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

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