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Weekend in Fantasy land Maine

Friday-Sunday May 27-29, 2005
Participants:
Kayak: Cheryl Robinson, Jim Poulin, John Pandolfo, (Sat) Joe, Troy, Mike and Brian.
Organizer: Cheryl Robinson
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: very high
Gauge (ft): blown out
Gauge (cfs): 20,000
Author: Cheryl

Early Friday we set off from a very dry Vermont, Excited about the weekends paddling ahead of us. As we headed in to Maine...a very different picture appeared, everything was going off Huge...Massive. We hoped it was just isolated but as we headed nearer and nearer the forks every dam we saw was just spilling more and more.

We arrived at the campsite and peered at the Dead, if we got any more rain it would flood the campsite. We talked to the owners who advised nobody would be running the Dead or the Kennebec gorge and we should opt to run the lower Kennebec...to say the least I was a little disappointed. We agreed to reassess the situation in the morning.

We rose to a clear but cloudy day, but the levels on the river hadn't dropped. We discussed living in a fantasy world were everything would be perfect, clear skies runnable rivers...at this moment it was a fantasy..it clearly looked non of us were prepared to run the rivers this high.

We found a couple of other paddlers who advised the dead was running at 23,000 CFS. We discussed options and parted our ways still unsure of what we were going to paddle. The strangest thing then happened a guy walked past with the group we had just spoken to. Jim instantly recognized him. It turned out he was in Chile with Jim 7 years ago, they were on a river together when Jim had a near death experience...they hadn't seen each other since. Within 5 minutes we had a plan for paddling, Enchantment brook which would run off into the Dead. I was a little apprehensive I only had my playboat I didn't quite fancy running a steep creek in it, I think John felt the same way.

Excitedly on the way to the put in I expressed that to see a Moose and some sunshine would make the perfect weekend...Jim laughed and said I was living in Fantasy land again. But as we turned the corner a Baby Moose appeared...I grabbed the camera and we laughed at how strange the weekend was turning out to be.

Enchantment Brook, Didn't look much from the put in and didn't look to high, Joe (Jim's friend) advised it was on the way down and we would have to hurry. Just before putting on I asked him to confirm the river class...he replied "Three / four with one waterfall which you will run and possibly one portage".

As we began down the river uneasy that me and Jim were in playboats, I began to sense I was being lulled into a false sense of security...I was right the first few rapids were grade 2/3 with nice pools between. As we headed round a bend I saw a horizon line, Joe had us eddy out and we watched him run the waterfall blind on the left, another guy run the drop right. Joe waved at us to head left...I looked worriedly at John and Jim and expressed I was concerned to run a waterfall blind. Jim said he would go first and I could follow, I watched his line intently and waited for my signal to go and slowly paddled to the edge to scout as much as I could before committing to a line, as I peered over it turned out to be more a small slide than a waterfall with a funny curler at the bottom. Which I found to be a rock, my boat hit it squarely and I winced in pain at the shock through my ankles...I wished I had my creek boat.

The river continued into continuous steep class 3 rapids, when all of a sudden Joe eddied out, we obediently followed...after all he was the only one to have paddled this before.

We looked down river to see a huge horizon line with just a mass of whitewater below..."Oh MY GOD"...Joe then explained we needed to catch the eddy right on the lip of the drop...I seriously questioned this and my ability to make the eddy, but it seemed I had little choice if I wanted to scout or portage. The worst thing was...we couldn't see the eddy. We watch as Joe went first and disappeared behind a tree, it didn't look easy. Jim went next and I tried to memorize his line. I set off and tried to go hard left, but has I did I noticed there were awkward ledges above the eddy, I paddled hard around them and give the biggest sweep into the eddy, has I crossed the line Joe and Jim quickly brought me a shore. John followed I watched him make the eddy but then slowly slip back out...for a few seconds I stood dumfounded and shocked...he couldn't possible go down. In a mad rush three of us grabbed his kayak and dragged it into the eddy, it was a close call...a bit too close.

One look at the drop and I knew in my playboat it would be almost suicide to run it. It was ledge steep and holey...it needed precision lines and no mess ups. Out of seven only Joe ran it the rest portaged.

The rest of the river became steeper and more continuous. I was enjoying the run and kept smiling at Jim and John who just had huge grins back at me. At one point it was almost a down river race with people vying for the same lines.

We came up another Horizon line, Joe eddied out with Jim and I sailed on by, I was quite proud that I managed to boat scout and pick a good line I plopped into the eddy below and watched up stream. It was at that point I though looking at the ledges I probably made a stupid decision to run it alone...but what the hell I ran it well.

