Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Dirtbag's Guide To Whitewater

For the last month I've been working on an online magazine I've come to call "The Dirtbag's Guide to Whitewater." With the help of several contributors and lots of free time, I managed to pull it all together.  Truth be told, it's got be more nervous than most big rapids. Future issues will depend on reader's reception, so if you like it, let me know and a new issue will follow sometime near the end of May! Comments are welcome, as are emails to the address on my blogger profile. 

Big thanks to all the contributors,
we hope you enjoy!

Happy New Year!!!
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merry Stoutmas!!

Looking back at the year, I feel incredibly blessed for all that I have been able to enjoy. Great new friends were made both far and wide, relationships have grown, and I got to experience an entirely new corner of the continent. I crossed a few things off my bucket list, had (many) great adventures, and spent more time with my family than I have in a while.
Bungee jumping was one of the things that got checked off...
Surfing was another...
Rebecca Samuelson Photo
So the year was a good one. Christmas yielded just about everything that I wanted (including a sweet new RVR Apparel tshirt!), and due to the freakishly mild winter we've been having, it was warm enough for a lap on the Indy. I don't like paddling in the cold very much, but having a drysuit has mostly nullified that excuse. The only real things stopping me at this point would be ice and gas money. Since it was Christmas (and that the Indy is only 10 minutes away), the gas thing wasn't an issue, and the Indy was ice free... at least in the important parts.
The left wall was a little suspicious, but it turned out fine
One of the best quartermile sections of river pretty much anywhere
Happy about my first Christmas descent of any river.
With ironic facial hair, of course

Merry  Christmas!

In Memorial...

Bobb Watkins
Coach, Father-figure, Friend, and Mentor

Bobb was my swim coach from the time I first showed interest in swimming so many years ago. He guided me through the Pee-wee program, nudged me towards modified, and finally directly coached me in Varsity. He taught me far more than how to swim fast though... he is directly responsible for my sense of dedication, determination, and drive for self improvement. He fostered the growth of my self esteem as I struggled to find my place in high school, and his influence will always be remembered in my life

Bobb was a great teacher, and a better storyteller. He had more stories of misguided adventures and memories that he shared with us than I can count. Every time he gathered us to speak we listened intently, whether it was a story we had never heard before about a fight he had when he was a bouncer, or one of the old favorites like the time he rode a bike across the Adirondacks stopping only to sleep and drink beer. Even the familiar stories were always changing, adding or losing details, but it didn't matter what was said; Bobb had a way of bringing his words to life.

He listened, too. I remember coming to him whenever something was really bothering me, whether it had anything to do with swimming or not. Swimmers were always talking to him, whether they were just joining the modified team, or had graduated several years ago. People just kept coming back to him and that pool deck.
I don't know if he ever saw this picture, if he did, he would have called me a twit and swatted the back of my head
I never took a serious photo with Bobb because I could never imagine not being able to find him down at the pool or in the shop. He was a figure larger than life, with a personality to match. Humble, but fiercely passionate about the things he loved, and there were few things he loved more than his swimmers and that pool. He invented his own religion, Bobbism, in which the first commandment is to make someone smile every day.

I don't know who put it up, or when, but among the wallpaper of newspaper clippings and photos of swimmers (seriously, it covered almost every surface) that coated his office, large printed words read "Here, Bobb is God."

Nothing could be more true. We lived and died to make him proud, nothing went unseen or unheard on that deck by Bobb, and his presence there is truly immortal.

What follows is a paper I once wrote for a college English class. The assignment was a 5 page doublespaced creative nonfiction piece on someone we knew. Bobb was the first person I thought of, and no one else could have been more appropriate.

