Saturday, November 25, 2023

Day after Turkey Paddle – Crystal – November 24, 2023

Crystal/Punch Brook Rapid
Like the New Year’s Day Paddle, the Day after Turkey/Black Friday Paddle is becoming a bit of a tradition around here - skip the shopping and get out on the river to burn off some of that turkey and pie. When I saw that Paul D. was running a CTAMC leaders choice class II trip on Black Friday, I decided to join.

We got some rain on Tuesday that brought up a lot of rivers up and gave us hope for some interesting options. Paul’s initial list included the Salmon, Shepaug, Naugatuck and Housatonic, along with several class II sections of the Farmington - Riverton, Satan’s Kingdom, and Crystal. Unfortunately, by the time Friday came, most of the rivers had dropped, so we ended up on the Crystal section of the Farmington River – fine with me.

Surf wave at the wall
The Farmington arises near Otis, MA and flows generally south and east for 47 miles through Connecticut until it flows into the Connecticut River near Windsor. There are several sections of the Farmington that are popular for whitewater boating – New Boston (class III/IV), “Tville” or the Tariffville Gorge (class (II/III), Riverton (class I), Satan’s Kingdom (class II+/III-), and of course Crystal (class II).

Back in the day I took many trips out to Crystal to paddle with Matt and Scott. It’s a long drive for a relatively short run, so I hadn’t been there for years when COVID hit. With the Farmington River Trail running alongside, Crystal is an easy bike shuttle, so Paul and I ran it three times in three months (January, February, March) in 2021. By April most people were vaccinated and the car shuttles started up again. This would be my first time back since then.

Bernackie Rapid
We arrived at the put-in (185 Canton Road, Burlington, CT - 41.794267, -72.925324) at 10:00 to run the shuttle down to the Red Barn. The river had peaked at just over 6.5 feet, 1,000 cfs. on Wednesday, but had dropped back down to 5.5 feet, 700 cfs. by the time we got on the river - low, but still runnable.

The run is a series of class I/II rapids that start off easy and get more difficult as you move downstream. The first major rapid is the site of the Punch Brook Slalom. From there, the rapids continue as a series of rock gardens and wave trains. We spent a lot of time surfing and ferrying through the rock gardens. The largest rapid is the ledge above the Route 4 Bridge that we ran to the right. The run took us about 2 1/2-hours and I was home by 4:00. Sure beats shopping.

Seal Launch from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.


Sunday, November 19, 2023

Ware River Poling Cruise - November 18, 2023

A nice collection of poling boats
I don’t do a lot of poling, but I do try to get out a couple of time a year – usually the Branch in the spring and something else in the fall. Last fall we had a nice group on the Souhegan. This year we were back on the Ware River.

The Ware River flows 35-miles through central MA before joining the Quaboag River to form the Chicopee River. There is a class II section in Gilbertville from Hardwick Furnace Launch to the Ware-Hardwick Covered Bridge that we poled on a snowy day back in 2009. I’d like to do that section in my whitewater boat sometime. Today we would be poling the 6-mile section from the South Barre Dam (42.3864 -72.097) to Hardwick Furnace (42.343812,-72.157774) that we last poled back in 2013.

Below the Wheelwright Dam
I arrived at the put-in at around 10:00 to find Matt, Oz and Bob waiting for us on the river. They had put-in early and poled up from the put-in. The rest of us – me, Chuck, Dan, Chris and Jonathan - still had to run the shuttle. The river was at a nice poling level – 3-feet, 45 cfs on the Barre gage. 

This section of the Ware is pretty with lots of twists and turns down to the backwater from the Wheelwright Dam where we stopped for lunch. As we played in the quickwater below the dam, Kaz, Rick and Dave paddled upstream - they used the put-in at the Wheelwright Road Bridge (42.38012870629823, -72.11359100862931). For us, it was a short trip down to the Hardwick Furnace take-out. 

The crew at Wheelwright Dam

Monday, November 6, 2023

Class II Contoocook - November 5, 2023

A selfie from Jonathan
Jonathan and I joined the NHAMC for a tandem run on the class II section of the Contoocook in the morning, followed by their Pot Luck/Annual Meeting in the afternoon. The first time I paddled this section of the "Took" was was during the NHAMC Whitewater School back in 2005.

The Contoocook River arises at Poole Pond in Rindge, NH and flows generally north for 71-miles to Concord, NH where it empties into the Merrimack River. With a large drainage basin and a total drop of over 700 feet, the Contoocook is one on the best-known whitewater rivers in New England with the class III “Freight Train” section from Hillsboro to Henniker, and class II section in Henniker ending at the Ramsdell Bridge.

