Thursday, September 30, 2004

Potomac Express

Fishladder 9.5 feet

Yesterday i went out with Pete and Martha to run the Po. We set shuttle in DC and hauled ass to Great Falls park (MD side). The level as of that morning was somewhere above 9 feet and rising (I think the crest was around 9.5) You have to understand that the highest I’d ever run the gorge was somewhere between 5.5 and 6 feet. I’d been wanting to start getting out at higher levels gradually.

So here i am putting in at the Trash Compactor eddy (or so I was told it is called) below the Fishladder at 9 feet ! wow! We climbed up to the footbridge across the Fishladder to scout. The MD side overlook is closed to visitors when the water is that high, and for good reason. The water is so high that little bit comes over the ends of the bridge! The dry fork of the Fishladder is no more, at this level water is pouring over the log jam (which doesn’t seem to have budged incidentally). It looked like there was only about 3 feet of space between the bridge and the water. Looking down the Fishladder you can see the main flow of the river. It basically looks like a giant monster slug coming down. Quite impressive.

The put-in initially appeared somewhat sketchy (ferry across part of the Fishladder and don’t’ get slammed into the rocks below). But it ended up being a pretty easy move in some very squirrelly water. We ran the middle channel at Rocky. S-Turn was unattainable (at least for me) and also apparently has a monster pour-over at this level that you really don’t want to mess with. I’d like to see it sometime though from the shore. This section was just basically a long fast moving class III wave train. The straight section of the gorge is just fast moving water with big boils and whirlpools that pop up once in a while. Those things scare me the most because they are so unpredictable. You can be sitting in what appears to be flat water and suddenly it turns into a 20 foot wide boil. Crazy.

Once you hit the bend at the bottom of the gorge things change some. At high flow the gradient shifts downstream as features around great falls start to wash out. Near the bottom of the gorge you hit the area known as the Jumps (though I think this really starts to come in more at higher levels). Instead of the flatwater you are used to seeing above the Chutes there are now distinct sloping waves and a slight drop. The water starts to pinball of the walls forming big laterals on both sides. Not really a big deal you just kinda bounce off from one side to the other. The chutes are not a problem as long as you aim right once you get to the bottom of the gorge. . At that level the big island between MD and Center is a pourover to wave and there were some people surfing there. it was getting late so we blew down to Little Falls.

Between the Chutes and Angler’s you just ride the wave train down careful not to slam into the big pillow that is now forming on Skull Island. Between Angler’s and the Beltway everything pretty much looks the same as usual just a lot wider.

By the time we go to the Brookmont Dam it was dark. I’m pretty sure Pete stalled us at the chutes for this very reason. We had just paddled the long stretch of flatwater from the Beltway. So now we’re paddling past the big sign that says something along the lines of “Stop, Dam Ahead, Dangerous Undertow, Get to Shore”. So Pete says we are going to eddy out behind a tree that is sticking out of the water right by the RR bank just about 30 feet or so above the dam. WTF? That freaked me out! So the eddy was easy to get to but there wasn’t much room in it so we had to grab on to some shrubbery to keep ourselves in there. Pete starts explaining the line (Stay just about 2 feet of the concrete embankment and punch the big wave at the bottom then once you get past the dam head left away from shore a bit, to stay out of the trees). Well at this point it is fairly dark with only the distant city glow illuminating the river. It was all making me nervous so I decided that I would portage it. But Pete tells me that portaging would require walking through a lot of brambles and POISON IVY. For those of you who heard about or saw my poison ivy experience earlier this summer will understand. I am apparently severely allergic to it (read about it here)

So that made the choice clear! ha ha! what is wrong with me? i'm more afraid of poison ivy than a low head dam!! Plus we would have gotten separated and with fast moving water in the dark that is not a good idea. Actually it really was no big deal, the far right side (and at that level about the 70 feet from the RR bank, according to Pete) is runable. From what I could see of it in the dark it was a big wave followed by a lot of foaming/boily water but not retentive enough to hold you if you’re coming through (Pete had actually gone there to surf before meeting us)
DISCLAIMER: I put this part in to share. I DO NOT recommend doing this though. A low head dam is no joke! If you don’t know the line and fuck it up the consequences are catastrophic. At lower levels the margin of error is much smaller. DO NOT mess with the dam it will KILL you!!

