Monday, June 26, 2017

Pawcatuck “Wilderness” Trip – June 24-25, 2017

Each spring, The RICKA Wilderness group does an overnight trip on the Pawcatuck River.  The idea is to give people a sense of what it takes to do more extended wilderness tripping from a canoe or kayak.  The Pawcatuck has a bunch of nice paddle-in sites, so it’s the perfect place for this type of trip. 

I didn’t have time to pack up on Friday, so I was rushing around on Saturday morning to get everything together. Usually with meals it is “everyone for themselves”, but for this trip we decided to do group meals, and I agreed to take breakfast.  The remnants of Tropical Strom Cindy would be coming through as well, so I packed tarps, clothes, and rain gear that I wouldn’t normally bring.  I had two big drybags stuffed with food and gear.

Enjoying the campfire
Just as I was about to leave the rain started, and it pored until about 11:00.  Then, just a predicted, the storm moved off and the sky cleared.  It turned out to be a beautiful day.  We met at the Richmond Landing (now called the Jay Cronin Access), ran the shuttle down to Alton, and then got on the river for an easy paddle down to the campsite. 

We camped at the bootleg site at the confluence of the Wood and the Pawcatuck.  When we arrived, the site was a mess – littered with beer cans and broken glass. The first job was to clean things up.  After that we set up the tents, took a hike down to the osprey nest (no osprey in residence) and cooked dinner.  Then we settled in for a relaxing evening around the campfire. 

At the take-out at Alton Dam
Most of us were up early on Sunday, so we got the fire going, cooked breakfast, and sat around the fire before packing up to leave.  Once on the water we paddle up the Wood River to Alton.  Great trip.

My Pictures

Saturday, June 17, 2017

First swim of 2017 – June 15, 2017

Last year, my first swim of the year was on January 1st, and I swam again before the month was out.  This year it took a little longer, but I finally had my first swim of 2017.

With Father’s Day and rainy weather, I knew it would be tough to get out this weekend, so I decided to join the local AMC group on their Thursday night run at Tville.  Tville is a short but fun trip at this level - 1.7 feet, 600 cfs.  It has some nice surf spots above the Gorge, and a couple of pool drops in the Gorge.  The highlight of the trip for most is the playhole.

To be honest, I usually skip the playhole and focus on taking pictures.  I had tried it once before at about the same level, bounced around for a few seconds before backing out with the boat still upright, and considered myself lucky.  It didn’t look too bad on Thursday, so I decided to give it a try again.  

I ventured in and the boat immediately got swung around sideways.  I side-surfed for a couple of seconds before doing a couple of forward strokes to get myself out.  I was almost out when the boat hit the stronger downstream current that the edge of the hole, shifted upstream, and over I went. 

Over I go in the Playhole
I gave the boat a good push thinking that would get it over to the eddy, but in the strong current it continued downstream – and me with it.  I decided that I had better focus on getting myself to shore, which I did.  My boat went over the next drop before the crew as able to push it into an eddy. 

Even with the swim, it was another fun trip, and I reamain captain of the swim team for 2017! From Tom (canoeswithduckheads) on P-net:

There's a vortex in which the little yaks squirt,
and twist and flip roll play,
with bipolar tale they flail and flail,
wave-to-wave they glide away,

but for big gnu this just won't do,
whilst in their one-legged doggy paddle,
with a sideways buck they often like to chuck,
into the trough riders from the saddle.


Monday, June 12, 2017

RICKA Flatwater Training – June 11, 2017

I helped Bill and Frank with the annual RICKA flatwater training.  We had ten participants, and seven tried to do assisted rescues.  We got all seven got back n the boat – including me!

Bill and Frank demonstrating as assisted rescue

Monday, May 29, 2017

Great Swamp - May 28, 2017

Heading out
I’ve been paddling regularly for the past ten years, and its nice that there are still plenty of new trips for me to do.  I was able to do one yesterday – Great Swamp in the towns of West Kingstown and Richmond in Rhode Island’s South County.

