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Gale River (aka the river of lost gear)

Monday May 27, 2013
Kayak: Brock, Jamie D, Chris W
Open Canoe: Tony S
Organizer: Brock Richardson
Difficulty: int-adv WW
Level: medium high

We met in Richmond at 10 am, on a stunningly beautiful day. After a quick scout of Joe's in West Danville, with Tony and Jamie deciding the level was higher then they were comfortable with, we headed to Franconia, NH.

None of us had done the Gale and we didn't know what to expect. I was feeling particularly proud as I was bringing Tony Shaw to a river he had not run. What are the chances of that? We were pleasantly surprised to find a real gem. The river starts with a pleasant class II boulder-hopping and wave-catching run and gradually builds in difficulty to become an easy class III, similar to the lower New Haven. Beautiful clear water and remote wilderness surroundings enhance the experience. I was able to relax with a quick dip below one of the numerous holes.

The crux of the run is the Gorge section. It is a quarter mile with three distinct drops. The first drop is about a three foot ledge with a rather large river wide hole at the bottom. Jamie ran it first and rolled up about three feet clear of the drop and began a slow creep backwards as the hole sucked him in. A valiant side surf ended with Jamie being bagged out of the hole. A chase for boat and paddle ensued.

I ran down-river and Jamie used my boat to give chase. He made it as far as the third ledge drop. I had stopped Tony to make sure he looked at it before he ran it. It runs into a huge foam pile on river right. (See photo of Chris Weed.) Tony styled it. Jamie was in my Mamba 8.6, an unfamiliar boat not fitted to him. He missed the ferry and ran the four foot drop river left into a frothy mess. Thus began his second swim of the day, albeit in a new boat.

Earlier in the day we had been speculating whether the gorge was really anything to worry about or if it even existed. After the fracas ended Tony pointed upstream and said: "I think that's the gorge."

The boats, Jamie, and my paddle were recovered in an eddy below. We hiked up and gave Chris the scouting report and set safety. Chris styled everything resulting in a great photo from Tony of Chris lost in a foam pile. I borrowed Tony's spare canoe paddle, gave Jamie my kayak paddle, and proceeded down-river in K1/C1 hybrid fashion. I actually really liked it. [I'm not sure "styled" is the term to use in my case; "near death experience" might be more appropriate. Nonetheless, I'll accept the compliment. --CW]

At the takeout, Jamie's inventory revealed lost paddle pogies and a throw rope. Tony realized he had managed to dump his throw rope while emptying his canoe. Despite the unusual amount of lost gear everyone added a new river to their list of favorites. Paddle the Gale if you can; it's a gem.

Navigation, with help from Alden Bird's Let It Rain:

Take I-93 Exit 38 in Franconia, and take an immediate right (north) onto Route 18/116, which runs along the Gale River. Go about a mile and take a left onto Streeter Pond Road (by Coffin Pond). Travel for several miles until you come to a T-intersection. Take a left here (Sherman Road), go 0.5 miles, and park just before the bridge over the Ammonoosuc. The Gale comes in just downstream; a short hike gets you back to your shuttle vehicle. That's the takeout.

To get to the put-in, go back up Streeter Pond Road and watch for Crane Hill Road on your right, where it crosses the river. (That bridge is the gauge bridge.) Follow Crane Hill Road for about 0.75 miles to a point where it is close to the river. Park your vehicle(s) here, gear up, and put on.

Video: See this spring 2012 video on Vimeo, showing the Gale at a slightly lower level than we encountered. The ledge drops in the Gorge look a bit more friendly.

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