Monday, December 17, 2007

I hope my gear thaws out for next weekend...

This weekend we decided to stay local and calm down our runs to a more reasonable caliber for the enjoyment of all (Fikes, Meadow, Indian Creek). Ok, Art and I may have cheated by bagging the bottom of Rasler, but I owed it one from my recent shenanigans there.

Note to self: You and your crew can run into trouble at any river.

Mike "Hitch" (or as Art and I began to call him "Houdini")

The following is a reflection from Got Boof Crew member, Matt "Dr. Jones" Pascal.

The elation associated with seeing my friend Mike ashore, grinning and arms waving, was significant enough to allow me – for a moment – to forget about my physical discomforts. The soreness in my back from paddling as swiftly as possible for five miles and the numbness in my fingers, the stinging on my face, and the shivering in my core from doing so in sub-freezing temperatures into a strong headwind were overtaken by relief. Mike was literally and figuratively out of the woods and this meant that we would not be faced with the prospect of beginning a search for him there in these conditions.

We started the day with a plethora of prospects, but needed to be on the safe side. It had rained enough overnight to bring up some of the gauges and because Mike is a beginning paddler, the options were a bit more limited. After toying around with the idea of the Casselman River (too high), Laurel Hill Creek (probably our safest bet), and Indian Creek (just a bit of a challenge for Mike), we opted for the latter because it came with the addition of our friend Jason, who would add 33.3% more safety on the water. That seemed to make Laurel Hill Creek a less desirable option, and as we found out later, that was actually a 50% increase because our friend Art came along as well. Indian Creek it was. Grease Fire did his best Indian impression, though I'm not certain that any American Indian actually ever repeatedly hit his or her mouth with their hand while making a loud "O" sound.

Indian Creek at the level we found it yesterday is a lot like the Lower Yough with the addition of two 6-foot ledge drops that excited the experienced paddlers in the group (Art, Jason, "Grease Fire" Rob, and me) and challenged Mike to experiment with a boof stroke. His first experiment failed, and after a short sideways ride in a curtain, Mike swam out of his boat. Strike one. In general, few holes on Indian Creek were not punch-worthy, but Mike found one of these a short time after his first swim. Strike two. In fact, after swimming out of this hole, his boat found itself abandoned for the first time that day on a mid-river ledge. No fear; Indiana Jones brought his whip. Cue in the theme music.

With Mike's third swim came his third strike. All agreed it was time to walk. Because we were more than halfway down the Indian, he would walk downstream. When he reached the confluence with the Yough, we would all paddle the flatwater five miles to the take out. The wrench in the plan came about 30 minutes later when Jason and I realized that there are two un-crossable tributaries before that, Rasler and Richter Run. It was at that moment that I became unnerved with the situation, and so when we got to Rasler Run, I insisted on hiking up to find Mike. Also at that moment, Mother Nature chimed in with her interesting twist: a snowstorm.

And so I spent the next 90 minutes (wild guess here; no watches in the group) hiking up and down Rasler on both sides trying to locate Mike. Blowing my whistle and shouting was unsuccessful as I crawled on all fours against the cold ground through thick rhododendron. Grease Fire waited at the confluence and eventually huddled under a thick patch of rhododendron to stay warm. Art and Jason hiked up Rasler with their boats for about ¾ of a mile and paddled the class 5 creek back down. When we reunited at the small creek's end, we decided that the situation was now urgent enough to make our main priority getting to Mike. And, he had to be somewhere between Rasler and the put in, an area we were now unable to adequately search because we were downstream of it.

The beauty of shoving our kayaks back into Indian Creek with big, heavy flakes dropping was barely noticed as we all pushed on. As we approached AW-rated class 5 Terminator rapid, I bowed to the River Gods and asked for kindness. We scouted, and all ran the big Upper Gauley-esque wavetrain with no issues. In a rapid below that, Rob was surfed sideways into a big hole. As we all reacted by turning around to help, Jason was closest to him. Rob wrestled with the hydraulic for a 20-second ride, was flipped, and then surfed himself out the side of the ugly hole. Upon reaching Jason, he sternly said, "We don't have time for a swimmer." Cue up that theme music one more time.

