Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sun, Wood, and Chasing Rain

Prologue

Well it’s that time of year. It’s been good and cold for a few months and many of us haven’t paddled much since October. You start to get pretty darn antsy after a while. A few pool sessions and the occasional trip to Dickerson have helped, but still nothing to compare to actually being out on the river.

Two weekends ago we got an unexpected warm spell that got us thinking. Mark had been itching to hit the Lower Big Sandy again for some time and I had to admit that I missed being in my boat. We contacted everyone we could think of but ultimately couldn’t get a trip together on short notice. We were pretty bummed as the Sandy was at a perfect level of 6.1 and the temps where high with sunny skies. An additional jab came when I checked the message board that Sunday and found that someone had posted their LBS trip report from the previous day. Nonetheless we did luck out some. The air temps in DC peaked at 64 degrees Saturday and the Potomac was at 5.7. Center Chute was great. It felt great being back in my boat and I got to try out my new drysuit for the first time.

After that I was definitely pumped to get out again. The forecast for the following weekend also looked good. I decided it was time to start looking for new people to paddle with. I posted on MCC, Boatertalk, MDCC and GBCC looking for boating partners. I was impressed with the number of responses I got. Lots of people offered to include me in future trips.

Chapter 1: Invitations

One group was headed to the Stoneycreek River in PA and another was going to do a low water run on the Savage. We’d wanted to check these out at some point. Stoneycreek is a pretty long drive though and quite honestly if we were going to spend that much time and gas I wanted it to be a little more challenging. The Savage was barely above minimum which wasn’t too appealing either. We were hoping for the LBS or maybe the Top Yough. With the exception of one trip to Dickerson I hadn’t paddled my creek boat since the Upper Yough in September. I’ve never been all that comfortable in that thing so getting back in now was going to be a challenge in itself. So I was really hoping to run something I was at least familiar with. Additionally I’d really done no winter river running so I didn’t know how well I’d handle cold water.

The week before we had tried to do a trip with Joe but it hadn’t worked out so we talked throughout the week about options. He had mentioned that he was thinking about doing the Upper Blackwater Sunday but that if it wasn’t high enough that he’d run something like the Sandy with us. So we declined the Savage and Stoneycreek invitations and decided that we’d wait and see if Joe would be available for Sunday and worst case we planned to drive out to the Arden section of the Tygart and just run the roadside part. The forecast for Sunday called for rain but at least the temps were still in the 50’s.

Chapter 2: More New Gear

Mark had broken the backband on his Skip a few weeks before so we went down to SpringRiver Saturday to pick up some parts. While there we chatted with Joe more about options for the next day. The Sandy and Yough were heading down but looked like they would still be runable. He was still considering the Upper B but it was fairly low. He did ask though if we would be up for running the Lower Blackwater.

The Lower Blackwater had certainly been on our list for some time. But from descriptions we’d gotten from various people it definitely sounded like it would be a step up from the Upper Yough. I definitely wanted to do it at some point, but I wanted to have some time to warm up this spring first. I knew that Mark was ready for it though and I said I was willing to walk the big stuff if necessary. Driving all the way to the Tygart and having to hike the shuttle wasn’t all that appealing. We agreed that we’d talk that night and decide what to do.

While at SpringRiver we started looking around at gear and boats. Mark decided I should try out the Fluid Solo. Joe suggested I take the demo out the next day. I was a bit weary of this, remembering the miserable time I had on the Cheat last spring when I demoed that EZG. But then again I hadn’t gotten a chance to demo any creek boats and it had been so long since I’d paddled my own that I figured it wouldn’t make much of a difference. So we strapped the Solo to the roof and headed home.

Chapter 3: Options

The plan was to meet some people at Myersville at 9 the next morning. We arrived slightly early and asked what they’d decided to run. The Upper Blackwater.. They asked us about our plans. “TY or Sandy, we’re going with Joe”. “Ummmm, no you’re not.”. “Why not?”…. “WE’RE going with Joe!!!”. Ugh!!! I just love how boaters communicate.

Joe was running late and called to say he was a little behind but that we should get going and that he’d catch up. I told him that the other guys were there and were heading to the Upper B. “But there’s no water in it!!” he exclaimed. Oh well, too bad for them. So we started discussing what we wanted to do. He suggested we do the Top Yough into the Upper. Sounded like a very long run. Plus the Upper was rather high at 2.6 feet. Too much for me. He said we could do the Sandy or laps on the TY instead. We agreed to meet in Friendsville and decide then.

