Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The New River Adventure of the Year: A High Water Road Trip

Tuesday May 5th 7AM - 
  The Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are pretty high right now and we knew that other tributaries to the Potomac Basin would be up, too. We decided to head West with plans to run the North Branch of the Potomac. The subject of Stony and Abram Creeks came up, and since I was the only person on the trip that had done the Stony before, and no one had ever run Abram, we decided to take the route less traveled. Besides, none of us wanted to set shuttle all the way out on the Kitzmiller which was another hour away.
  So with Matt in the captain’s seat and Ed as co-pilot, we proceeded to find where Abram Creek meets the North Branch. Amazingly, we were able to get there without any wrong turns. When the road became the equivalent of an ATV trail, Matt took a survey of everyone in the van to see if we should continue. We decided that we had enough pushing power to get us out of almost anything, so we shoved on. Along our way, we were able to road scout the majority of the creek, paying close attention to bends in the river and large trees that might be across our path. We were fairly confident that we would be able to navigate through the creek without any problem. After moving from the van to the truck and changing into our river clothes, we headed back out toward the put-in. 
  Rob was now behind the wheel with Ben C. riding shotgun. We finally made it back to paved road and soon realized that it was a poor decision to ride in the bed of a truck when we had an enclosed van that we could have taken, instead. Man, was it cold! We quickly warmed up by inflating boats with a hand pump, though, and off we went. Within the first quarter-mile, the creek was choked up with boulders and strainers making it impassable by raft, resulting in our first portage of the day. Luckily, it was a short one of only about 10 feet.

  Catfish and Ben manned the first boat, with Rob, Anthony, and me following behind in boat #2, leaving Matt and Ed to run sweep. The creek mellowed after the first mile and by mile 4 I started to think that we should have picked the Kitzmiller or Stoney for a more exciting ride. The scenery was beautiful, though, and it gave you the feeling that you were in a truly remote area of the state. 
  We came to a second portage of the day and we could tell by the huge amount of debris
that the recent rain had taken the water level to at least 100 feet wide in that spot. It was a cool spot to stop because we could see evidence of beavers and the trees they had chopped down.
After that, the creek’s pace picked up substantially and it was now comparable to the Savage, maybe even a little more intense. Matt and Ed took the lead at that point, followed by Fish and Ben, with my boat bringing up the rear. The river was rockin’ and rollin’ and steadily dropped. Everything was moving so fast that it was hard to keep track of the miles.

  After awhile, we hit a third portage where the width of the creek was blocked by a giant evergreen tree. Beyond that, the river was littered with passable pathways that we aggressively paddled through. The R3 boat was a little heavier than the R2, so we did get stuck on a few rocks along the way. But nothing that a trio of Shenandoah guides can’t handle. Who knows rocks better than us?!?
Finally, we started to notice a few landmarks that we’d seen while setting shuttle. We thought that we would paddle under two bridges, but actually passed under four before reaching the take-out. At this point, the gradient was higher than it had been earlier making for a very speedy ending to our trip.

  It was great to have an opportunity to try a new run and it was even better to have had a swim-free day. A swim on the Abrams would have probably been a pretty painful dip, so we were happy that everyone made it through safely. All in all, it was a great start to the season. And boy were we glad that we left the van at the take-out. Dry clothes and a heater were the icing on the cake of our day!
Written by Bill

The Road might be closed, but the River is wide open!
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