Saturday, April 22, 2006

Can't see the river through the trees

Not five minutes after Ben and Andy drove off, the group that had put on after us on Bear Creek got to the takeout. Apparently they'd already done some other runs that morning and still weren't finished. We chatted with them while they waited for their shuttle vehicle. They were headed to Meadow Run (the one that flows into the LY below the put in) and invited us to come along. Mark and i had hiked this at one point and it seemed like it would be doable. He had paddled with one of the guys in the group before. So we followed them towards Ohiopyle.

On the way to the put in they all pulled over to look at a small creek. It looked to be running pretty good. Beaver Creek, a tributary to the Meadow (listed as IV-V on AW but there is no info). They wanted to go for it but only one guy in the group had run it before. I asked what it was like and was told that it was basically in between the difficulty of Bear Creek and the Meadow. There was also apparently about a dozen runnable dams most of which were completely straight forward. Sounded like it could be fun. I was just wondering how much wood there would be in it. Mark was full of encouragement. He kept telling me i was doing great and just to catch lots of eddies and look out for things and that i would be fine. I had no problems on Bear that afternoon so a step up didn't seem unreasonable.

At this point we were a group of six, with only one person having run it before. This didn't seem like a very good idea on such a small creek. But we were pretty excited about getting to run Meadow so we went on ahead to run the Beav. We put all our wet gear back on and got in our boats. Two of the guys got in first and Mark followed. By the time i got my skirt on and slid into the water they were nowhere in sight. Although it was just some fast moving flat water at the beginning i was already not liking the look of it.

The creek was no more than 15 feet wide and there were lots of tree branches hanging close to the bank and not many eddies. I got down to where Mark was but there really wasn't enough room for both of us in the small eddy. He pealed out and continued on. One of the other guys was on the other side and yelled to me to go left ("See the gap?" he yelled, "right next to the tree"). I couldn't really stay in the eddy anymore so i followed his instructions (Mark later told me that he had instructed the guy to make sure i knew where to go, glad he did). I saw the tree (that was growing basically in the creek) that he meant for me to paddle next to and went for it. All the overhanging branches were making it very hard to see more than a few yards in front. I made my line perfectly sliding up right next to the tree and realized what was going on. There was a river wide log blocking the right side with just that small gap on the left that was deep enough to paddle through. Scary. We continued on, catching eddies whenever possible.

The creek was so thick with trees on the banks and branches hanging almost down to the water that it was more like bushwhacking than kayaking. Most of the time i couldn't avoid running into the branches. Often even if there was a way around them it would take me too far off line so i had to just ram through them rather than risk being on the wrong side of the creek. This was scary because to go through the branches i had to lower my head so as not to get hit in the face, meaning that for a few seconds i couldn't look at where i was going. This was after i had already gotten whacked in the chin pretty damn hard (it hurt like hell and left a few scratches on my face, nothing too serious but damn that hurt!!!). Paddle strokes were fairly precarious as well. You had to be really careful with the angle of your paddle lest it get caught in a tree. This meant not being able to take many good vertical strokes and resulted in just a lot of low bracing. Thankfully at this point the rapids weren't particularly serious so this wasn't too big a deal.

At one point Mark and I caught some eddies and looked downstream. One of the guys was yelling "You can boof it on the left!". I was about to follow his instruction when i realized he didn't mean a drop. There was another river wide strainer with a small gap on the left where you could boof over the log. The move didn't look too hard but the consequences of missing it didn't look at all pleasant and with the good chance of getting your paddle caught in some tree branch i wasn't going to take my chances. So I made the call to walk around it. Mark followed and we were able to easily walk around it on river left.

Continuing on was more of the same, dodging/running into tree branches every step of the way. This wasn't fun. I was scarred of what was around each corner and worried that with four people in front of me there wouldn't' be room in the tiny eddies. We had to stay fairly close together otherwise we couldn't' see each other for instruction. At one point i caught an eddy behind another guy and realize that just below there was a thin log crossing the creek with only a small gap on the left. The guy in front of me pealed out and headed for the gap while another got out of his boat to try to move it out of the way some for everyone else. Unfortunately i couldn't stay in the eddy and got flushed out not to far behind the first guy. I was scarred that he would get caught on the log and that I'd run right into him but there was really not anything i could do. Luckily though he made it to the left fine and was clear of the log as i approached it. I had no problems getting by it and breathed a sight of relief. I turned around to watch the second guy pull the log more out of the way for everyone else.

Next the creek opened up some and we ran what was IMO a pretty easy class IV rapid. Under different circumstances it would probably have been really fun. No one seemed to be having any problems and neither was i really. I was paddling fine and the rapids felt good. But i was terrified of would could lay below and although i was paddling well i started to fall apart mentally. Every step i was wondering at what point we'd run out of eddy space or if I'd get my paddle torn out of my hands. I was getting really nervous now and was definitely not enjoying it. I got to the point where i was thinking that the put in wasn't that far away and we could hike back out.