After that is Little Falls. Basically it is just a big wave train that you can follow down. It is deceptive though. The bulk of the main flow slams into the bridge abutment creating huge pillow on the upstream side and a giant wave/hole with a long boil line on the downstream side. It is easily avoidable if you start heading right about 200 yds from the bridge. The top of LF was really dark but as we got closer to the Chain Bridge the lights from it illuminate everything so it was actually really bright and beautiful. The waves were huge! Coming down the face of one wave i actually got that feeling in my stomach like when you drive down a steep hill! crazy! Like paddling in the ocean after a hurricane. It was mesmerizing. So much that it took Pete yelling to paddle right for me to snap out of it. After that it was just mostly fast moving flat water all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. It was awesome paddling past the Watergate and the Kennedy Center in the dark with all the city lights and a near full moon illuminating the river. We stopped at one of the boat house docks to stretch our legs and chatted with some drunk yuppies. We took out right by the Lincoln Memorial. The tide was coming in as well so the level was high enough to paddle right onto the grass about 15 feet from where our cars were parked. Potomac Express: 16 miles in a little over 2 hours. Not bad for an after work trip!!

Maggie, Martha, Pete: Kennedy Center

Martha and Maggie: Kennedy Center

Although nothing about this trip was particularly difficult remember that near flood stage the river is very wild and unpredictable. There is a lot of large wood coming down. If you are not comfortable with big water it can be pretty intimidating. A swim would be very long most certainly result in a lost boat.

All in all it was an awesome trip, i can' t wait to get to do it again.

Martha and Maggie: Lincoln Memorial

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Gauley Dream

After a great high water run on the New the day before we were ready to finally hit the Gauley. I had rafted it the previous two seasons and had dreamed about finally getting to run it in my own boat. My plan/hope was to run the Lower the first day, see how it went, and run the Upper the second if things looked good…. Josh of course had other plans… “We’re running the Upper!” he insisted. It took some convincing but I finally gave in. I had heard so much hype about the Upper G, it scarred me. I had printed out the descriptions of the major rapids and studied them carefully. It was a waste of time as there was no way I’d remember a word of it while on the river.

To add to my nervousness none of us knew the lines. Josh had been a raft guide there one summer but only vaguely remembered the raft lines. But it was Gauley Fest weekend and there were boaters everywhere. It wouldn’t be hard to find out the lines. At the put in we met up with a group of very good Potomac boaters and hung out with them for the beginning of the run.

Puttin on at Summersville Dam

We got through the first few rapids with no problems. We stopped at the top of what looked like to be a fairly large rapid with a large slopping rock at the bottom right. We each chose a different route. Mark headed down center left while I followed someone else. He caught an eddy I couldn’t fit into so I continued on down. Suddenly a Shredder got right in front of me and ran the rest of the rapid nipping at its heals so too speak.

We got to the bottom and asked what rapid that had been. We were told it was Insignificant. We had just boat scouted our way down one of the class V rapids on the run! Pretty cool. At Pillow Rock I ran the conservative line, heading right before reaching the pillow. The rest of the run went well with no real problems to report. We had a great time hanging out and also caught up with Martha, Sam and Scott M. It was a great group.

Me and the boys at Pillow Rock

Me at Iron Ring

Josh running Iron Ring

Me at Sweets

Josh, Ian, Marth, Mark

Hanging out

Mark about to run Pillow

That night we all hung out at Gauley Fest, shopping, eating funnel cake, watching videos.

Sunday we put on again ready for another great day. This time there was a little carnage, provided by Mark. Here is his account:

Sunday had a little carnage......provided by me! First carnage I've provided in a while really but oh well gotta confess! We were working our way down the boogie water at the top when I saw a pillow/wave thing that I recognized. Reading it from the top said bad pour over stay away but I remembered seeing it yesterday from the bottom and thinking it looked like a good boof. so I drove right at it, just as I hit the top I realized this was no boof...just a very ugly pour over with no kick to push you out. So I went in and flipped, tried rolling and just couldn't get anything to happen, the water was so aerated that it feel like I was just swinging my paddle around in the air. I tried sticking my paddle as far out as I could to see if I could find some green water and I couldn't feel any pull at all on the paddle. I could tell I wasn't being kicked any where (people up top said I was just sitting in the middle of the fold). So I quickly started to feel pretty helpless and made the decision....I swam. I was immediately sucked down and spit out, my boat soon followed. Thankfully it was not really in much of a rapid so I was quickly on shore then back in the boat, a little embarrassed but otherwise no problems, my fist swim since February I believe. As we went down stream I saw the boof that I had been looking looked exactly like the first one from the top just no nasty pour over on the back side.