So we continued on west and it started raining. Kinda a dreary, crappy day so far but at least we were getting to go paddle. As we drove on Joe called back to ask where we were. He wanted to know if we’d passed Cumberland yet. We had not. Why? Apparently he had started calling around and it turned out that the Canaan Valley was getting some good rain and the levels were heading up some. The Blackwater had been at 217 cfs that morning (Still runable for the Upper but too low for the Lower). Apparently the rain they got down there was bumping it up some and they expected the Lower to be a bit above min, a good first time level. Did we want to do it? It didn’t even occur to me to say no. Sure, why not? So he told us where to get off in Cumberland and gave directions for a meeting place in Keyser, WV.

Chapter 4: Chasing Rain

On the way to Keyser we talked about chasing rain. That’s what creeking is all about right? Go where the water is. Neither of us were all that keen on heading to a new river after it had started going up. You never know where or when it’s going to peak. But the report was that it had gone up a little and was heading back down again. So we weren’t too worried. As we drove on the clouds started to break up and we started to see patches of blue. It was starting to look like it would clear up and actually be sunny.

The plan was for Joe to run the Upper with the other guys and then meet us for the Lower. So we headed off to set shuttle. There was some possibility that some of the other guys would join us for the Lower as well but ultimately they opted out. As we drove into Davis the temp read 52 degrees. Not bad. We headed on to the Lower B takeout and left Joe’s car there. Mark had a good time crashing through mud puddles along the way (hadn’t done much off-roading with the truck yet).

The plan was that we’d drop him off at the Upper and then do the hike down on our own. He gave us good directions to drive and then hike. It was about 1:15 by the time we dropped him off. He told us it should take them about an hour and a half to run the Upper which would give us plenty of time to drive down, change and hike to the river. So on we went. The sun was out and the day was turning out to be warm and beautiful.

Mark had a good time crashing through the huge mud puddles on the put in road too and we found our way just fine. With the exception of the 3 miles or so that we carried into the Upper Meadow last year neither of us had done any long carries. Plus that was with playboats…. But that’s another long story altogether….

Chapter 5: The Hike

Getting to the put in required walking along an old railroad grade to a trail leading down to the river. As we lifted our creek boats onto our shoulders we realized this wasn’t going to be easy. We headed on down the road towards the river. The road actually follows the North Fork of the Blackwater and we got to see some of it before the river dropped out of sight (it was running low but looked gorgeous, and very much class V+) Not exactly on my list.

Waterfall on North Fork

Along the way we had to climb over several fallen trees and trek through a good bit of mud and snow. We ran into several people who had just finished runs on the Upper and were hiking back out. After about a half hour we reached the confluence of North Fork and the Blackwater. Granted it was a few hundred feet straight down and the trail looked absolutely heinous. I remember Josh and Ian describing the hike after their run last year and they did not do it justice. At first glance the trail looked it to be about a foot wide and just about straight down. The rain and warm temps had loosened the ground so every step felt treacherous, with the distinct danger of toppling a few hundred feet with each move. After numerous switchbacks and a lot of careful footwork we made it to the bottom. I had managed to get down without sending my boat careening 200 yards down to the river (though I have to say I thought about just letting it go, surely the rhododendron would catch it before it got to the river…I thought better of it though and carried it the rest of the way). I remember standing there at the bottom of the god forsaken hill thinking I’d come a long way from that day three and a half years ago when I first carried my creek boat down to Angler’s). Back then carrying that thing from the lower parking lot to the water felt like an awesome feat

Top of trail down to river

View from part way down the trail – Blackwater in background

At this point it was about 3pm so we figured we were there just in time for the other guys and Joe go come down. I needed to adjust the outfitting on the Solo so we spent some time moving the seat forward. The thigh braces in the demo boat were rather crappy and I was slightly concerned about their usefulness but it was too late to worry about it now. The boat was definitely looser than I liked but again, not much to be done now. So, with the boat as ready as it was going to be, we started putting on the rest of our gear.

Chapter 6: Blackwater Impressions

The way to the put in takes you through a grove of rhododendron and down to the confluence of the North Fork and the Blackwater. It was beautiful putting in at the bottom of the rapid there. Of course it turned out that my skirt barely fit the boat. Doh! Probably should have checked that beforehand. Mark was able to help me put it on with a good bit of a struggle.