Rob "Greasefire" Mitchell Doesn't Have Time To Swim!

The day was clearly getting late when we reach the mighty Yough. Looking more like the Ohio, the river was more than 100 yards wide and the wind was whipping whitecaps into showers of spray. A plan was initiated, though I think that it was probably slightly different in each of our heads. In mine, it was as follows. I would paddle hard with keys to one of the take out vehicles, warm it up and get changed into dry clothes. That would allow me to load boats onto the roofs while the others changed and warmed up. Once we were ready to move, one car would go straight to the put in vehicle, hoping to find Mike there. The other car, equipped with a Gazetteer, would take a detour and explore the back roads on the upstream side of Rasler Run, hoping to find Mike there. We'd meet at the put-in car, where there was food, and if we didn't have Mike with us by then, one car would stay there and wait while the other drove to the Fire Department in Ohiopyle (about 5 miles away) to get help. It was very cold out and the snow was piling up. Mike would not make it through the night if he was in the woods in all of his wet paddling gear. I was concerned to the point that I'd accepted the necessity of spending whatever money was necessary to get the four of us geared up to hike into the woods for many hours in these conditions at night. I was putting together a mental list of gear for each of the four of us: headlamp, extra batteries, sturdy boots, outerwear, thermos with hot tea, food, blankets, etc.

It was only a week ago that a few acquaintances had been lost in the woods of the Otter Creek Wilderness in West Virginia after an unsuccessful attempted first "complete" descent of Moore Run. There were only two of them and one spent the night in the woods after suffering a broken nose and serious lacerations on his face, both of which occurred during a bad swim after the two men had separated from each other on the river. It all turned out well, but the night was in the low 40's and it was dry. With the weather into which I was now paddling, the situation that I was now envisioning was potentially deadly for Mike.

Mike's solo landborne experience was not psychologically dissimilar from ours, and he made all the right decisions. Upon reaching Rasler Run, he discounted getting in his boat or attempting to wade across. Rather, he remembered us showing him a secondary road that goes to its put in. So, he quickly and smartly diverted his downstream journey along Indian Creek into an upstream journey along Rasler Run. Ducking the thick rhododendron underbrush on all fours in the snow, Mike dragged his heavy kayak behind him for what mush have seemed like an eternity. We could have been separated by only a few hundred yards at that time and wouldn't have known it. The heavy load undoubtedly kept Mike working hard enough that he was warm, but that also meant that he was expending a lot of energy he would need if he was stuck overnight. But, he didn't need it, because there was NO WAY he was getting stuck overnight; it would be fatal. Mike soldiered on to a backroad, and in his own words, knew that he would be fine. He picked up his boat and followed the road uphill out of the creek's drainage region. Miles later, exhausted, he got to the main road, Rt. 381, dropped his boat in a ditch, and earned his new nickname: Hitch. His approximation of the time spent hitch hiking is 90 minutes. It was now in the 20's, approaching darkness, and the snow was creating near whiteout conditions. Mike must have been equally as afraid of a car sliding into him as he was of one never stopping for him. When he was finally picked up, he had no idea where to go. As a new paddler who lives 4 hours from this area, he is not familiar with the region. After he and the driver quizzed each other on nearby towns and waterways, the conclusion was drawn that he would find us at out take out near the Rod & Gun Club in Connellsville. The man drove him out of his way for more than ten miles through the big storm. Insert divine intervention reference here.

And so another epic day on the river came to a shivering end, with the five of us screaming and hugging, celebrating there on the side of the Yough just upstream of Connellsvile. Ice coated all of our skirts, helmets, and life jackets. Mike was now cold enough to be going into high frequency vibration. Cars were started, warmth returned, and the long, slippery drive home began. Ironically, the question "Got Boof?", had it been posed to Mike before launching into Indian Creek and pondered seriously, would have radically changed the course of the day.

