Tuesday, March 27, 2007

And we thought Saturday was good…

Video: Sunday In The Stonycreek Watershed

After a restful night at Zach’s house, Jim Steppenbaker and myself (Jason Hilton) took off for some creeking in the Stonycreek watershed. We met up with Jon Rudland, who had spent the previous day running safety on a beginners trip, knowing full well we were about to expose our newest Got Boof Crew member to some of the biggest drops in the region. After meeting up with Craig Wassinger, Jeff Knechtel, Jay Miller, Ted Pablo and Amy Pablo in Seanor, it was time to get it on in what American Whitewater recently called one of the top five locations to both live and paddle.

We began the day with a couple of laps down the Dark Shade as a warm-up for some of the newer members of the group. This run is a nice quick run, being only about a mile, with an equally short shuttle that is perfect for just banging out quick laps. At its steepest point, the boulder drop rapids come fairly close to one another, and the range of eddies allows you to really get a good feel for your boating skills of the day. There are plenty of boofs spread around as well so getting air is no problem. After keeping a close eye on the newer boaters, and shooting some video, everyone agreed it was time to head to the crown jewel of the watershed, Paint Creek.

Jim Steppenbaker on Dark Shade

Paint Creek is one of my top five runs in the region, even with the bad water quality and the scenery (you do paddle through a strip mine at one point). Despite what it may have going against it, the creek has really big drops for our region, runs more often than a lot of people think, and other than its badly shaped holes, the overall danger level of the creek is pretty low when compared to other comparable runs.

Ted Pablo amongst it

Joining us at the put in was Zach Frederick, who is about to have shoulder surgery that is going to excuse him from boating for about 7 months. If you have seen his name featured here a lot lately, it is because he has taken a rental car attitude with his shoulder now that he knows it is going to become bionic in the near future.

At 70 degrees, we could not have asked for a better day to run this jewel, and all nine of us put in with high spirits. The first rapid contains one of the stiffest holes on the run, and unfortunately this rapid can be a deal breaker for paddlers steeping it up to this level of paddling in this region. Unfortunately for one of our group members, the hole claimed another victim, forcing a paddler to recirc twice outside of the boat, and the boat to require extraction from a pin only after its spent five minutes surfing the hole on its own. The paddler ended up walking out after the near miss, and unfortunately, some @$$#*!% stole the paddler’s boat while that paddler was fetching a car from the put in. The rest of us continued down the run, with no knowledge of the crime being committed against our paddling buddy on the road near the first rapid. All of us do however know the serial number for the boat, so we will have our eyes open.

John Rudland @ Double

Craig Wassinger @ Double

The trip continued on downstream, and with most members of our group being new to the river, I was able to get up ahead and get into position to shoot some footage while others scouted the rapids to come. Everyone had really good lines through all of the rapids, and you could tell people were really enjoying their day and were running some of the biggest rapids they had ever run. However, the trip was not carnage free. One group member had a paddle break, while upside down in a tough boulder drop rapid, but was able to execute a half paddle roll to save from a swim.

Jason Hilton @ Mousetrap

The last big rapid bears two names that we have heard of, mousetrap and big sluice, and I knew when we got there people were going to be excited. The drop is pretty tall, about 20 feet vertically, and requires you to fly down a channel as the river necks down to about 5 feet in diameter into a mean looking hole with a slightly undercut right side rock wall. It is quite intimidating to look at, and people often refer to it as a crap shoot rapid as far as the lines go, with some people subbing through the big hole, others skipping off of the top, and the unfortunate few taking a beating and swimming. Well we had some of all three, with resident technique expert Craig Wassinger dishing up the best beat down award. Now I normally don’t mention swimmer's names, unless it is I, but he’s too good of a paddler not to have his name put up in lights to accompany this excellent display of wet exit technique. After subbing the drop and skyrocketing to the surface upside down, he took another lap in the hole, flipping to both sides of the boat and eventually, punching out and getting recirculated a bit. Did I mention I was ten feet away with a video camera rolling? Well after his show, Craig quickly hopped out and ran back up to the top, not to be bested by this drop after such a good day of boating. He fired up a great second attempt and off we were to the takeout.