Put in

So there we were sitting in this little eddy at the put in waiting. We had long expected the guys to be there by then so we were starting to wonder. We knew we had to see them as they’d be taking out there but we were running short on time. It was almost 4pm at this point. After a few minutes a few of the guys came down. But no Joe. Turns out they had split up into two groups and Joe’s group had had a swimmer. They assured us that they were only a few minutes behind as they scampered up the hill.

Sure enough Joe and the others came down soon after. “Are you guys ready to go?” he asked… barely even stopping to eddy out. We were as ready as we were going to be, so with a brief description of what was coming up (“some boogie water, nothing big for a little while”) and we were off.

Okay so I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve read 4 freaking pages of this and they’re just NOW putting on the river?”. I know I know, I should have been a novelist. But really, keep reading this is where it gets good. While we were waiting for Joe we had tried to walk down a little ways to take a look at the river. Unfortunately the rhododendrons were quite thick and we didn’t get to see very much. So now heading down we finally got a taste of the character of the river. The Lower Blackwater drops 700 feet over 7 miles. The first 2 miles are the busiest with a total vertical drop of 270 feet. AW rates it as class III-V. I can’t say I would consider any of the rapids to be class V from this run but the continuity of the overall run definitely makes it solid class IV, including the boogie water. People ask for comparisons to the Upper Yough. Up till now the UY had been the most continuous run I had done. Sure the UY is pretty continuous. But it is still very much pool drop. The pools are small and far between, but they are there. The Blackwater on the other hand was vastly different. There were pretty much no pools to speak of. Occasionally a short section would flatten out a little bit but there were still plenty of stuff going on. The larger rapids tended to have decent size eddies below. But the main flow continued on to the next section of boogie water which would start almost immediately. I had expected a very technical run consisting of many boulder drops. What we saw instead was great deal of volume, huge waves and holes and not a whole lot of rocks. I guess this is what high volume creeking is like.

So there we were, not having run a river in 4 months. Never having run anything like this, me in a boat I’d never paddled that wasn’t really outfitted right for me, and both of us quite exhausted already from the hike down. With the sun getting low and water rising we paddled on. The run was gorgeous. The sun was bright, creating a glare on the water. It was hard to distinguish features and caused some disorientation but I was doing well. I was plenty warm in my drysuit and the cool water actually felt good as it splashed around me. Surprisingly I was feeling very comfortable in the Solo, never having paddled it before. I followed Joe and Mark was behind me. After what seemed like no time at all Joe signaled for us to eddy out on the left. It was time to scout.

Chapter 7: The Rapids

We had arrived at the first major rapid: Krakatoa. This is a sloping ledge into a large hole with undercuts on both sides into which the hole feeds followed by a second ledge. We got out and looked at it. Joe explained the line and we were ready to go. Line up on the left shoulder of a small hole at the top, head down the slide following a tongue just right of the large undercut boulder and then paddle on and boof of the 2nd ledge on the left. He made no mention of the right side and I didn’t ask. So on we went after he helped me put my skirt on once again (for the rest of the run one of them had to do this, I couldn’t even get it close on my own).

Krakatoa – first ledge

I watched Joe go down and lined up as he had done, came down the tongue just fine and punched the hole. Once I cleared the foam pile though I somehow go spun around and in an effort to turn back the correct way managed to get farther right than intended. The water was moving fast and I didn’t get the chance to turn back around. So I ended up running the 2nd drop on the right, and backwards of course. No boof, just a shallow slide into a fairly small hole. Not a big deal. It wasn’t the best run but I still felt good. Mark ran the rapid perfectly.

Krakatoa – first ledge

Krakatoa – 2nd ledge

Mark

Joe

So on we went to the next big drop which is visible from Krakatoa. Once again we scouted. This one is called the Ledge, aka Boof or Consequences. Joe explained the line. Paddle down left of center angling toward the right with a lot of speed and take a good boof stroke on your left. Pretty straight forward. This was one of the few rapids with something of a pool below and large eddies on either side. He warned that the hole was pretty sticky. I thought about it, the portage would have been easy, but things were going well so far so heck with it. Seemed like a straight forward enough drop. After once again watching Joe run this one I followed. Did my best to maintain speed and took a strong stroke on my left as instructed but hit the drop a little more center than I probably should have, so I didn’t quite clear the boil line as I went over. I immediately flipped and felt the force of the water. My paddle got ripped out of one hand but I managed to grab it again. I hung out and waited briefly for the violence to subside, which it did. My first roll attempt failed. The water was pretty swirly, I was damn tired, and the boat was very loose. But the 2nd try got it just fine and I was paddling over to Joe before Mark came over the drop. Joe told me I wasn’t in the meat of the hole, just in the backwash. Damn! If that’s what the backwash feels like I’d hate to be in the meat! Mark again ran the drop just fine. Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take a picture of this one. There’s a rather crappy one on the AW site .