Here, Bobb is God

             “Here, Bobb is God.” One of the many stickers that share space with the newspaper clippings, postcards, and team pictures that crowd His office walls. And it’s true; here, Bobb is omniscient and omnipotent. No lock stands in His way, no ill deed goes unseen. As the most devout Christian attends church on a Sunday, so do we attend swim practice. But our god demands from us our penance all week. Even when we escape from the green-tiled pool deck and record board looming loftily over head, we are haunted by the stomp of His steel toed boots and jangling keys throughout the week.
At the sound of loose change shaking in a pocket, team members jolt upright in their seats and begin furiously scribbling notes from the blackboard, fearing that their God may be passing. His demands transcend our physical devotion; He expects our best intellectual efforts as well.  Report cards were shown to Him before our parents even got to see them. His never satisfied gaze rests even more squarely on my shoulders: I shovel His parents’ sidewalk. “I heard my father had to break out his snowblower last weekend. Where were you? Skiing?” Utter devotion, that’s what He expects, and to risk injury in silly pastimes like skiing is blasphemy. Walk into the locker room at 3:20 any day of the week and it’s easy to see; Bobb’s reputation precedes Him.
“Shut up! Everyone shut the fuck up!” The Seniors’ urgent whispers are passed through the stale, dim air. In the silence of our held breath, we hear the jangle of keys and heavy, steel-toed boots pass by. Just before they fade away into the distance they halt. The wet floor squeaks beneath the rubber soles. A Jangling of keys, the squeak of the doorknob on the diamond-plated steel door twisting. And finally, the sharp, short whistle that sends a shiver down our spines to our still damp swim trunks. We file out one by one and race through the tunnel of showers to face our coach.
The first day is always terrifying, especially for the freshmen. The upperclassmen never try to help, either.  In the confines of the locker room with the rusting lockers bearing down on us all, horror stories were exchanged. “Remember the time that He was so angry He snapped the clipboard? Or when He screamed at us for half an hour on the bus after the meet at Holland Patent? Or when…” and so it was. The new members got glimpses of Bobb during the shared meets between modified and varsity, but to them, He is a mystery referred to only in whispers. So for them, the first real interaction with Bobb is one characterized by hesitance and reverence. But over the course of the next week they become accustomed to His scrutiny, they become comfortable on the deck and in the pool. This is their first and most egregious error.
I must admit, I also let my guard down. Somewhere between the seemingly infinite parables He relates and the ever-present support during meets, we all lose sight of the truth. “Here, Bobb is God” and He is a wrathful one. Every skipped yard, every loafed lap; they all pass before His judgment. We are given time to atone for our sins, given time to recall His omniscience, but only the wisest of seniors slave away at the miles of yards we are assigned. After our most stunning lack of enthusiasm, His wrath is let loose upon us in a tirade of sprint laps and Pac-Mans.
These are the worst. Pac-Mans pit the fraternity of team-members against one another and drives us to prey on the weak and abandon the sacred brotherhood of teamwork. The team is divided and sent to opposite ends of the pool. Segregated, we await our fate.  After a brief, but effective reprimand, we are instructed to sprint to the other end and back, but as we return, the other half will dive in and chase after us. When they reach our end, they’ll perform a flip turn and sprint away, at which point we are to chase them. And so it will continue, until the retreating team is overrun. One may think it would be simple enough for the retreating team to slow down and allow themselves to be overrun. And one would be correct, except for two critical details. The first, and least important, is that Bobb knows what we are capable of and slacking will be rewarded with more sprints.
More important is the kamikaze sense of honor we all feel we must uphold. This is imperative to us all; it’s the reason we fight the wrestlers in the locker room and sneer at the soccer players that trot by in the halls. We can take any abuse, and we do so without a word. To give up would be to dishonor ourselves and our God. I always rationalize it by telling myself it will pay off during meets when I drop time, but deep down I know it’s only my honor that keeps me reaching for more water while my lungs scream for air and my muscles promise sweet revenge in the morning. We only realize our sense of honor at the hands of Him, our coach who inspires such a pride and tenacity in all that we do.
But more than a God, more than a coach, Bobb is a storyteller. Some practices the entire team gathers around, sitting on kickboards and starting blocks, to listen to Bobb recount the story of how he biked across the Adirondacks one summer stopping at bars to pick fights with members of the Hells Angels for the fiftieth time. It doesn’t matter that we’ve heard the same basic plot before, the details always change, and it’s far better than swimming laps. His fiercely opinionated nature is rampant in His storytelling. He tantalizes His listeners with half-remembered dialogues, detailed descriptions of copious use of alcohol and drugs, and glorious sports victories of long disbanded teams.
He takes us back thirty years to the sunny summer days spent riding bikes and playing tackle football without pads in the park across from my house. In my mind the stories all play back as if through a film of golden syrup, emanating a sweet nostalgia of simpler times. Sepia tone sunlight filters through the window of the family dining room in my mind’s eye. Bobb and His siblings, scraped and dirty, gather around the table. Their father, Ed, sits down at the head of the table and takes off his UVM Athletics cap and places his coaching whistle beside it. June, his wife, places a beer beside his plate and sits next to him. If it weren’t for Bobb’s masterful weaving of detail and characterization, it would be hard to imagine the frail old couple that lives next door ever being young enough to command the respect of so many troublemaking kids.
Bobb was especially troublesome. He experimented with drugs, scorned His father’s alma mater, and failed out of three other universities. He continued to clash with His family as He held various jobs as a bouncer, a bartender, and band member before taking a job at the local high school as a janitor. Shortly afterwards, He began assistant coaching for the varsity swim team and has gone on to claim more victories than any other coach in the league. Despite these mistakes, Bobb is fiercely proud of His past, arguing that the choices He made shaped Him into who He is today.

