Saturday, July 03, 2004

Bucket Boat

It had been a great summer so far. We’d run a good number or rivers, most of which were personal first descents for me. But it was now early July and water was running low. We were faced with limited choices. Nothing was running. By the end of the week we’d pretty much decided that we’d just stay home and paddle locally that weekend, it just wasn’t worth spending the time and gas to do another low water Cheat run. Josh and Ian were going out Friday night but I decided to just stay home and relax. I planned to join them in the morning for some park-n-play.

That evening I get a call from Josh. “We’re going afterall” he said. “Where to?”. “We’re going to raft the Upper Yough!”. Cool, we’d discussed this option before but hadn’t gotten too motivated to do it before. I told him I could only do a day trip. It was fourth of July weekend and there was no way I could disappear for the whole weekend again. To this he responded with unexpected approval: “You can go now!!” he said to someone in the background. He told me they were bringing a few friends. Sounded like it would be a good trip.

The next morning everyone arrived at my door as usual. Turns out that the person Josh had been talking to was his now fiancée, Sylvia. Ian had introduced them the night before. So this was going to be their first date. She had done a bit of rafting in the past and was in good shape. Ian also brought another friend, Jeff, who had no experience with whitewater but was eager to give it a try. It was definitely going to be an interesting trip.


Josh, Sylvia and I climbed into the van while Ian and Jeff took Ian’s old Saturn (really we could have just taken one car considering the crowds that show up for summer UY releases). On the way the three of us had a good time chatting and working on the usual crossword puzzle.

When we arrived in Friendsville we immediately saw the mass of boaters and cars parked along the road. It was awesome being there for the first time. We set shuttle and headed off to the put in. Josh outfitted Jeff and Sylvia with some spare helmets and pfds and we were off. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the flat water float down to Gap Falls. Though Josh had done plenty of rafting he’d never run the UY so he tried chatting with some of the commercial raft guides along the way. We were surprised at the cold shoulder we were given. I understand that they wouldn’t want us tagging along with their paying customers. But a little common courtesy really isn’t too much to ask for. Throughout the day we followed their lines nonetheless, trying our best to stay out of the way as much as possible.

Maggie, Jeff, Josh, Sylvia

Jeff, Josh, Sylvia, Ian

The only rafting I’d done before was on the Gauley with self-bailing rafts. We all realized how different this was getting into Josh’s bucket boat. After each rapid it would pretty much be half full of water and we’d have to bail it out. This was a slow going process as Josh only had one bailing bucket so we had to use our helmets as well. I believe that everything went pretty smoothly till the miracle mile. Here though the gradient increases, making things more interesting.

My recollection of most of the run is fairly fuzzy at this point but I’ll do my best.
Somewhere below Triple Drop (I think) Jeff was thrown from the raft. He did a decent job of self rescue and someone threw him a rope from shore. Not long after Ian fell out the other way and was able to climb up on river left. That left Josh and the girls to run National by ourselves. With everything that was going on though we weren’t exactly on line. Actually we were headed for it backwards… and so that’s how we ran it, backwards. It was quite amusing. I’m sure we looked like a bunch of fools, having already lost two of our passengers.

The three of us waited in the pool below National, (and worked on bailing the boat for the thousandth time) while Ian and Jeff made there way down. Ian had a relatively easy trip along river left, hopping along on the rocks. The river right side, where Jeff was, has much more underbrush so he had to do a little bushwhacking to make his way down. He came out with a good bit of river rash but none the worse for there wear.

Me at National Falls

Upon regrouping we took a rest, watched some more carnage and then headed on down. We managed to make it through Tommy’s Hole alright. However the raft was of course once again full of water and rather hard to maneuver. We weren’t able to keep it online and managed to get caught on a log on river left. As frustrating as it was, Josh decided it was a good time for another break. We’d proceeded all of about 200 feet. We sat, snacked and took some pictures while Josh worked on bailing and dislodging the raft.