Mark was fairly annoyed for the rest of the run but I think still managed to have a good time. I on the other hand had another great run. Decided to run the splat line at Pillow and Mark got a great shot of me. I had some mild carnage at Lost Paddle though. I flipped on the second drop (bad shallow place to flip) and hit my shoulder pretty hard. Got a great bruise out of it! Overall thoug it was a wonderful trip!

Me at Pillow Rock

Gauley View

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Friday, September 24, 2004

High Water New

This would be my second trip to Gauley Fest (Suzi and I had gone the year before). But it would be the first time boating. Josh, Ian and I met very early Friday morning at Sylvia’s place in Manassas and piled into the van. Our plan was to do a high water run on the New River Gorge that day and then meet Mark for the Gauley Sat and Sunday.

We arrived in Fayetteville and headed to the put in. When we got there we were surprised to see the parking lot completely empty. Not a single person was there. We knew there wouldn’t be many people running the New that day (at the takeout we found it to be around 12 feet on the Fayette Station gauge) but this was odd. Shortly after another group pulled up and we asked if they’d be able to give us a ride back. Sure they said.

We put on to a much different river than I had seen before. I had run the New twice before, once at about 5 feet and once around zero. I was excited to get to do another high water run. Josh had been a raft guide on the New and knew the river well so I felt confident everything would be fine.

As usual with high water the rapids where much different. Mostly I was big holes and waves, great fast fun. We got to the Keeney’s and scouted. Whale Rock was now the monstrous Whale Hole. I did not get the chance to take a picture of it but here is one at a slightly higher level from AW:

Whale Hole (Different day : 14.7 feet)

Starting on river right the line was easy. The eddy fence on the side of the hole made it difficult to end up in the hole unless you were to come at it over the top. But the line did take you right next to it. It was incredible to see the monster and hear its roar as we paddled on by, through big waves and into the large eddy on the right. This eddy was completely full of an incredible amount of debris. Huge logs and trash as far as the eye could see.

The run was great fun. Fast, but not difficult. Josh knew the lines well so we didn’t have to worry about getting caught in some monster hole. After a short time we arrived at Greyhound. We could see the spray as we approached. As usual we punched the far river right side of it and stopped to look. The view was truly awe inspiring. Instead of the river wide hole that is there at normal levels we saw a huge pulsing wave. The roar was incredible as it crashed down. There where moments where the foam pile would completely disappear and it would green out into a huge fan. It was amazing to watch.


We got out and took a break. The people we were getting a ride from where paddling Shredders and where taking their time as well. Eventually though they past us and we let them go. Josh and Ian took turns trying to surf the Greyhound while I took pictures and video. It was difficult to get on but Ian managed one ride. He rode the surfers left shoulder into the meat and began a very bouncy front surf. A moment later the wave crashed on top of him and he disappeared. “It ate Ian!”. Quite impressive. He emerged a bit downstream and paddled back up.

Ian surfing at Greyhound

The rest of the run went quickly and we headed to the takeout. Ian and I hung out at Fayette Station while Josh managed to hitch a ride back to the put in. Next we decided to check out the New River Dries. When we arrived we found that the level was really too low for the epic waves that the Dries is famous for. Nonetheless the boys took some time to play a bit. I decided it wasn't worth getting wet again so I just watched. Once they'd had enough we packed up and headed to town for some well earned BBQ and to wait for Mark who was meeting us for the Gauley portion of the trip.

New River Dries - low water

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Ian trying to surf Greyhound. He did end up getting on at one point.

On this day the NRG was running at around 12 feet on the Fayette Station gauge. We stopped at Greyhound. It was a huge crashing wave. The second video provides some perspective.

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

Journey on the River Styx...

... or "Sticks" in this case.

After a great weekend on the Sandy and Cheat I decided to visit Mark at his place in VA. It poured rain as I drove down and we had a few options. The first day we ran the Maury. The second day Mark wanted to check out a river he had heard about that was not far from where he lived: The North River Gorge. It is rated class II-IV on AW and he had heared good things about it. We ran the whitewater section of the run described on AW. Mark decided to hand paddle once again.

The run started off as eeasy class I-II. It was pretty but not at all exciting. The river is narrow with dense forest on either side. After a few leasurely miles we were begining to doubt the class II-IV rating. We hadn't see a thing above class II yet...

But there it was, as we came around a dark bend we saw it. A river wide strainer. Mark was ahead and signaled that there was a way through. He continued on and I followed. But the poor lighting confused me and I saw a gap where there was none. Someone had indeed cut out a section of the log, just not where I was headed.