I’ve never been one to argue with the gods.

Rest in Peace Bobb, I can't thank you enough for your presence in my life...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A couple classics on Tug Hill

Dylan came up to visit last week, but with cold temperatures and not much running, we didn't expect to be boating. We spent the first day praying for rain and scouting a few creeks I haven't looked at in a while.

 First up was Whetstone Gulf, a constricted gorge with some steep drops. I hiked the whole thing about 3 years ago, and didn't think it was possible. Coming back with more experience, however, it very clearly is.
As you can see, the major action takes place in the first mile or so...
The first drop is steep, bouncy, and probably around 20 feet tall.
That would be this one...

The next significant one is a slide that wraps around a corner. And the final drop is a 6-8 foot ledge immediately followed by a 90 degree turn. The series is very committing, with vertical walls and no real eddies to speak of, but the drops all go. The final drop has a bad habit of collecting wood, and there's no great way to scout it, so it's best to hike in at low water before sending her.

Looking upstream from below the 90 degree corner.
(Rumor has it that Scott Busch has run this, but I can't confirm. Anyone?)

Another creek we checked out was Mill Creek in Turin. Although Dylan doesn't like walking, the prospect of seeing an unrun(?) 60 footer got him moving. Once again, this was a river I checked out a few years ago, but perspective has changed a great deal. Guessing from the lip, the drop looked closer to 45, and the pool at the base looked much bigger. Other scouters have measured the depth at only chest high, but high water might back up the pool. 

If you don't plan on running that drop though, you may as well park at the bottom and walk to the base of the falls. The good gradient is there, and rope work to portage the falls would be a pain.

The next day, Ed rallied to the Lowville area for some Mill Creek action, and we all got on a new (to us) tributary that starts on the Gardner Road. It was definitely the minimum flow, but still very enjoyable. It drops something like 200 feet in three quarters of a mile, which leaves very little room for flatwater.

A quick lap on Mill creek rounded out the day.
Dylan and Ed getting a little close on the crux rapid...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brokeback Gorge is full of wood...