Craig Wassinger getting beat and filmed

Everyone in the group left after the first Paint lap, minus Zach and I who stuck around for two more laps, the final one being completed in just 25 minutes. For both Saturday and Sunday, my total gradient was 3025 feet, not too shabby.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Saturday of firsts

On Saturday, 3/24, I (Jason Hilton) met up with Keith, Rick, Steve Bloskis and Eskimo Jim at the Fikes put in to begin a day of creeking. With huge rainfall in the area all sorts of runs were going off and I knew this would be a day of firsts. We put in Fikes for a nice warm up run, so everyone could get their groove back, as some of our group lack the stomach for the winter boating that you have seen posted across this site lately. After a quick warm up run down Fikes, it was on to some more challenging water.

Keith and Jim on Fikes

Half of the people we spoke to felt that Roaring Creek would be running in WV, and half didn’t, so out came a twenty-dollar wager. I, while trying to be optimistic, took the flowing side of the bet, but alas I am twenty dollars poorer to Keith’s infinite wisdom. But all was not lost, a quick look at Daugherty showed it running, and none of us had been there before. We ran into a group putting on, and another group that wanted to paddle with us that said it was low but doable, and off we went.

Well, the gauge must have shifted (it read 3 inches above the minimum), as this run was not running at anything that could be considered above bare minimum. The run was also just full of trees, so while we got to fire up some cool slides, we also did a lot of banging around, and a few extractions along the way, including a great save by Rick Bauer on yours truly.

Rick on Daugherty

Jim on Daugherty

After the torture of Daugherty, our group split up, with Keith and Rick deciding they preferred to get back to the comfort of a familiar run by going back to Fikes while Jim and I decided to end the day with more challenging and adventurous fare.

We met Zack at the takeout for Beaver Run, which flows into Meadow a few miles outside of Ohiopyle. From here it was the exploration of a completely new creek for the three of us. We got some beta about some footbridges and some dams, but wow, who would have thought it would be what it was. The local fisherman have claimed this bad boy for themselves and have built somewhere between 15 and 20 dams on the run. They are fairly short ranging 4 to 10 feet in height, but have fierce holes and running them required a lot of precision and a good eye for lines. We fired down the dams, as the sun set, remarking on how beautiful and different this kind of run was. A paddle snake did result in a swim along the run, in between dams, but overall the mood was awesome, and it was great to finally get on something both fun and challenging. The almost dark paddle in the fog at the end was quite the top off to the day, and Jim and I went to Zack’s house where he and his lovely wife Jancee took great care in feeding us and giving us bedding to prepare for Sunday’s shenanigans

Monday, March 12, 2007

Upper Blackwater Snow Edition

Saturday saw a return visit to the Canaan Valley area for a few laps on the Upper Blackwater. The rise in temperatures and considerable quantity of snow still present in the region, gave a nice melt to push the levels up. Of course, it began with an early morning wake-up and meetings along the way to lessen our number of cars and save money on the expensive gas.

Joining me (Jason Hilton) for today’s trip was Sam Mershon, on spring break (he is attending World Class Kayaking) from paddling in China with stories of big water, long days, and the kind of experiences you remember for the rest of your life. He quickly explained how he had never run water that big, and was anxious to get back on the creeks where he felt more at home. I had a feeling he would not be disappointed.

We met up with Zach and John Love at the upper parking lot in Douglas, due to snowy impassible conditions on the lower road. This only adds another 1/8th of a mile to an already long hike so it doesn’t make much of a difference. Once shuttle was set, we were off for lap one, with the plan to meet up with Shawn and Jay from Cleveland for lap two.

The hike down was extremely icy and after my third fall with my kayak, I decided to just drag it down the ice. Anyone who has hiked this trail under normal conditions knows that it is a difficult one, it gets even better covered in snow and ice. Once at the put-in it was the standard warm up psych up for 100-yard dash. No photo ever does this rapid justice, and our lines didn’t do it justice either. I missed the eddy, and did a nice scramble around to face forward and pseudo-boof off the ledge over the first hole, followed up by John Love’s equally impressive hit the rooster tail rock-n-roll routine. At the bottom of the rapid, we all began to question the sanity of this cold weather run. But as the rapids went by, we settled into the standard boof, paddle, turn and boof again groove that makes this run so good.

For me, it was exciting to finally (this is lap six for me) know where I am throughout the river. I have made it a goal of mine to know all the lines on this river by summer, and I was putting in the last pieces of the puzzle. Sam was also looking real strong, and seemed very excited about finally getting back to one of his favorites. He continually remarked about how good it felt to fly off six to ten foot high drops over and over again.