Chapter 8: Wood

Daylight was quickly escaping so we boogied on. Not much time to rest. I was pretty tired but keeping up with Joe just fine. At some point Mark passed me and I was following both of them. We were heading down what if I recall correctly, was pretty steep section of boogie water. In the middle of the river was a huge boulder with water going to either side. As I looked down I realized in horror that the right channel was completely blocked by a large log . I started paddling to the left as hard as I could but the water was moving fast. I saw the guys skirt the left edge of the boulder as I came up on it. At this point I was pretty scared, I was paddling but at the same time focusing on that damn long. Horrible habit, I know, deer in the headlights, the whole bit. And what happens when you look at where you don’t want to go? That’s exactly where you wind up….

As I came up to the boulder, for a split second I thought I would clear it but I was a few feet off. I got pushed up against the boulder and tried to push off one of the branches of the tree to no avail. Although I had been paddling to the left I somehow (and I honestly don’t know how or when this happened) ended up facing to the right with my bow pointing towards the log. The water was mostly going to either side of the boulder and since the upstream side was fairly rounded there wasn’t too much overall pressure pushing on me. Still enough that I was pinned against the boulder and log. I grabbed onto the branch that was sticking upward with my left hand and was able to get enough leverage to hold on. I kept my knee pulled tight to keep the boat from flipping over so my head was completely out of the water. My mind was racing. I was thinking of all the pinning stories I’d read and countless safety tips I’d heard. I thought that if could hold on to the branch long enough It would give the guys enough time to maybe get in position to help. At the same time I had no idea how far away they were. I hadn’t gotten a good look of the river beyond the boulder and I didn’t know if there were any eddies to catch or if the was just continues boogie water for the next mile. For all I knew they could have been 100 yards downstream by now. I was on my own.

Holding on to the branch gave me time to examine the log. There appeared to be no more vertically hanging branches and it seemed like there was a good chance I could fit under the log, boat and all, and roll up. But I had long since let go of my paddle. I was also afraid that if went under the log with the boat that it could get jammed underwater and I figured I’d rather be working on pulling my skirt while I still had air and could see what was going on. I wanted to make myself as small as possible to increase the chance of fitting through. So I made the decision to reach for my grab loop. With my left hand still holding on firmly to the branch I reached down to grab it. Couldn’t reach. My bow was at this point sliding farther and farther under the log and I was basically laying on my back deck with my left arm fully extended. So reaching forward to the top of the cockpit was not going to be an easy task. For a second I thought maybe I could pop my knee and push it off that way. But then I remembered how incredibly tight the skirt was on there and realized it would be a futile effort. Not to mention the fact that any movement of my lower body was going to cause the boat to flip over on top of me as my knees where the only thing keeping it from doing so. So I reached down one more time and this time was able to get a hold of the loop. I took one more look around, took a deep breath, and pulled….

The boat filled with water instantaneously, sank below the surface and quickly slid under the log. The rest is kinda foggy but I might have been able to hold onto the branch long enough to give the boat a slight head start. It slid through easily and I let go (or was forced to I can’t remember). I have some recollection of ducking under the log underwater and then I was free, boat too. It’s amazing how in all of this I was able to stay calm and think fairly clearly. I had seen worse strainers than this. But that too is another story…..

I let the boat go and was floating down. I was very close to the right shore and I felt safe. Seconds later Joe appeared right next to me. His skirt was off. I grabbed onto his boat and he helped me get to where I could stand up. He checked that I was okay. I was fine. He headed off after my boat which somehow had managed to get to the opposite side of the river but luckily did not get very far before it got pinned on a rock. So he was able to get to it easily ferry over to it, got out of his boat and was working on draining it.