Great Swamp is one of the classic Rhode Island paddling trips.  In his book Canoeing Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, Ken Weber described it as “perhaps the most intriguing canoe trip in the state” and “an excursion into jungle like retreats that cannot be reached any other way”.  It sure sounds interesting.

Through the swamp grass
Henry D. has been running the Great Swamp trip for RICKA for years, but it is always run in the spring when I have visions of whitewater dancing in my head. This year, I decided it was time, and that was definitely the right decision.  The trip doesn’t have any rapids, but it has everything else – beautiful scenery, lots of challenging twists and turns to maneuver through, and an open water crossing on a wind-blown lake.

We met at Taylor’s Landing (3348 Kingstown Road, West Kingston) for the shuttle down to Biscuit City Landing (15 Biscuit City Road,Richmond).  We had 11 paddlers in 10 boats  - 3 canoes and 7 kayaks.  The river was at a nice level – 6’. 75 cfs on the West Kingstown gage.

Crossing Worden Pond
We put-in on the Chipuxet River at Taylor’s Landing, and headed south through the Great Swamp Management Area.  At times, shrubs and swamp grass almost overgrew the river.  Fortunately, with the higher water levels, we were able to paddle through without too much difficulty.  The higher water also allowed us to float over the frequent beaver dams along the way.

As we approached Worden Pond, we could see a strong wind from the south kicking up small whitecaps on this large, shallow lake. We hung to the north shore as we headed out into the waves.  After passing Stony Point, we headed for the site of an old seaplane hanger on the northwest corner of the lake, which is an easy place to stop for lunch.  We then headed south past Case Point to resume our trip down the river. 

Great Swamp Impound
From here, there are some differences of opinion on the name of this section of river. Many guidebooks refer to Worden Pond as the source of the Pawcatuck River. In other guides, this is a continuation of the Chipuxet River, which becomes the Charles River when it merges with the Usquepaug (Queens) River just above Biscuit City. The Charles River eventually merges with the Wood River above Burdickville to form the Pawcatuck River.  

Whatever it is called, the river itself is beautiful.  It twists and turns through a pretty hardwood swamp covered with vines – especially poison ivy, which grows so lush that I saw leaves as big as my hand drooping down from many trees. We stopped for a look at the huge impound of the Great Swamp Management Area, and watched as an Osprey brought a fish back to its nest high atop the power lines. 

Approaching Biscuit City Landing
Shortly after the convergence of the Chipuxet and Usqupaug Rivers to form the Charles, we turned right up the small channel that leads to the Biscuit City Landing.  It was a 7-mile trip that took us about 4 hours to run.  I definitely made the right decision on this one. 

That's me enjoying a great day on the river
My Pictures

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thursday Night Tville - May 25, 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve had my whitewater boat out, and I would really like to do the Great Swamp trip with RICKA this weekend, so I decided to head down to Tville for the CTAMC's Thursday night paddle. Forecast was for rain, so I was a little worried that I would drive all the way down there only to find that the trip was cancelled – fortunately not. We had 8 boats – 7 kayaks (what else is new) and 1 canoe (guess who).  Level was around 2’, 800 cfs.  

It’s been a while since I have run it at this level.  There are lot’s of great surf spots, but the ferry between the two ledges at the bottom is tough. I actually got swept downstream early, but still made it through the shoot. Too bad this is so far away, it makes for a long drive home.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Blackstone Gorge - May 16, 2017

After a week of cold, wet weather, it was great to have a warm, sunny Tuesday – especially since this Tuesday was the kick-off for the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club’s 17th season. We had 28 boats paddling above the Blackstone Gorge, We explored the diversion to the to the old power plant before heading up stream to the Triad Bridge.

Sunset at the Blackstone Gorge

Sunday, May 7, 2017

White River - Granville to Stockbridge - May 6, 2017

Clouds and rain on the trip to the put-in
“Is it worth it?” my wife asked as we talked about the 3.5-hour drive and likely rain for Saturday’s trip on the White River in Vermont.  “Is it really worth it?”

“Yes” I said, “it definitely is”.