After running shock we got out (walked sticky fingers) and scouted pinball for wood that was rumored to be perched in the main line. Sure enough, it was there but we were sure we could go right over it and we did. The remaining lines we solid, ending with the standard mad rush down nerves. When all linked together, this is one of the fastest rapids around, and looking back upstream at the bottom of nerves, you realize why you came to Blackwater in the first place.

But of course, then comes the hike… It sucks normally, and is even worse with snow. Luckily the steep trail was clear and with our usual snail’s pace we climbed on out. The railroad grade did have snow however, so the long drag of the boat began. When we reached the parking lot, Jay and Shawn were waiting for us, explaining how they were worried about us (we were only an hour and a half late) and were contemplating putting on to see if we needed help. No worries guys, time for lap two. We lost Zach, who had a date to tend the potpourri, but added the Cleveland boys and off we went.

The climb down sucked, and we thought initially that it was lower than the first run (260 CFS) we didn’t find out until the next day that it was actually spiking up and we put in somewhere in the 290-300 CFS range. Most of our lines were good, and this lap (now lap seven total) included me leading a large portion of the run. We also managed to knock the wood out of pinball and cut free a dangerous looking throwbag that had become entangled below angle left. By the time we hit the takeout, those of us on lap two of the day were definitely dragging. One slower climb, one longer walk and an awesome winter Saturday on the Upper B came to a close. Next week Sam goes off to the West Coast, while we wait for the spring rains to fall some more.

Shawn and Jason at the put in

Shawn part of the way through 100-yard dash

John at the end of Tomko

Jason on the second boof of Tomko

Sunday, March 04, 2007

And with March comes the water...

This weekend, the flows were in! On Saturday, the day began for me (Jason Hilton) at 4:45 am. I normally would go to sleep about this time, but I had to meet Roger (IR) and Zach in Friendsville @ 7:00 to try to get in some Canaan Valley creeking. The flows were in enough that we were hoping to get on either Otter Creek or Red Creek, but unfortunately, these drained out to quickly and we resorted to the North Fork of the Blackwater. Not bad for a last resort run to pick up the North Fork of the Blackwater huh? Could have done without all the extra driving though.

Looking down at the put in from the trail

Don Smith and his crew were there running laps, and while everyone else there had run the run before, I was on my first run so Don agreed to help show us down. This is one of the steepest runs I have ever encountered, and with so many rapids, you feel like you are just falling off of a mountain. Every drop is at least ten feet and the boofs are HUGE. Needless to say, I was quite impressed. Big thanks to Don for showing us down, he new every rock in the river.

Jason entering World's Ugliest Rapid (Yes that really is the name of the rapid)

Jason in World's Ugliest Rapid

The bottom of Double Indemnity

Zach and Roger at the take out

On our way home we ran Bear Creek in Friendsville. After what we had done earlier, this was quite anticlimactic.

On Sunday, I met up with Craig and Carl to guide John Rudland and Jarrett Lambright down Meadow Run for thier first times. It was cold so the changing happened in the heated bathroom by the falls.

We caught Meadow at a low level, when all the eddies are out, so it made for great boulder hoping throughout the day. A number of folks were trying out new creekboats today as well, in preparation for the springtime flows, so this made an excellent training ground for them. It is amazing how many times I heard people tell me they thought they were a better paddler now that they got a new boat. I wonder if there is any logic to that statement? Sounds right to me.

John Rudland at the bottom of Cascade

Everyone had good lines through their first run, and a number of good boofs were exposed, which of course makes me happy. The second run saw the carnage of the day with two swims, but who am I to spread carnage stories (Ask me in person, and the dirt is yours). On the way down we cramed a bunch of folks into a cave on the river bank, only for Carl to look up and spot some awesome fossils in the bedrock.


The very first time I ever ran Meadow was on a cold snowy day similar to today, and I will always remember the amazing ice that forms on the sides of the river down in the bowl after seven foot falls.

Here is some ice from today

At the end of the run is the slides. This has to be one of the most well known rapids in the region, which many boaters scout, but a select few actually seem to run this. This is quite understandable, given the major increase in mess up potential for a bad run. But of course Craig and I had to fire this up after Carl was nice enough to show us the line, and explain his past experiences with the slides.

Carl at the top

Carl towards the biggest holes in the middle

Jason at the entrance to the slides

Jason on the way down

Craig after the second turn

Craig going into the last big hole