me but i couldnt' quite place it. After a while a noticed the government parking sticker (Naval Research Lab, where i used to work as well) on his car and realized that i had met him at Angler's that winter. It also turned out that he was working on the same floor as my dad at NRL, small world. :)

At the takeout we ran into a local who was willing to show us around in exchange for a shuttle. We were all quite amused when we realized what a stoner our guide was. He asked to be dropped by his house to pick up a piece of gear on the way to the put in... we were quite sure it was something else...

We put on expecting to find fun play. But the leve wasn't perfect and most of the play spots near the top of the run weren't all that good. After some time our guide got tired of hanging out with us (which was fine) and gave us some instructions on how to make our way down and avoid all the low head dams. We continued on through Hollywood rapid and stopped at a spot we affectionately named Poop Island. I've never seen so much bird shit!! At this point we had several channels to choose from and not knowing our way we chose what looked to be the most interesting. The center channel was creeky and slightly blind but Josh lead us down just fine. It was a fun run. Unfortunately by choosing this channel we completely missed the main play spot at Z-Dam. Oh well we'd had a pretty good time anyway.

Not knowing the proper takeout spot we ended up getting out below the bridge and walking past a the shanty town under it...and so ended our first trip together. Many more were to come that summer...

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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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Saturday, May 08, 2004

Last Days of Offut

In early May Suzi finally rejoined me on the river. It was nice having her back. We spent some more time playing at Offut before the river dropped to summer levels. This was one of the last extended play sessions we spent there. I've gone back a few times here and there but haven't gone regularly since that spring.

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