That's me in the stern
We met at 10:00 at the take-out (Ramsdell Road Bridge in Henniker, NH) to scout the final rapid. The level was low but runnable – 6.5 feet, 500 cfs. We ran the shuttle and put-in at the railroad bridge piers on Western Avenue at around 11:00. At this level, the top was quickwater until we got past Bridge Street in downtown Henniker. From there it was mostly class II rock dodging down to the Broken Dam Rapid at the Ramsdell Bridge.

After the run we headed off to the Pot Luck/Annual Meeting for the NHAMC Paddlers. The food was great, and we heard about the China Lake River Restoration project. It was nice to see the club so active.

 Running the Broken Dam Rapid below Ramsdell Bridge

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Halloween BBQ on the Piscat - October 28, 2023

The crew at the put-in
For 20-years the MVP and NHAMC have been sponsoring a Halloween Paddle and BBQ during the fall drawdown at the Gregg's Falls Dam on the Piscataquog River. I did my first whitewater trip here in 2005 after taking the NHAMC Whitewater School and purchasing my first whitewater boat, and have padded here many times since. This year would be the third time paddling tandem with Jonathan in my Mohawk.

The Piscataquog River arise in Deering, NH and twists and turns for 35-miles before flowing into the Merrimack River in Manchester. We would be running the class II section below the Gregg's Falls Dam. I met Paul at the MacDonalds in Uxbridge for the trip up to Goffstown. As usual, I missed the exit in Manchester and we arrived late after taking the long way around the reservoir. Jonathan was already there, and Conrad and Ellen arrived shortly after.

Paul at Powerline
We dropped off our boats at the dam and ran the shuttle down to the road behind the prison. By the time we got back to the put-in there was a long line waiting to launch. The release was a little lower than usual due to issues with the dam – 5’, 700 cfs. The day was sunny and in the low 80’s – can’t beat that.

This section is about 3-miles long with the most consistent rapids in the first mile. The section just below the dam was a little boney at this level. Conrad and Ellen got hung up on the rocks, but Jonathan and I made it through fine. We did get into the big eddy for the surf wave below the power lines, but got flushed downstream before we could catch the wave. We did our best to turn the boat into a submarine at the surf wave above Henry Bridge, but didn’t swim!

Surfing the wave above Henry Bridge
From there is it mostly quickwater with a couple of easy rapids on the way down to the take-out. There is a squirt line where the river takes a sharp right turn. We pulled into the eddy, and got spun around on the strong eddy line. The last rapid is a rocky drop just above the take out. We got into the eddy on the left, but once again got flushed downstream before we could catch the surf wave.

After the run we headed back to the dam for the BBQ – hamburgers, hot dogs and good company. Great day as always.

Piscat Tandem Surfing - 2023 from Erik Eckilson on Vimeo.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Planning a Canoe Camping Trip

What’s not to like about canoe camping. You spend the day paddling in nature’s beauty, and then spend the night relaxing around the campfire. I did my first canoe camping trip 2012, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I soon learned, though, that there is more to canoe camping than meets the eye. Planning is the key to a safe and fun trip.

Don't forget to plan for the shuttle
What trip will you do?

Canoe camping trips can run the gamut from easy overnights to month-long excursions, and anything in-between. Choose a trip that fits the group’s skills and schedule. Water levels and weather will determine the best time to run the trip, and the potential hazards you might face. 

For beginners it is a good idea to start off with shorter, easy trips before moving on to longer, more ambitious ones. You will also need to arrange the shuttle in and out, which can add a day or two to each end of the trip.

Crew of five at the end of a trip
Who will you go with?

Your friends of course! If they are not your friends at the start, they will be your friends when you finish. You can solo if you wish, but a group of four to six is my preference. More than that and it can get crowed in camp. Less than that and you may not have enough support if things go wrong. Choose a group with appropriate skills and a willingness to share camp chores.

When deciding on the group, you need to make sure that everyone agrees on the focus of the trip. Some people prefer an easy day of paddling with time in camp for nice meals and adult beverages. Others want to do 40-mile days and have oatmeal for breakfast and dinner (skipping lunch). Make sure the group agrees on where the trip falls in this range.

Chili for dinner
What food will you bring?

The trip you do will definitely influence the food that you bring. On trips where portages are few and weight is not an issue, you can bring coolers filled with fresh food. You will also need cooking gear, which takes up additional space. On trips with portages where every ounce counts, the food is more likely to be dehydrated or freeze dried and cooked on a backpacking stove.

Layering for the conditions
What about clothes?

Canoe camping is a water sport, so you should plan to get wet. Cotton cloths should be avoided. I tend to bring synthetic fabrics rather than more traditional wool. Wools socks are the exception – I never forget the wool socks. Layering allows you to be comfortable regardless of the conditions. Outer layers protect from wind and rain. Inner layers provide insulation. Don’t forget a hat and gloves if gets cold, shoes for camp, and your toiletries.