It was cold and wet when I left my house at 6:00 a.m. for the drive up to the White River.  The drive to a new trip usually includes a mixture of excitement and apprehension, especially when it involves crossing four states. This trip was no exception. It rained as I crossed into MA, and continued raining as I crossed NH and entered VT. The clouds were hanging low in the valleys of the Green Mountains when I met the crew from the NHAMC at the Hancock Overlook on VT-100 in Hancock just south of the Granville town line

At the put-in
The White River arises in the Green Mountains and flows south and then east across the state to empty into the Connecticut River at White River Junction. There are two sections of the White River that are popular for spring trips – the lower Gaysville section from Stockbridge to Bethel, and the upper section from Granville to Stockbridge. Our original plan was the paddle the lower Gaysville section, which has a few more exciting rapids. Due to high water levels, though, the trip was changed to the upper section.

This would be my first trip on the White River, so it really didn’t matter to me which section we paddled. I met the group at the put-in at 10:00, and began to unload my gear. I’d be paddling tandem with my friend Jonathan. The group included one other tandem, four polers, and four solos – all canoes. The river was at a nice level – 7 feet, 4,000 cfs on the West Hartford gage. We ran the shuttle and got on the river at around 11:00.

Paddling tandem with Jonathan
The trip was around 14 miles and wound through pretty farms and fields in Vermont's dairy country. The run was mostly quickwater with a couple of easy class II rapids. We worked our way downstream enjoying the rapids when we found them. It rained on and off until around 2:00, but that didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. At around 2:00, the clouds finally lifted, and we even saw some blue sky. We made it to the take-out in Stockbridge at around 4:00.

With a long drive home ahead of me, I packed my gear quickly, said my goodbyes, and got on my way. The rain started up again when I was half way home, but at that point, I didn’t care.

And yes – the trip was definitely worth it!

Mutt and Jeff take a break for lunch

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Otter Brook - April 29, 2017

It’s funny how trips come together. Usually by Thursday afternoon someone has posted a trip that I am interested in. This week, it didn’t happen, so I posted it myself – Otter Book in southern NH. And just to make sure it happened, I posted it at three places – Where’s the Whitewater at, Merrimack Valley Paddlers and a local email list. It worked. We ended up with about 20 people in three groups, including 6 canoes.

Otter Brook is an easy class II that runs through Keene, NH on it’s way to the Ashuelot River and ultimately the Connecticut River. From the Otter Brook Dam, the river twists and turns though the woods down to Otter Ledge – a 2-foot drop that is usually run through the shoot on the right. Shortly after that, Otter Brook merges with Miniwawa Brook, which adds to its flow and provides some nice wave trains for the remainder of the run along Route 101. The river was at its typical dam release level - 7.5 feet, 300 cfs.  Paul and I ended up doing two runs – great day.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lonsdale Ashton Loop – April 22, 2017

It was gray and rainy, but the water levels were great, and we are starting to see some green on the trees.

Blackstone Canal in Ashton

Monday, April 10, 2017

It’s Miller Time - April 9, 2017

Doane's Falls

The day started with an early morning stop at McDonald’s to meet Paul for the drive up to the Upper Millers in north central MA. As we approached the put-in, we took a short diversion to check out Doane’s Falls on nearby Lawrence Brook in the Tully Lake Recreation Area.  If the water flowing down this waterfall was any indication, it was going to be a great day.

I first ran the Upper Millers with Mike and Tommy back in 2007, and it has been a favorite ever since.  The water on this section of the river is controlled by releases from the Birch Hill Dam. With the exception of a couple of railroad bridges, there is nothing to break the wilderness feeling of the river.

Above the first railroad bridge
We met up with a group from the CT AMC – 16 boats with 14 kayaks and 2 canoes. The day was sunny and warm, and the water level was perfect (4.5 feet,1.500 cfs).  In fact, the Ranger that controls the flow from the Birch Hill Dam stopped by to tell us that he had increased the flow for the day – nice!

