Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Paddling The Middle Susquehanna -Sunbury to Harrisburg Pennsylvania

Two humans (my dad and I) and a dog paddling 50 miles over 2.5 days down the Middle Susquehanna from Hummels Wharf to City Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Very nice river despite it's proximity to Harrisburg and other urban features. Of course part of the appeal was paddling down the more rural (but road bordered for much of the way) river right into downtown Harrisburg. Next time we do the 80 river miles from Harrisburg to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland which I suppose would take 4 days to cover.

Our paddling consisted of really just 2 full days. 4 hours, 10 and 5 hours. We covered the 50+ miles in just under 20 hours which a large part had to do with the strong north wind helping us on day 2.

The first night (Friday) was miserable with the low temp dropping to only 78F in the tent AFTER a violent thunderstorm with about as high of winds as I've seen while paddling. We were finishing dinner, at campsite 107A, and I looked up and saw black clouds rolling in and a breeze pick up. A few minutes later some very strong winds swept through followed by lightning, thunder and pouring rain. Saturday brought perfect weather. Cooler, dryer and with a north wind that helped us travel south down river, almost, effortlessly.

Saturday we got up and pretty much immediately ran McKees Half Falls. We went river middle right through the rapids, after a quick scout, despite the guide saying stay left.

The only problems we had Saturday were the scratchy shallowness of the river and the huge fins of rock that sat just below the surface creating riffles, rapids, and generally just an annoyance. The many small class 1 rapids and riffles were difficult because despite the rapids the river had no power. Add in the wind and controlling the boat very rapidly through tight rapids was tough. We left lots of red Royalex from the Scout on the bottom of the Susquehanna.

Just as we were cruising along late Saturday afternoon it became evident that we might have an issue finding a campsite. We held 89 as a possibility if we were tired but really wanted to get to 83 or further. 89 was taken so the choice was simple to continue. When we got to 83 A and B, and both were taken we started to worry. Perfect weather for camping and just 10 miles from Harrisburg. 82 was also taken so we started looking at the other public islands. I wanted to just look at the final 2 sites (81 A and B) before we panicked and had to pitch a tent anywhere one would fit on public land. Turned out 81A was a great site. Big, clean, lots of stacked wood and tons of kindling. 2 fire pits, and 2 benches. We were both worried but I've played this game long enough to know that usually you end up finding a great legal site, a great primitive site, or you pitch a tent anywhere one will fit. Usually the two former options work out.

After a nice fire Saturday night, we got a late start Sunday. Well, later then anticipated. With my lack of sleep Friday night, and not getting much Thursday night because of my 4am wake up for the drive down to Harrisburg, I was wiped. Up and about by 8am and after breakfast, adding some GPS coordinates for the rapids, and loading up we were on the river by 10am for the final 10 miles to City Island in downtown Harrisburg.

The "most technical" section of the river was perhaps the easiest. Dauphin Narrows saw less of the bottom of my boat then the flatwater sections.

When we arrived in Harrisburg, Caney couldn't deal with anymore time in the boat. He wanted out so I told him to go and he ran along the riverway with for about a half mile with a jogger. Then he got back in the river and swam another half mile before we finally had to tell him to get back in the boat.

This was a fun trip other then the scratchyness of the river, and I was pleasantly suprised at the quality of the river and camping. I'm looking forward to paddling the rest of the river in sections. Next up Harrisburg to the Chesapeake.

Photos of the trip (click images for captions and larger photos):

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  1. Sounds like a great trip!

  2. Thanks Jose and Mandy...was a great trip and tons of fun.