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Otter Creek

Monday May 31, 2004
Kayak: Paul Kenyon, Randel Sands, Chris Weed
Organizer: Paul Kenyon
Difficulty: intermediate WW
Level: very high
Gauge (cfs): 2700
Author: Paul Kenyon

The Otter Creek often runs when other rivers in Vermont are low as was the case on Memorial Day. The OC is usually considered runable between about 450 cfs and 2000 cfs. Though some paddlers may run the gorge section above 2000 we had not. A look up into the gorge from the pool below convinced us that staying out of it was a good idea.

We decided to play on the last wave train of the rapid below the Belden Falls Gorge. This feature can be accessed by putting in at the take out above the Huntington Falls Dam and back-paddling the mile or so to the bottom of the rapid, or, as we did, by paddling the last section of the New Haven River. We put in at the Dog Team Restaurant and proceded over some very pretty micro drops to the Otter Creek.

At 2700 cfs that last wave train is long and it is possible for paddlers from beginners through at least intermediate level to gain experience with eddys, wave surfing and ferrying in a fast current. The first wave in the train appears enormous from the portage lookout (river right). Looking down on it one would think twice about launching into it. The roar of the water alone is impressive. Beside it in the eddy the wave was sufficiently large, forceful and noisy to present a worthy challenge. It is possible to put in just below the portage lookout and ferry across to the large river left eddy or to paddle the more tiring river left eddy. Play boats will fare better chosing to ferry into the top of the river left eddy from along the river right portage trail.

This wave is sticky at flows below about 700 cfs. Above that it forms and distorts throwing boats back into the waves behind it. It's value above 700 cfs seems primarily to be for practicing bracing and rolling skills. This wave seems to be safe. I, at least, have rolled in it many times and never seen a rock or felt one with my paddle or body. It appears to be, and has proven to be, an excellent place for a new paddler to turn a pool roll into a combat roll.

In it's own right and certainly when little else is running locally, it's worth checking out the Otter Creek for an afternoon of vigorous wave catch, roll, eddy and bracing practice especially for beginner and intermediate paddlers. At high flows the wave train offers smaller waves farther back and less powerful though still restless eddies to practice riding and crossing for beginner paddlers.

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