The fun began immediately with a long wave train just below the put-in. From there, the river alternates between quickwater, rock gardens and long wave trains.  At this level, most of the rocks were buried just below the surface. I came close on a couple, but made it through. We worked our way downstream running waves, catching eddies, and generally having a good time. By the time we reached the take-out I was pretty tired, but it was great to get changed and pack up our gear in the warm sunshine for the trip home. 

Smiling on the Upper Millers


Monday, March 27, 2017

Assabet - Acton to Concord - March 26, 2017

Running the Damondale Dam
I got a nice surprise on Friday – an email from Jonathan looking to do some paddling.  I couldn’t paddle on Saturday, but Sunday was open, so I sent an email off to Suasco Al, Tommy and Bill, and we set up a trip on the Assabet. Tommy brought Mena, and Lora and Pat joined from Facebook, so we had a nice group.

We would be running the section of the Assabet from Acton to Concord.  It’s a pretty section that is mostly flatwater except for the broken dam at Damondale.  The river was at a nice level – 2.5 feet, 200 cfs.  We had quite a mixture of boats – Bill and I paddled tandem in my Mohawk; Tommy in his Osprey and Jonathan in his Courier paddled solo; Mena was poling in Tommy’s Souhegan; Lora and Pat were in whitewater kayaks; and Al had his long boat.

Through the blow-downs
We put in at around 10:30 at the Acton Canoe Launch.  The morning started off sunny and warm, but gradually clouded over and got chilly.  We spent a little time playing at the broken dam at Damondale before heading downstream. 

There were quite a few blowdowns below the dam, including the river wide strainer that gave us trouble last time we were here.  The canoes had better luck getting over than the kayaks, so I got out into waist-deep water to help - drysuits are wonderful things! We stopped for lunch in West Concord, and it started to rain just as we pulled into the take out at Lowell Road in Concord at around 2:00.  Nice trip.

Taking a break at Leaning Hemlocks

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Branch River Icebreaker - March 18, 2017

Gearing up at the put in
Snow, ice, strainers and rocks pretty much describe yesterday’s trip on the Branch River.  There were four hardy paddlers - Bill and I (tandem in my Mohawk), Conrad (kayak) and Jonathan (solo canoe). The river was low (2.5 feet, 150cfs), so we spent most of our time bouncing off rocks. 

Whipple was runable, although Bill and I got stuck half way through. There are a couple of strainers below Whipple Drop that need to be cut out – we had to carry around one.  There was lots of ice at portage at the Oakland Dam, but fortunately it was still thick enough to walk on.

Jonathan running Whipple Drop
Bill and I portaged the Glendale Rapid since there was no way we would get my big Mohawk through with the huge tree and wood in the middle of the rapid.  Conrad bumped is way down the right side, and Jonathan took the sneak route to far right.

Atlas Pallet was low, but runable, as was the small rapid below the Nasonville Dam.  The day ended with a beer and burger at Gator’s Pub. Not a bad way to end the winter 2017 paddling season.  On to spring!

Me and Bill below Glendale

Monday, March 6, 2017

River Island Park - March 5, 2017

Only the die-hard paddlers were out this weekend, and most of them were on bigger river than I wanted to run, so I took my boat down to River Island Park. Level was 2.5 feet, 500 cfs, which is actually not bad. I walked up to the dam to get some pictures, and then played in whatever features I could find. 

River Island Park from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.

My Pictures 
My Video 
Woonsocket Gage

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Does walking make you less of a paddler?

Last weekend, I was sitting down on the rocks in the middle of Zoar Gap taking pictures. The rest of the group had just paddled through, and now it was my turn. I could have easily slipped my boat back into the water, pealed out into the current, and attempted to hug the right line through the Gap as I have so many times before. Instead, I decided to walk my boat, and I’ve felt guilty about it ever since. 

I know that my guilt is entirely self-imposed - no one in the group said a word, or even seemed to care. Still, it brings up a question that I struggle with on occasion – does walking a rapid make you less of a paddler? In some ways it definitely does. There is a lot of truth to the old adage “if you aren’t swimming, you aren’t trying hard enough”. To become a better paddler you definitely have to push yourself to take risks, and if walking becomes a crutch, then that’s a problem. Based on the number of swims that I have taken over the past few years, I’m not worried about that yet.

