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The Baker Valley

Sunday Jun 3, 2012
Kayak: Ryan McCall Brandon Alling Jamie Sorochak AJ Seibel
Organizer: AJ Seibel
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium low
Gauge (ft): 3.00
Gauge (cfs): 1000
Author: AJ Seibel

The Baker Valley. The crown Jewel of the Western edge of central New Hampshire. Here is where one can find waterfalls, boulder gardens, box canyons, bedrock, beauty and stunning whitewater. This area has yet to dissapoint me for my few trips to the area. You've got Pond Brook, arguably one of the most fun little creeks in the northeast - full of slides, nice and steep, and just short enough but just long enough all at the same time. Then, there's the Upper Baker - a classic alpine creek draining the top of NH, spilling down into the Baker Valley amongst cobbles, boulders, multiple pink granite rapids and stunning box canyons. And THEN, there's the South Branch of the Baker, which throws a little bit of everything together for a quality class III-IV run at all but the highest levels. It even has a 15 footer with a gnarly entrance and questionable landing for those so inclined to risk life and limb.

Our trip this day started with a nice bout of rain the night before, bringing the levels up. My first glance at the online gauge that morning had me get a little nervous as the gauge was reading 3.5' and was headed straight up. This meant a class IV-V day instead of III-IV, and the gauge wasn't updating quickly enough to calm my nerves. While I waited for Ryan to pass "Your Grandmother" on Route 2 (Vermont's most inefficient throughway) I refreshed the webpage for the gauge as though trying to win a last minute bid on ebay - but no luck. We headed down anyway to meet Jamie and Brandon, passing Jacob's Brook on the way. While it looked inviting, I know from my endless studying that it is out of my league, and the drops hidden from the road are much harder than the fun looking drop. Continuing on we passed Pond Brook at what looked to be a solid medium - putting my mind at ease that I wasn't about to seal-launch into a flooded river! A few minutes later we met up with Jamie and Brandon at the store in Wentworth and headed down the valley to the South Branch of the Baker. We arrived there to find water levels at a respectable medium low. Not great, but not bad either. We put on the river on the SB Baker proper as the Rocky Branch was too low. Some warmup rapids led us to some fun constricted drops, including an old mill race and a few nice boof/slide combos. Soon the Rocky Branch enters from the left, signaling the moment to get out before Cannibal Falls - a marginal 15 footer with a shelf landing and swirling, complex entry rapid. For our group that translates to Portage! From here down the river leaves it's bedrock feel and becomes a nice boulder strewn river with good rhythm. This goes for about a mile before arriving at the finale, a multi-stage slide that paddles easier than it looks. It's big and impressive, but essentially a slow speed slide when you're on line. In the pool at the bottom we hopped out, grabbed cars and headed on over to Pond Brook.

We arrived a Pond Brook to find a slew of Dartmouth and Plymouth Boaters taking off and another crew of 3 putting back on for another lap. We parked at the ballfield, oblivious on how to find it from the river (more on that in a minute). Arriving at the lower put-in, in the interest of saving time, we headed down the river, eager for the multitude of fun rapids below. Most rapids went without incident, but Jamie decided to probe one of slides upside down to test the integrity of his helmet and his uncanny ability to hold on in tense moments. He was fine, rolling up in the pool below, and we kept on boogying down. Arriving at Screw2 (Megaslide) we caught up with the first group just as they were running the drop. Nobody in our group had run this drop in the past as it is visually intimidating. It's a 3-part slide with the last part slamming onto a left side wall. Fun, huh!? Well, after seeing those "kids" run it without incident, we all fired it up and had great lines. None of us could believe how smooth it was, and kicked ourselves for not running it in the past. What a fun drop!

After this there's some more boogie and the the old millraces under the power lines, with fun moves and a side-to-side sloshing slide that you just point down and hang on. A little more boogie, a pin on a log, and we were at backyard boof. The best finale in the Baker Valley. It's a long slide with a terminal hole on the left, followed by a few smaller drops and an 8' auto-boof. It was great. And here's where the fun begins! Remember how we parked our car at the ballfield? Well, being the smart folks we are we never thought about HOW to get to the car, and we paddled down Pond Brook searching for that gdam ball field. I found a big barking dog, poison ivy, and farm fields - but no car. Soon we entered the Baker River proper, where Jamie decided to pin on another log, flip, lose his paddle, nearly drown, lose his hand paddles, and pin his boat on the log underwater. Fortunately he swam away somewhat unharmed, though it raised many an eyebrow! Well, we continued downstream looking for the takeout until finally abandoning hope and trudging through a farm field back to the road to walk back to where the cars really were, right where we left them. Note - if you park in the ballfield, take out at backyard boof and walk to your car, it's likely the easiest thing to do!

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