I watched as the rest of the group came down running different lines but in group formation. I noticed Jim eddy out above me and watch as John braced high, but then become unbalanced he was over. I prayed he would roll as rescue would be difficult and we were on a blind corner who knows what was ahead. He tried rolling but then I watched him bob into the water. I looked at Jim and we both knew, for us we wouldn't be able to rescue him in our playboats...I felt selfish, but knew that it could be disastrous if we tried. We watched as Joe pushed and manipulated him into the eddy. I give a big sigh of relief and put my thumbs up to see if he was okay...The response wasn't good a shaking head and thumbs down. I watched as Jim and Joe looked at John, he was holding his shoulder. They looked at me and asked me to ferry across, which was directly on the other side...I wondered if I could make. I am not the confident on my ferry glides let alone to make another eddy horizontally across. I paddled as far up my eddy as I could, edged my boat and paddled as hard as I could...I made it.

It turned out John's shoulder had popped out and back in. I had the first aid kit so we give him some painkillers while we discussed options for continuing on. It was either Hiking out from here or paddling at least to the dead then reviewing there. John seemed confident he could make it to the bottom of the Enchantment..so we continued, John following Joe and Troy following him behind (because he had a creek boat).

The water had dropped and the last few ledges and rapids were scrapey and boney, but fun. At the bottom we sat in the eddy and watched the Dead flow by at an incredible speed.

This looked like it was going to be fun, we took a breather and then headed out. The first rapid was huge wave train, we whooped and screamed at the waves and each other. Our smiles were glowing.

I managed to get in front significantly and was mortified when I heard a whistle being blown...Joe was actually getting my attention, in the roar of the water I hadn't noticed everyone behind me eddy out. I looked for an eddy but everything was in the tree's. I came to a ledge and noticed a small safe eddy. I waited and waited, I couldn't see up stream. I was getting worried but held out, I noticed Joe come down, I came out of hiding and joined the group...mid stream I noticed we were missing John.

It turned out he had flipped in the first rapid and his shoulder had gone again, making it impossible for him to roll...thankfully Troy had give him the hand of God back up. After much deliberation in their eddy they decided it was too dangerous from him to carry on and he should hike off leaving his boat on the river bank. For a minute I felt bad for him, but we knew as a group we had made the right decision.

The Dead continued to be a huge rapid, with huge waves and relentless. My arms shook and abs ached and my smile was huge...My fantasy world hit again, when for all of 10 minutes the sun shined.

We came to a break in the rapids and Jim shouted for a break we managed to pull into a camp, The people looked at us as though we were crazy. We discussed how much more was to come and to our surprise we were finished and the rest was just a float down stream to the campsite.

As we took off our grins now a permanent fixture to our faces we hugged and congratulated each other for the first paddlers to run the Dead at this level 20,000 CFS.

BEERS all around, we had run 8 miles on the dead in 40 minutes.

They guys ran shuttle and we watched the time, Joe had advised it would take at least four hours for John to Hike out. Just as Jim and I agreed every half hour we'd drive up the trail to check, he walked in holding his shoulder. We tried to hide our enthusiasm for the river but it didn't work, he could see we had a great time...John didn't seem too disappointed he had enjoyed what he had done.

Saturday night we partied, drank beers and margaritas. Built a huge campfire, had great food...expertly cooked by chef Jim.

We chatted about how the weekend had turned perfect, besides the one issue of John. The combination of a creek and big water was perfect and almost unreal, how many times do people get to do this.

We awoke Sunday morning and discussed boat recover options, we opt for everyone hiking in with my boat and Jim would paddle John's kayak out. The river had dropped significantly we suspect to around 10,000 cfs.

We had arranged to meet some other kayakers, but they soon dropped us when they heard about our expedition.

We began the hike in, I was hooked up using my PFD to my kayak so I could pull it along. I think we were all thinking it was going to be along hike in. It actually didn't turn out that bad, we got down to the river level preying that no Raft company had picked up the kayak...we couldn't see it. Were we to low or to high??

I got down to the river level and looked up stream, I noticed a rocky ledge that resembled the eddy I had caught.

We decided I would stay put and put on from my position. Jim and John hiked up river. I was pleased to see 10 minutes later Jim floating by in a pink boat.

As we went through the first rapid we notice the river had significantly changed due to the lower water. There were more holes, each rapid required technical moves. It was hard going, but much more fun than the day before.

We kept looking for the Popular rapid knowing it was going to be hard and full of holes, we thought we had paddled it until we saw the P rock, Our stomachs knotted if the previous rapid was hard what was popular going to be like...it didn't disappoint a huge raging mass of white water with what felt and looked like dangerous and vicious waves on the left hand side, we still had technical moves to make. We eddied out below, our hands and arms shaking from then intense paddling. We looked at each other huge grins and hugged, and said "fantastic paddling".

The adrenaline was on a high even as we floated out, we were met by John at the takeout and I think he knew it was good we were both talking at 100mph and grins that brought sunshine to the dull cloudy day.

It took a few hours before the adrenaline subsided, even as we drove home our smiles still fixed to our faces...The last strange event of the weekend a second sighting of a moose and a patch of blue sky that followed us all the way home even when it rained hard...we kept thinking we would wake up from fantasy land and think it was a dream...it wasn't it was fantastic.

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