A roomy campsite

Unless you are traveling in the remote wilderness, you will probably be camping in established campsites. The perfect campsite is elevated above the river on a flat section of land that has nice views of the surrounding landscape. If you are lucky, your campsite will have a picnic table with a ridgepole for your tarp, a fireplace, and maybe even an outhouse or thunderbox. Find a level spot for your tent that is away from dead trees and sparks from the fire.

Rain tarp is up - just in case

If rain is in the forecast, the first thing that goes up is the tarp. Tarps are usually rigged for protection from rain, but can also be used to protect from sun or wind. A good tarp must be large enough to cover the group and have lots of attachment points. Poles are nice, but tall sticks and paddles work just as well. You’ll need a collection of stakes and guy lines to rig the fly in different configurations.

Home for the night

There is nothing like waking up in the morning to birds singing and the sun streaming into your tent. Tents have come a long way from the heavy canvas tents of old. The nice thing about canoe camping is that there is room for a bit of extravagance. You don’t need to jam yourself into a tiny one-person backpacking tent, unless you want to. Choose a tent with plenty of headroom, a full fly and good ventilation. 

A room with a view
Sleeping Bags and Pads

Waking up all snug and warm in your sleeping bag can make it tough to think about climbing out of the tent. The sleeping bag you use will depend on the season and the weather. All my bags have synthetic fill and are mummy shape, although I admit that a roomy rectangular bag would be nice.

A good sleeping pad can make sleeping on the ground not just bearable, but quite comfortable. Inflatable hiking pads have come a long way in terms of comfort and durability. Combination pads that inflate but also contain foam like the original Therm-A-Rest are also available. Its not for me, but some people prefer camping hammocks to sleeping on the ground.

Camp kitchen for a large group
Camp Kitchen

Your kitchen kit should include pots, pans and utensils. A good frying pan and large pot are essential, and you will also need a knife, spatula, serving spoon and tongs. Long handles make it easy to work around the fire, and fireproof gloves are a nice addition. Don’t forget a scrubber and biodegradable soap for the dishes, trash bags to pack out garbage, and a water filter or Aquatabs to purify water. 

You will also need to decide if you will cook on the fire or the stove, or both. If you cook on the fire you will need a grill or fire grate, and your pots and pans will get covered in black soot – a badge of honor for many camp cooks. A plastic bag will keep the grime from your pots and pans off your other gear.

Sitting around the evening fire

When a campfire cook has passed through a campsite you can always tell by the fire pit. It will be clear of ash and debris allowing ample room for wood under the grill. If it is round, it will be large with multiple cooking spots depending on the type of cooking to be done and the heat needed. Or it will be “U” shaped and just wide enough to support the grill.

Firewood should be collected selectively to leave the site and scenery as undisturbed as possible. Standing deadwood is likely to be the driest wood. Softwoods are usually easier to find and burn the fastest. Hardwoods produce a cleaner, longer lasting fire and better coals.

The morning coffee
For cooking, keep the fire contained under the pots and pans. It is often easier to cook with small sticks rather than large logs. The most important part of the cooking fire is the height of the grill – too low and it will be tough to get wood underneath, too high and it will take a lot of wood. A grill grate at 8” to 10” seems to work best. Shift the pans around to get the heat that you need and prevent hot spots.

You should always leave the campsite better than you found it, and that is especially true of the fire pit. Make sure everything that you place in the fire gets burned completely. Never burn foil, plastic, styrofoam, bottles or cans. Don’t leave anything behind, except perhaps a pile of dry wood for the next campers.

Backpacking stove with a cozy

When I started canoe camping everything was cooked on the stove. Over time I have gravitated more to cooking on the fire, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bring a stove along. When firewood is not available, in bad weather, or if you run out of daylight a stove may be needed. Stoves range from two-burner base camp models like the classic Coleman stove, to small backpacking stoves. 

Splitting wood - be careful
Axe/Hatchet or Saw

An axe or hatchet is good to have along to split wood or drive in tent stakes. Remember though that splitting wood is one of the most dangerous things that you can do in camp. A saw is a must for gathering and cutting firewood. I usually bring two – a straight, folding saw for gathering wood, and a folding bow saw for cutting it into lengths.

Dinner by lantern light
Lanterns and Flashlights

One of my memories of camping as a kid was lighting my father’s white gas Coleman lantern with silk mantles. It was very bright and made a unique sound when lit. Today, there are lots of small battery powered lanterns that produce the same light and are easier to carry. A headlamp is essential for working in the dark, and a flashlight is good to bring along as a backup.

