Sunday, April 22, 2018

Knightville section of the Westfield – April 21, 2018

I’m an early riser, so I prefer trips that start early, and I tend to get there early. The annual Jim O'Brien Memorial Paddle on the Knightville section of the Westfield fits the bill since we need to get on the river early to beat the racers. The group was meeting at 10:00, and Paul and I arrived around 8:30. 

Lined up and ready to race
The Westfield River flows 78 miles through the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley in western MA before flowing into Connecticut River in Agawam. It has three named branches that converge in Huntington to form the Westfield River's main stem – the North Branch (sometimes called the East Branch), the Middle Branch and the West Branch. All three branches have whitewater runs, but we would be paddling the Knightville section on the North Branch, which also has the well-known Pork Barrel section upstream. 

We arrived around 8:30 and had some time to kill, so we stopped to check out the Westfield River Wildwater Race. According to the website, this is the oldest consecutively run canoe race in the US. The novice race puts in on the Middle Branch, and the "pro" race starts below the dam on the North Branch. It was nice to see so many canoes out on the river, even if many of them were paddled with double blades.

View of the River from the Knightville Dam
From there, we decided to check out the Knightville Dam and Reservoir. The dam is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and includes 2,400 acres of undeveloped flood control land. The reservoir has the capacity of hold 16 billion gallons. After hiking down to the reservoir, we drove over to the dam itself, which gave us a great view of the river below.

At 9:30, we pulled into the picnic area below the dam to unload our boats and change in our paddling gear. A small group had started to gather as I headed out to run the shuttle. The Jim O'Brien Memorial Paddle is an annual trip in memory of a local boater who died seven years ago in a tragic whitewater accident. The level was about 5’, 1,100 cfs – a typical dam release level. The river is mostly class II rock dodging until you enter the Gorge in the Gardner State Park.

Paul Running the Gorge Drop
There are two drops in the Gorge section. The first is an unnamed rapid that is about 25 yards long that I ran to the right (there is also a trickier shoot to the left that I ran a few years ago with Glenn). The second is a 3-foot ledge known as the Gorge Drop. It can be seen from upstream by a big rock in the middle of the river. You run this just to the right of the rock, and move left to catch the eddy, or at least avoid the big haystacks downstream.

From the Gorge Drop down to the take out there are some nice rock gardens separated by sections of quickwater.  Run took about 2 hours at a leisurely pace.  

Surfing below the Worthington Road (Route 112) Bridge

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Crisis Averted - Upper Millers - April 14, 2018

Doanes Falls
My original plan was to do the Black River in VT with the NHAMC this weekend. It would have been a 3-hour drive for a 5-mile run, but it looked good and it would have been something new. Unfortunately, the weather was bad and the river came up beyond the level the leader was comfortable with, so the trip got cancelled.  Fortunately, it was the weekend for the Millers release, and I saw that Conrad was leading a Boston AMC trip on the Upper Millers – crisis averted.

I dropped off my boat at the put in on Blossom Street in Royalston, and stopped to check out Doanes Falls on the way to meet the crew at the take out.  When Doanes Falls is running it usually means a good run on the Upper Millers.  The level was between 1,350 and 1,400 on the South Royalston gage – a nice class III.  At 1,000 it is an easier class II.

Running Mile Long
I met Conrad and Mike at the take out on Crescent Street (799) in Athol. We ended up running the shuttle and paddling with Kaz, Rick, Dave, Glen and Sandy and Peter.  The run starts off with a couple of class III wave trains and a big surf wave below the first railroad bridge.  

After the railroad bridge is short section of flatwater, and then Mile Long Rapid – a long class III rapid.  The river then settles down again until you get to the second railroad bridge.  Below that is a final class III wavetrain. Good time as always.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

First Swim of 2018 – Scantic – March 24, 2018

The quick water section
It could have been a real disaster - a broken zipper on my drysuit, not the swim.  After driving an hour and a half to the Scantic River in CT, I broke the zipper trying to put on my drysuit. Fortunately a friend who lived nearby was able to lend me a wetsuit and dry top, so I was able to do the run - crisis averted, and the red dry top matched nicely with my red PFD and helmet.

The Scantic arises in Hampden, MA (southeast of Springfield) and flows general southwest for 40 miles to join the Connecticut River in South Windsor, CT. I joined a group from the CTAMC to run the section from Quality Ave in Somers to South Maple Street in Enfield – about 5 miles on the course of the annual Scantic Splash whitewater race. The level was low but runnable – 1 foot, 37 cfs on the Broad Brook gage.

Running Stokers
The first 2.5 miles is quickwater/easy class I. The removal of the Springborn Dam over the winter eliminated the dreaded “Heart Attack Hill” portage at Broadbrook Road, and created a couple of new rapids under the railroad bridge. At this level, these new rapids were pretty boney.