Freeing the Raft

Lunch Stop

Finally we were ready to go again. We were now in the eddy just below the rock that Tommy’s backs up to. We needed to be able to be able to peal out hard and get into the main flow or else risk getting caught on the log again. We didn’t quite make the turn and I was dumped out of the raft this time. For a second I got pinned between the raft and a rock as it floated past (got a nice scar on my elbow for a few months after that). Someone grabbed me by the pfd and hauled me up. We managed to run the rest of the boogie water without incident.

As we got to some flat water I pulled out the camera to take a picture. It wouldn’t turn on. I realized that the battery hatch had come open while I was being pulled into the raft most likely and the camera was filled with water. I was rather upset. I had just gotten that camera a few weeks before… $400 for the camera plus another $100 for the memory, trashed. I pulled the batteries out of the camera in hopes of somehow salvaging it, shoved it back in my pocket and tried to forget about it. We still had a good bit of river to paddle.

I don’t remember much till Fuck Up Falls. We had lost the bailing bucket and were forced to just continue using our helmets whenever possible (not all that helpful as Sylvia and Jeff had vented ones). We continued to bumble our way down, blowing every line, hitting every rock, and stopping to bail frequently. It took us so long to make it down that we got behind the bubble. At F-Up we tried to run the standard raft line. I always wonder why the rafts don’t just walk that one. The just about always get pinned on something and inevitably have to bounce around to get off, holding up traffic. In our case there wasn’t any traffic to hold up. We were just about alone on the river now.
As we headed down the rapid we of course got stuck. But no amount of bouncing was going to budge the raft, there simply wasn’t enough water. Josh instructed us all to climb out onto the rock while he stayed in the raft. I so wished the camera was working, it would have been a great picture. As we sat there the raft loosened up and slid off the rock. I grabbed a handle and held it so that hopefully we could all jump back in. Josh told me to let go, he had it, or so he thought. I let go as he said and watched as he and the raft floated on down river without us. He had thought he could hold it in place but it was so full of water he couldn’t control it very well.

So there we were, sitting on a rock in the middle of the river with Josh waving goodbye. It was quite comical really. But we still had to get back to the raft and swimming down the bottom of F-Up with not much water wasn’t too appealing (I think everyone had enough river rash at this point). So we jumped in and swam hard for the eddy opposite where we were. I made it first and grabbed Sylvia so that she wouldn’t miss the eddy. We walked down a short way and rejoined Josh, who was quite apologetic. At this point we were done with the major rapids but still had a ways to go. In the confusion we had lost a paddle. We could see it floating in an eddy upstream as we passed but there just wasn’t enough time to go back for it. So we continued on.

When we got to Cheeseburger we were literally so low on water that we got stuck on the rock that forms the drop. Once again we had to climb out onto the rocks (this time on shore) while Josh got the raft free. After this was mostly flat water and we sat back, pulled out snacks and beer (well not me) and floated on down toward the takeout. We scrapped our way down the now very shallow river, snacking on pistachios and happy to finally be done, having had a pretty good time despite all the mishaps. Two last kayakers passed us as we floated into Friendsville. We were the last group off the river that day.

Afterwards Ian and discussed our impressions of the river from a kayaker's view. To me it seemed well above my head. Ian was ready to go and he and Josh returned that Monday to run it. Little did i know that i'd be right back with them the following month...

When I got home I took the camera out and pulled out the memory card. I dried it off and stuck it in the card reader. It worked! I was able to retrieve the pictures you see here. Apparently SD is waterproof, very cool. The camera I had less hope for, but I opened all the compartments and let it sit out for a while. After a day or two the viewfinder seemed to have defogged and I tired turning it on again. I didn’t think there was much hope but I had to try. It worked too! Some of the buttons were sticky for a while and the display was a little fuzzy. But it cleared up fine and after a while everything worked good as new. I was quite impressed (and very much relieved).

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