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North Branch Lamoille

Saturday Jun 29, 2013
Kayak: Tom Rogers, Ryan McCall, Andrew Blease
Open Canoe: Gigi Rioux
C1: Alden Bird
Organizer: Alden Bird
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: low boatable
Gauge (cfs): 2000
Author: Alden Bird

In our approach are the makings of our outcome. As one's physical approach to a rapid can determine remarkably one's fate below, one's mental approach to a day's leisure can determine one's enjoyment far beyond his original resolution.

For my own part, I had last run the North Branch several years ago with a group of paddlers who had, while recognizing the efficacy of paddling the North Branch over doing tax work, would rather have been elsewhere. The experience had colored, or perhaps desaturated, my memories of the North Branch. Fortunately two years later, on this day, my joining up with friends more particularly relishing this trip did yield an altogether different outcome, whose ultimate trajectory might have been predicted by our approach, as early on in the day as in our resolute optimism following a stop at the gauge rock.

The water low and dropping, we put on at the covered bridge slide and then paddled our boats to the irresistible current drifting slowly around the bend, and like nervous adolescents, bid goodbye to the town elementary school. The Lower Gorge lay beneath us, a buried vein of white in the Waterville woods, and we mined the amalgam of boulders and gradient for each golden nugget of boof or wave, taking our time in prospecting. The river here reminded me very much of Maryland's Top Yough River, with its small, sculpted riverbed a constant occasion for technique.

We entertained ourselves with little difficulty. Gigi, a Canadian, made proud her heritage by paddling her Esquif open canoe with great skill. Andrew, a recent southern transplant, had recently traded his creek boat for a playboat. Ryan, a creature of Northeast creeks, schooled him in the disadvantage of so doing. Tom Rogers, paddling again with the VPC after the Joe's Brook trip, showed himself one of Vermont's best up-and-coming boaters.

In my experience, the Waterville Ledges seem to magnify any eccentricity in the river's volume. I have thought the river above high only to encounter household hydraulics here, and on this day a river thought low was almost completely dissuasive in its grating Ledges.

Yet even here did apparent loss turn to gain by dint of resolute optimism. After Ryan's paddle snapped mid-drag down sandpaper slide, he had resolved that with unfamiliar equipment it would be unwise to attempt the more challenging river we had in mind for the afternoon. Ryan proposed running the upper section of the North Branch instead, and though we knew it would be nearly dry, we acceded to this plan with the characteristic enthusiasm of the day. We finished our improvised lunch (once again we turned seeming ill fate -- the Belvidere Store's unwillingness to bow to the relatively recent fad of selling sandwiches for lunch -- to a surprisingly rich alternative of pepperoni, cheese, and crackers), and then drove to the very upstart of the river drainage, to the bog in the shadow of Mt. Belvidere, from which the North Branch winds and gathers toward its fall.

This bog put in, so reminiscent of one in Quebec or Maine, was unique in Vermont, and seemed to me to bode well, despite the looming sky. As it grew darker, we encountered a final turn similar to that which earlier beckoned the Lower Gorge, yet here we found the river coursing through a forest more lush than constricted. The verdant, mossy forest bid one feel he is high above on the ridge, hiking a slightly wider Long Trail, so intimate is the glade. The river was also straight for long distances, which, coupled with its slight gradient, meant that one could behold the scenery from some distance. The water, though low, still lapped consistently across our bows, and on some occasions buried them. Both the character and consistency of the whitewater was ideal. One felt his passage through a rare gorge had been both facilitated by conveyance, and enhanced for sport.

Just below town we scouted the culminating class IV rapid and among the bones of low water had cause again to marvel at the changes wrought by Hurricane Irene on our Vermont. We paddled well through this granite convergence.

I cannot think of a river I have run in a long time that all participants have so lauded and so sworn to return to. I hope to return myself to run the North Branch from bog to bedrock. What better place for a paddler than Waterville?

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