Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Paddle of 2009 - River Island Park - Dec. 31st

I paddled for a couple of hours this morning with Andy down at River Island Park.   The river was at a nice level for surfing, and it started to snow just as we put in - great way to end the year.  I'm looking forward to the start of the 2010 paddling year tomorrow on the Crystal section of the Farmington River in CT. 

My Pictures

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ode to snow melt (and drysuits) by Matt M.

‘Twas two days past Christmas, and all thru the state
The snow it was melting, the weather was great

Message board was a perking, but the gages were ice
With some optimism, we thought paddling ‘d be nice

Came Tommy, Craig, Erik, 2 Jeffs and a Scott
Wade and a Sparky, Al, Aaron, dang that’s a lot

Tommy he e-mails, says “I’m gonna’ pole”
Well I gotta’ join him, can’t just be one a-hole

Well, the gages they’re spiking, but now it’s too late
Dumoines already loaded, 3 poles on the tailgate

I tell Al the new guy, it’s a real scenic run
More scenic than exciting, it’ll still be fun

Well seems two feet of snow melted and it’s fifty degrees
Throw in a new put-in, I’m just thinkin’ “Jeez”

What the heck am I doing, poling on a whim
I know what’d feel better, think I’ll take a swim

Now that feels better, swimming is fun
Guess the feelings mutual, ‘cuz in plops my son

Well swimming may not have been part of the plan
But throw in some snow melt and one broken dam

Well we do recover, another swim, no big deal
So in goes Craig and Al, flippin’ for real

Well return on investment they taught me in school
Since we’re all wearing drysuits, we’re loose, pretty cool.

This was written by Matt M. and was inspired by a late-seaon run on the Salmon River.  It was posted on P-Net, but was too good to lose.

Salmon River - Dec. 27th

We had a great day yesterday on the Salmon River in East Hampton, CT.  The Salmon is a finicky little class II(+) river that's tough to catch, but is a blast when you do. It forms where the Jeremy meets the Blackledge and runs through the hemlock-covered hills of the Salmon River State Forest in central Connecticut.  With yesterday’s warm temps, the river was covered with fog which added a mystical feeling to the trip (but made it tough to take pictures). There were waterfalls running down the banks, and icicles on the rocks. The river was as pretty as it was fun to paddle.

I’d paddled the Salmon a couple times before – last year with Matt and Aaron, and the year before with Mike B. Both times, the river was around 500-600 cfs. At that level, the river is more technical – still class II, but lots of rocks to dodge. The East Hampton gage was iced up yesterday, but the locals were estimating that the river was around 5.5 feet and 1,000 cfs which buried the rocks and produced long wave trains that were a blast to ride.

We put-in on the Jeremy River which added a mile of nice class II rapids to the trip. The toughest part of this section of the river was dodging the ice chucks that came floating down the river. It also required a tough portage around an unrunnable dam. Everyone helped out and we quickly got all the boats up the steep bank, around the dam and back in the water.

The toughest rapid on the river is a broken dam with 3 drops - each around 2’. The usual route is through a shoot on river right, but with the high water yesterday, a shoot on river left also looked runnable. Matt tried the shoot on river left in his 16’ Dumoine, got spun quickly, and ended up in the water. Matt’s son Aaron tried the shoot on river right, hit a rock below the first ledge, and also took a swim. Tommy hit the same rocks on river right, but made it through clean in his Explorer.

Salmon River from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

No swims for me – obviously I wasn’t trying hard enough.

My Pictures
River Description from American Whitewater
Matt's Ode to snow melt (and dry suits)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It was a busy couple of months in 2008

I have been uploading old videos to my Vimeo account and found these three videos from February and March 2008:

Crystal Rapids on the Farmington River with Matt, Aaron and John - February 2nd

Farmington River from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

Shepaug River with Matt, Aaron, Bob and Scott - February 24th

Shepaug River from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

Branch River Icebreaker with the RICKA crew - March 15th

Branch River Icebreaker from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

I caught the paddling bug in the spring of 2005, and started paddling year-round in the spring of 2006. Since May of 2006, I’ve paddled every month except February 2007.  I did paddle inside at the RICKA rolling clinic that month, but that doesn’t count. Its nice to be able to look back through my old pictures.