Chapter 9: Fear

I looked around for my paddle but it was nowhere in sight. Then it occurred to me that Mark hadn’t shown up yet. In fact he was nowhere in sight either. Soon after, he emerged from behind some rocks upstream. He paddled down to me looking terrified. I’d never seen him look so scarred. Apparently he had seen me go into the log but since the boulder was in the way couldn’t see what was happening. So me holding onto that branch for so long made him think I was trapped. He had paddled to river right and had gotten out of his boat. Mark wanted to add what things looked like from his perspective:

From the eddy I was in I could see Maggie coming down river pointing to river left (toward the safe eddy).But she looked almost frozen staring at the logs coming toward her. Immediately started ferrying across the river to get to the side downstream from the logs so I could be in a better position to help if needed. The last thing I saw of her was her heading right at the logs. As I entered the eddy on river right I caught a glimpse of (what I assumed to be) her stern sticking out from under the log right next to the rock (I later found out this was her bow). So I immediately assumed she was stuck and just jumped out of my boat right there. My only thought was "oh no there's no way we can get to her out in the middle like that....Maggie died!!". I then climbed up on to a fair sized boulder that was making the eddy I was in. By the time Ihad gotten to the top of the boulder and across it to see what was I going on she had slid through and Joe was giving chase. I had to run back to my boat (which was trying to eddy out and follow her down stream without me). So I had to almost jump on my boat and haul it back in. When I got into my boat I found that I had wedged myself onto some rocks so I have to work for bit to get back out into the river.

By the time he got to me he was in worse shape than I was. I gave him a hug and assured him I was alright and he calmed quickly. For a second though I was wondering if he was going to be okay to finish the run himself. Ultimately the log didn't have many branches and there was plenty of room to slip by. It could certainly have been a lot worse.

Joe had managed to dump my boat out, and drag both his and mine up river some ways along river left. He paddled my boat over with his in tow. I walked up part way to see if maybe my paddle had somehow gotten caught in the log but realized that if I had then there was no way we could get to it anyway. So Mark started to assemble the breakdown he kept in the back of his creek boat (thank goodness for that thing!) while Joe walked up farther to check again. No sign of my paddle anywhere. I’d gotten a good rest at this point and the swim hadn’t been long and I was still plenty warm. The sun was setting lower and lower so we had to continue on.

The next mile or so is a blur. I do recall a brush with an undercut that wasn’t pleasant. I came down a drop and straight at a rock that was of course actually a small cave from the looks of it. It didn’t seem to have any outlet. I was able to push off of it easily and up into the eddy above. It had a pretty strong eddy line that pulled me back upstream a bit an out of harms way. It wasn’t overall a big deal but nonetheless a little nerve racking at this point. We continued on through more boogie water and I think one more named rapid (Rock and Roll). We reached a slower spot and slowed down to chat (what about I don’t remember). Things were fairly calm so I figured it was safe to relax a moment. Shortly after though things started to pick up again.

Chapter 10: Surfing

Mark had once again gotten in front of me…seeing the pattern here?… hee hee…and I was thinking “Man we are all way to close together, this isn’t good”. I tried to back off some but it was hard as the water was moving fast and there were moves to make. I guess I jinxed myself but I was thinking nothing good could come of this. Suddenly I watched as first Joe and then Mark plunge into a huge pourover. Apparently Joe had been further left than either of us and just got surfed to the side and then out. Mark entered more to the right and got stopped dead in his tracks. He was in the hole surfing as I plowed in. I was directly behind him and had no way to avoid him. I tried to slow down to avoid hitting him but that just brought me into it with no speed and immediately went into a sidesurf myself. So there we are doing our little whitewater dance in this nasty looking hole. Both upright and surfing away. I was trying to avoid getting hit by his boat and at the same time stay upright. It might have looked pretty comical. I had nowhere to even attempt to go, his bow was downstream of me at times. After a while he managed to surf his way out and I stayed in alone. I tried to surf out too but couldn’t manage to find a way out. I tried flipping to see if that would free me but I just got thrashed around a bit and put my paddle out and got rolled up. A few feeble attempts and I’d had enough. I was too tired to fight it.

So again, I was swimming. This one wasn’t going to be short. I tried swimming for the shore since I was close to it. I yelled for Mark to get my paddle but it floated up next to me so I grabbed it. The thought of loosing another paddle was not sitting well with me. Let alone the combined loses for the day but I wasn’t looking forward to walking out. There was still a ways to go. I couldn’t swim with the paddle though so I soon let go of it again. Now I was swimming down shallow slides, through waves and holes and at one point got turned around and was going headfirst. Not very pleasant. I managed to get myself turned back feet first again. I was swimming for a long while before the guys were able to finally help me to shore. I swallowed some water and was coughing but I was on shore and mostly okay. I had miraculously not hit myself on anything along the way. I stood up and looked around. I had come within proably 50 feet of swimming the last major rapid. It’s called the Waterfall according to the AW site but its really just a big 12 foot tall rock jumble from the looks of it. Not something I’d want to swim for sure.

