Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another day at Dickerson

With virtually no water anywhere in sight we decided to head to Dickerson for a little practice before our south east trip next week. We arrived to a dissapointing sight. The level was at the lowest i'd ever seen it. I guess that's what you get for showing up on a warm spring day when no one is running their heat or AC a lot! But we were already there so we decided to go ahead and paddle. Better than nothing afterall.

Much to our pleasant surprise we found the level to be super fun. The level was great for several of the holes along the course. It was just sticky enough to be able to practice getting in and out in our creekboats. We were even able to do some spins and pirouttes which was super fun. The low flow made it much less pushy and also made the eddies far less dynamic, making it easy to ferry back and forth and attain back up to the holes when necessary. Overall we had a blast and it was great practice. We both agreed that this was probably the best day we'd had at Dickerson yet!

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Saturday, March 18, 2006


March is such an unpredictable month. One week its nice and warm, with 80 degree temps here in DC and its beginning to feel like summer before spring has even arrived. The next it is bitter cold with snow in the forecast.

The forecast for Friendsville showed sunny skies but the high was predicted for about 35-40 F. But it looked like the UY would hold so I convinced Mark and Ben that a day trip would be worthwhile. My experience with winter boating has been pretty limited. I’ve paddled in cold water when temps were warm. I’ve paddled in 20 some degree air at Dickerson where the water is 50+. But I’d never really done a river trip with both cold air and water. Generally I preferred to keep my combined temp (air + water) to at least 80.

As we arrived in Friendsville the air temp read 29 degrees (the wind chill was making the “feels like” temp more in the mid teens, it would get to a high of 38). But it was indeed bright and sunny. Although we could have waited a bit for temps to warm up we wanted to make sure to have as much water as possible (the level was slowly dropping). So we geared up quickly. We ran into another group at the put in and all 7 of us headed down.

It was a gorgeous day and the level was decent (about 1.7 on the bridge gauge, the lower end of normal release levels). Still not very pushy but fun nonetheless. I was getting a little cold paddling the flatwater but once we hit the rapids I was fine. A relatively fast pace and a little adrenaline helped a lot and we had a good time. A girl in the other group flipped at the top of Triple Drop and ended up swimming after running the whole thing upside down. We felt bad for her, not a good day for swimming. Her friends were able to help her to shore quickly. Her boat got pinned near the top of National but they were able to pull it off fairly easily.

In the gorge we were protected from the wind and the bright sun helped a lot as well. After National we continued on at a reasonably leisurely pace with no more mishaps. When we hit the flatwater I started cooling down a lot. The paddle out was fairly miserable. Paddling flatwater in the cold doesn’t really help you warm up much. Really the only advantage of paddling hard was to get to the takeout quickly.

So I guess now my limits are getting bumped down a little. I can certainly handle both cold water and cold air. But the run definitely has to be something technical with no significant flatwater between rapids. It has to be something busy enough to keep me warm (so no 20 degree Cheat runs for me!). Sun also makes all the difference!

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Sunday, March 12, 2006


After a fun low water run on the Upper Yough we headed off to Teeter's. Not much else was running so we decided to run the Cheat the next day. That night it started raining and rained all night. In the morning i was hopeful that some stuff would come up. We checked gauges and were dissappointed to find that nothing had really budged yet. We knew things were bound to come up but didn't really want to risk waiting around to find out. We had to get home that evening and i didn't want to be too late. We check the Lower Big Sandy gauge on our way to the takeout but it was reading around 4.8, too low for our taste. Of course by mid day everthing was running (so we found out after checking gauges later on) and i wished we'd waited some...hindsight. I felt somewhat well... cheated. :)

But the Cheat was running at a fairly decent level (2.5 on the bridge gauge).The day started off dreary but brightened up some mid run. With all the rain the various tributaries were pumping in muddy water. It was an interesting sight to see the brown water mix with the green water of the Cheat. I watched a small wave near a confluence. Half of it was white, the other half brown. Kinda neat.

Muddy water mixing into the Cheat

The run was uneventful. Mark and Scott tried playing at Big Nasty some and overall we had a pretty good time. I definitely like the Cheat at higher levels best. I didn't even recognize Pete Morgan rapid till we were in it. Obviously had been a while since we'd been there.