Looks like we have some snow coming for Christmas.  I'm hoping for some warm weather and rain after Christmas to bring the river levels up so I can do some paddling next week.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause - December 6th

I saw him yesterday poling a Mad River Explorer on the Ware River.  He sometimes goes by the name Mike, and he was accompanied by seven elves – Chuck, Tommy, Marshall, Matt, Sean, Mena and me.

We had a fun day on the Ware River in Gilbertville, MA. Eight boats (six Explorers - Mike, Chuck, Tommy, Marshall, Matt and Sean, one Dagger Reflection - Mena, and one Mohawk Whitewater 16 - me) put-in at Hardwick Road and poled down to Upper Church Street – about eight miles.

When we arrived at the put-in at around 10:00, the area was covered with a thin blanket of snow - not as much as we had received in RI, but still pretty. The river starts off as flatwater with an occasional riffle.

About a mile above Gilbertville the rapids begin. The AMC guide and American Whitewater rate them as class II/III, but that is dramatically overstated - at least at yesterday's water level (Ware River near Barre, MA - 3.5 ft., 110 cfs). At the bottom of the first set of rapids there is nice ledge to practice attainments. Sean pushed up with no problem, as did Mike, Tommy and Matt. I made it half way up, only to get spun sideways and pushed back downstream.

Below the Route 32 Bridge the river is shallower and picks up speed – avoiding rocks becomes a major challenge as Tommy found out the hard way. Not wanting to ruin my perfect record, I also took a swim a little further downstream.

After loading the boats, we reconvened for pizza and beer at Hardwick House of Pizza - another great day.

Tommy's pictures
River Description from American Whitewater
Directions to put-in from Google Maps
Upper Ware River - December 2, 2013

Friday, November 27, 2009

A View from the River - November 27th

That's the title of a Ranger Talk that I will be doing at the Museum of Work and Culture on January 17, 2010.  The talk will be on the Blackstone River's historic mill villages.  I just finished this slideshow based on the Plainfolk song Blackstone Valley that I plan to use at the end of my presentation.

A View from the River from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

Thanks to Cheryl Thompson Cameron and Keith Hainley for allowing me to use their pictures.

I can't believe that I just had a six-day weekend, but couldn't squeeze in any paddling. I had some time on Friday, but the weather didn't cooperate. I guess its good to be busy with family and friends.

Cheryl's pictures at Webshots
Keith's pictures on Webshots
Historic Mill Villages from

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bernon Mills - November 21st

It was other busy weekend without much time to paddle. I did get out for a couple of hours down at River Island Park. Level was good – 3.5 ft., 1,400 cfs.

I was surprised to see how much progress the developer of the Bernon Mill Estates condominium project has made. The number 1 mill still needs a lot of work, but the number 2 mill is ready for sale. I’m not a big fan of condominium developments, but condos often seem to be the only viable way to save these old mills. This developer has done a nice job maintaining the integrity of these historic mills which are two of the oldest in Woonsocket.

My pictures
Pictures of the Bernon Mill Estates from tblades810
History of the Bernon Mill Village from

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What to do on a rainy day - November 14th

Normally, I’d say paddle, but I’ve been fighting a cold this week, so I didn’t think that would be a good idea. I finally bought a new external hard drive to hold all my paddling pictures and videos, so I spent a couple of hours organizing my files.  In the process, I found some clips from a park-and-play session at River Island Park last spring that I put together in this video.

River Island Park from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

Not as good as paddling, but not a bad way to kill a couple of hours.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Indian Summer – Ashton to Albion - November 8th

You couldn’t ask for a nicer day – sunny and warm - so I decided to take my canoe down to the Blackstone River in Ashton for a quick paddle. I usually paddle the canal/river loop from Ashton down to Lonsdale, but this time I decided to go upstream from Ashton to Albion.

