Monday, September 10, 2007

Due North

Labor Day approached and it was time to make some weekend plans. Scott and I had long ago discussed returning to upstate New York for the Beaver / Raquette releases. I was quite determined to go up there again and improve on what was a less than successful trip last year. Billy and Jason joined in and we all piled into my car (yay another 1300 miles down on my warranty!) and braved the holiday weekend traffic, heading north. Ten hours later (about 3:30 am, would have been sooner but we hit a horrible and unexpected delay somewhere in PA at 10:30 at night) we arrived at our campground near Colton, NY.

We got up the next morning to absolutely gorgeous weather (75 degrees and sunny all weekend). and headed for the put in. I was surprised how few people there were. Compared to the crowds we'd seen at the Beaver releases last year, there was a relatively small group gathered here. The put in is right at the dam and the run starts with a quick warm-up rapid after which we all immediately got out to scout Colton Falls.

Jason on the Put in rapid

Colton Falls consists of a series of ledges and slides and although the moves are generally not too complex, the shallowness of the run makes lining up a challenge. You start of with the option of dropping of a 5 foot ledge into an eddy or else pealing out onto a manky slide leading into the crux move: a ten foot diagonal drop. On our initial runs we all chose the latter option with varied results. Following this drop you head left down another shallow slide, bouncing over a series of holes at the bottom. The rapid drops a total of 60 vertical feet spread out over various drops and slides. It is quite impressive to look back upstream at.

Billy below the Colton Falls first drop

Maggie running Colton slide

We continued getting out and scouting each of the major rapids. We all had good lines at the Narrows and the Tub. Scott managed to run Particle Accelerator (a fun but scary slide) blind. Luckily he at least had some idea where he was going from having read the AW description. After seeing the consequence of a flip on this drop (no one in our group thankfully) that resulted in broken paddles and badly bloodied knuckles I was rather nervous about successive runs! The whole rapid is a long slide leading into a ten foot drop. You make your way down some offset ledge holes and head down punching a series of diagonal wave holes that are deep enough to easily flip you if you are not careful. There is also the danger of getting pushed into the slightly overhanging wall on the right if you get too close. Just before the lip of the final drop things dry out a bit and the slide becomes very shallow. Thus if you were to flip in the holes above, it definitely makes for an unpleasant landing.

Maggie running the first drop of the Tub

Maggie running the 2nd drop of the Tub

Billy running Particle Accelerator

Jason running Particle Accelerator

Scott running Narrows boof

Maggie running Narrows boof

After our first run at 720 cfs we decided we all needed a bit of a rest (after the long drive and only about 4 hours sleep). So we hung out at the put in and Billy was kind enough to provide an excellent spread of hummus, pita bread, cheese and veggies. We lay around basking in the sun, munching on our modest feast contentedly awaiting the 900 cfs release to start.

With the higher flow a lot of the rapids cleaned up some. The holes weren't too much bigger yet but the slides were more padded out and many of the moves actually became easier. More water reduced the scrapey factor making it easier to build up speed. The boof at the Narrows was most certainly a lot improved. After our run we decided to hike down the trail to take some pictures and check out the rapids at lower flow (about 450 cfs at this point). We had a fantastic day and after finding a nice Italian place to eat at a nearby town at we headed back to the campground and crashed early. The campground was wonderfully peaceful and located in a beautiful woodland setting right on the river.

The next morning we got up early again and headed to the Beaver. The plan was to hit the Moshier section first and bomb down quickly to get in laps on the best rapid, Moshier Falls. We spent a little time so the guys could get in runs on the different drops on the first waterfall. I chose to conserve energy for the good stuff. We were able to get to Moshier Falls before most of the crowd arrived. Last year I had been in a terrible mood and had chosen to walk this rapid so this time I was determined to get in some laps.

Maggie running 2nd waterfall, Moshier section

I have to agree with Scott in that Moshier Falls is one of the more fun rapids out there. It all looked a lot more manageable to me this time than it had a year ago and I was excited to put on. We did four laps each and I would have been happy to do more had the crowd not gotten a bit out of hand after a while. The rapid starts off with one easy sliding drop leading immediately into the next. The second drop has an huge wave hole leading into the final move below the pool, an awesome diagonal boof on the far left.

