Monday, October 17, 2016

Surfing and Swimming the Lower West River (R2)

Surfing and Swimming the West River from Mountain Visions on Vimeo.
I've become quite adept at finding gentle keeper hydraulics. This benign hole spiced up the lower West River a bit during the first day of 2016 West Fest in Jamaica, Vermont and sent me for a much needed swim. The lower section, between Jamaica State Park and the Route 100 bridge, is pretty tame in a raft, but we wanted to get our dog out and decided to run the lower section with him. One of the main reasons we got the raft was so we could bring him along and the cool thing about whitewater is you don't need class IV water to practice class IV moves. On day two we ran the upper section, which is somewhat technical class III. Although we had no problems with it, I'd be hesitant to bring the dog due to the potential for some technical swims, especially through the Dumplings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Keeper Hydraulics on the Dead River: What It Feels Like To Be Stuck In A Washing Machine

Setting up for the shuttle Saturday morning. Our tiny Nine.Five is the raft on top of the 13ft raft on top of the van.

Ever wonder what tossing your cat in a top loading washing machine would feel like? ---NOTE: I'm being facetious, I would never put my cat -and probably not your cat- in a washing machine, but this is the internet and some idiot will be offended that I used literary license to set the stage for the rest of the blog.---

Last weekend we ran the Dead River at 3500cfs (technically about 3550 with the Spencer Stream inflow). It was arguably our hardest river run to date. Slightly more technical than the Indian River (Hudson River Gorge, Indian Lake, NY), much longer, and the waves were at times much higher. Though, I never found it as fast as the Indian. Like the Indian, the Dead is not particularly technical, perhaps just a handful or must do moves over 16 miles. It was definitely a fun and challenging run for us in our first full year of whitewater.  And probably about the max I'd feel comfortable with paddling without the safety net of partners in other boats.

The Dead River in The Forks, Maine is perhaps the Northeast most sustained whitewater run with a class IV-V rating at flows above 5500. At those flows there is also one nasty keeper hydraulic, which has been responsible for at least two deaths and a few guides losing their jobs. Fortunately, at 3500 it's just starting to form and not really too much of an issue. Unfortunately, it's sort of at the end of a bunch of rapids (well, a bunch of harder rapids, because the Dead is 16 miles of almost non stop rapids). So, it's very easy to let your guard down. In fact, this happens quite a bit. People think they passed it. And I did too. 

When most people think of whitewater, they think of bombing down a river like a chicken without a head. But, it's really a highly skilled game with lots of nuances and ever changing conditions. Learning to read a river and adjusting to the different currents, cross currents and features, and applying the correct strokes, angles, edge and maneuvers is really quite exhilarating. It's a chess match. My goal is to become a competent R2 rafter up to class V and a competent OC boater at least to class 3+. To do that requires a lot more than just bombing down the river and hoping for the best.  So while practicing technique on our home rivers, we've also been trying to run as many new rivers as possible.

Our original plan for Evil Nasty Hole was to run right of river center and deal with the other hole on that section of river, FBI hole -also a strong hydraulic, but one that is borderline fun at almost all levels once formed. By staying river center to right of center down the "boiling wave train" we'd be clear of Evil Nasty and perhaps skirt FBI on the left. For some reason I assumed with passed the aptly named keeper hole, Evil Nasty (also called Unemployment Hole), and we were sort of going down the left side of the river in a relaxed fashion. 

Lots of waves indicate a wave train which is generally not formed by rocks, but rather a slow down of the water in front of you, perhaps a pool or change in gradient or difference in width of the river. Waves are only an issue if two or fewer waves are seen in a row because one or two can be formed by a rock or other obstruction. As we got closer I noticed the big wave in front and called out lets head left, which was the river edge closest to us. Then at the last minute we decided to go right, which was the original plan. Still not 100% aware that this was definitely Evil Nasty. Within seconds we were sure it was, based on the cliffs down river left, and the big wave to our left. We tried paddling hard right using a combination of draws and forward strokes. In hindsight, back ferrying would have been our best option, but alas, this is where first year whitewater paddlers get into trouble. Instinctively we should have back paddled into a back ferry towards river right, using the force of the current to move us right while not getting significantly closer to the hole and most likely missing the hole. We ended up just catching the right edge of Evil Nasty because we tried to paddle down river cross current. Doh! Rookie mistake.

What lulled me (and really us) to sleep was the river description was for the 5500 flow level. The river to the center simply didn't have that big nasty looking wave train, in fact, the commercial rafts love wave trains because they look nasty and are fun with big splashes, but usually aren't the slightest bit technical, and they all went river left (one going into Evil Nasty after we left) since the wave trains simply weren't there. 

I'd say being caught in Evil Nasty at 3500 for two minutes was a fun experience, but it also was the first keeper hole we have been in, and as such, I learned just how nasty such a hole can be. If you aren't failing your probably aren't pushing yourself, and you probably aren't going to progress. Getting caught in the hole while not planned and technically a failure on our part for several reasons, definitely was a learning experience. 

I do hope to go back to the Dead for a two day release at 2400cfs (Class II+) and run it with our hardshell OC2, and also do it again at 3500cfs (Class III+) with our Aire Nine.Five raft. I'd also like to be good enough in the raft to run it R2 at 5500 (Class IV) next year by the end of the year. Not to mention I'd like to give the Kennebeck (Class IV) a run as well. Hopefully by that point we have another 30 river days under our belts, perhaps a swift water rescue course and maybe some paddling partners to give us a little more safety margin. 