I don’t paddle this section of the Blackstone very often – probably because its such a short trip. Its no more than a mile-and-a-half from the Ashton Dam up to the Albion Dam. The most prominent features on this section of the river are the two huge bridges that carry traffic from Route 295 over the river. On the Cumberland side, the pike bath takes landlubbers on a pleasant trip along the river. On the Lincoln side, the banks are steep with huge rock outcroppings that plunge down into the river.

I had forgotten how different the river looks once the leaves have dropped. With the leaves on the trees, the river feels isolated - like paddling through a green canyon. Once the leaves drop, signs of civilization are everywhere – houses, businesses and traffic. I am always amazed that the banks of the Blackstone escaped the development that occurred elsewhere in the valley.

I only took me 20 minutes to paddle upstream to the Albion Dam. The water was low, but I was able to surf some small rapids below the dam, and chat with a fisherman who was also taking advantage of the beautiful day. The trip back was even quicker, so I played in the waves below the Ashton Dam for a while. A small group gathered on the bridge below the dam to see if I would take a swim. Fortunately for me, the crowd was disappointed.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween on the Piscat - October 31st

Had a fun day today at the MVP/AMC year-end paddle and BBQ on the Piscataquog in Goffstown, NH.  RICKA was well represented with eight boats - six kayaks (Tom Jr., Tom Sr., Paul, Bob, Andy and Steve) and two canoes (me and Jeff). We were the first group on the river, and the last group to reach the take-out.  The Piscat is an easy class II with a couple of nice surf waves. I was doing pretty well on this one until I got spun sideways with my paddle on the upstream side (end of video).

Halloween on the Piscat from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

I didn’t get to stay to enjoy the BBQ, but I did get home in time to give out candy for Halloween.

My pictures
My video
River description from American Whitewater

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Love the Rock" Part 2 - New Boston Run on the Farmington - October 18th

When I pulled into the small parking lot at the Bear’s Den Rapid Sunday morning, there were already two cars in the lot. It was 9:00 AM, and we had agreed to meet at 9:30 AM, so someone had arrived early.

Walking down to the river I could see Jeff Budz and Geoff (GMK from NPMB) hard at work releasing a canoe that had gotten pinned the day before. Before I could get my drysuit on to help, they had popped the canoe off the rock. Good work.

After Saturday’s poling trip, I was back at the Farmington River on Sunday to run the New Boston section in my whitewater canoe. The run is about 7 miles. The first and last couple of miles are class II with one class III rapid at the end. The middle is class III – a narrow creek-like run with lots of rocks and several 2 to 3 foot drops.

We pretty much had the river to ourselves. I guess the lousy weather and low release kept people away. We had 4 canoes (me, Matt, Aaron and Jeff) and 2 kayaks (Geoff and Jeff).

I had done this run with Matt two years ago at a level of 4 feet, and did pretty well. I swam going over the biggest drop at Decoration Rock, but otherwise ran it clean. No such luck yesterday. Yesterday’s level was 3.7 feet which made for a boney, technical run. I spent the day bouncing off, riding up on, and flipping over on rocks.

I swam twice in the middle section – once below the first big drop after the slalom course, and once just above Decoration Rock. Both times I rode up on unseen rocks, got spun sideways, and was unable to hold the upstream gunwale out of the water – a sure recipe for disaster in a fast moving river. At least I was able to self-rescue.

By the time we got to the last rapid – Bear’s Den - I was cold and tired. Temperatures had only been in the high 30’s, and it had rained and snowed on-and-off all day. I watched as Scott and Matt ran the rapid, but didn’t feel confident. Sure enough, I flipped about half way through. Thanks goodness for drysuits.

Bear's Den Rapid from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

I’d love to do this run again with a little more water – everyone said it would be easier. Maybe next year.