“The Waterfall”

(The picture really doesn’t do it justice. It was a good bit more impressive to me than this)

Ultimately none of us ended up running this rapid. My boat and paddle, on the other hand, did. We watched as they both eddied out below the drop, once again on the opposite side of the river of course. I didn’t see either of their lines but they must have been pretty good. J . I was very hopeful that they would stay there till the guys could get down to them. Joe quickly shouldered his boat and walked down. I’m not sure why he didn’t just run it but I guess he figured it would be faster and the portage was easy. Mark considered running it but decided it wouldn’t be wise as Joe was already heading down stream. In the time it took for Joe to get to the bottom the Solo had pealed out of the eddy and was heading downstream again (oh yeah and did I mention that the flotation I got from Springriver really wasn’t big enough for that boat?). Anyhow I watched as Joe grabbled my paddle, stuck his C1 paddle in the back of his pfd and raced down river using the breakdown. Mark got in his boat and I told him he’d better hurry up and help him. So he put back on and continued down. I watched as he ran a huge hole by himself (w/o Joe to guide him he reached the horizon line and didn’t know where to go so he ran the center right through the meat). He had enough speed to punch through though and with something of a back deck roll didn’t even flip. I watched him paddle on and out of sight.

Mark putting on below the “Waterfall”

Chapter 11: Whitewater Triathlon

With both of the guys gone I was left standing there alone. I was now about to begin the third and final leg of my whitewater triathlon: Walking. So I started to walk down along the shore. After a while I reached a wall and had the choice of swimming again (wasn’t gonna happen) or climbing up. So I climbed. Up into the snow covered bank and into the rhododendron grove. I was getting pretty high and started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to get back to the river. I finally reached a spot where I could see that the river side was walkable so I lowered myself down through the trees, holding on to moss covered roots. I was so hot at this point that when I found some icicles hanging off the rocks I pulled one off and rubbed it on my face. I kept walking and once again hit another wall. This one was taller, I had been walking for a while and was getting pretty tired. The sun had set behind the hills at this point and it was starting to get slightly dim. I saw Mark walking back up the river right side. I was on the left, this wasn’t good. I signaled an “okay” to him but he did not return it. I guess he did not see me. He disappeared behind some rocks. I thought about waiting but time was running short. So I started climbing again. With less and less daylight was starting to get panicked. Visions of getting caught out in the dark, on the wrong side of the river (the car was also on the other side) popped into my head. I forced myself to focus though and managed to snap out of it.

View of the river as I began my hike. If you look along river left near the horizon you can see Mark in his boat. Rhododendron groves as far as the eye can see.

This time the rhododendron grove was thicker. So thick in fact that the branches where like a thick web. I couldn’t walk through it. They only reached a few feet of the ground so I had to get on my hands and knees and crawl. The ground was covered in snow which was actually nice as it kept me from getting too horribly muddy. I crawled till I reached a clearing. I could once again see Mark and this time also Joe on the other side. Joe was brining my boat up and started paddling across. Mark signaled for me to stay put. I really didn’t see the point of this as now he had no boat and I was way high above water level. I wish I had not done the last climb as he paddled right over to the last point I had been at water level. But the thought of crawling back through all of that again was not exactly pleasant. Joe paddled my boat down to a ledge below where I was standing. He asked me if I could get in there. I didn’t exactly have a choice. He cleared the ice off the ledge for me and I slowly stepped down to where he was. This all right on the edge of the water, on wet, moss and ice covered rocks. Let me tell you how well all that climbing has paid off. No way I could have done that a few months ago. I finally made my way down to him and the boat and go in.

“And what exactly are you going to do?” I asked. “I’m just going to swim”. Great…….. So I asked if there was no way for me to just keep walking. No he said, it just keeps getting higher. So he got me into my boat and assured me that there was nothing hard coming up. Nonetheless I was nervous and started yelling at Mark to get back in his boat. He wasn’t understanding me and we were running out of time so I grabbed the paddle and let Joe push me into the rapid below. It was an easy class II/III and was no big deal. I paddled over to river right and found where Mark had left his boat and waited for him to get back to it. Now I could see why I couldn’t have just continued climbing. Two huge waterfalls entered the river just below where I had been and there would have been no way to get around the cliffs.

