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