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Fire'n it up...Northfield Style in the Devil's Washbowl

Friday Oct 1, 2010
Kayak: Dave Packie, Russ Kelly, Sean Linsky, Ryan McCall
Organizer: Dave Packie
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium high
Author: Ryan McCall

Let's set the stage here....

We just received 5+ inches of rain in the Winooski River Basin and it's tributaries over the last 12 hours. You do one of 3 things - You get to a high point in the landscape, build an Ark or load your creek boat on your vehicle and head to the smallest, steepest runable stretch of brook you have dreamt of running for the last 2 years.

The latter is exactly what happened. The Devil's Washbowl is a never run ribbon of love that streams down from the Northfield Mountains to converge with Cox Brook along Moretown Gap. It has been getting tweezed for the last couple of years and poked and prodded at various levels but never has it seen a full complete descent until October 1st 2010.

The day stared as it usually does when boating is on the agenda...A check of the USGS gauges a drive to Putnamville to see what the NBW is doing and then back to make a few calls starting with Dave. Knowing he was also off of work for the day took the urgency of jumping on it out of the equation. A mellow conversation about possibilities for the day, that he was going to hop in his truck and get a visual...and then I was off the phone and back to breakfast with my kids. About 30 minutes later he called and said everything was huge and it was a Devil's day, get down to Northfield! Scott Gilbert walked away from the NBW and stuff was going off huge. Yup - the online gauges were spiking with no ceiling in sight. I couldn't make it down at the moment though as I was working on my coffee and a bagel sandwich sitting in between a 2 year old and a 4 year old watching Elmo converse with Mr. Noodle...Scott and Dave fired up a partial run at flood stage with out me, walking most of the meat because of the waves and holes.

Once I had my fill of Oscar, Big Bird and the rest of the gang on Sesame, I loaded up my gear and headed down to meet Dave at his house and wait for Russ to get out of class at Norwich. Noon and the three of us are on point ready to get on the river flows still pumping and rain coming down. We get about 1/2 way there and I look in the back of the truck and there is only one paddle, helmet and PDF for two boaters - back to Dave's house to get the rest of his gear...Nice when you only live 5 minutes from the river. As we are headed back up, Sean calls and says he is on his way over. Yes! a 4 man crew...this is good, as it takes the crazy JuJu that seems to hang over the Dave, Russ and Ryan show (I always get hammered in some hole or rapid when I am with those two). We set shuttle at the take out and head up to the draw where the creek flows, don our gear and hike down into the put in.

Dave wants to make sure Sean can find us so he runs back up and waits as I can feel my stomach flopping and all moisture leaving my mouth as I look at the creek. As I turn to Russ to say I want to see some of this on foot, he grins and says it is all boogie with some horizons. Yea - whatever, as I start down the creek knowing I am on a time limit of scouting. We scout down to the confluence with Bean creek (another that is on the shortlist) and get back as Sean is working into his boat at the put in. HERE WE GO!

I am such a pokey bastard and always the last on the water. Probably a bad thing to sweep as I am the weakest paddler in the group, but I do a lot of watching and learning as I see all of them taking their own lines and eddys. About 400 yards into the torrent I am bopping in and out of the action like a dance and really feeling the rhythm. I look up and see Russ and Sean moving out of their boats in an urgent fashion. Dave has pinned in a strainer but is upright and stable. The current is trying to pull him under but quick action and a shallow stream bed allow Russ and Sean to grab Dave and his boat and pull him out of the situation. I had boofed the log and was down stream to pick up any loose pieces. Dave is out safe and already pulling a saw out of his boat to strip the strainer. One less piece of wood to deal with later (Dave and Scott paddled over this at higher flows earlier without knowing - scary). Wood cleaned up we are off on our way to the confluence with Bean Brook and the first major rapid and gorge on the creek. Russ, Dave and Sean are running things in Blue Angles style and I am again alone but want to see the drop...Dancing around trying to see the line Sean pops from behind a rock and says just stay right and over the pillow. OK and I fire it off and it is as smooth as it gets...down in a sweet little gorge with a limbo log to get under - gotta get that one out some other day.

At this point we are all regrouped and feeling good in our boats. Dave has had two partial runs of this creek at this point and Russ one. They boat it as read and run down to the next side creek on the right...MAKE SURE TO EDDY OUT THERE! OK I can follow directions and besides you guys are going to be there - right. We run what feels like another several hundred yards of some of the most rhythmic boating I have ever done and I see Dave out of his boat standing in the eddy smiling from ear to ear ready to snag my bow as I peel into the eddy. He shoulders his boat immediately as I am getting out. Both Sean and Russ leave their boats. I carry mine up to where Dave has his and then walk down a path to see the rapid. It is a right handed turn into a falls dropping you into a beautiful gorge. The move doesn't look hard but more than I want to bite off. Sean is confident in his line and fires it up, getting sucked down upon landing and almost flipping...He cleans it though and is through grinning. Russ was taking speed shots with his camera the entire time. As Russ and Dave are discussing the possibility of following Sean's line, Russ decides to look at his sequence of pictures...He doesn't like what he sees of Sean's run and bags it. Sean nailed the first D of this drop and named it after his daughter Aspen...great name for the drop!

We get in the river below the drop to join Sean and make our way down though more amazing rapids that are now starting to shape up to be fun little boof ledges. All too quickly the action halts as the crew bangs into an eddy and we all scamper up the bank to look at what is around the bend. The Triple Drop....Wow what a pretty drop. There is much deliberation, scouting and an unintentional ghost probe run by Sean's boat - must have slid back into the river and ran the drop cleanly and upright even boofing the ~10ft falls. I have now gotten my boat down to where I am putting in (not running triple) and have scouted the drops below so I know where and what I am doing going on down river. Russ has me set up to take pictures and I am ready with a rope. In all reality Dave has been working this run for a couple of years - he gets the first go at this one. He styles the falls and runs a great line on the slide into the pool where I am at. Russ fires it up next and the Sean. Both Dave and Russ carry back up for a second go and make it look easy again.

Now that we are all back in our boats and working the river eddy to eddy you notice that it is definitely steeper than at the beginning and it is mostly 4ft ledges one after boof fest - except for one that has a rooster tail that looks like a rocket launcher. Again Dave and Russ fire it up as I make the easy boof. Looked like a sweet launch (check the pix). We come to the last ledge and all run it cleanly, eddy out and hike back to the car set for shuttle.

Once at the car we find Russ has left his keys up in my truck at the put-in. Sean and I thumb back up and we are quickly back at the take out. With so much water it is tuff to call it a day but Dave and I have to head back. Russ and Sean are off to bomb a quick Stony run only to find it has already flushed out as we suspect Devil's Washbowl has too behind us. At the bottom of Cox Brook Road in Northfield Falls is the Rustic Inn and not ready to totally call it quits and it being a tradition of mine after paddling in the Northfield vicinity, Dave and I belly up for a couple of pints to recap the day's events and toast the rain gods for serving up such beautiful liquid madness before heading back to our respective abodes.

So the long winded version of the Devil's Washbowl first descent...Get when you can!

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