The next 2.5 miles has couple of nice surf spots, and three class II+ rapids – Stokers, Chimney and Staircase. Stokers is a 3-foot ledge that needs to be run about 10 feet off the left bank.  My history at Stokers isn’t great (1 for 4 prior to this run), and I may have run it a little too far to the right this time, but I made it through fine. 

Running Chimney
The next rapid is Chimney - an “S” turn through some rocky ledges – no problem. 

The final rapid is Staircase, and it is exactly what you would expect - a series of ledges that look like a staircase with a large shoot at the bottom.  The ledges were pretty boney, and I got stuck in a hole just above the final shoot. I ended up side surfing for a minute of so, but finally worked my way out. Unfortunately, I came out backwards, and couldn’t get myself turned around, so I had to run the final shoot backwards.  I ended up swimming at the big wave at the bottom – first swim of 2018.

About to swim the bottom of Staircase
This year, my first swim came a little early than last year, but not as early as two years ago.  Swimming in a wetsuit reminded me why I love my drysuit, so I ordered a new one as soon as I got home.  Anyone know where you can get a drysuit zipper fixed.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Branch River Icebreaker – March 18, 2018

Running Whipple Drop
It was a balmy 23° as we met at the put-in in Harrisville. Mike decided it was too cold to paddle, but he did help us with the shuttle. It ended up being just Tommy and me, but we met Chuck who paddled up from the take-out, and Bill who met us for a burger at Gators Pub. Level was OK – 3.5’, 300 cfs. The river was pretty clear after it iced out in January, but with three recent Nor'easters there are a bunch of trees down now. Fortunately nothing that we needed to portage around. There is one strainer on river left at the bottom of Glendale that could be dangorous if you can't get over to the right. Good time as always.

Tommy running Glendale Rapid
Another great poem from canoeswithduckheads on P-net. 

From Ville to Ville,
of Harris to Nason,
many dam drops and boulders,
suit some for paddler displacin',

for where there once suited Santa,
Explorering a rock garden strut,
to thenst kneel before Whipple,
now arrests wickerbutt,

whilst other old RICKA's,
gone a RICA-c-split,
suit selves Souhegan and Wildfire
which dryly suits two outfit.

And addressing last portage,
appeared Riverstridin' refutin',
Rapunzel could drop longest lines,
for it abeards it must be Rasputin.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lower Millers - March 10, 2018

Rama sits in the left side eddy in the Funnel
I drove by the Lower Millers earlier this week for a meeting in Millers Falls. It looked great, and got me thinking that it has been a while since I had run it. When I saw that some of the “Where’s The Whitewater At” crew would be going, I decided to join in.

After the most recent Nor’easter, snow covered the ground as I drove back out to Millers Falls. After a warm February, it seemed odd to have snow again in March. We met at the take out at the bridge on Newton Street in Millers Falls for the shuttle back to the railroad bridge on Route 2. We had six boats – 2 canoes (me and Jim) and 4 kayaks (Jo-ann, Ann, Ian and Rama). The river was at a nice level – 4 feet, 1200 cfs.

It was a little cooler than I expected, and the wind was blowing me all over the river. Other than that, conditions were pretty good. The river is a series of class II/II+ wave trains the lead up to the main event – the Funnel (class III+/IV). My sole attempt at running the Funnel resulted in a long swim, so I have walked it ever since. I walked it again this time, which allowed me to get some video of the rest of the crew coming through.

Everyone took the right line except Rama who eddied out on the left to be the safety boat. It actually doesn’t look to bad on the video, except for the ledge on the right at the bottom. You can see Jim bouncing through it. I really need to try it again sometime.  When I asked who would run this rapid on on P-net here is the response that I got from Tom:
I'd twirl then tweet.
Broach boulder than freak.
Gulp twelve hundred cubic feet per second.
Float flopping on back,
toes point out style lacked.
Should have heeded a bankside that beckoned.
Or maybe I'd get lucky?
"Into the breech, boys! Into the breech!"
(Damn these voices that duel within Caverna Crania!)


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Its Miller Time - February 24, 2018

It was February, but it felt like spring as I drove up to the Upper Millers. The last time I had my whitewater boat out was also on the Uppers Millers, but that was back in November, so I was afraid I might be a little rusty. It worked out fine. The level last time was around 1,600 cfs – a solid class III. This time the level was around 930 cfs - class II+, but still plenty of features. Here is the crew doing some surfing below the first railroad bridge.

It was a big group – 18 boats, 8 canoes and 10 kayaks. I got to paddle Rick's Millbrook Outrage - definitely my next boat. Good time had by all.