This may or may not mean exactly what you think it does.
Really big wood...
Brokeback Gorge is a section of river I am proud to call a backyard classic. After several days of scouting over the course of nearly a year, I got on this committing classic with Taylor Krammen shortly after Moosefest 2010 for what we believe to be the First Descent.
When I say committing, I mean this is the lip of a 30 footer...
The moves aren't all that difficult, but there's a bit of added intensity. Most of the time the walls are just under vertical, and the rock isn't quite as strongly bonded as it may once have been. 
Unless you scout it when it's dry or scramble down some sketchy slopes,
this is the best view of the big one you're gonna get.
Ok, so you probably got the picture as far as the commitment is concerned. The main point here is that there's a bunch of wood jammed in there, and the real problem is that I'm not positive on exactly where it is. I hiked it about 3 months ago and saw 4 logs in places that were portageable, but we've had some high water since then, and they very well could have flushed into the crux.
That would be this...
Today, I headed in with my dad to free this sucker up, but recent snows have the walls coated fairly well, and there was much more water than I expected down there. This is especially bittersweet. It's very inconvenient that I can't get in there to remove the wood, and I probably won't be able to until after Spring Moosefest. Snow, water levels, and temperatures just won't allow it. On the other hand, if there was that much water in there with what little snowmelt we've had, it would appear that this stretch takes less water than the Independence to pop into a runnable range. 

I've got a super clean 30 footer, and instant classic creek in my back yard that runs multiple weeks per year. If I can just get it to stay wood-free, I think we'll have something pretty cool on our hands.
Something pretty cool indeed...
Bottom Line: Don't go in there (unless you plan on cutting the wood out) and let me know if you have any tips on keeping this clean in the future!
Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shoulder Seasons

Shoulder seasons are always rough on me. 
Temperatures usually aren't ideal for any of the things I really enjoy, and the weather tends to do some wacky things. In my last post I mentioned that there was a foot of snow in the southern Adirondacks. Although I can't confirm, I wouldn't be surprised if they had bare ground now... we certainly do up north. 

For the past few weeks, the weather has been in a holding patter of "chilly gloom." It's been rainy and cold, but not rainy enough to bring any rivers up, and not cold enough for that rain to turn to snow. Such things do not bode well for a kayaker and snowboarding enthusiast. So I made the most of what I had to work with.

Dec. 3, 2011

Ed Moorhead (of Demjoez fame) rallied the troops to make a modern descent of the upper upper (upper upper) Black River.

This is a section I've been wanting to do for a while, but with horror stories of flatwater mixed with huge unrunnable rapids and a suggested flow that would have other high quality runs going for sure, it was always difficult to get a crew together.

The last time we had heard of anyone paddling this stretch was in the late 90s (AKA back in the day!) and the first descent party was driven half crazy by several miles of flatwater. Some never recovered...

Acme Mapper, a critical tool for internet scouting, gave us a pretty good idea of where the big rapids started, so after an early (we're talking pre-sunrise) drive to the takeout, we decided to hike in a short ways just above the good stuff. The only problem was that the good stuff might not even be good, it could just be a waste of gradient, since not one of the original explorers decided to give them a go.
With a 5 load, we headed to the put in in the brisk early morning light.
We hiked in from a pull off on the right side of the road 2-3 miles south of North Lake. By the time we got to the river, we had forgotten the cold and began eagerly paddling downstream.
For December 3rd, I wasn't complaining with the scenery...
Ed pleasantly surprised on the big one...
A horizon like this is great for knocking out the morning haze.
The slide was pretty straightforward and a ton of fun, with a great lead in rapid and an equally great boulder garden right after. The only concern I would have is the hole at the bottom with more water (which would greatly improve the rest of the river). It looks like it could get pretty sticky, and it's backed up by a rock on the left. Definitely worth a scout if you find yourself on this river.

With a great section behind us, we were eager to see what else the river would toss up, but relatively small rapids made up the majority of the river. After several miles of class II boogie, we floated past the Farr Rd. Bridge, the typical take out for section 1 of the Black.

Section 2 stretches for 8 miles of meandering class I and II.
It looks mostly like this...
Farr Rd. Bridge in the background.
Not quite what we were hoping for, but some paddling is better than no paddling. At about the halfway point, the sun was getting distinctly lower in the sky, and we doubled out pace til the Enos Rd. Bridge, the take out for Section 2 and put in for Section 3.