Drybags ready to be loaded
Dry Bags and Barrels

Comfortable camping is all about keeping your gear dry, and drybags and barrels allow you to do that. Vinyl drybags are the most durable, but nylon coated drybags are lighter and easier to compress to fit in small spaces. I use both. Drybags use a roll-down top and heavy clips to create a water tight seal. Some come with pack straps for easy portaging.

I double bag critical items that need to stay dry (sleeping bag, camp clothes) in smaller nylon drybags before packing in the larger vinyl drybag. I also use mesh bags to organize things that I tend to use together. For me, two large dry bags (one for my tent, clothes and sleeping gear, and one for everything else) and a small day bag seem to work right. I know – I don’t pack light. I need to work on that.

Barrels provide a waterproof and animal proof alternative to drybags. They are especially good for storing food, and have the added benefit of serving as chairs and tables in camp.

On the portage trail

If portaging is part of the trip you will definitely need to pack light. I usually pack for a two carries – the first with my boat and lighter dry pack, the second with my heavier dry back, day bag and anything else.
 In some areas, a portage cart can be used on rock and root-free trails. On rivers, wading or lining may be an alternative to portaging, and you might be able to run easier rapids empty. 

Enjoying a safe trip
Staying Safe

Safety on a canoe camping trip is just like safety for any other paddling trip - except that you are paddling a loaded tripping canoe and may be days away from potential help. In remote locations you'll need to take extra precautions just in case. 

The best way to stay safe is to anticipate what can go wrong, and avoid it. You'll need to know the conditions (recognizing that conditions can change quickly), know your group and its skills, and plan accordingly. Always wear your PFD and dress for the conditions. Bring appropriate safety gear including a first aid kit, throw bag/tow line and pin kit. 

You will also need to bring appropriate navigation and communication equipment. In remote areas, a satellite communication device will keep you in touch and allow you to send and receive messages in case of an emergency.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Moore State Park - October 22, 2023

Artist Overlook on Turkey Hill Brook
My original plan was to do a Tville run with the CTAMC, but with yesterday’s rain the river rose from 2.5-feet to 4.5-feet overnight. I knew it was too high for me, and wasn’t surprised when I got an email that the trip was cancelled. Fortunately, Papa Joe was doing a hike at the Moore State Park.

Moore State Park (290 Sawmill Road, Paxton, MA) has 400-acres of well-maintained trails through open fields and woodlands.The section along Turkey Hill Brook, which falls 90-feet in less than a quarter mile, was once the home to at least five 18th and 19th century mills. Old foundations and a restored sawmill stand on the site today. In the early 20th century, the property became a private estate and was heavily planted with azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels.

The crew
We started on the Davis Hill Field and Laurel Loop Trails, which wind through the fields and woodlands across the street from the parking lot. From there we headed up the Azalea Path to the restored sawmill on Turkey Hill Brook, and then up the Old Bringham Road, Secret Garden Loop and Stairway Loop Trails.

We ended up doing 4.6-miles. The leaves were just about peak. I also hear that it is beautiful here in June when the azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels are in bloom. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

Jonathan’s Campfire Cooking

We all have our favorite campfire recipes. When you camp with Jonathan you will always get Fried Fish with Maine Guide Potatoes for dinner, and Egg-in-a-Hole for breakfast. I have now seen him cook it enough to know how it is done. Simple and tasty – the perfect campfire food, and always cooked on the fire.

Jonathan working his magic
Fried Fish

Olive oil (can use cooking oil or butter)
Haddock fillets (can also use Cod or other white fish)
Bread crumbs

Cut fish into serving size pieces. Coat in bread crumbs. Heat oil in frying pan. Add fish skin-side up and cook for a couple of minutes undisturbed to let the first side develop a nice crust. Flip and cook skin side down until a nice crust develops on second side. Serve immediately with Maine Guide Potatoes and salad.

Fish and potatoes on the fire
Maine Guide Potatoes

Baby Yukon Gold or Red Bliss potatoes
Couple of onions
Squeeze margarine (or butter)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Quarter potatoes. Cut onions in large pieces. Add potatoes and onions and cook until tender. Drain and serve with squeeze margarine (or butter). Left-overs become home fries the next morning.

Egg-in-a-Hole on the fire

Olive oil (can use cooking oil or butter)
Hearty White Bread (like Country Kitchen Hearty Canadian White or Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse White)

Coat frying pan lightly with oil. Tear a hole in the middle of the bread for the egg – save and toast as you cook. Add the bread to the pan and crack one egg into the hole. Once the egg is set, flip and toast the other side. Serve with home fries from left-over Maine Guide Potatoes, lots of bacon, and a fried tomato for the full “Jonathan” breakfast.