Mark at Big Nasty

Mark, Scott, and John

Me checking out my favorite Cheat rocks

Mark at High Falls

Taking a break at High Falls

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Saturday, March 11, 2006


March had gotten off too a slow start, still kinda cold at the begining and not a whole lot running. But forecasts for the weekend showed warm temps. The Upper Yough had been running all week but of course was slowly heading down and looked to be near the AW minimum by saturday. I started asking around on BT what people thought a good min was. Everyone seemed to agree that 1.4 on the Sang Run gage was a good limit. A few said they'd run it lower but that the lines changed a good bit and that you really needed 1.4 for the flats at the begining and end. Despite the low levels there was a good bit of interest and we got a good sized group together. Mark and I met Andy, Ben, Scott, Rick, and Matt at Mountain Surf in Friendsville.

The online gauge had read around 2.8 (2.8-1.25 = 1.55 Sang Run) that morning. We drove up to the put in and looked at the bridge guage. It was hard to tell what the level was so Mark climbed down the bridge piling (monkey!) to take a closer look. It was reading just around the 1.25 mark. Rick insisted that that gauge was reading low but some of us were slightly dubious of what was to come. Scott suggested that if nothing else it would make a good trip report (hopefully you'll think so).

As we put on I was a bit nervous about how the lines would change and if there would be enough water. I wasn't looking forward to having to walk any of the rapids. Plus the was the distinct possiblity of increased pin potential. It was a nice warm day at least and i was actually too hot, rolling in every pool that was deep enough (there weren't all that many). The flat water wasn't as bad as we'd expected. There were a few spots we had to wheelchair our way past but overall we made it to Gap without any problems. That seemed like a good sign.

Arriving at Gap we finally got to see how the character of the river changed at the lower level. There was hardly any push to it. I had been told that the rapids channelized nicely but was worried that the narrowed moves would be hard to make. But the water was moving so slow that you had plenty of time to make each move. There were lots of easy eddies to catch and it wasn't hard to boat scout everything. Plenty of options were available. If you didn't like the look of a drop it was easy to catch an eddy and paddle across to a different spot (or just backpaddle from a lip really!).

Gap was even more shallow than usual and the boogie water leading up to Bastard had basically no push. As we arrived at Bastard we realized just how truly different things were. A few of us eddied out on the left and looked down towards the boof. The rock that forms the pillow mid way down to the boof was completely out of the water. It was an odd sight. I watched as Andy headed down and watched him eddy out behind the boof rock. But there was nothig to boof. I followed and eddied out . The hole was much narrower and a small rock slide guided you into the eddy, no boof needed.

Ben by the boof rock at Bastard

Looking up at Bastard

As we approached the mushroom we were unsure what to expect. We wondered if the rock at the bottom would be completely exposed and pose a piton threat. Much to our surprise it turns out that there is no rock at the bottom of the drop. The reception was channelized but plenty deep and the only exposed rock at the bottom was far enough to the left not to pose much of a hazard.

The Mushroom
Notice the exposed rock on RR of the drop and the rock at the bottom

The next drop of Charlie's was a bit bony but the move was generally the same, just requiring us to avoid some slightly exposed rocks.

Charlie's Choice

Triple drop was an odd sight. The slot was comletey out of the water and the lead in to the main drop was narrow. We eddied out as usual and looked down. I was used to seeing nothing but white here. Instead there were many exposed rocks but the right side looked deep. We each headed down making our way from right to left without incident.

Andy heading down Triple Drop

Andy finishing up Triple Drop

Maggie at Triple Drop

Matt, Rick, Andy

I had been told that at low levels the boof at National was the only choice. But as we checked it out there didn't seem to be a good way to do it. In fact the standard line looked good to to go. The line was a good bit different than usual. Instead of just going down the left side and following the tongue, we had to do a zig zag move, first heading right towards the center of the drop, and then making a sharp left turn away from the where the hole normally forms. As we got to the bottom of the drop we saw that there wasn't much of a hole to speak of as very little water going over the rock face that forms it.