Bobby boofing Moshier Falls

Ultimately I realized that the most difficult move was actually the final rapid (the one I had run last year). On each of my first three runs I tried three different lines and after getting a pretty good working on the third (thanks Billy for pulling me boat into the eddy before anyone landed on me!) I finally decided to actually scout it before heading down again!

We met up with Justin, Ben, and Andy and all of us headed up to the Eagle section. After quickly scouting the slides we put on and made our way down. Once again everything looked a lot less intimidating to me this time. Honestly though I didn't find it to be nearly that much fun and after having pulled something in my back earlier in the day (I was actually in pretty bad pain for a bit) I was content with one run. It was great to have a nice dry day to sit in the sun and watch people run laps. The guys each walked up a few times with Scott of course doing the most laps (including one upside down run on the 2nd slide, no injury sustained though). That night we headed back to the Raquette, stopping in Watertown for dinner.

Scott on Eagle

On Monday we were determined get in some good runs on the Raquette before having to do the long drive home. We arrived at the put in just as the water was coming on. We were disappointed to realize that it would only be a max of 720 cfs release that day. To our surprise we found the parking lot to be deserted. Luckily just then we met up with Justin (from NY) so we had shuttle and a new boating buddy for the day. We did one run and reset shuttle for a second.

On our first run on Monday I had asked Billy if he could get out and take some photos at the Tub. I hiked down to set safety for him since he'd be running it first and alone. He had a good line and climbed up the rocks across from the drop to get a good angle.

The Tub consists of a double drop with two pretty munchy holes. The first drop lands in what is essentially an enormous and very deep pot hole (hence the name of the rapid). The standard line is to run the first drop left of center and the second drop on the far left. The second drop appears to be good to go anywhere (well up to the 900 cfs we saw at least), but the hole gets stickier in the middle of course. If you line up just right there is actually a nice little pad that launches you over the first hole. However there is a fairly sticky little hole in the approach and there is little room to build up speed or really get lined up properly, making this a fairly challenging drop. My runs were all pretty good (with the exception of the last at which point I was pretty tired and managed to flip on both drops but didn't have any issues with the holes). Scott got to surf both holes at one point but was able to get himself out. The lines are straight forward but the consequence of getting too far right at the top drop are high, as we soon found out.

The Tub

On our second run Jason went first, followed by Billy. The rest of us waited in the eddy above. A group of people was standing opposite to us on the right side of the drop. One person was videoing everyone running the drop. We sat and watched as he continued to film after Billy went off the first drop. I started getting worried as he continued turning the camera farther and farther to the right. It was clear that Billy was in trouble. We had a hard time communicating with the other group who all seemed to be quite mesmerized by what was going on below. Justin jumped out of his boat to run down and see what was happening but soon we were given the okay to head down.

Billy running the Tub

Turns out Billy had gotten caught in the pocket on the far right side, gotten recirculated both in and out of his boat for a good long time. From his descriptions it was a terrifying experience. He went really deep and had a very hard time finding the outflow due to the geology of the house sized pothole he was in. He honestly felt like he was going to drown. Definitely a terrifying experience. The hole eventually did let him go but not before ripping off one bootie and an elbow pad. Thankfully he was okay with no serious injury sustained.

Below is Billy’s description of what happened to him in the Tub:

As this was our last run of the trip, and I had had successful lines through the Tub three times before, I really wasn’t at all concerned with this rapid. As I left the river-right eddy, I ferried out into the center of the flow, and then lazily drifted over the next drop, getting stopped in the hole at the lip of the Tub, I surfed my way out of this, not at all thinking about my line through the Tub. As I pulled out of the hole, I took two or three strong stokes to get some speed as I accelerated over the lip of the drop, then hit the kicker in the middle of the drop, landed, and was immediately back-endered and thrown to the right, upside down.

