Saturday, March 03, 2007

"There must be more to creek boating than being ridiculously, unbelievably good-looking"


With warming temps, a fair bit if rain, and lots of snow melt the weekend looked very promising. Watching gauges through the end of the week showed tons of water everywhere. The Sandy was over 10 feet, the Blackwater over 1500 cfs, the Top Yough close to 4000 cfs. Clearly none of the major runs would be an option on Saturday. Lot's of creeks were likely to be running but getting a crew together proved to be tough. Rain in the Shenandoah Valley and promise of warmer temps sent Scott and Brett south. Others made plans to head out to Canaan Valley. But i wasn't too keen on driving all the way out there to trudge through a foot of snow to the put in.

By morning I wasn't sure if I'd be paddling at all. But Scott M. called saying he and Bobby were planning on hitting Drake Run near Confluence and did I want to come. A quick glance at the AW site and I was in. On the way to the put in we ran into Geoff and the four of us put on around 1pm. It was a short run so at least time wasn't too critical. It was also fairly warm, the temp read about 45 degrees at the put in. But as ever I was weary of another Bobby Miller expedition.

Unable to park near the normal put in we went upstream a short ways and paddled through a short stretch of moving flatwater. After passing some houses, a few horses, and ducking some barbed wire and a footbridge, we entered the Drake Run wilderness. Though it is a short run it had a great remote feel. The creek starts off with some easy ledge drops and meanders its way through gorgeous evergreen forest. There was surprisingly little rhododendron on the banks, just sparse trees and a beautiful carpet of snow.

A short way into the run you arrive at the first major (and biggest) rapid, Ignorant. This is a two tier slide drop with about a ten foot ledge at the bottom and a total gradient of probably about 40 feet. We got out and scouted. I was pleasantly surprised to find just how easy it was to hike around the creek banks. The lack of rhodo or other thick shrubbery made it very easy to scout, even with the snow. In general the open feel of the forest hear was very pleasant.

Bobby explained the options. You could run left or right but the middle was fairly manky. It wouldn't kill you but dropped onto a flat rock. Geoff chose to walk this one given his recent recovery from shoulder injury. We watched as Bobby walked back up a bit and ran the drop. I probably should have walked down farther with Scott and watched him run the whole thing. But I just saw as he went down the first slide and over the horizon line. The rapid goes through an S-turn before the final big drop, making the approach somewhat blind.

Maggie running Ignorant

As I am getting in my boat Scott comes over and warns me that Bobby had gotten pushed into the middle and that i needed to paddle hard left on the second drop. Note taken, I headed down. The first drop was fairly easy and I had good left angle. Coming around the S-turn I was pretty confident with my line, heading left the whole way. But as I came over the second drop i realized that it sure was pushing toward the middle. But at that point there is no correction to be done. You're screaming down the face at 30mph, starring straight at that rock at the bottom. A scary sight for sure. I bounced down landed slightly sideways on the rock (got a good bruise on my right side to show for it). Ultimately though bounced down unscathed and continued down the runout without incident. Not a great line but not terrible. Definitely a pretty big intimidating drop.

Bobby's second (cleaner) run of Ignorant

After Ignorant came several more very fun drops. A nice clean ten foot drop onto a slide, more ledge drops and small boulder gardens, and a great narrow chute ending in a eight foot drop beside an undercut rock. We had to portage one of the larger rapids because of a log and one more wood jam but otherwise the creek was pleasantly strainer free.




After portaging a log we decided to walk down to the next rapid since it wasn't too far down and scout. Scott and I eddied out on the left while Geoff and Bobby were on the right. We walked down to the drop, an eight foot or so ledge. Several line options were available. The far left line looked clean and straight forward but required a rather low duck under a log. You could also run to the right of the log but risked getting pushed into it. The far right seemed to offer the cleanest option. However the line was pretty narrow. It required a fairly precise boof right next to a rather nasty seam, with good left angle to avoid landing on the rock at the bottom (or getting pushed into the small undercut cave to the right of it). There was also a fair bit of water pillowing off the rock back towards the drop, requiring careful positioning such as not to get surfed into the hole. We shouted instructions back and forth and Bobby walked up and ran the drop. He had a good clean line and waited for us at the bottom.

Bobby running the ledge

From where we'd left our boats there was a a few hundred yards of easy boulder drops and then a tongue heading toward the main drop. I studied all this on my way back to my boat and had a clear memory. As we put on Geoff got ahead of me and eddied out above the tongue, pointing me in the right direction. But i already knew where I as going. I angled right to catch the eddy above the main drop and looked at Bobby below. I came off the drop with good left angle, just to the right of the seam and bounced off the pillow below with no problems. I eddied out and watched as Geoff and Scott made their way down.

To my surprise I saw Scott come down and miss the eddy. Turns out he'd gotten disoriented above and started off too far left. He got spun around at the top of the drop and was headed for it backwards... right into the seam. He dropped in stern first and immediately vertically pinned. His head was above water thankfully but for a moment things looked pretty sketchy. Bobby and I immediately started heading towards him but before we could get near he had managed to pull his skirt and quickly swam out. What a relief!!!