Our campsite at River Drivers
After Evil Nasty you have the hardest part of the river in front of you, Little and Big Poplar Falls. Two solid class 3 sections with big waves and some maneuvers to line them up. Those went perfectly and we ran good lines. We took out almost directly at our campsite (200ft portage to our campsite) at Webbs/River Drivers campground, a small low key family operation. River Drivers no longer guides rafts or has a restaurant on site, but it's the sort of unpretentious, low key, no frills sort of place I like to stay. If you need more fancy digs, Northern seemed like a swanky place to stay (hot tub, pool, onsite restaurant, etc) and other rafting outfits also provide camping. Downsides of River Drivers, there is a logging operation
Best part of owning a raft, it doubles as camp furniture!
on site and because they are dog friendly (which is awesome) there is also the potential to step in dog poop (mostly from their 3 big, friendly, and well behaved labs). Like all rafting campgrounds, quiet hours are whenever till two ours before shuttle time, so don't count on sleeping too much, but this isn't a River Driver issue, you'll find it anywhere. They also offer a shuttle most weekends the Dead runs, and it's I believe $10 a person, $5 per boat and a $5 surcharge for the raft (don't use that as a basis for budgeting, I know it was $30 for two of us and a raft, the raft was extra). It was a friendly operation which I'll definitely use again, and I hope they continue to offer camping and shuttle service.

The rest of the trip was awesome filled with generally great weather, and included a stop in Portland, Maine, where we were compelled to indulge in some fresh Maine lobster. 
Andy's Pub in Portland. Lobster tacos, tenderloin and lobster and mussels marinara. The lobster tacos were incredible.

Evil Nasty Hole - Dead River, Maine from Mountain Visions on Vimeo.

Ever wonder what it would be like to put your cat (or yourself, for the cat lovers out there) in a top loading washing machine? There is really only one keeper hydraulic on the Dead River, it's aptly named Evil Nasty Hole, and this is it. At 3500cfs it's pretty tame, only keeping us for a little under 2 minutes and not really being a drowning machine that can form at 5000cfs.. The record, if you care, is 10 minutes in Evil Nasty, we barely even get a participation ribbon. The Dead is 13 miles of essentially non stop rapids, so I sort of let my guard down when we got to this point.. I did tell my partner​ I thought we should head left, but we then decided to move river center (as originally planned) and skirt it on the right. As you can see, we didn't quite get out of it's re-circulation.. Next time we go left (or way right).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Labor Day on the Indian River

After some checking, with the newly acquired state lands of the Finch Pruyn land purchase, the Gooley club access point on the confluence of the Hudson and Indian Rivers is now public. Therefore it is entirely possible for those without the time or technical proficiency to run just the Indian River which is about a grade easier than the Hudson and quite accessible if something should go wrong. At summer flows this is a fairly consistent class III river with some sections of II. It's mostly non stop wave trains that really aren't very technical in nature. However, the length of consistency of the rapids makes this a fun run. This river is a basically a 1/5 scale model of what you'll encounter on the Dead River in Maine at 3500cfs.   

Downsides of this are that the official state takeout and shortest walk to the car is quite a ways up the Hudson. It might be possible at higher water levels to paddle most of the way up, but there are two issues. First, the takeout is just upstream of some rapids. Second, the water level this summer was very low and at best you could paddle about 1/3 of the way up, pull the boat while walking another 1/3 but the last 1/3 required portaging over wet slimy riverbed that wasn't ideal by any means. 

Aim ultimately found the state takeout while I found the longer portage but easier takeout trail on the point at the exactly confluence of the rivers. Neither option was ideal, but in low water the longer trailed portage was the lesser of evils. 

Fortunately for us the Aire Tributary Nine.Five deflates and rolls into a fairly compact package that we wheeled up the portage trail (this was basically an old jeep road). Unfortunately, the walk is uphill (seemingly) both ways which mean the double carry of about 1 mile was not fun (could be done in a single carry for sure, but we needed to go get the other car and the portage cart (beach cart). 

I'd say if you can put in at the beginning of the release you might be able to do two runs, but it would be very close. We didn't put in until almost 11 but I'm not sure I would have done two runs anyway. 

Hopefully next year we have the skills and the confidence to run the Upper Hudson Gorge (the section below the confluence of the Indian and Hudson Rivers) down to North River, which should be a blast in a small raft. In fact, I'm hoping to do it as an overnight rafting trip. 

One of the nice things about the raft is we can live scout runs for the OC. The Indian would be a tough run in an open canoe and we'd have to run tighter lines -we hit at least two rocks that would have likely flipped an OC2- but I definitely would like to be able to run it by the end of 2017.  As fun as it was in a tiny raft, I think it would be awesome in a hardshell OC2.

Indian River R2 Labor Day 2016 from Mountain Visions on Vimeo.
More practice in the Aire Tributary Nine.Five HD. After running familar rivers like the Deerfield (II(III)) and Sacandaga (II-III) several times since purchasing the raft, we stepped it up to the fairly continuous Class III rapids and big waves of the Indian River, which is the access point/warmup for the Hudson River Gorge -one of the premier rafting trips in the east or perhaps anywhere in the US. The Nine.Five has actually been a lot more fun than I expected, and I'm really happy with it. I don't think I'd have enjoyed a bigger raft or one with less kick.