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Where's the water?

Wednesday Sep 19, 2012
Kayak: AJ Seibel Brandon Alling Brad C. Jim C
Organizer: Exxon Mobil
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Author: AJ Seibel

I was dancing in my truck driving home Tuesday evening, listening to the steady patter of rain on my windsheild. The forecast was calling for 1-2" of rain overnight - which meant options were going to be wide open for boating in the North Country the next day. After a dry summer, it seems extra special to be back in a boat.

I woke early, checking rainfall totals across the region, and river gauges via USGS - only to be shocked and generally disappointed. The rain didn't deliver in my neck of the woods, and the river gauges firmly agreed. Time to gas up the car and head somewhere... I got a call from Brad that he'd be boating in the Gorham/Berlin NH area, and that water levels looked good. After seeing that the Upper Moose was too low, and that Joe's Brook somehow avoided nearly all the rainfall, the decision was set and we were off. Brandon and I knew we'd miss the first runs on a nearby creek, and decided to drive a little north of Berlin to see if the Upper Ammonoosuc was running. It was not.

Brad called at just about that time and let us know the first run was low. Frustration began to set in. There was water everywhere, but we couldn't seem to find it! We linked up at the Great Glen Trails at the base of Mount Washington to head into Pinkham Notch and check out the Ellis River. The gauge was at 2.4'. Perfect, we were told, for the harder upper section of the run (dubbed "Crazy Rapids" in Lessel's book). I will 100% agree with that naming! We put on and immediately eddied out to check out the first drop. a 10' chunky waterfall into a nice pool. This was my first portage of the day as I wasn't feeling it, and didn't want to possibly swim out into the sticky ledge-holes just downstream. Everyone else ran clean and we were off. The next drop is a 3' spill into a cross-current hole which spills over a 5' drop with a hole looking meanest on the right. I dropped into this one cautiously and was pushed a little too far to the left, with my left paddle blade finding a nice slot of air to attempt a boof. Needless to say I plugged, but floated away upright and smiling. The next drop is a twisting slot that paddles cleaner than it looks, but I elected to boof this one from high ground, putting back in just below. By now we were into the flow and grooving through the boogie water, with Brad and Jim showing us excellent lines to follow behind. There's some sweet boofs and combinations to be had through this stretch. Overall very fun. The lower levels we were paddling at were a perfect intro level to this steep section of NH boulder garden and bedrock.

Heading downstream we picked our way through the boulders, and I kept thinking of how long I'd looked at this run and never thought I'd have the skill to get down it. My, how time and practice changes that! The other notable rapids on this run were a 3' auto-boof to a 6' spout into a manky, clogged up runout. Then a great class V sloshing gorge with what can only be described as a "single track" line through the upper chute, then off a sideways waterfall at the bottom. For me, another portage! Brad and Jim cleaned it. The last was another slot/gorge sort of rapid with a great curler/pillow boof halfway through the rapid. Super sweet. The river immediately mellows out at this point, and we took out at the Route 16 Bridge in Pinkham Notch. I hear there's more downstream, and will be excited to check it out in the future.

Google Earth tells me this run averages 216' per mile for the 1.77 miles we paddled. I call google earth a liar! The pool drop nature of many of the drops makes them feel much MUCH steeper. I was pretty sure this was the steepest river I'd paddled to date, but I suppose it's all relative in the end.

Paddle safe, boof hard, and be well! When it rains again, anyone want to look for some paddling a little CLOSER? We'll see!

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