Here, the river picks back up again, starting with some class III leading into a rather large horizon line. Ed had told me there was a good rapid just after the bridge, but I wasn't anticipating something quite this big. Best Judgement took over once again, and I dropped in blind.
A good dose of excitement to keep motivation high in the final stretch...
The cascade was great! I started center and moved left and back to right to pick my way down. It's probably easiest to just scout from the bridge, that way you can just stick right down the biggest and most fluid section. Ed say's the rapid just gets better with more water!
Of course, Ed also got the biggest stern squirt of his life here...
With high hopes for Section 3, we rounded the bend in classic class III whitewater and were greeted with... more flatwater. A few riffles here and there led to Crandalls Falls, a fun slide, and our take out. 

The whole trip was ~14 miles and took something like 6 hours with a lunch stop.

Overall, the top 3 sections of the Black are worth a trip if it's warm and you're more interested in great scenery (and probably fishing, too) than whitewater. It's an interesting area because most paddlers capable of paddling all the rapids will likely go elsewhere because of the flatwater, but most class II-III paddlers may have trouble getting out before the bigger rapids. It's a beautiful section of river though, and everything is portageable, so the best option I can give you is to check it out above 1100 cfs, and go with someone capable of boat scouting class III+.

Dec. 4, 2011

Since no one really wanted to put their slightly damp dry gear back on after such a long day, I opted for the always classic hike to Gleasman's Falls. Naturally, this hike served as an opportunity to correlate flows with the gauge far downstream and as a final scout. Newfound comrade and expert novel editor, Cody Updike joined in.
Yeah, he likes the Lion King... a lot.

The two main sets, with some class III boogie in between.

The top 3. The tallest and most hazardous drop is pictured in the top left. It's about 12 ft. The river right side funnels into a mean looking undercut/slot combo. Higher flows open up the shallow, near vertical slide in the center, but also make these next two holes look rather mean.
Everything looked runnable and fun that day except the top drop, which definitely needed more water. Fortunately, it looks like everything except the two holes in the above photo would just get better with more water. The Donnattsburg Gauge on the Independence read about 180 cfs that day, but I think flows closer to 300 would be ideal. Keep in mind, the gauge is located several miles downstream, after many tributaries come in.

After a short fire and a walk out in near darkness, the excitement of my weekend was replaced with ramblings of half sane professors and the completion of my Non-Western Lit class. Check out the melodramatic short I made as an interpretation of T'ao Ch'ien's The Peach Blossom Spring!

To wrap all of this up, I'd like to say that the snow must have heard me. In the time it took me to write this post, close to an inch has fallen with no signs of letting up. This is good news, because it's supposed to warm up on Monday, and I've found quite a few rivers to check out with a new web based tool called usgs streamstats.

It's fairly user friendly program, but I'll leave you with a few tips.
  1. Zoom in. Zoom in a lot. It makes things easier.
  2. Be patient. The program can be pretty slow sometimes, but I promise you the data it presents is well worth the wait.
  3. There's a button with a black dot and a plus sign. If you hover over it with your mouse it says "Watershed delineation from a point." This is your best friend. Click that and then click just below the place you plan on taking out at on the river you're interested in.
  4. Once the map pops back up with a big area shaded in red (that's the entire watershed above your take out), click the button with the yellow blob and red dots attached to a blue line (Trace flow path within watershed and show profile) and click the map just above your put in point. This creates a pop-up window with a profile showing gradient loss over time.
  5. Now that you know the river is worth checking out, you can get an idea of flows by clicking any of the buttons with a Q on them. I'm not entirely sure how to read all of these, but I'm banking on the PK1_5 statistic under the Peak Flows Region Grid Streamflow Statistics being an average maximum water level that occurs twice a year.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the new brokeback gorge!

Seriously, check this program out! You won't be disappointed!

Best of luck to all during the difficult, rainless times of the shoulder seasons!

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.