As I got close I realized the huge mistake I had made. It was too late, there was no time to react: I was going straight for the log. My boat hit the log and I grabbed onto it. I heard Mark yelling something but it was useles at this point. I couldn't hold on for long as the boat was quickly sliding underneath the log which had many vertical branches hanging down into the water. Since it was taking both hands to hold on to the log there was no way for me to pull my skirt.

So there I was thinking "god damn it I am going to die on this crappy class II river!!". I had somehow managed to keep my paddle grasped under my arm. I took a deep breath, let go of the log and maneuvered my paddle parrallel to my boat so as not to get it snagged if possible. I'm not sure what I was thinking it seemed logical at the time. The boat slid under the log and I was certain it would stop (According to Mark's description later it did jam briefly). But miraculously it did slide out: me, boat, paddle and all came out on the other side. The branches where just far enough apart to squeeze by. I rolled up quickly and floated down to an eddy below while trying to get my wits together.

Mark rejoined me a moment later quite relieved. He had taken off his hand paddles and pulled his skirt and was about to jump out and run up river to me. I had no idea how he had time to do all this as the whole thing seemed to take mere seconds. After that we continued on to find more of the same: tons of river wide strainers. We portaged no less than half a dozen more trees.

When we arrived at the "rapid" we finally had a good laugh. What was supposed to be class IV was no more than a short class III- ledge. It was quite pathetic and dissapointing.

The "Rapid"

I was glad to be done with this run and glad to have come out safely. We will most certainly NOT be returning to this one. The rating must have taken into consideration the wood. The strainers certainly made it class IV+!!!

I-81 crosses the North near Harrisonburg. Each trip down to Mark's after this was an unwelcome reminder.

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Saturday, September 18, 2004



Devil's Kitchen Wall Rapid

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Sunday, September 12, 2004


It was the final day of our weekend and my paddling vacation. We got up early that morning so that Mark could go to Arden where he was supposed to get his truck measured for a new set of Tygart Metalworks racks. I went along with him for company while Josh and Ian stayed at Teeters where we had been camping. The trip there and back took almost 3 hours, much longer than we had anticipated (and the guy wasn't even there when we showed up). The Tygart wasn't running but we decided to at least take a look at it so the trip wouldn't be a total waste. It looked like it would be fun with some water on it. While we were gone the boys filmed their own movie it was interesting to say the least....
Low water Tygart

Natural bridge

When we finally got back it was after noon. The guys had gotten pretty annoyed waiting for us but were glad to finally be able to paddle. So we debated what to do. Our options where slim as levels had dropped quickly. The Sandy was no longer running and we didn't want to have to drive too far. The Upper Yough was up. Afer my near disasterous run on Swallow the day before I really wasn't up for doing the UY. I was pretty tired from a long week of paddling and sight seeing so I really just wanted something easy and relaxing.

We were already at the Cheat so it seemed like the most viable option. Mark continued to push for the UY as he had optimistically only brought his creek boat and wasn't to keen on doing a play run like the Cheat in it. Josh too wasn't thrilled with the idea, the Cheat at low water wasn't his favorite run. Ian however was excited to get some play in so between that and my discomfort with the idea of an UY trip, the Cheat it was. After some grumbling Mark accepted the idea. He decided that to make the trip at least somewhat interesting he would borrow Josh's hand paddles. This proved to save the day for him.

Mark hand paddling

Mark had a great time learning to hand paddle (though the flat water did tire him out a good bit). After a while even this didn't present much of a challenge for him so he began bare handing his way down. He was able to execute small boofs and ran the run with no problems. We stopped at Cueball for a while for some play. Mark even managed to surf his creeker and even do some spins with the hand paddles. It was indeed a great end to a fun weekend /week. Mark liked the hand paddles so much he went home and ordered a pair the next day. He did a few more runs, including the Upper Yough, that fall with them.

Play at Cueball
Mark at High Falls

The takeout was interesting. Mark had recently gotten a topper for his truck but had not had a chance to get racks installed yet (hence the trip to Arden). We had left his truck at the takeout. There where four of us, three playboats, a creeker, and a cooler. The truck was only a two seater with a stick shift. But of course we had to get everything in it, the shuttle was way too long to drive back for the other vehicle. We were able to cram all the boats in the back but there was barely enough room for gear around them. So there was nothing to do but cram further. Mark drove, Ian sat in the passenger seat with the cooler in his lap, and i sat in between the strattling the stick shift. That left Josh to hang on to the back of the tailgate (with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other). It was all quite amusing!

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