Monday, June 25, 2007

Great Falls

Jason Hilton @ Great Falls (Courtesy of Thinkrain)

Thursday, June 21 saw my (Jason Hilton) first visit to Great Falls of the Potomac in Washington, DC. Around 4pm, I met up with Maggie of Think Rain notoriety on the lower Maryland overlook in order to get the scenic tour of the region before the afternoon falls running began. This is Maggie’s home stomping ground, and she took great care in showing me the Maryland and Center lines from the overlook, as well as explain to me some of the local history behind this most interesting geological wonder.

Great Falls (Maryland and Center Lines)

Looking around, it became apparent how unique of a place this is. As the pictures show, the river breaks up into various fingers to descend the 75 feet of gradient between the upper pool, and the beginning of the Mather Gorge section of the Potomac. We paddled out through the top pool, and then pulled out on the top of the flake to scout the Virginia line. The level was 3.0ft, which seemed to be a great level for the Virginia line. As we scouted, it became apparent how awful a swim anywhere along the line would be so naturally the scouting included a very detailed look at both the U-hole rapid and the S-turn rapid in order to get properly setup for Spout, the final drop.

U-Hole top of picture, S-Turn bottom of picture (Courtesy of Thinkrain)

S-Turn and the lip of Spout

Pictures do not really do Spout any justice, as it has to be one of the weirdest lips on a waterfall I have seen. The river appears to sort of toilet bowl down through the drop, and running it involves a right to left line across this toilet bowl and a delayed boof to break free from the curtain. After running through the top drops with no problem, I eddied out and got ready for the big one. After seeing a few folks fire off, it was time to go. You pull out and just ferry across the water as you quickly approach what appears like a fall off of the end of the world. Just as you roll off the lip sideways, it is a big right stroke and you are there, sitting in the pool looking back up at one of the most aggressive geological formations in eastern paddling.

A look back up at Spout

Hiking back up to run the drops again involves a climb up the flake, which was appropriately explained to me as a 5.5 climb with a boat. As Zack would say, you definitely have to pay to play at this park and huck. Round two went just as well as round one, and Maggie and I spent the remainder of our time taking a close look at some of the other parts of the falls so I would know the lines when I returned at different levels.

The climb up the Flake

Maggie contemplating how dangerous the Horseshoe Hole could be at this level

What a great way to spend a dry summer day, thanks Maggie!