My pictures
Jeff's video of my run above Decoration Rock
River description from American Whitewater
New Boston Gage

Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Love the rock” - Farmington Poling – October 17th

“Love the rock”. That’s what they taught me in my first whitewater class. If you end up sideways in the current, broached against an obstruction, you need to lean into the obstructuction to keep the upstream gunwale out of the water. If you don’t, the boat will pin and you will never get it off.
That’s what happened to Joe.

I hooked up with Jeff, Matt and a few other polers for a fun day on the lower section of the Farmington in New Boston. We put-in around 11:00 and spent a couple of hours picking our way through the boulders as we worked our way up to the Bear’s Den Rapid. The river was not particularly high, but there were several class II sections with lots of rocks and ledge.

The last rapid below Bear’s Den is the most difficult. Marshall went first and took a swim. Aaron went next and almost made it, only to lose his pole. Joe went third. He got spun sideways and his boat quickly pinned on a large boulder. We worked for 20 minutes to get his boat off the rock to no avail. We finally decided to return today with more help. Then we will run the upper section in whiterwater boats.

More to come.

My pictures
Jeff's video of Matt and I poling
Jeff's video of Joe about to wrap his canoe

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Woonsocket Falls – October 10th

Its too bad that we teach kids in summer camp not to stand in canoes.  Canoe polers stand in the middle of 16 – 17 ft. tandem canoes and propel themselves forward using 10 –12 ft. poles. It’s a great way to move up shallow, fast moving water that would be difficult to ascend with a paddle – and it’s a lot of fun!

I am planning to do a couple of days at the New Boston release on the Farmington River next weekend. Saturday I’ll pole the lower Bear's Den section with ACA Canoe Poling group. Sunday I’ll break out the whitewater boat for an end-to-end run from the Otis Reservoir down to Bear's Den.

Its been a while since I’ve done any canoe poling, so I decided to do get a little practice yesterday down at River Island Park.  I poled upstream from the Bernon Street Bridge to the Woonsocket Falls Dam. The water level was low (2 ft, 400 cfs), but there were some nice features to practice on.

Compared to some of the more experienced polers, I am definitely a rookie. My first attempt going up this section was a little rocky (pun intended), but I did make it up eventually. My second attempt was a little smoother.  I took a break at the top to get some pictures of the Woonsocket Falls Dam through the arches of the South Main Street Bridge. That’s a perspective that you don’t see very often.

I’ll still be the rookie next weekend, but hopefully I’ll be able to get the boat up the easier rapids without too much walking.

My pictures of the Woonsocket Falls

Sunday, September 27, 2009

West River - September 26th

Some people say that whitewater paddling is 70% skill, 30% luck, and 90% driving. I think that’s probably true. I got together with Tom, Paul and Jim for a couple of runs on the upper section of West River in Jamaica, VT. The drive is almost three hours each way, but it was worth the trip.

I had paddled the lower section of the West (Jamaica State Park to Route 100) several times in the past. Its an easy class II - nice scenery, but not very exciting. This would be my first run on the upper section (Ball Mountain Dam to Jamaica State Park) which is a nice class III. We skipped the shuttle from Jamaica State Park and hiked down the Ball Mountain Dam to the put-in – that’s a long carry.

The first rapid below the dam definitely got my attention. The AMC guide calls it the Standing Wave Rapids. On American Whitewater its called Initiation. Whatever its called, its a half-mile of continuous 2 to 3 foot waves - what a great ride.  The fun continued for the next couple of miles.

The West is a mixture of rocks, ledges and long wave trains. At 1,500 cfs, the water was a little too pushy for me to do too much playing, but the weather and the scenery more than made up for that. It was a beautiful day – 65 degrees and sunny. The leaves were just beginning to turn.  The river was crowded, but everyone was having a good time.