But does that mean that you need to run every rapid? Stretching your abilities is one thing, but I also try to temper that with the desire to be self-sufficient. I joke with another paddling friend that we are class II paddlers with class IV self-rescue skills, and we over estimate our self-rescue skills. It’s good to know that the group is there to support us, but it’s always better if they don’t have to.

So I have come to the conclusion that occasionally it is OK not to run a rapid. Paddling is not about a single event. It’s about running the river, and getting home that night to run another river another day. It’s about pushing your abilities, but not putting yourself or others at unreasonable risk. It’s about enjoying a day on the water with a great group of people. So if my ego gets bruised occasionally, either by swimming or by walking, I’m OK with that.

So to all my paddling friends, here's the deal - if I’m tired, if I’m cold, if my gut is telling me that today is not the day to run that rapid, I might walk.  But if I don't, thanks in advance for fishing me out when I swim
Zoar Gap - that's me sitting on the rock on the left

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fife Brook - February 19, 2017

Carbis Bend
As I drove up Route 91 into Deerfield, I saw snowmobiles in the fields and ice fishermen on the lakes, and I wondered if it was a good idea to drive 2 hours to go canoeing.  Then I drove over a bridge and saw that the Deerfield River was flowing high and ice-free, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

As things turned out, I had a couple of paddling options. There was a group doing a low level (500 cfs) run on the Lower Winni. I definitely want to do that somethime, but decided it would be better to do with a group I know when the water is a little warmer. There was also a group doing a Tville run. As much as I like Tville, I’ve run it a lot lately, so I decided to run the Fife Brook section of the Deerfield River instead.   

Freight Trainb 
I met the group of 6 kayaks and 3 canoes at the take out for the shuttle up to the dam.  The river was at a nice level – 3.5 feet, 1,100 cfs.  It looked like winter with snow on the ground, but felt more like spring with temperatures in the high 50’s. 

We put in at around noon and began working our way downstream. We ran Hangover Helper, did some surfing at Carbis Bend and Freight Train, and played in Pinball for a while.  When we reached the Gap, I headed down first to get some pictures.  Everyone made it through fine.  When it was my turn, I looked at the rapid, looked at my boat sitting on the rocks, and wimped out and decided to walk. Oh well, at least I didn’t swim…

Hangover helper

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mass Central Rail Trail - Holden, MA - January 28, 2017

The crew heads out
I saw that Hiking Joe was doing a hike along the Quinipoxet River, so I decided to join in.  There were 9 of us who hiked 5 miles of the Mass Central Rail Trail along the along the Quinapoxet River in Holden, MA.

The Mass Central Rail Trail follows the route to the old Massachusetts Center Railroad that connected Boston to Northampton.  We would be hiking a section in the Wachusett Greenway. We met at the parking lot for the Mass Central Trail on Manning Road (265 Manning Street, Jefferson (Holden), MA), and hiked up the street to Springdale Road. We the hiked down Springdale road past the remnants of the old Springdale Mill Village to access the rail trail.

The rail trail itself was wide and clear, but we broke off into the woods at several places to follow the river.  We were near 1000 feet in elevation and the 2-3 inches of snow made the walking extra crunchy.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Assabet through Maynard - January 7, 2017

Ben Smith Dam
There was snow in the forecast for the afternoon, so a morning run that was close to home was in order.  Fortunately, the class II section of the Assabet River in Maynard was running, so that is where we went. 

The Assabet River arises in Westborough and flows approximately 34 miles west to meet with the Sudbury River at Egg Rock in Concord to form the Concord River.  There’s lots of great flatwater paddling on the Assabet including the section from Gleasondale to the Ben Smith Dam, and from the PowdermIll Dam down to Egg Rock.  The section through Maynard is an easy class II with some nice surf waves by the Ben Smith Dam and along Walnut Street near the mills. 