Dr. Jones Post Paddle

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Winter Water

This week we have had a great turn in the weather. Early in the week we managed to catch about 5 inches of snow, and then just for the weekend, it warmed up and began to rain pushing water into all of the wintertime class IV runs that surround our region. The fun for me (Jason Hilton) began on Saturday with a trip to the Top Yough with Mike Whaley and Joshua Bernstein. We were expecting to be in the 300's, a lower but fun level, which would allow us to take in the beautiful snow covered surroundings, as we picked our way on down through the namesake river of the time period we have affectionately dubbed, Top Yough Season (Officially, after Gauley Season and before Creek Season).

Quiz: What Is Mike Missing?

Hard To Squeeze In With All The Gear On

What we received was a river spiking up towards 800 CFS and a nice pushy rush through the run. We spent the majority of the time guessing what the level could be, and none of us guessed as high as it was. I wonder if it would have made any difference in our lines.

Mike @ Swallow Falls

Josh And Mike Below Swallow

Josh Below A High Suckhole

Either way the day was great. We were on a time crunch, so we set out to run two laps both at good speeds. The first one was a nice sharp reintroduction to winter paddling, with a few missed lines and some cold water on the face, but overall the lines were good. The second lap saw the addition of two more paddlers, (Cody and John) and we all quickly buzzed down through the run. For the most part, our lines improved and we enjoyed the higher water rush through this regional classic. Sticking with our agenda, we made it back to Pittsburgh by 4:00 pm for dinner with the folks.

John and Cody's Shuttle Vehicle

Sunday brought a host of choices as the rain and melt continued. Matt Pascal, Carl Schneider and I decided to go down to the Tygart watershed, so that they could bag some new creeks, and we could meet up with the Baltimore crew. Our group began as ten as we put on to Laurel Creek for a run down this bedrock gem. Only myself and another paddler had been here before so smiles were apparent the entire way down the river, as people took in the great rapids of this awesome creek.

Healthy Baltimore Carnage

I was surprised to see so many members of our group run floating boulder, as this is generally snuck, but it was a nice rush that 5 or 6 of us had to partake in. Along the way one or two boaters walked out as they realized they may be in over their heads, and we had a prolonged recirc and swim within 10 foot falls, but none of these instances got in the way of an awesome day and congratulatory commentary at the end of the run.

Art Taking The Meat Head On @ Floating Boulder

Kevin And Sam Below Floating Boulder

Topher In It

Matt And Sam

We then slowly made our way over to Teter Creek, because that is what you should do when you have just run Laurel, as it is only two miles away. Teter was at a perfect med to high level that made for a wide variety of lines possible, and while we did have some carnage as individuals decided to experiment, we also had a great time taking in the small gorge this creek runs through. As Carl put it, in a moment of elation, "This is one of the best days of paddling ever."

Teter Scenery

Matt's Happy Face

Carl Loves It

On our way to check out a third creek we ran into a couple of roadside waterfalls. Kevin and Sam from Baltimore took off like children at recess to get some video of some big drops. After watching them huck two falls, it was time to head home and wish we didn't have to go to work tomorrow.

Kevin And Sam Roadside

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mystery Run Clean Out

As many of you know, I (Jason Hilton) am always on the hunt for first descents in our region, which is challenging due to the rich whitewater history we enjoy in Western, Pennsylvania and our vast preponderance of innovators in the steep creek realm. Having spent countless hours of my own time looking for these obscure runs, I was elated to be clued in on a first descent found by another kayaking pioneer, Scott Loveland (the creator of paddle grip). This run drops 182 ft in .4 mile giving it an average overall gradient of 455 fpm, and it was hidden right under our noses. It helps that the run is officially nameless, and doesn't appear on anything but the best topographical software, so throw your delorme away, you are not going to find it.

Follow The Leader

Of course inclusion in such a monumental journey does not come without a cost, as the first descent requires a large cleaning out of the run to make it navigable. We have completed 80% of the cleaning out, and what follows is a report from our group leader. Once the cleaning out is complete, count on a post on the run as we bang this bad boy out.

