The Vermont Paddlers Club

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WV Extravaganza - 2015

Friday-Saturday Mar 20-28, 2015
Kayak: John Atherton, Paul Carlile, Sarah Cunningham, Jamie Dolan, Jim Fecteau, Catherine Hull, Mike Mainer, Jim Poulin, Ben Schott, Danny Siger, Jody Stillwell, Brock Richardson
Open Canoe: Tony Shaw
Doing Own Thing: Tina Scharf (birding, hiking, relaxing)
Organizer: Brock Richardson

Most rivers we ran this trip were at a lower runnable level. The exception was the Cheat (Canyon) which was at a medium level. Saturday – our first day – the group ran the Lower Yough at 3.1 – a nice gentle level that allowed everyone to shake off the rust and get their boats under them. We met Danny there and it was great to have our trusted guide to show us down.
A man had gone over Ohiopyle Falls just above the put-in and a search was underway for his body. He had climbed over a railing to stand on some rocks for a photo. Unfortunately the rocks were covered in black ice and he slid to his death, once again proving the axiom that the most dangerous piece of equipment people carry with them is a camera. He was not a boater.
We were asked to keep a lookout for the body. Fortunately for our group but sadly for his friends and family we did not see anything. It was a stark reminder of the respect we all need to give the water.
Sunday the group split. The group I was in ran the North branch of the Potomac. A local boater friend of Sarah's by the name of Ned joined us. We had a great run and really enjoyed the river at a bit under 1000 cfs. This is a nonstop class 3 with a couple easy 4's at the level we ran it. We shortened the trip by about two miles from last year by parking upstream of Kitzmiller and Ned showed us a much faster shuttle on the north side of the river.
The other group ran the Lower Big Sandy with reports of good levels (5.8’) and lots of fun, not the least of which was running 18 foot Wonder Falls.
Monday the whole group headed to the Middle Fork which runs into the Tygart. The weather was clear/comfortable and the water of the Middle fork was a beautiful shade of turquoise as we set out. The Middle Fork flows out of the unspoiled Audra State Park, then transports you still farther from civilization, slowly steepening and increasing in difficulty as it heads to the Tygart. About halfway in (after numerous swims) I realized I was in over my head. I said to Tony "you don't realize you’re in over your head…until you are". About that time we encountered the hardest rapid of the trip. A scary pin/swim/pinned paddle sequence preceded my run. Ben was able to use his considerable skills to dislodge the paddle, and Sarah was unhurt. Then came Catharine, who ran the drop perfectly, so I decided to follow her line. Unfortunately I bounced off the pinning rock she so neatly skirted and headed toward a badly undercut ledge. After a largely unsuccessful ferry I flipped/swam and my boat and I headed toward the ledge. I realized I was going into the undercut unless I did something, so I pushed my boat under the ledge with my feet and kept myself out.
The fun was just beginning. Tony bounced off the same rock and managed to run the lower section backwards. The group began to assess my pinned boat and although it looked barely pinned it refused to budge. Ben once again took charge and with the help of Catharine, Jim F., Jamie, and Paul managed to get a rope on it. Finally with three guys pulling for all they were worth from shore it came dislodged. It was great to have such a competent group there to help.
We headed on down and shortly afterward Mike Mainer and I had a life changing event. I was following Mike down a rapid when he became stuck between two rocks. Unfortunately I was a little close, due to missing the eddy at the top. I shouted a warning to Mike as my boat slid across him, barely missing his head. It was at that moment that I think everyone in the group felt a transcendent energy as Mike realized the human contact he had eschewed his entire life (until that moment) was actually a beautiful thing. He told me after, that this moment of togetherness we shared was something he will long treasure. I think all who witnessed it were awestruck at the power of that human-to-bottom-of-kayak bond.
After swims too numerous to count, (17, actually, as Ben was only too happy to report), we arrived at the Tygart. Despite the railroad bed on river right, the confluence was a truly beautiful/remote spot. The bright blue of the Middle Fork slowly melded into the gray-green of the Tygart. The Tygart ended our creek-like run and kicked off the “big water” portion. Several big rapids and numerous small ones made for a fun yet tiring ending to the trip. The highlight for me was a run down a double drop that I would have walked, had we scouted it. The run was down a big wavy entrance followed by a six foot plunge into a froth pile. It was a great thrill to run it and watch as everyone else ran it – one of the few that everyone ran clean that day. The day ended at the Buckhannon confluence with a long carry/drag out on the RR tracks to the covered bridge.
Tuesday, John and I elected to take a day off. We headed out birding with Tina. The rest of the troop headed back to the Big Sandy, (now running 5.4’). We were regaled with pictures and tales of great flights at Wonder Falls, and all reports indicated it had been a stellar day.
Wednesday was Cheat Canyon. All who ran it had a fun day. Sarah and Ned (with Charlie Walbridge) ran the Big Sandy at minimal flow. Mainer's personal growth continued as he actually patted me on the shoulder and inquired as to my well-being after a swim. He allowed as Ben had informed him he needed to show more compassion. When I told him above the next rapid I was still scared and shaken up, we held hands and he offered to run the rapid holding my hand, but I decided it would be better if we paddled. Once again I think everyone in the group was stunned at the level of personal growth, not to mention alcohol consumed, by Mike that day. Seriously, it was nice to actually approach the Canyon this year with less trepidation (as opposed to last year when I felt just lucky to get down it). For Vermonters the big water is something we don't get in our state, so it took some getting used to.
Thursday Catharine, Ben, and Mike put on their big boy (big girl) pants and met Danny at the Upper Yough. The highlight for everyone, other than Catharine, was her being stuck on the surf wave. Sarah, Ned, and Charlie also ran the Upper that day.
The rest of us slid into our well worn training pants and headed to a new-to-us section of the Tygart, Arden to Big Cove. The majority of the run is road-side so we scouted as we went to the put-in. Tina ran shuttle for us and informed us (in no uncertain terms) that she was a shuttle moose or maybe an otter but in no way, shape, or form was she a shuttle bunny.
We met a local paddler Eric at the put-in who was putting on and waited to go down with us. Jay, another local paddler, came out from his house and gave us a run-down on all the rapids. He really wanted to paddle with us but he had had a root canal that day so he followed us down the river with his ATV and stopped at each rapid to tell us the line. Jamie and Eric ran Moats Falls and looked great. The level was low so the approach was difficult. We all walked some of the rapids and no one ran the class V falls at the end. The temps hit 71 degrees, but dropped quickly as a front went through.
Since the temps were dropping and Saturday's forecast was low of 18, high of 34, we elected to leave Friday. Mainer, Sarah, John, Paul and I headed for a quick Yough Loop run on the way home. It was cold and snowy as we put on. The run was uneventful other then when my paddle accidentally struck a rock and rolled me upright, just before what promised to be a relaxing swim. I have been sucking at kayaking long enough that I know this does not bode well. If things like this keep happening, I may have to give up the sport and start sucking at something new.
Sun and warmth, great paddles, good times with friends both new and old. All in all, a great trip. Put West Virginia on your calendar for next year.

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