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Huntington - Audubon to Jonesville

Sunday Apr 10, 2011
Kayak: Dan Beideck, Paul Carlile, , Jamie Dolan, James Fecteau, Sue Strang, Frank Wells
OC2: Meg ?? and Noah Pollock
C1: Tony Shaw
Organizer: Tony Shaw
Difficulty: intermediate WW
Level: high
Gauge (ft): 5
Gauge (cfs): 1500
Author: Tony Shaw

Before telling 8 other paddlers the runout for the Huntington River beyond the lower gorge to Jonesville was "flat", maybe I should have looked at my 1971 AMC River Guide. It advises quite unequivocally to take-out at Huntington gorge, since "the river drops 200 ft. in the next 3 miles through the gorge and should not be attempted at any stage." Even my updated 1989 AMC River Guide demurs: "Although the river is potentially runnable for another 1.5 miles below the lower gorge, it is difficult to reach and first-hand reports are not available."

But today was not the day to let discretion be the better part of valor, so what started out at the Audubon Center put-in as a relaxing, warm, sunny, sandal-clad class I-II float down the Huntington turned into something more closely resembling a northwoods "Deliverance".

It got rainy and cold. We dripped onward. Curtains of fog made the lethal lower gorge entrance imperceptible. We muddled onward. One kayaker had a cold, confidence-shaking swim - above the lower gorge. We inched onward. The snow over the hogback and down into the lower gorge on river right was up to our shins if not our thighs. We slogged onward. The river cranked and swirled through the erstwhile taciturn lower gorge. We flushed onward. The tandem boat flipped. We gurgled onward. It got dark. And we pulled 7:30 pm. The most amazing part of it all was what good spirits everyone was in as conditions steadily deteriorated, and on a river reach whose challenges I had quite obviously under-rated.

This was the day in 2011 when rivers statewide really started to pop. As evidence, within 48 hours the Winooski in Essex Jct. was cresting over 28,000 CFS, a level higher than any Chris Weed had observed in his 15+ years of monitoring its flows. Eric and Barb Bishop/Frankowski, who live off of the Essex River Rd. concurred.

I can't say exactly how much the river rose while we paddled, since darkness had taken hold by the time we drove cars back upstream to retrieve cars at the put-in. Needless to say, there were a few anxious spouses left at home wondering where the hell their honeys were. And it's a good thing John Atherton wasn't along. I'm not sure even a Yanni Concert "glow" would have been enough to overcome the deep, dark foreboding of the lower Huntington Gorge on this trip which Frank Wells later called: "a great surprise adventure...well worth the cold, dark, wet, muddy ending!".

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