Monday, August 14, 2006

Great Falls

After four years of starring at it I finally felt like I’d had enough experience and the guts to go run Great Falls. I honestly never thought i would do it. For a long time it was one of those things that was never going to happen.

Mark and I met up with Joe on Monday after work to run the MD lines. I have to say that I was pretty damn scarred that whole day. I could barely get anything done at work and the last couple of hours I gave up trying and just browsed through pictures of the falls.

I was nervous as hell and wondering if I should be doing this. But I really wanted to and overall was confident that I would be fine. We put in and paddled down, scrapped across the aqueduct dam and paddled toward Pummel. I was surprised how flat and easy the approach to the falls is. I knew there was nothing hard up there but was at least expecting some class III. At this low level at least (2.7) there was nothing but class II waves and lots of rocks.

We got out at Pummel and Joe pointed out the line. It was great standing there, such an amazing view. My day long anxiety was finally starting to melt away and when I ran the drop it felt great. I didn’t feel like my boof stroke was timed all that well but my landing was pretty good.

Next we got out and scouted Pencil Sharpener. I was really nervous about the idea of running z-turn and was glad that we weren’t doing it. Pencil Sharpener is such a fun rapid. Joe got out to set safety and take pictures and I went first. I really enjoyed it a lot and had a good clean run.

We once again got out to scout Horseshoe. I was pretty nervous about it beforehand but once Joe pointed out the line it seemed pretty straight forward. Mark went first while we watched and took video. He styled it beautifully. Great line. I went next. Lined up fine on the right but when I hit the hole above the drop it angled me to the left a little. I realized that now I was about two feet too far left and had not time to correct. I totally missed the launch pad on the right and went into the seam next to it. I may have gotten a bit of a stroke in. I went deep, disappeared for a second or two and popped right back up. At I higher level it would certainly have not been as forgiving. As I popped up I flipped but was well past the hole and rolled right up and continued on down to the eddy below.

Not perfect but a good first run overall and of course way fun. Rick had come out to take pictures from the observation deck.

The next day we headed out again, both anxious to improve on our lines. This time we met up with Ian and Scott. We put in above the dam as before but this time things didn’t go too well. At this level there is barely any water going over the dam and you basically scrape over the edge and have to push yourself off. The bottom is also very shallow. The best way to do it is to spin off of it and land sideways. With that little water it wasn’t an easy task. I tried my best to swing my boat around but to no avail. I fell forward and pitoned hard on the bottom putting a big dent in my bow. Fluid plastic is pretty soft and this had happened before. That time the dent had popped out by the end of the day so I wasn’t too worried. Unfortunately this time it was still there the next morning. We put it out on the deck in the sun and thankfully after a few hours it had popped back out. I’m pretty nervous about how well this boat will hold up though. I really do like the design a lot.

Anyhow our second run of the falls went great. Ian decided to go ahead and set safety at Pummel while the rest of us ran it. Pencil Sharpener was really fun once again. Ian set safety for everyone at Horseshoe and then Mark held the rope for his run. I got out and took another look at before running it and this time had a good line. Maintained right angle this time and went right over the launch pad. My boof stroke wasn’t timed too great though and I ended up taking it on the right. Oops! But it worked out fine and I still went off nice and straight. I’ll definitely want to get some practice in at low levels to get the timing down well.

After that the guys hiked up for another run while I sat above horseshoe to take pictures and set safety. I hope to get lots more runs in this summer and get really comfortable running the falls. It’s so great to have this incredible run right here and I’m so glad to finally get to be on it!!

Seems that lately I have a constant entourage of photographers following me around. First Hector and Marina photographing us at Ohiopyle (as well as the people), then Rick at Great Falls. For our second (and fourth) run my friend Pete came out and took even more great pictures. We're also currently working with a pro photographer who is putting together a book on Great Falls.

We've gotten so many wonderful pictures out of just our first couple runs. Way more than i can post on here. To see the rest check out my Snapfish albums (will require quick, easy, and free registration) here:

Great Falls run 1 by Rick McNamara
Great Falls run 2 by Pete Guion
Great Falls run 3 by Pete Guion
Great Falls run 4 by Pete Guion

Also check out some videos of us running Horseshoe:

Maggie at Horseshoe

Mark at Horseshoe

I'll be adding more as we get them.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 05, 2006


We arrived in Ohiopyle around 1 on saturday. The clinic was supposed to start at 2 but it was 3:30 before we finally got to put on. Apparently they had about 150 people sign up for the clinic and although they had a good number of instructors it took a while to get everyone on. Clay Wright was leading everything and he started off by talking about the falls and giving tips. We all cramed onto the obeservation deck and stood there in the hot sun while he discussed how to run the falls. The advice was good but nothing that i didn't already know. He explained how to line up for the lead in rapid, where to punch the hole and how to time your final boof stroke. He also discussed proper landings, how not to hurt your back, what to do if you did end up under the curtain, etc. It was hot as hell standing there and i couldnt' wait for him to stop talking and just let us go paddle.

Finally he explained the rapids above the main drop. First there is an easy two foot ledge. However it is one of the biggest hazards on the river. The center has a mean little horseshoe hole that may not look like much but apparently will hold you mercilously. We were instructed to run the drop off a nice easy part of the ledge well to the right of the horseshoe.It didn't seem like you could go too far right and so the danger spot was easy to avoid. The second drop consists of a easy class III rapid to the left and a nice 4 foot boof to the right.