Waterfalls flowing into the river

As I looked over my shoulder I could see Joe walking back up the river on the other side. He was wearing a drydeck. How anyone can wear one of those things is beyond my comprehension. Mark came down but Joe was no where in sight. I was getting slightly worried and kept asking where he was. Mark assured me that he could see him and that he was walking down right behind us. Sure enough a moment later he did. He had walked up higher and swam across the river, and was now of course quite wet. I felt bad.

Mark got back in his boat while I watched Joe take a swan dive to once again swim back across to the other side where his boat was. He made a pretty impressive ferry out to his boat. We regrouped and quickly continued down. It was now really starting to get dark. Joe asked if I was okay to keep going. I said it seemed we had no choice. He told me there was a trail to the road. The thought of walking out with my boat was not appealing and honestly I was damn tired but mostly felt fine.

Chapter Twelve: Dark

We paddled on for another mile or so of class III/IV boogie water. Joe assured us that it continued to get easier from there. This was good as it was taking every last ounce of energy in me to continue paddling. I paddled as aggressively as I could though. Leaning forward and paddling hard and catching myself quickly whenever I didn’t. This also continued to keep me warm and aside from being very tired I felt fine. We paddled on through big waves and holes and a few more slides that would have been fun under different circumstances. Joe would occasionally turn around and point which way to go or shout instructions. This was definitely helpful. As we paddled into the dark the rapids began to get easier and I could see Joe throwing wave wheels in front of me.

After a while it was getting pretty hard to see and thankfully Joe signaled to eddy out. We had reached the takeout. He climbed out and told us to wait so that he could make sure. We sat there a bit and looked downstream, we could barely see a few feet ahead. Whether this was the takeout or not, we were getting out.. Joe came back and said it was indeed the takeout. We pulled our boats up and rested briefly. I tried to pick my boat up to carry it and it felt like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t lift it. Mark asked Joe if he could switch boats with me. He did. His playboat only felt like about a half a ton of bricks and I awkwardly heaved it onto my shoulder and we headed up the hill to the car. The walk was short but steep and rather painful. But we had made it. We took off sometime after 6 pm. It was quite completely dark. There were stars but no moon. The takeout road was a good ways away from any light source. It was quite dark when we got to the car. Thankfully it had remained warm and was still in the 50’s when we stripped down our gear. We loaded the boats up and headed back to pick up the truck.

With everything packed away we headed towards home. Mark once again had a blast crashing through mud puddles on the put in road. I think he got air once or twice. On the way we discussed the days events. Mark had a great run. He’d run the whole thing clean. Since he was behind me most of the time I didn’t get to see much of it but I was very proud of him. He’d been ready for the Lower B for at least a year. I’m glad we both got to do it.

Chapter Thirteen: Homeward Bound

Despite all the mishaps I had a great time. I regret the loss of my paddle but it had served me well for 2 years. Overall I still had fun and really loved the river. I think that if we’d had more time things would have gone better. At dinner that night (Denny’s in Keyser) Joe asked if it had been too hard. I said it had not, just a little too fast paced for me. Next time I would like to spend a few hours running it (and a lot less time swimming and walking of course).

I am very thankful to the guys for their efforts in rescuing me and my gear. Luckily I came out mostly unscathed. A few new bruises and some very sore muscles (the inside of my left arm hurt like hell the next day, couldn’t' figure out why at first. It was from holding on to that damn tree branch!). My hands also hurt a good bit. I must have had a death grip on that breakdown the rest of the run!! I found out later that Joe had sprained his ankle in the process of retrieving my boat the 2nd time. :(

On the way to Keyser, Joe had gotten some messages from other people. Apparently several groups had run the Upper B that day. One group went back for a second run (the level must have been quite high by then). One guy swam and got separated from his buddy. His boat got caught in a sieve and he though he had drowned. Everyone turned up okay but I’m sure it was very scary indeed. Quite the carnage fest all around. I have to say that I had wished those other guys had joined us for our run. Sure would have made picking up the pieces easier.

Is it worth the heinous hike in? Yes! Would I ever hike out that way? No freaking way!! I really don’t understand why people running the Upper don’t just do the whole thing. It has got to be less strenuous than hiking out there. Sure the shuttle is longer but still…

Chapter 14: Lessons Learned

It’s funny how when you start chasing rain, it inevitably starts chasing you. Turns out that after the initial slight rise and fall on the gauge, the river had actually started to rise fast. From looking at the graph afterwards we estimated that when we finally put on it was actually around 450 cfs and at or above 550 cfs at the takeout. AW has the min at 250 and max at 500 cfs. So much for a good first time level!! During the whole run it didn’t even occur to me to think that there was way too much water for it to be anywhere near minimum as we had expected.