Ben running National

As we headed for Tommy's i had already made the decision that i was going to run the sneak. I wasn't too interested in getting flipped in a shallow hole there. Scott, Matt, and Rick ran it while i searched for a sneak line. I made my way down the right side and headed back left, expecting to see the rest of the guys run the main line. I was surprised to see that instead they had followed me. Turns out they had watched as Rick got stuck in the hole for a little bit and thought he had gotten caught in the undercut. They waited till he was clear and then headed down the sneak as i had. Afterwards we got a closer look at Tommy's. We couldn't see any sign of an undercut there, it was surprising as we'd always though that that was the danger of Tommy's. The far left side also appeared to be good to go, no sign of sieves.

Tommy's Hole

As we headed down we were wondering if there would be enough water for the Gun Barrell. As we made our way to river right it seemed that there indeed was. The moves weren't much different than usual but the drop did look different. As i came down i could see that the rocks on the bottom were rather undercut and curved in towards the drop giving it a rounded look. It felt like you were going down a tunnel... a gun barrell if you will. :)

The move at Heizerling was fairly similar with just less water going over the left side.

Mark at Heizerling

Ben at Heizerling

The Rockies


At Meat Cleaver we found the line to be fairly straight forward as usual. The initial boof was rather bony but the landing was fine. It was amazing how out of the water the two rocks at the botom were. I headed straight down while a few of the guys eddied out above the 2nd drop and got picstures of them coming down:

Matt at Meat Cleaver

Mark at Meat Cleaver

Ben at Meat Cleaver

Andy at Meat Cleaver
Meat Cleaver

We continued on down through the rest of the boogie water and smaller rapids. Powerful Popper was a little bony. When we arrived at Fuck Up Falls (Lost and Found) we debated if the right side was going to be runable. Even at normal release flow the channel there is pretty narrow so i wasn't too sure if i'd want to run it. I had intially figured that of all the rapids that would be the one that would most likely need to be walked. The line that i've always run is to go to the right of the center rock, go through a slot between two more rocks and head down along the right.

Matt, Scott and Rick decided to go for it and each picked out their own line. Matt started off on the left of the first rock and headed back right. Not a move i've ever tried before and wasn't too interested in trying it now. Scott ran the same line that we always do but got caught slightly on a rock that partially blocks the passage. So far none of these options were too appealing (i had gotten a good beating at F-Up when i had run it in my playboat at 1.7. I hit that very rock and it stopped me. This time i knew i'd be better off in my creek boat but i was still a bit nervous).

Andy went next though and chose to go far right. I'd never gone that way but as i watched him it appeared that his line was very clean and straight. Ben and i both decided that this was the way to go. I headed down first with no problem. We regrouped at the bottom and headed downstream to finish off the run. Cheeseburger had no boof, this time all the water was going to the left. It was cool to see the rock that normally forms it.

The rock that forms Cheeseburger Falls

I was glad to have had a larger group for this run. I have to admit it was nice getting to watch multiple people's lines before heading down myself. It also seemed that unlike in most situations when people following each other tend to get more and more off line i think that on many of the rapids each person's line actually improved. As we watched each other we were able to adjust to find the best way down. We were the only group on the river that day.

Prior to our run i had wondered what the low level would reveal. I had expected to go in and see all the exposed undercuts and pinning rocks. It was a surprise to find that many of these are rather mythical. Tommy's hole didn't appear to have any serious undercuts, neither did the Zinger rock. There is no piton rock at the bottom of the mushroom at Charlie's. There were a few spots that some undercuts were exposed but nothing that would cause much of a threat at higher levels. It was a pleasant surprise not to find many previously unknown (to me) dangers. Although the hazards of the UY should not be ignored, the do seem to be somewhat overstated.

I'm glad to have gotten to see the run at this level. It was plenty technical but not particularly difficult. We had a good run with no major misshaps. It was definitely good practice picking out lines. I doubt i'd want to drive all the way out there for that level. But if we're already there i wouldn't mind doing it again. I wouldn't call this extremely low flow. I think that many of the rapids could be run lower but some might require portaging.

To add insult to injury that night it poured and the Upper Yough went up to a good level by mid day. Unfortunately we didn't want to spend the time waiting to see what would happen so we committed to just running the Cheat instead.

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