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N. Branch Cold River / Cold River

Monday Apr 30, 2018
Kayak: Scott G
Organizer: Scott G
Difficulty: int-adv WW
Level: low boatable
Gauge (cfs): 2600
USGS Gauge Name/Link: Otter Creek @ Rutland
Author: Scott G

In the winter of 2018, after spending most of my adult life living north of 89, I moved to Middlebury.  This move placed me in striking distance of a whole new cache of creeks and streams many of which I had never paddled.  On the afternoon of Monday April 30th, after missing the peak runoff event of the past week (visiting family in NC) I took the opportunity to explore one I had been wanting to check out for a while - the North Branch of the Cold.  

The North Branch is a small stream tucked to the southeast of Rutland in a surprisingly remote valley.  Its waters originate on the northwest aspect of Killington and travel south before meeting the main branch of the Cold just below the Brown Covered Bridge. 

The put-in I chose was where Notch Road crosses the river just below Mclaughlin Falls - a potentially runnable 2-stage falls dropping perhaps 30 feet in total.  As I was travelling alone it was something I didn't inspect closely.  From the pool at the base of the falls it is a little over three and a half miles to the main branch of the cold with an elevation loss of 650 feet.  The first mile drops 200 feet and contains fun constricted boulder and bedrock rapids.  Wood was an issue in some, but otherwise it was surprisingly decent boating.  Unfortunately the quality boating ends and for the next 2 miles the creek was shallow, gravely and wood infested, the sort of tiring and boat abusing stuff that deters one from returning.  Redemption is found in the last six tenths of a mile after Mendon brook enters on the left, adding flow.  Below here the creek drops 170ft over small and continuous boulder rapids, reminiscent of the Big Branch only tighter and slightly less steep.  Of the run I found this to be the most enjoyable and a great way to dull the memory of the previous 45 minutes in the flat section. 

While the boating on the North Branch had its highlights, as an overall run it is not something I would likely recommend.  That being said the valley has a very remote feel and contains a beautiful birch and maple forest.  Something about it reminded me strongly of the White Mountains.

At this point you are deposited into Cold River proper.  I chose to hike up from the confluence another 3/4 of a mile to add a bit more to the afternoon.  From here down to the Cold River Road bridge it was an incredibly fun III+ romp.  There was one dangerous river wide pine about 1/2 mile above the covered bridge directly after the river makes a nearly 90 degree turn to the left.

This section felt like a smaller E. Branch of the Pemi both in character of rapids and scenery.  The 3 miles contains continuous wave trains, small holes and a few boulder strewn rapids to maneuver through.  With the flow on the low end of the spectrum it was low stress - aside from worrying about wood.  If you were to find this with a lot of water it would be a fantastic run, but also more serious due to its continuous nature and the likely addition of a few sizable holes.

At the take out bridge I was worn out.  6½ miles of boating, plus a good amount of time with the boat on my shoulder had drained me.  Unfortunately the real fun was just starting with a nearly 8 mile bike shuttle up some seriously steep back roads still to be done.  The shuttle back to the top is rather indirect, requiring you to travel north into Rutland before back-tracking south and up Notch Road where there are a couple of gut-busting hills to impede progress.  I'm not too proud to admit I was forced to dismount for a time.

Finally arriving at the car, out of water, stamina and daylight, was a relief.  In total the adventure took about 4 hours start to finish.

Was I glad to have done it?  Definitely.  I can't think of a better way to spend my free time than exploring a secluded river valley tucked into the Green Mountains.  Will I be back to the North Branch?  Definitely, except next time will be with a fishing pole and a backpack with beer.

As for the Cold proper, as has been stated before, it is an underrated, often passed over run that I would argue ranks as one of the best class III runs Vermont has to offer.  At higher levels it would sure to please those looking for more challenge and serves as a great backup to when the Big Branch is too high.

So the next time the water is up down south, make sure to give yourself time to get a run in on the Cold.

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