The most difficult rapid on this section of the river is called the Dumplings.  The Dumplings are a group of large granite boulders plopped down in the middle of the river. There are two routes through the Dumplings – run the three foot ledge on river right, or perform a more technical but less dramatic “S” turn through boulders from river left.  I opted for the “S” turn, and swam on my first attempt when I didn’t quite make the second turn. I had better luck on my second attempt – it wasn’t pretty, but I made it through.

I always enjoy paddling with Paul – he is always looking to paddle bigger rapids. It was great to meet and paddle with Tom and Jim. Fortunately, Tom had paddled this section before and he got us through with no problem.

River description from American Whitwater

Monday, September 14, 2009

Manville Dam – September 13th

It was another busy weekend, but I did get out for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon. My original plan was to paddle the flatwater section of the Blackstone River above the Manville Dam, but I ended up playing around in the waves below the dam. Nothing too big, but I still should have brought my helmet.  Woonsocket Falls guage was 2ft, 400 cfs,

Manville Dam from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

My video

Monday, September 7, 2009

Canal Loop - Ashton to Lonsdale - September 5th

Its Labor Day weekend and I didn't have much time for paddling, but I did get out Sunday for an easy run on the Blackstone.

I decided to do the canal/river loop from Ashton to the Pratt Dam. I had read in the newspaper that the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone had recently installed new signs and buoys at the Pratt Dam, so I wanted to check it out.

I arrived at the put-in near the Kelly House around 3:00. The water was low, but nice for an easy paddle. Its 3 miles down the river, and then three miles back up the canal. In higher water there are a few easy rapids. Today, there were just ripples.

There were hundreds of people on Blackstone River Bikeway, but I was alone on the river. Birds were everywhere – ducks, geese, and blue heron – and the late summer flowers were in bloom.

I approached the Pratt Dam and took out on river right as instructed by the new sign. Hopefully, the new buoys will keep people away from this dangerous dam. It’s a short portage along the bike path to the put-in on the Blackstone Canal.

The current in the canal is light making for an easy paddle back upstream. Turtles were sunning themselves on rocks and the banks were covered with flowers – goldenrod, purple loosestrife, daisies, and lots of wildflowers that I couldn’t identify. I passed the time trying to get some good close-up shots.

I got back to the take-out around 6:00 and headed home – not bad for a local paddle.

My pictures

Monday, August 31, 2009

Millville Rapid - August 30th

Well, we didn’t get as much rain as we hoped for, but five of us (Eric, Andy, Jeff, Paul and Erik) did get out for an easy run on the Blackstone – 10 miles from River Bend Farm to the Blackstone Gorge. We did get enough rain to bring the river up nicely - 3.75 ft on the Northbridge guage. There were lots of strainers, but nothing that we couldn’t float over or around. Got a chance to try our my new camera at the Millville Rapid – broke my last one when I dropped it on the kitchen floor. The new camera is a Pentax Optio W60 - HD video is cool.

Millville Rapid from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

My pictures
My video
Jeff's video

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Summer Day on Fife Brook - August 16th

It was a typical August day - sunny and hot. For most people, that’s beach weather. For me, it’s a great dayfor a trip out to the Deerfield River.

The Deerfield runs 73 miles across southern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts before it empties into the Connecticut River. It is a beautiful river that cuts a deep valley through scenic mountains and hills. Releases at several hydroelectric dams provide paddling opportunities for boaters of all skill levels throughout the summer.

Advanced paddlers often head to “The Dryway” in Monroe Bridge. This is a class III-IV section of river for experienced whitewater paddlers. RICKA has several paddlers who regularly paddle the Dryway, but I’m not one of them.

For me, the Fife Brook Section is more appropriate. This section runs 9 miles from the Fife Brook Dam down to the Shunpike Rest Area in Charlemont. It is mostly class II, with the exception of Zoar Gap in the middle which is class III.

I picked up Paul at 7:30 and we headed off to the river. It takes a couple of hours to get there, so its always nice to have someone along to share the ride. We arrived at the Zoar Gap Picnic Area around 10:00. Jeff, Andy, Don and Karen were already there. Peter and Linda pulled in a few minutes later. We arranged the shuttle, and by 10:30 we were on the river.