Seeing this Geoff quickly shouldered his boat and met us at the bottom. Scott's boat unfortunately was wedged in good. We could barely see a little bit of blue as the water rushed over it. We climbed up on the bank and Scott attempted to push on it with a stick, to no avail. He was going to have to clip a rope to it. But it was deep in the seam. So he grabbed a carabiner and jumped back in. After some effort he was able to secure a rope to it. The guys tried pulling on the rope from various angles still to no avail. I ran back downstream to pick up float bags and other gear that was washing out of the boat.

At first it really did not look like they would be able to get it out. It was starting to snow and I worried that we'd have problems getting out of there. Bobby assured us that we were fairly near the takeout at least so the hike out would not be too terrible. But still we did not want to have to leave the boat. Finally they tied the rope off to a tree and binered another one to it, setting up a vector pull. I was impressed and relieved to to see the it finally come out!! But we probably spent an hour there.

Scott's pinned boat

Happy that everyone was safe and sound and the boat recovered we packed up the ropes and headed down. It was snowing a bit more now as we approached the last big drop. A nice 10 footer that landed in front of a big boulder with narrow channels on either side. Very nice.

We ended up skipping the last rapid below the railroad bridge as there was another log in it. We hiked out a mile to the car along the railroad tracks and were well covered with snow. Despite everything everyone was in good spirits and I was happy to be able to thank Bobby for a great run. A beutiful run with some nice drops, definitely worth checking out.

For lots more photos from Drake Run check out the gallery here. Includes full photo documentation of the pin and boat extraction.

Scott wrote up his own, slightly more colorful, trip report. Here it is:

Several weeks ago I enjoyed the privilege of paddling an 07 Nomad 8.5 at Dickerson. I realize that Dickerson is not the most optimal place to test a creek boat, but the eddy lines speak for themselves. Rather than walk back up, we attained and cut through the woods. This afforded us the opportunity to test the Nomad’s ability to paddle through large floating ice chunks, one of a creek boat’s most important attributes. Until now, I have never paddled a boat that had satisfactory ice bashing capabilities, but the Nomad did so with ease and grace. Before I go any further, I will address what I believe to be two of kayaking’s most inanely foolish questions: Does it [modern day creek boat] roll easily, and how well does it [modern day creek boat] boof. It is of my opinion that any modern day creeker boofs well if boofed properly, and rolls easily if rolled properly. But, for you skeptics, yes, the boat boofs easily (autoboofs, as I so frequently see written) and can be rolled with one hand with minimal adjustment of the factory outfitting. Now on to creek boating.

Saturday’s incredibly high levels and frozen conditions left many of us in a quandary as to what we could or should paddle. Seneca, Otter and Red Creek were frozen in. The Yough was so high (almost 4000 grand) that nobody was considering it (but I highly recommend going to see what Swallow Falls looks like at that level). It was almost midnight on Friday and we were still at a loss as to what to paddle. Then I got a call from The Dogg, and everything changed. After much discussion, we settled on checking out Drake Run in PA. Not too far, not too long, not too difficult, and if we got skunked we would still have time to contemplate a higher water run of the Yough. Along with Bobby, I got Maggie Snowell, Geoff Calhoun, Cornelius Sanchez, and Conchita McCoy on board and we made our way to Confluence around noon on Saturday (Bobby had a morning basketball game to coach). Arriving at the put-in we found no room to park because of the plowed snow, so we kept driving, expecting a long walk, when low-and-behold! we crossed an upper section of the same creek. With ample parking room we jumped out and suited up. Bobby was pretty nervous about paddling something that had probably never been paddled before, but Conchita calmed him down with a backhand to the face and we were soon off. Although I didn’t admit it at the time, I was a little nervous as well since I hadn’t paddled in awhile, being far too concerned with who the real father of Anna Nicole’s baby is.

Upper Drake’s is about a quarter mile of raging class II, complete with pool toys and barking dogs, before reaching the normal put-in. Immediately after paddling under the street we found two rows of barbed wire to negotiate, which I can never get enough of. Once into the gorge, however, things got going pretty quickly. The first scout was a monster technical slide with a somewhat tricky lead-in rapid. Messing up his first run, Bobby was determined to keep running it until he aced it or hurt himself. Luckily, his second run was perfect. Cornelius refused to let Geoff run the drop because of Geoff’s recent shoulder injury, and the rest of us made it down unscathed.