After the speech we got broken up into groups of 15 (this could have been a little better organized as we basically had to latch onto one of the instructors in order to get into a group, but i guess they probably didn’t expect that many people). One group went at a time. The clinic was meant to be run in such a way as if this was nothing out of the ordinary. AW wanted to show everyone concerned that this is a normal rapid and that it should be oppened up for legal runs on a regular basis. Therefore there was no mass safety set. Each group set their own. There were no bibs or stop signs to tell you if it was safe to go. One person stood at the top of the drop and signaled everyone by holding out his/her arms (up for go, out for stop) if the drop was clear of the previous boater. I think this was a good way to do it but with that many people it was far from natural. For at least the first couple of runs there was a big crowd of boaters waiting in the set up eddy. This thinned out with time as people started finishing up their runs.

Overall it seemed like the clinic went pretty well. I certainly hope that the powers that be were satisfied with the result. Unfortuantely there was a good bit of carnage though. There were number of swimmers at the base of the falls which is to be expected. However there were also several swims above that really shouldn't have taken place. In his initial speech Clay let everyone know that although Ohiopyle was a relatively safe rapid that this clinic was intended for experienced boaters. He said that it was fine if this was your first waterfall as long as you felt confident in your ability. He said that if you didn't think you could make it down the lead in rapids then you should seriously reconsider runing it. Clearly a few people did not heed this advice.

As we were putting on for our first run i looked down and saw someone right above the horseshoe! Bad enough that he was there but he was backpaddling!!!
My immediate thought was: "You idiot!!, its too late! you're commited now, what are you doing backpaddling? you should be paddling hard forward to get as much speed to punch it as you can!!!”. But i moment later i realized why he was backpaddling as two boats and two swimmers came out of the hole. A completely ridiculous scene. Things like this are not going to help with the access issue. The danger of the horseshoe was drilled into our heads by all the instructors, no one should have been anywhere near it. But with a crowd that big some people were bound to miss that key piece of instruction. Additionally there were several pins in the rapids above the main drop, one boat ran it sans boater, one person ran the main drop upside down...

So anyhow after the mess of swimers was cleared up we finally got to put on. Ran the first ledge with no problems and found the 2nd to have a pretty sweet little boof. Not counting the falls itself that is probably the most fun little rapid on the entire Lower Yough! Finally we got down to the set up eddy. Mark and i decided to get out and take a look for our first run. When you are sitting in the set up eddy getting ready to run the falls all you see is a horizon line. There are really very few markers to tell you where to go off to hit the tounge. Even after looking at it from the shore i had to watch a few people run it from the eddy to see where to go (there are some partially submereged rocks and a little tiny curler that are visible from the top but you can’t really line up too well till you get right up to it).

The lead in rapid right above the falls is actually pretty impressive given that it ends in an 18 foot drop. You go down a green tongue / slide surrounded by some decent sized curlers. At the bottom of the tongue is the hole. Although not all that big it does slow you down a bit so you have to be prepared for it and be ready to padde through and not loose too much speed. The best way to run it is on the right. The left side of the drop is where the meanest part of the curtain is so you don’t want to be over there. If you go to far right it is easier to make your way to the left. But if you go left of the hole its really not possible to make your way back to the right.

On my first run i started off on the far left side of the tongue at the top and angled right to punch the right corner of the hole. Unfortuantely my angle was a little too sharp and i ended up hitting the curler above the hole which slowed me down and threw me off a bit. I also wasn’t expecting how far off the drop was from that hole. Looking at it you think the drop is going to be right after you go over the hole. But the actual distance is a bit more. Additionally the main drop isn’t 100% vertical. After you go off the lip the water arcs off before the bottom drops out. So you really have to time your final boof stroke for when you clear the arc. My boof stroke wasn’t timed very well since i wasn’t quite prepared for this. All the drops i’d run before (Wonder Falls, Moats, Valley Falls) were much more straight forward: paddle across a flat pool, reach the lip, take a stroke, and you’re done. no lead in rapid to deal with. Anyhow i didn’t entirely pencil in buy my entry angle was pretty steep. I hit the water and was thrown way back on my back deck. Immediately flipped, waited for things to calm down and rolled up. Felt kinda silly but knew what i’d done wrong and was ready to go back up and fix it. I didn’t get the full working in the curtain though, i was just on the edge of it and it didn’t feel bad at all.

After the first run with the instructor we were allowed to form our own groups of 4 or more and paddle on our own. Mark and I met up with Andre and Anatoli and did three more runs. On my second run i lined up much better on the lead in rapid and got in a good final stroke. I over did it a little and landed really flat. I’m sure it looked fairly pretty but it did hurt. My back was sore for a while. The next two runs were better though. On the last run i landed well but was a bit close to the curtain and paused too much instead of paddling out immediately. I got surfed on the boil off to the left and then flipped on the seamed formed by the merging of the flow from different parts of the drop. Not a big deal though.

After our fourth run we exchanged our creek boats for our playboats, grabbed some hot dogs from the snack booth and went for a quick run of the loop. It was nice to stretch out with some flatwater cartwheels and a leisurely float.

Ohiopyle Falls is a fun drop and great practice for running waterfalls with a lead in rapid. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t run a waterfall before though. There’s a good bit involved and having some prior experience is a good idea. I’d have to say that it is the hardest i’ve run so far.

Thanks to Hector and for all the great pictures!

Labels: , ,

hit counter code
low cost web hosting

Locations of visitors to this page