Blackwater hydrograph 1/28 – 1/31/06

There were definitely many lessons learned on this trip. Overall I felt encouraged by this run. Mistakes were made but the rest felt great. Not too bad for never having paddled the boat before, not having run anything in several months, and doing a good stretch in the dark. I'll plan on some easier runs for the near future (LBS finally perhaps?) but do hope to come back to the Lower B again soon. Heck, maybe we’ll give the UY a try at 2.6 next time! Mark has added the Lower B to his list of favorite runs. I think that I might have to agree with him.

Afterward: Save the Blackwater

If you are interested, read the trip report one of the guys wrote about the Upper B portion of the trip (it's a lot shorter than mine)

If you don't have time at least check out this excerpt I've pasted here:

Even if you never consider paddling the Blackwater, I think a visit to it's canyon is a must for anyone that appreciates fine Appalachian scenery. The Blackwater Canyon is pretty much the type locality for the rhododendron snarled forested slopes that make rivers like the Yough and Cheat so beautiful. Also, Blackwater Falls State Park has walkways that afford spectacular views of the canyon and Blackwater Falls as well as a myriad of hiking trails. If you crave a slightly less developed view of the canyon drive in to the putin for the North Fork of the Blackwater (also the takeout for the Upper B, as described on AW) and walk down the railroad grade. The area also has some intersting history in the form of abandoned coke ovens and mining operations on the banks of the North Fork. But, get there soon! There is a plan on the books for a timber company to turn the railroad grade into a road to allow for logging along parts of the Upper and Lower Blackwater. If you're interested chime in on this situation at www.saveblackwater.org

[by Mark Cecchini]

Thanks to those of you who read the whole thing. I know it was long but I wanted to preserve the experience before I forgot the details. I have a few more things to add that may be useful to some of you so please read on just a little more.

Fluid Solo Review

This has got to be one of the best boats I’ve paddled. First time in it and on a pretty tough new run and I felt great. It turns easy and is incredibly stable. I have to admit that the only other creek boat I’ve paddled was my Java but in comparison… well there is none. The Solo felt so smooth it was great. Even Joe and Mark said I looked good (maybe they were just being nice, I dunno). The secondary stability is incredible. Each time I felt like I was going to flip over I would brace lightly and I was back up, no problems. It is a good bit shorter but I didn’t really notice much loss in speed. The problem with the Java has always been that I can’t get it to go where I want. What good is it going fast if it’s headed for some giant hole in a hurry? I’ll have to paddle the Solo more to write a more comprehensive review, but I already picked up my brand new yellow boat (and a new paddle). Springriver still has one more left and will be getting new ones in too.

Me in the Solo, Top of Krakatoa

Kokatat Drysuit Review

What can I say? The suit is awesome. Thank you Mark!!! I love having dry feet finally! I wore plenty of layers of fleece and neoprene underneath as well as some nice thick socks. The air temp was indeed warm and we got a great workout but even after two swims in 40 degree water I wasn’t cold a bit basically the entire trip. There was some dampness but I think mostly from sweating earlier in the day. I actually left my bottom layering on and rode home in it.

Werner Breakdown Paddle Review

Thank goodness for that breakdown, we would have been in serious trouble without it. I was initially worried that it would be harder to paddle with but ultimately when I picked it up I didn’t see a significant difference from my regular paddle. It’s heavier and longer than what I’m used to and it has smaller blades, but in a pinch it was perfect.

On the way home we talked about it some. Mark has definitely gotten his money’s worth out of it. I’m glad I didn’t lose it too (Thank you Joe for saving it!!) Mark was thinking that maybe we should carry hand paddles as a secondary backup. Good idea. But I reminded him that in this case it wouldn’t really have helped much. There would have been no way I could have hand paddled that myself. Either of the two of them probably could have but Joe paddles a C1 and Mark has a left hand control paddle, neither of which I could have used. Glad we had the breakdown.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Sesquipedalian said...

Oh my goodness, my life seems so boring by comparison! Those are some really beautiful photos you have up there and the experiences seem awesome!

10:23 AM  
Blogger Sesquipedalian said...

Stumbled upon your journal quite by accident, but it made for a highly interesting read! Those are some beautiful pictures, and the experiences sound awesome!

10:24 AM  
Blogger Morris said...

Wow, you sure can write a lot! Are you single?

Mr. Morris
Ask Morris

10:35 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

No i'm not single! Read the rest and you'll see.

4:22 PM  

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