After several more fantastic boofs, slides, and boulder gardens, we came to our first, and only, wood portage. Since the next rapid wasn’t too far down, we walked down to check it out rather than get out of our boats again. It looked like a fairly innocuous drop, but had a log to contend with. Bobby went first, making it look easy, and the rest of us grabbed our boats to head down. Conchita and Cornelius don’t run rapids that have anything to do with wood, so they walked. Maggie went next, then Geoff, then I. Making my way down the shallow, congested boulder garden, I got disoriented and wasn’t sure how to get to the green tongue to make the move. Seeing Geoff in a river left staging eddy, I made my way over to him, only to find that both of us were now too far down river and just above the drop, but too far left. Normally I would have admitted defeat and started over or walked around, but the Nomad’s speed had been treating me so well I still thought I could make it, and I would have, had it not been for the shallow rocks that I didn’t see, which killed my speed, preventing me from getting into the river right eddy to set up. I ended up flushing over the drop (about 5ft) backwards thinking I would just float out. Instead, I found myself in nasty vertical pin with the water landing on my chest. When I didn’t flush out after a second or so, I fought my way to the rip cord and bailed into the pool below, with the boat fully submerged. After signaling to Geoff not to try such a foolish move, I assessed the situation and came up with very little. There was no way of safely getting to the boat, so I handed Bobby my throw bag, put a biner on the other end, and jumped in, hoping for the best.

Meanwhile, Maggie kept herself busy by collecting my stuff as it washed out of the boat all the while documenting everything with photos, and Geoff positioned himself on the other side of the creek to help out. With the snow beginning to fall pretty hard, Conchita and Cornelius became very concerned, suspected the makings of a Bobby Miller Special, and immediately set forth with building a large fire and cozy lean-to for six to bivy for the night. They set several animal traps and began making potable water, and they also commenced smoke signals.

Precariously perched on a rock at the base of the falls, I was eventually able to get the biner on one of the stern grab loops. The boat didn’t look to be too wedged into anything, just held down by the force of the water. Nonetheless, we tried pulling from a few different angles, to no avail. Eventually I tossed the rope to Geoff and swam across to see if the two of us would have better luck pulling from over there. Nope. The 8.5 is a big boat, and when filled with water and more water pouring over it, can be quite heavy. I got a little frantic at the prospect of losing a new boat, so Bobby threw a mean upper cut to my jaw to settle my nerves. In retaliation, I tackled him supine on a rock ledge next to the water and forced his head under. Just when I thought he was going to succumb to oxygen deprivation, he kneed me in the groin. Geoff proceeded to kick me in the ribs a couple times until I tapped out, but when it was all over, we got a good laugh out of it.

I decided to tie the other end of the rope to a tree with a trucker’s hitch and set up a vector pull rather than engage in the complications of a Z-drag since I was beginning to lose feeling in my hands. Plus, I was quite certain that, if pulled from the right angle with just a little more force than we could apply without mechanical advantage, it would pop free. Once set up properly, the boat came right out. About this time, Conchita announced that she had tracked and caught a bobcat for supper, but with no reason to stay we released the creature back into the wild, but not before a jolly game of Toss the Clawed Beast. About a quarter mile of fun class 4-5 boogie water and we were at the take-out. About a mile of railroad tracks brought us back to the Dogg Mobile, where we shared a group hug, drank hot cocoa, and jammed out to some of Bobby’s music, which I believe was Bananarama.

I always thought that there must be more to creek boating than being ridiculously, unbelievably good-looking, but until now I didn’t know what it was. The Nomad changed all that. I now realize that equipment is probably more important than being really, really, really ridiculously good-looking, especially on more technical creeks. The boat excels at just about everything you could want in a creek boat: speed, ability to carve reliably, resurface predictably, comfort, large amount of easily accessible storage capacity, and most importantly, good looks. The stern is extremely easy to get gear in and out of, and I was able to get my gas-powered generator back there uninhibited. The outfitting is almost TOO comfortable for the stoic creek boater, but I wasn’t complaining. The bulk head has a nifty little plate that can be adjusted to hit the top of the boat to prevent toe curling, and the back band adjustment is unlike any I have seen before, eliminating the annoying ratchets. Knee hooks came with pre-glued minicell and the hip pads needed no adjusting. Dagger has definitely addressed the issue of the leaky cockpit problems of a few years ago, as I was bone dry (before the swim, at least). Anyone who is interested in demoing the Nomad should contact K Po (aka, Kristen Podolak).

And that’s all I have to say about that.


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Anonymous MarkCinID said...

First thing's first, you actaully purchased a "robin's egg blue" kayak? That kind of thing may fly for "K PO", but cmon man, this is America. You must be from Colorado.

Second thing's second, after seeing the pictures, you're lucky that this trip report wasn't titled "Sketchy Scott's Eulogy". You may be really really ridiculously good looking, but vertical pins are for pro's only. Also, there is a reason they don't teach the "poke the pinned boat with a log" technique in SWR. It is outdated and dangerous compared to the now-standard "throw rocks at the pinned boat" technique, which is just as effective. I must also note that you weren't wearing your water wings, you probably could have avoided that whole mess if you were actually prepared. Sheesh!

And third thing is third, is that thing Geoff is sitting in a kayak or a hollowed out puddle of vomit? For a such fashion concious bunch of go-getters how could you be seen (let alone photographed) in the presence of that abortion of a kayak. I know you probably explained it away by saying "Oh give him a break he's just getting back after riding the pine for 6 months" or "Geoff is color blind, we'll let it slide" or "What we really need on this creek is a set piece from the video for 'Purple Rain'". All I know is that out here in Idaho a man can get himself shot for a whole lot less. And that's all I have to say about that.

-Mark Cecchini

4:14 PM  

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