Eventually everyone eddied out again. A few of the guys were in an eddy on river left. Mark caught an eddy on river right and tried his best to leave me as much space as possible, there was no room left in the other eddy. I caught it but realized it was pretty damn flushy. I had to grab onto something to keep myself it in. The other guys were obviously stopping for some good reason. One guy was out of his boat scouting. I saw a vine hanging down and cautiously held it while still steadying myself with my paddle somewhat. I was afraid that it would just rip out in my hand. If that happened i was sure I'd flush out and i had no idea what horrifying log jam could be waiting below. I tugged on the vine cautiously and to my utmost relief it didn't budge. I held onto it tight and looked down toward Mark.

He had gone low in the eddy to leave me room and was having a hard time staying in. I watched as he nearly got pulled out of the eddy and just about flipped as a result. Thankfully he was able to brace despite all the branches that were in his way. I was horrified. All i could think of was that if he did flip there was no way he's be able to roll up. Just a few feet below the rhodo branches were hanging so low that he'd be caught in them and have no room to roll at all. Thankfully he managed to pull himself back into shore and was holding onto branches as best he could. It looked horribly awkward.

We yelled to each other asking if the other was okay. He asked if i could ferry over and catch the eddy on the other side where the other guys were. It seemed that i very likely could easily make the ferry but there was no more room in the eddy and they weren't moving. I tried asking them to get out of their boats (the bank there wasn't steep at all and it would have been very easy for the rest of them to get out and give us space). But they still weren't moving and it was too hard to try to communicate and it was tiring for both of us holding on to our respective tree limbs. Mark asked if i could get out. I said i could and he told me to do it and come help him. The bank on this side was pretty steep but i was able to put my paddle on shore, pop my skirt and get out. I had to pull my boat up a good ways up the hill before i could help Mark otherwise it would have slid back into the water. By the time i had done this he was able to get out of his boat and just needed some help pulling his boat up as it was steeper there.

Even after we were safely out i was feeling pretty panicked. This was not a pleasant experience at all and i really wished we'd never met these people and certainly not agreed to run this creek. I signed up for the Meadow, not this, and was angry for letting myself get roped into it. The rapids may not have been that hard but the trees were taking any enjoyment out of it. One of they guys started yelling instructions too us thinking we were planning to scout. He said there was a 5 foot drop below and started to explain the line.

"This is insane!!" I yelled back. "I'm not doing this, i don't want to die here!". I told him we were done. We had paddled probably less than a mile of the four mile run and i wasn't in the least bit interested in dealing with this anymore.

I was really hoping we could walk back along river right and then cross the river near the top where it was less congested with trees and flat. Unfortunately that side was steep and way too difficult to try to carry our boats along so we had to get back across. We carried a little ways but couldn't go too much farther without some serious hiking and the last big rapid we had run was just above so it would be a long hike. So we put in just a few yards above. Mark went first, slid into the tiny eddy and ferried across. He got out of his boat and positioned himself to grab my boat if need be. I followed and after some nervous positioning in the eddy was able to make the ferry over to him easily.

We looked down and couldn't see the rest of the group anymore so we assumed they'd headed down. We grabbed our boats and hauled them back to the road, which thankfully was fairly close. We walked back to the truck, drove back, picked up the boats and called it a day.

Without all the wood in the creek and trees surrounding it it probably would have been a really fun run. But it wasn't worth risking my life on for sure. Mark wasn't nearly as uncomfortable on in as i and would have liked to have finished it. I felt bad but there was just no way i was going to do it. Woody micro creeks are definitely not for me. I'll stick to larger rivers and creeks for now. I also will be more cautious when meeting up with random people. It can be a good way to get on new runs but its also a big risk. This group seemed to be a bunch of competent boaters but i didn't trust them and didn't feel good about putting on with them in the first place. Any new runs i do i would much prefer to be on with someone i know at least a little.

Unfortunately i wasn't it the state of mind to take any pictures but suffice it to say that it was a small creek, average 95 fpm according to AW, with a shitload of trees and rhodo. I'm sorry to have missed Meadow Run. Hopefully we'll get to get on that one at some point as well. This was the first run i'd ever walked off of and i feel that it was the right choice. I probably could have made it to the end without incident but it would have been extremely stressful and certainly no fun. It certainly wasn't worth the risk.

We headed back to Friendsville and checked gauges. Nothing we wanted to run looked like it would be anywhere near a reasonable level for us the next day and we didn't really feel like driving any farther so we decided to head home. Hopefully this water would hold out till the next weekend.


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