The day was hot and the water was clear and cold. I knew I’d be doing some swimming before the day was through. Just downstream from the put-in is the first rapid known as “Hangover Helper”. At this rapid, a ledge extends across most of the river resulting in a 2-foot drop followed by a long wave train. If you’re still asleep, or perhaps a little hung-over, this rapid will wake you up fast. We ran the drop and played in the waves before moving downstream.

The next rapid - “Carbis Bend” - is similar but smaller. A ledge extends out from the left side of the river producing a couple of easy surf waves. Even those too timid to do any surfing at Hangover Helper will generally give it a try at Carbis Bend, so it’s a popular place to stop. We pulled over, enjoyed the sunshine, and took turns on the waves.

Just downstream from Carbis Bend is a rapid known as “Freight Train”. This rapid starts with a long wave train and ends with a large surf wave. The rapid takes its name from the speed that many people build up running through the waves, and the railroad bridge just downstream that carries freight trains across the river. We stopped for lunch and had fun playing, and watching others play in the waves.

After Freight Train is a long rapid known as “Pinball”. With scattered rocks and ledges, it’s a great place to practice eddy turns, peel outs and ferries. By this time, I was hot enough for a swim, so we decided to do some throw bag practice. We pulled over next to a long, easy rapid across from a sandy beach know as “Miami Beach”. Andy positioned himself with a throw bag at the bottom of the rapid near a large eddy, as I walked up the top. Once Andy was ready, I eased myself into the current and got into a defensive swimming position – on my back, feet raised and pointed downstream. At the bottom of the rapid Andy threw me the line and swung me out of the rapid and into the eddy below - perfect.

After Pinball is the most difficult rapid on this section of the river – Zoar Gap. Four of us decided to run the Gap and continue downstream to the Shunpike Rest Area. There are three routes through the Gap – left, right and center – each requiring a different combination of moves. After scouting from shore, we all decided to take the center route.
I was the sweep boat and watched from an eddy on the left as Jeff, Andy and Paul disappeared down into the rapid. As I was sitting in the eddy, I noticed a couple of tubers climbing down the bank to the river, but didn’t think too much of it. I had my own issues to worry about.

I crossed the river and eddied out behind a large rock just above the Gap. From there, I set up for my run and headed into the rapid. Only then did I realize that one of the tubers that I had seen earlier was also on his way into the Gap. He swamped in a big hole in front of me, and was getting circulated around as I came though. I thought I was going to run him over, but fortunately he flushed out just before I got there. I bounced my way through the rest of the rapid and pulled into an eddy at the bottom with Jeff and Paul. Andy was a little further downstream emptying his boat. Three successful runs and one successful swim – not bad.

The rest of the run down to the Shunpike Rest area was uneventful. At 4:30, we pulled off the river and got everyone back to their cars. It’s a long ride home, but for such a great day, its worth it.

Video of Jeff's run through Zoar Gap
My pictures
Karen's pictures and videos
River description from American Whitewater

Farmington - Collinsville to Unionville – July 26th

Jim, Paul, Jeff and I took a ride out to CT to run the Farmington from Collinsville to Unionville with CT locals Matt, Scott and Aaron. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer day – sunny and warm. The river itself is a nice class II with lots of boulder gardens and a couple of fun rapids.  At 1,700 cfs, it was as high as I had ever seen it.   I took the only significant swims. The first was a long one - probably a quarter mile through the entire Crystal rapid. Here's Matt's description from P-net:

