Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The forecast early in the week had been for a significant amount of rain in the MD/WV/PA area. Sure enough by Tuesday all the rivers were sky high and the creeks were running. Figures, stuck at work. After living vicariously through trip reports from those lucky enough to have the week off I was definitely excited to get out there. But it did not look too promising that anything really good would hold through the weekend. But the Blackwater was still high and looking like it might be at a reasonable level by the end of the week. So I talked to the one person I could definitely count on to be heading out there, Don. He was confident that the Upper B would be at a reasonable level for me by Thursday evening so I left work early that afternoon and headed for Canaan.

Thursday PM: 320 cfs

I arrived at the North Fork to beautiful weather as we set shuttle and headed up to the put in. I must admit I was a bit nervous, the level would be around 320 cfs, higher than I'd ever run it before. I was going to paddle the Burn which I'd already fallen in love with on the UY and the Falls, but this would be its final test. We hiked down and I looked down at 100 Yard Dash, the one rapid that had given me the most trouble thus far. Don explained the line and we set off.

To my surprise I ran the rapid with ease, catching each eddy as needed and bouncing over every hole with no issues. We continued on at a fair pace and I had a great, nearly clean run. Don had me go first at Shock, which made me nervous but I managed just fine. Overall it was an excellent run and I had a fantastic time. The Burn performed great and I was thoroughly convinced that this would now be the boat for me.

The hike out proved to be no more fun than before but I took the time to reflect. Part of this trip turned into a trip down memory lane (a.k.a the North Fork railroad grade). I thought about the past eight months and how far I'd come. All the runs I've done and how much I'd improved.

That night we had dinner at Sirianni's and hung out at the Purple Fiddle for a while. It was nice being back there.

The North Fork road

Friday AM : 210 cfs

The next morning we got up and hurriedly headed to the put in in hopes of catching as much flow as possible. 210 cfs, low but still higher than my first run. Don and I met up with Shawn and Roger and the four of us put on. It was interesting to me to see the difference in flow two days in a row. We took a fairly leisurely pace through 100 Yard Dash and continued on down. Shawn found himself in a similar predicament as I had my first time down, wedging himself into an inconveniently placed slot on a sharp left hand turn. Unlike me though he was fortunate to be able to stay upright and with Roger's help was freed without further incident. From there our run continued smoothly through Shock to the System and we all got out to portage Sticky Fingers.

Roger at Shock to the System

Don put back on and eddied out on the left above the next rapid, Pinball. I joined him and we waited for the others. Shawn came down and as it wasn't exactly a three person eddy he continued on down through the rapid and waited below. Roger was still getting in his boat and it occurred to me that we should probably make room so he could catch the eddy as well. The previous day I had remarked how much less involved this rapid had seemed at 320 cfs vs what I had seen before. Sure enough once again the lower flow was significantly constricting the lines. Don suggested an alternate line on the right but I was having a hard time understanding what he meant so decided to go for the line I remembered: all the way left then cut right at the end.

Looking down into Pinball

I pealed out and headed left but it was tough to get a good angle out of the eddy and as I headed down I was aimed straight at a mound just below the surface. I should have gone to the left of it but instead ended up on the right. I was deflected back right and spun around sideways. Before I could turn back around my left side had made contact with the next rock down and that nice flat hull glued itself firmly in place. It was really quite incredible just how well stuck I was there. But my head was way above water and though I had to do a bit of a side crunch to lean into the rock I appeared to be in no danger of flipping over. This was starting off as a just a great nuissance. In fact it was easy to take my hand off my paddle to try to push off the rock, to no avail. I tried digging in with my paddle to try to free myself but that just was sucking energy quick and doing absolutely nothing.

At this point Don had jumped out of his boat and ran down to where I was. He wasn't within arm's reached so he asked if I could reach back with my paddle so he could grab it and maybe pull me off. Worth a try so I held the paddle in one hand close to the blade and reached back so he could grab it. For some reason though I didn't feel like I had a really good grip on it in this position and worried that I'd end up loosing it (which probably wouldn't have mattered as he could have just handed it right back to me with how firmly I was stuck, I completely didn't need the paddle to keep my head out of the water). Just the same this initially did not seem to help so I took the paddle back and resumed trying to work my own way off.

Things were starting to turn from just really annoying, to rather worrisome. But then something changed and a few seconds later the boat finally budged and I was sliding around the rock. Home free, I thought for a split second…. Not quite. Before I could turn the boat back left I found myself sliding around the rock backwards and down the next slot. I knew this is not where I was supposed to be going but I really had no choice at this point. I was starting to understand why this rapid is called what it is as I was being bounced from one rock to another with no way to control it. I fell through the slot hoping I could just catch the next eddy below.