Cold Day For A Clean Out

The Work Ahead

Scott Loveland Writes:

It should surprise no one that paddlers associated with this site are eyeballing a new first descent located in a stunning steep-walled gorge. Nor would it shock anyone that this run is filled with tight, technical rapids and big, teeth-rattling drops. As per the norm, access to this type of hidden jewel is gained via the use of GPS, Sherpa porters, and miles of back country bushwhacking. Right? I mean, any first descents left in this region have to be so prohibitively difficult to access that only the most certifiably certifiable would be willing to attempt them. Well, not exactly....

What if I told you that this new gem is “hidden” right beside a densely populated urban area? Or that it is within 20 minutes of an insanely popular whitewater run? Or that the first major waterfall (*40 ft.!!!) is within 50 ft. of a heavily traveled highway? Would you believe it? Could it be possible? The answer is a resounding “YES”!

First Waterfall

This new classic, christened Mystery Run, has been hidden in plain sight. It is on the short side at a bit under ½ mile, but with a gradient of 455 FPM, it will thrill even the most die hard creeker. It is an unnamed tributary of a major river. Scot Loveland, founder of Paddle Grip and the soon to be launched (environmentally friendly kayak lifestyle products to include clothing, water bottles and jewelry), stumbled upon this whitewater roller coaster ride while driving around this past May. As stated, the star of this run is basically roadside. You put in at a 40 ft. 2-stage waterfall. This drop is probably unrunnable as a whole, but that remains to be seen. It looks as if the rock shelf, located about half way down, sticks out a bit too far and the pool at the bottom is a bit too shallow (about 4 ft.). You can walk behind the curtain at this shelf. The proposed put in is to launch through the curtain of the top portion of the falls, slide down about 10 ft. of rock and seal launch 17 ft. into the waiting pool below. This should make it the most spectacular and dramatic put in around. But there is no rest for the wicked once you have smoothed the launch. As Jeff Macklin stated, eddies are going to be “few and far in between”. What follows are about 600 yards of continuous class IV/V rapids. The first one will require maneuvering over and around an old-growth log jam. Another starts with a large undercut on the left followed by a tight S-turn with some definite piton potential. Next comes a pretty 14 ft. waterfall that will require you to boof hard left in order to miss a large splat rock that covers the right half of the landing zone. The lead to this drop is sloped bedrock, so momentum will not be a problem. After a brief respite in the pool below the falls, its pedal to the metal with two back-to-back class V's. One is about a 10 ft. slide and drop into what might be a thunderous hole (might also have some awesome boof potential!). The ledge forming the hole is somewhat uniform, undercut and boxed in on both sides. The next rapid, affectionately dubbed “The Squeeze” by Jason Hilton, offers a choice of two tight lines, a cave and more piton potential. This concludes the crux of the gorge. What follows is class II boogie water and log dodging as the walls gradually fade into bottom land and you complete the run to the take out.

Macklin Always Prepared

Opening Up The Second Waterfall

People Who Are Not Afriad Of Heights

On 12/1/07 Jason Hilton, Jeff Macklin, Derek Medved and Scot Loveland met for creek maintenance on this run. It was frequently blocked by decades old log jumbles. Lugging various implements of destruction to the bottom of the gorge, this crew began the work of removing tons of wood that had tumbled down the gorge's steep walls. Luckily, the liberal use of a chainsaw aided the process, but clearing all of the major drops still took more than three hours. The labor was halted at that point due to previous commitments on behalf of the crew and the fact that Jeff Macklin unfortunately crushed his right hand after slipping on some leaves while carrying a log. A trip to the emergency room confirmed a broken bone and he will be sporting a shiny new cast for 4-6 weeks. The remainder of the run will be cleared in the near future and after that we just pray for rain! Video documentation of our feats and follies on Mystery Run will be forthcoming.

Ready To Cut

Scott "Leatherface" Loveland

Stay tuned for updates on this new run.