“My local run was quite high for a few weeks, and Aaron and I were paddling daily. The normal class II turned into a much different animal. So the weekend comes and I'm really up for heading out of town, trying something else, but I get an e-mail from my favorite paddling bud in the whole universe wanting to come over and play. Okay, we'll hit this run again. We come into the very start of the longest biggest rapid and this bud of mine goes into a hole and starts side surfing. Gee, I think, that hole looked too big all week, but hey, if my bud can do it, I sure can, so I start to eddy out and wait my turn. Well, all the sudden...WHOOOMP, and my bud gets windowshaded, paddle looking like a turbine fan blade, over he goes. Boat goes one way, buddy goes another at a rock, Jeff Budz rights the boat ONE HANDED, and only lets go when I tell him what's ahead. My anonymous bud has a long long swim. The rest of us eddy out at a bend, my spot takes me along a bank where a family is having a cookout. Eck’s canoe comes bouncing down the river, eddies itself out next to me. Two kids look at the canoe and ask "is that for rent?" I point to the blue helmet bobbing down the river, slightly bloody body attached, fortunately still alive and kickin', and say "ah, it's already spoken for."

My second was in the Boateater rapid trying to get a picture of Jim. Just as I snapped the picture, I hit a rock and went over. Jim thought it was funny as you can see by the picture below.

All in all, a great day with great company.

Jeff's video
River description from American Whitewater

Friday, May 8, 2009

Northern Forest Canoe Trail - Errol to Groveton, NH

RICKA crew - Erik, Jim, Bill, Chuck and Milke
It was a long, dark drive up to Errol, New Hampshire. Chuck, Mike and Bill had left earlier in the day so they could scout out the river. I had to work, and didn’t leave Waltham, Massachusetts until after 6:00 p.m. - right in the middle of rush hour traffic.

It was already dark when I got through the Franconia Notch. I followed Route 3 north toward Groveton, and then I took Route 110 along the Upper Ammonoosuc River toward Errol. It was getting late, and I was anxious to get to the hotel. For several miles, I was stuck behind a van going very slowly, even for this remote area. When we finally hit a straight section of road, I sped past – big mistake.

I wasn’t more than a quarter-mile down the road when something big ran out in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and laid on the horn. Fortunately, I stopped in time. In the middle of the road in front of me stood a large female moose. After a few seconds she lost interest and trotted off into the woods. Now I know why that van was moving so slowly.

For the past couple of years, Chuck, Mike and Bill have been paddling their way though sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Covering 740 miles, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail links rivers and lakes across northern New York and New England from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine. I had been invited to join their trips several times in the past, but always had a conflict. When they told me that their next trip would be the Androscoggin and the Upper Ammonoosuc in New Hampshire, I decided that I had to go. The Androscoggin was the first whitewater river that I ran with my father in 1990.

My first day started early – breakfast with Bill at 7:00 AM. After breakfast, Jim Cole and Tommy Taylor met us at the hotel. We got on our gear and headed off to the river. We would be paddling 16 miles down the Androscoggin River. The Androscoggin starts in Errol and runs 178 miles across New Hampshire and Maine until in empties into the Kennebec River. The section we would be paddling includes the Thirteen Mile Woods – one of the prettiest sections of the river.

We shuttled our cars and put-in below the dam in Errol around 9:30 a.m. The river starts off with some class II rapids, and then alternates between flatwater, quickwater and easy whitewater down to the Pontook Dam. For much of the morning it was pouring rain – I mean POURING - but that didn’t dampen our spirits.

Jim and Bill
The rain came and went, and we had a great time. Along the way we saw lots of wildlife including osprey, loons, heron, and even a bald eagle. I must admit, on such a cold rainy day, it was nice to go back to the hotel for a hot shower after the paddle. That’s what I call roughing it.

The second day of our trip was a 9-mile run on the Upper Ammonoosuc. We shuttled our cars down to the take-out in the village of Stark. Stark sits at the base of a steep granite cliff called The Pulpit. With its picturesque covered bridge over the Upper Ammonoosuc, it is one of the prettiest New England villages that I have seen.

The Upper Ammonoosuc is much smaller than the Androscoggin. It twists and turns through cow fields and woodlands across the top of NH until it ultimately empties into the Connecticut River. The previous day’s rain had brought the level up nicely.