But then my boat came to a sudden and jarring stop. Water immediately slammed into my chest and face. I tried to wiggle myself off but the boat was firmly stern pined. The situation had just turned from bad… to really dangerous. I knew that I hadn't gone far and that Don was nearby but I had no idea if he could get to me from where he was. I evaluated my situation as quick as I could think. First I reached up to see if I could get to my grab loop. I leaned forward and the pressure of the water was strong but I was able to at least reach the top of my cockpit. I had thought for a second about pulling out but as I had no idea what was below me and feared getting body pinned next I paused for a moment.

Luckily at this point Don had waded / swam across the channel separating us and was standing on the rock above me. Not a great position to be in and not someplace you would ordinarily want to find yourself standing. But this wasn't exactly an ordinary moment either. My paddle was pinned against my stomach adding a mild amount of discomfort. I contemplated pushing it off but as it wasn't really hurting me I decided that I would need it if he was to manage to get me out of there.

First things first though; I was still in the somewhat dire need for one essential element: Air. Facing upstream I had water crashing into my face. This was not good. I really needed to find a way out of this. The only way I could catch my breath was to turn my head to the side as far downstream as I possibly could. In this manner I could catch a few breaths of air in between jets of water. Uncomfortable to say the least, but survivable.

In what ultimately seemed like no time at all Don had somehow managed to loosen my boat (risking falling behind it himself, which could easily have been really bad for him as well) and I felt it jerk forward. Things were definitely improving…. But it wasn't over yet. As the boat came free it unfortunately flipped over and in the process my paddle had slipped away. I felt around for it for a brief moment but with little air and even less energy I couldn't really do much so I swam.

I pushed off the boat and tried to make my way to the nearest eddy on the left. It looked good and I saw Shawn coming down, rope in hand. But the rock was so sloped that he couldn’t throw it for risk of getting pulled in. I was in the bottom of the eddy and there was just nothing to grab onto to pull myself up. Things were once again starting to get worse. I ended up swimming through the next slot on the far left. This time though I found myself by a bigger eddy and was able to get myself into it.

Shawn had made his way down at this point and as he appeared to be in a good position this time I yelled to him "throw the rope!!!". Which he immediately did. I probably didn't really need it at this point but wasn't about to take the chance of getting swept any further downstream. He helped me climb out and finally I was standing on dry ground. Don had made his way back to his boat. In the meantime I needed to find mine. I figured the paddle would be long gone. Thankfully the Burn had eddied out a short way below us on the same side and was getting recirculated above a sizable sieve.

I walked down and Shawn handed me the rope back so I could swim out and pull the boat back in as it was hanging around on the eddy line. I was glad not to have to go chasing after it. Shortly after Roger and Don joined us. I could see the serious look of concern on Don's face. Apparently he had been quite convinced that I had gone into a terrible sieve when he couldn't see me anymore. I also found out that the slot I had swam through was a really bad place to be. Luckily I made it through just fine. Perhaps it was the adrenaline but I don’t even recall hitting anything in there.

With some help I pulled my boat out, assembled my break down paddle (well worth the $280 !!), and got right back in. I felt slightly shaky for the next rapid or two but finished the run with no problems and was even able to enjoy most of it, continuing on to the takeout without incident.

Ultimately everything turned out okay but that was certainly a dangerous and frightening situation. Nevertheless a true feeling of fear never really hit me. Concern, annoyance, anger, yes. But I never really felt terrified. Probably because the whole incident barely took more than a few minutes. I was very grateful to Don for taking the personal risk to swim out into the rapid and pull me out so quickly. I probably wasn't in that pin for more than a minute. Didn't really have time to get scarred I suppose. I know how dangerous it was and I'm very glad to have escaped unscathed and it was certainly good to remain calm both during and after the pin. But it does make me wonder if maybe I'm a bit too fearless at times....

The pin did not scare me off the Blackwater, but it was definitely a humbling experience that reiterated the danger of this run. Though challenging in its continuity and blind nature, most of the moves had started feeling relatively easy. Just the same, one small mistake can quickly snowball into something much worse. I look forward to getting back on the Upper B and hopefully learning the run well soon.

Despite everything I am still very happy with the Burn. Though I do think that the Solo might have helped some back at Pinball. It likely would not have broached as easily in the first place given a more rounded hull and no edges. I suppose that you do sacrifice some safety for performance.

Not the least bit discouraged I finished the run and continued on to do a run on the Upper Yough that afternoon and three more over the weekend. On Saturday when we returned to my car after our first run I was greeted by a nice surprise: a noted taped to my door indicating that my paddle was waiting for me underneath. I later found out that Bob Gedecko had been on the Blackwater behind us and found my paddle floating in the same eddy my boat had ended up in. We'd looked all over, including checking both sides of the sieve. But it must have lodged itself somewhere upstream and come loose after we left. Apparently Bob put it up on shore then hiked in to retrieve it. I was much appreciative and he certainly earned some serious karma points! I know how heinous that hike must have been (can't say I would have hiked in for it myself!). After paddling with my breakdown I realized just how badly whittled the blades are on my old paddle... time to go shopping!!

Upper Blackwater photos

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