Brooke below the Ben Smith Dam
In 1847, textile manufacturer Amory Maynard purchased land in what is now Maynard from a farmer named Ben Smith and built a dam to power his textile mills.  Originally known as Assabet Village, this became the town of Maynard in 1871.  Maynard’s downtown textile mills, now Clock Tower Place, were the home of Digital Equipment Corporation from the 1960’s to the 1990’s.  Digital became a major computer company with 140,000 employees in 1987. 

I met Andy and Brooke at around 10:00 in the parking lot on the left side of the Ben Smith Dam to run the shuttle. The river was at a nice level – 3 feet, 400 cfs on the Maynard gage.  We played in the waves below the Ben Smith Dam before heading downstream.  There are six bridges over the Assabet River as it flows through Maynard.  The first is the double arch Great Road Bridge.  Either side is runable.  A pipe runs along the downstream end producing a surfwave (Crack Baby) that can be caught from the left side. 

Andy at the Mill Waves
The next bridge is the triple arch Mill Street Bridge.  We ran the far left arch due to wood on the right side.  Generally, all three arches are runable.  After some easy riffles and flatwater comes the Florida Road Bridge.  The river then turns right along Walnut Street and mills.  There are a couple of nice surfwaves (Mill Waves) before you reach the Main Street Bridge.  
Downstream from the Main Street Bridge, the river then turns left as it goes under the Walnut Street Bridge.  There are a few more riffles an one more substantial rapid as you approach the Waltham Street Bridge and the take out at the Elks Hall.  We spent about and hour and a half on the river, and it just started to snow just as we finished up.  Fortunately, we were close to home because the roads were slow for the drive home.

Here's another poem by Tom (canoeswithduckheads) that was posted on P-net.

Ole Blackfly don't mind the cold,
he runs red hot when rivers fold,
with liquid motion he flows on yet,
some take that Option Assabet.

Snow falling and water on the lens, but still a happy crew

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year’s Day on the Housatonic – January 1, 2017

West Cornwal Covered Bridge
One of the rivers that has been on my to-do list for a while is the Housatonic.  When I saw that a group would be paddling it on New Year’s Day, I decided to tag along. 

The Housatonic originates in the Berkshire Hills of western MA and flows south for 150 miles along the western border of MA and CT before emptying into Long Island Sound.  There’s lots of great paddling along the Housatonic River. The best-known whitewater section is a class IV run known as Bulls Bridge - it's well above my skill set.  There is also a pretty flatwater section from Ashley Falls (MA) to Falls Village (CT), and a nice quickwater run from Falls Village to Kent.  We would be running part of the quickwater run – putting in above the Covered Bridge in West Cornwall, and taking out at the at Housatonic Meadows State Park.

Running the Covered Bridge Rapid
The day was sunny and traffic was light as I did the 3-hour drive out to western CT.  A light snow covered the Northwest Hills as I met the group at the Covered Bridge in West Cornwall.  We ran the shuttle, dropping our boats off on River Road above the Covered Bridge, and leaving cars at the picnic area below the campground at the Housatonic Meadows State Park.  The river was at a medium-low level – 3 feet, 900 cfs. I guess you can run it down to about 500 cfs, and medium flow is around 2,000 cfs.

The West Cornwall Covered Bridge was first constructed in 1762, and is one of the earliest bridges across the Housatonic River.  Beneath the Covered Bridge is a short class I/II rapid known appropriately enough at the “Covered Bridge Rapid”.  This is the site of an annual spring slalom race.  We spent some time playing in the rapids before heading downstream.

Playing in the Covered Bridge Rapid
A little ways below the Covered Bridge Rapid is a shorter class I/II rapid known at the Ledges.  From there, the river alternated between flatwater, quickwater and riffles.  It took us a couple of hours to do the 5-mile run. 

I’d love to come back in the summer and spend a night or two at the Housatonic Meadows Campground.  We could paddle from Falls Village to the campground on day 1. Paddle from the Campground to Kent on day 2.  And maybe even do the section from Ashley Falls to Falls Village on day 3.  We’ll see.

A pretty section of the Housatonic