The river was mostly quickwater with lots of maneuvering needed to get through the twists and turns. The day ended with a couple of class II rapids as we entered the village of Stark. We had a good time playing in the rapids, and only had to pull our boats on shore to be home for the night at the Stark Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Unfortunately, this would be the end of my trip. I needed to leave early to be home for Saturday. As luck would have it, Chuck, Mike and Jim had to leave the next morning as well, leaving only Bill and Tommy to finish the trip.

By the time Bill and Tommy put-in on Saturday morning, the river had dropped a foot from the previous day’s level, but there was still plenty of water. From Stark to Groveton, the river was a mix of quickwater and class I rapids with two dams – one they ran, one they portaged.  Their day ended at another picturesque covered bridge in Groveton.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

First run of 2009 – Branch River

Mike said that there would be ice, but I had no idea.  I did this run last year with Chuck and Tommy, and things were pretty fluid, so I thought I knew what to expect.  Boy was I wrong. 

I got together with Mike yesterday for a belated New Year’s run on the Branch River in RI. Its about an 8 mile run with lots of flatwater, some quickwater and 4 short rapids.  There are also two short portages.  Mike and I were joined by Joe and Ken – avid sea kayakers who haven’t been able to paddle on the bay lately because of the cold, windy conditions.  I was in my whitewater canoe.  Mike was poling his Explorer.  Ken and Joe were in whitewater kayaks.

We met at the dam in Harrisville around noon.  As we unloaded our boats, a small crowd gathered to watch us put in.  I don’t know where they came from, probably the nearby library or diner, but they seemed very interested in what we were doing.  I guess they don’t see a lot of paddlers in January.  We got our boats in the water and headed downstream.

Directly below the put-in is a rapid that nearly flipped me when I ran this section last year.  An old dam forms a ledge across most of the river which is then channeled into a shoot on the right side of the river under a bridge.  The trick is to catch one of the eddies below the ledge.  That allows you to set up for an easy run through the shoot.  Last year I missed the eddy and ended up broached on a rock downstream.  This year I had better luck.  I wouldn’t call it a clean run, but I made it through.

As we paddled downstream, the river twists and turns though pretty woodlands covered in snow.  After about 20 minutes, we came to the next rapid – Whipple Drop.   Its another broken dam resulting in ledge with a 2-½ foot drop.  No problem – everyone made it through clean.

We paddled for another couple of miles and approached the first portage at the Glendale Dam.  Mike told us there would be ice here, and he was right.  A solid sheet of ice extended back from the dam as least ¼ of a mile.  Mike poled into the ice acting as an icebreaker for the smaller boats.  It was slow going, but eventually he pushed up onto ice that was thick enough to walk on.  At that point, we were able to get out and walk to the take-out on ice close to shore dragging our boats behind us. 

After a quick break for lunch, we put in below the Oakland Dam.   Joe and Ken did a short seal launch into the river.  I followed – nothing big, but it was still fun.  For the next 3 miles, the river is mostly quickwater with two short rapids – the Glendale rapid and the Atlas Pallet or Mohegan rapid.  Since it was getting late, we moved along quickly to get the next portage.  We expected to find ice, and we did.

Once again, ice extended back at least ¼ of a mile from the dam.   Mike poled up to the solid ice and we were then able to get out and drag out boats downstream.  As we approached the next dam, though, we realized that we had made a mistake.  The portage was on the other side of the river.  Joe got back in his boat, and using ice picks, pulled himself across the ice to the other sided dragging a rope behind him.  He was then able to pull Ken and I, boat and all, across the river.  From there, the portage was just a short walk away.

Except for Joe’s seal launch down a steep curving slope (didn’t get this one on video) at the next put-in, the rest of the trip was uneventful.  We pulled into the take-out at around 4:00 and shuttled back to get the cars before dark.  It wasn’t the trip I expected, but it was still a lot of fun. Some video here: