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Joe's Brook - One Perfect Day

Saturday Apr 21, 2007
Kayak: Dan Beideck, John Bungard, Jamie Dolan, Eve Soutiere
C1: Tony Shaw
Inflatable: Eric Bishop (in the Shredder)
Organizer: Tony Shaw
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium high
Gauge (cfs): 1000
Author: Tony

April 21 seemed early for a scheduled Joe's Brook trip, but the fickle spring weather was decidedly in our favor on this magnificent Saturday. We worried a bit about how many downed trees we would find blocking our route after the April 16th Nor'easter howled through upper New England 5 days before, but thankfully almost all the potential strainers were duck-able. One huge and potentially lethal tree remains lodged near the bottom of the class IV Covered Bridge Rapid, and a portage is (for the time-being) prudent. A carry on either side is feasible. As we've seen in the past on early outings here, occasional thick ice shelves extending from the banks out a few feet and over-hanging the swift current were the more prevalent hazard.

Across Vermont this particular day was so sunny, so warm, so splendidly spring-like, that Ruth Page on VPR actually penned a story about it a few weeks later. It was a huge treat to spend a day like this on Joe's of the most naturally lovely and sparsely developed watersheds in all Vermont!

The day started with some mis-communication around the meeting spot. This seems to happen more often than it should, and in this case I take full responsibililty for proceeeding with only 1/2 the group down to the Powerhouse Road put-in before the others had arrived at the West Danville wayside where we agreed to meet. It's always windy and chilly first thing in the morning at the pull-off beside the ice-covered Joe's Pond, while the powerhouse put-in is private, sheltered from the wind, and equally sunny.

We got on the water about 10:30am, and did not finish until ~4:30pm, as Joe's is long and some of it's blind corners and steeper pitches require scouting, especially on the first run of the season. Tina Scharf helped with the shuttle, which was greatly appreciated!

It was Eve's introduction to Joe's, and the playboat she paddles lacked sufficient volume to pop easily out of some of the holes she found herself side-surfing in, including a sticky one half-way down Corkscrew - the opening class IV pitch. Confidence was bolstered when we all hit our landings at Dew Drop Inn, and John showed us the zig-zag sneak route (if you can call it that) through Pinball. Eric and I managed to FLIP the inflatable Shredder when we failed to skirt the monster hole at Great Escape (where a tree trunk partially blocks the entrance), and I am still a bit battered from the epic swim that followed.

Eve paddled extremely well, but shortly after our lunch stop at the covered bridge she decided she'd "had enough" and dragged her boat down a rutted former logging road to the car we spotted at Morse's Mills. I came to the same decision about 10 minutes after Eve, and the two of us towed our vessels trudging through a dense knee-deep spring snowpack where moose tracks were plentiful 20 or 30 minutes out to Morse's Mills. It was exhausting. Meanwhile, Jamie, John, Dan, and Eric were having a super run down through the most continuous and steep section of the river at a really playful medium-high level. Apparently a couple of the holes were grabby, even for those in creek boats, and there was some window-shading to reminisce about while we changed into our dry clothes at the take-out.

Energy levels were sagging and it was past 4pm as the foursome still paddling took out below the bridge at Morse's Mills, but it wasn't very hard to persuade them to get back on the water and finish the trip. We had scouted The Gorge from the right bank during the am car shuttle, so we knew we wouldn't need to stop and scout there. The rest of the drops in this section, 2 of which are III-IV's, were all free of strainers, and we made our way very quickly to the take-out where Eve and Tina were waiting. It was heartening to see Jamie, Dan, Eve, and Eric paddle with such aplomb - all apparently getting better with experience (and age?). As for John, the group never quit praising his boat-handling expertise, his river-reading skill, and his gift for teaching. Having him along on this trip gave everyone else a boost of confidence in class IV waters, and made the trip safer as well.

At medium-high levels Joe's Brook is a 7 course meal for solid class III-IV boaters who are ready for a bonafide class IV experience. On top of which it is spectacular in its beauty and remoteness. With all the talk about small-scale hydro-dam construction to help curtail global warming, it might be time to nominate Joe's Brook for Wild and Scenic River status, to be sure it stays open for recreational uses. Creekers (and others) should think seriously about writing letters to our elected officials in opposition to any such development on gems like Joe's Brook.

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