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Big water in VT: April fools or a new big thing?

Saturday Apr 5, 2014
Kayak: Tom N, Clay M, Mike M
Organizer: Mike M
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Gauge (cfs): 3400
Author: Mike M

It's been a slow start to the season here in Vermont. There's a good snowpack for sure, but the ice has stuck around in the riverbeds and levels have been pretty low. The skiing has generally been pretty good though, but after a night of freezing rain I was pretty sure Saturday morning that I wanted to go boating. Problem was that the ice status on the Mad was unknown, the New Haven was probably still iced in, and everything else was definitely still frozen.

Except for Sheldon Springs on the Mississiquoi. It certainly seemed likely that this normally dewatered, low-elevation reach, which was currently running at around 3000 cfs would be pretty clear of ice and be at a nice level. And we knew from releases last fall that if there was water and not too much ice, it would offer a fun time. Tom and Clay were on board so we headed 40 minutes north and were happy to see the riverbed nicely full and generally clear of ice.

The level felt a little bit higher than the first (higher) release last fall - not significantly but just enough to make the features noticeably larger. There was plenty of water going over the dam (a bit less than last fall), but the left sluice gate was wide open, which the dam operators said was good for about 1000-1200 cfs. The level behind the dam was fluctuating around 202.9 to 203.1 while we were there (there is a staff gauge on the river left dam abutment; Scott, the friendly dam operator said he has a rating curve somewhere). If the level last fall was 3000, then I'd guess we had 3300-3500 or so.

Like we saw last fall, the run had a nice big-water aura to it, but because the riverbed has lots of jumbled boulders the water is more active, with many boily and unstable features. This level does a nice job of covering the many pinning features that are exposed at lower water.

The run starts out with a meaty ledge with several clean options between meaty pourovers. Then comes a complex assortment of channels and rocky islands. On all three laps we ran the left-side boulder garden sneak of the second rapid, running the twisty entrance on the right but then cutting to the left side to avoid several large holes. The right side is a great, exciting and generally straightforward line but given the cold temps and very cold water we wanted to play it safe and not get worked in holes while chunks of ice assailed us. Plus, the lines down the left are fun, classic boulder garden slalom courses. The added water also appeared to open up some lines in the center which looked cool, and meaty.

The next couple rapids are a bit more straightforward - a wavetrain with two offset holes requiring a very classic big-water S-move, then a rapid that should be called "Screaming Right Turn", which pushes into an un-named stretch that has a couple hidden holes out in the middle that successful boaters must identify and avoid (there are many ways to do this), and finally a bit of runout with a few decent surf features. Then there is the powerhouse on the right, where you take out, load your boats on the car and drive back up to do it again.

And so we were entertained for three laps, and could have done more except that we brought only one car and thus had to walk the 1-mile shuttle each run, so it was getting late by the time we finished and had also started snowing.

This is a fun section of river that seems to run pretty frequently and is really convenient. It's hard to believe it has been sitting there all this time and is just starting to become popular.

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