There is a pocket in the right side of the hole, and that is what it felt like I was stuck in. I got a few rolls in, some off-sides, and maybe a back-deck or two, but I wasn’t making any progress in actually getting out of the hole. Realizing that I wasn’t getting out, and that it wasn’t going to flush me out, I decided to pull my skirt and swim.

I held on to my boat because I wanted to stay on the surface and see what was going on so I could decide what to do next. But the water was too violent and chaotic for me to get any perspective about where I was. I decided that I’d be better off swimming, so I let go of my boat, and before I could tuck into a protective ball I was grabbed by the hole and sucked down deep into it. It was like being inside of a washing machine. I had never felt water so powerful before. It threw me around like a rag doll, and ripped a bootie and elbow pad from my body, before sending me really deep, and then back up into slightly less violent water. I think that it may have recirculated me a few times, but I really can’t remember and either way I was now stuck in its strong and boiling backwash and didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I was now underwater and needed some air, so I started swimming upwards. I reached the surface after what seemed like a long time, and took a deep breath before falling back down. I was really hoping that I could stay on the surface, but it took a lot of energy to get up there and stay there. So I went back down, this time swimming forcefully towards the bottom of the pothole hoping to find a current that was heading downstream. I went deep, but could not find a current. I was pretty exhausted now, so I needed more and more air to keep me going, so I once again swam back to the surface. This time I took a deep breath, and them swam directly into the meat of the hole (I think, I may have done this earlier, but the order of events is a bit blurry).

I again was rag dolled and thrown deep into the hole, but this time I kept swimming deeper and deeper until I felt the bottom of the pothole. Unfortunately the floor of the pothole was just rock, smooth sandstone that had been polished by untold amounts of rocks passing over its surface. I could not feel a current down there, and I could not find any handholds to pull myself downstream. So I started swimming hard, hoping to just swim out of the whole pothole, the problem was that I really had no sense of direction down there, as there were no defined currents, and I had been disoriented by the initially swim down in the hole. So I began to feel like I was running out of ways to get out.

While still down close to the bottom of the Tub, I stopped swimming, and just kind of relaxed and calmly surveyed my surrounding. The water was light brown, and incredibly aerated. All around me all I could see were air bubble rising upwards. It was at this time that I thought that I might die. I was not scared, but a feeling of helplessness did flow through me as I accepted that that might be what was going to happen to me.

I had now been without air for quite some time, and was in real need for another breath, but I was also feeling quite relaxed, and I decided to let my body go limp and see what would happen. I knew that I could swim to the surface and get air when I really needed it. So I let myself go limp, and it was at this time that I first felt a current down there. I felt water flow by my fingers on my left hand, so I floated in that direction, and then I felt the current start to intensify, and I instinctively moved with it, trying to flow in the same way that it was. I now was being swept with it, and soon it reached the back of the pothole, and suddenly shot upwards. I popped to the surface, safely downstream of the hole. I was incredibly relieved, and was so happy to see myself being washed over the second drop of the Tub that I didn’t even feel the rock cheese grating my bare legs. I washed down the drop, and was again sent deep into the heart of another pourover hole, but I instantly found the downstream flow and swam into it, emerging in the large eddy on river-right.


We were all very glad that Billy made it out of the Tub relatively unscathed and finished the run with no further incident. Turns out that it was Team Wavesport paddlers that were there taking video. So hopefully we’ll get a hold of that soon. I’ll post it here when it becomes available.

Overall we all had a great trip, good weather, good runs, good friends. Although the Raquette isn’t really my type of run anymore I did enjoy it very much (way too pool drop, I prefer things to be more continues, at least with some fun boogie water to fill in the gaps). It certainly has some quality rapids though and amazing scenery. Definitely worth checking out at least once.

Key lessons taken away from this trip:

- It is probably a good idea to set safety at the Tub
- I-81 has permanent lane closures so expect major delays regardless of time of day,
- There are practically no Wendy's in NY state and,
- You CAN cook instant oatmeal in the packet!

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