Monday, November 20, 2006

Late Fall Upper Blackwater

Another work free Saturday rolled around, and with gorgeous weather, I broke my general rule of thumb and went to the Upper Blackwater below 250 cfs. My excuse: a combination of weather, good friends, and a recent lack of other paddling. Ben Dunham was the best man in my wedding, and a recent resident of our guest room. Ben Badger is a Morgantown area friend looking to get his first run in on the Upper Blackwater. We loaded up boats, a bike, and a big dog, and headed towards Canaan.

We droppped the bike in Douglas, and circled back around to the put-in. Upon arrival, it was confirmed that the Blackwater was low. Like 200 cfs or less low. Oh well, it still goes, and it was blue skies and high 50's. The photo at left is looking back up toward Blackwater Falls from the put-in. Most trips begin in the foreground eddy. The brown color of the water is not mud, but tannic acid, leached out of spruce, pine, and hemlock tree detrious in the headwaters of the river. This river and Red Creek and Red Run of Canaan derive their names from the tea-like appearance.

Ben Dunham running 100 Yard Dash, the first rapid of our run. The move Ben is making comes immediately out of the put-in eddy.

Ben Badger finishing off Tomko Falls. Higher water opens up several other lines.

Ben and Ben at the bottom of Pendleton Falls.
Ben Badger on the final ledge of My Nerves are shot, I can't take it anymore. The perspective afforded by my point and shoot does not do this rare bedrock rapid justice. The uppermost ledge visible in the photo drops 10-12 feet and is 50-60 yards away.
Ben Dunham climbing the hill from the Blackwater/North Fork confluence to the old railroad grade. 500 feet up and then a mile back to the parking area.

My priveledge for being the first back; shuttle biker. To save fuel, get more exercise, and enjoy company on the drive, we used a bicycle for the shuttle. The ride took about 40 minutes on the cross country bike. Single speed bike= great for the woods, slow on the Blue Highways. I was peevishly honked at/flipped off once, and a pick-up truck accelerated angrily around me, over corrected onto the shoulder, and nearly flipped into an oncoming Tahoe. Exciting.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


This spring I was blessed with one of those great days when it rained, hard, on a Friday night. That, combined with a work-free Saturday means its time to go boating. It was one of those tweener days we get sometimes here in Appalachia; enough rain that some creeks were much too high, but some of the once or twice a year creeks were not running yet. A group met in Kingwood; Oliver, D, and two aquaintances of D. We drove over and checked out a little 800fpm screamer that empties into the Cheat, but it was too low.
Elsey creek was high, and with 5 in our group, two of whom had never done it, plus rumors of wood, and a known gun slinging landowner, we elected to go do a "Quick" run on Pringle Run. We reasoned it would be fast, we could evaluate the group some more, and maybe make it back over and do Elsey afterwards.
We drove over to look at Pringle, which had ample water :

Photo: Take out Gauge on Pringle Run the day of our run.

So we started the process of gearing up. Unfortunately, Oliver realized his keys, along with his boating gear, were locked in the cab of his truck, and we were not able to quickly gain access to it. I ended up giving him my cell phone and truck, so he could drive out enough to find a signal and call for help.

And then there were four.

The four of us hiked up the road to above the falls, and started out on the creek. I ended up portaging the entrance to the falls, for fear of being pushed too far left on the lip. It turns out this was silly; don't bother. I peeled out of the eddy and ran what is my favorite waterfall in the area: 20+ feet into deep foamy water. I didn't bother checking the depth of course, I am much better at the West Virginia Boof than the Oregon Tuck. I eddied out to set safety and take some photos of the other guys. Aquaintance #1 came over and took in on a nice 45, and aquaintance #2 (Mark Cecchini) took an early boof stroke and pretty much plugged it into a backender, but looked good doing it. D had a hard time getting into the proper current, and was nearly flipped on the wall at the lip; he came off the drop on a full brace and not much else. Photo: D dropping into a foamy Pringle Falls.

And then there were three.

While D hurried downstream to make sure his boat didn't flush into the Cheat, the other guys and I started working our way down through the next few rapids, keeping eyes peeled for the AWOL boat. Pringle Run has classic West Virginia boulder piles, full of offset chutes, mank rocks, and pin spots. The rapids are pretty long and complex, so we carefully scouted and set safety. After completing the first major rock pile, I saw some outdoorsy looking people on the opposite bank, gesturing that there was a swimmer and a pinned boat downstream. I sort of nonchalantly said "Yeah, I know", and indicated we'd get there when we got there. They didn't seem all that satisfied with my answer, but Don and I had a plan to deal with things, and were sticking to it.

We boogied the few yards down to the next big rapid, and saw D working with his boat. We hurried down and helped him get it unstuck, using the wade/armstrong technique. Then we started scouting the hanging vines, rock guarded boofs and seives of the rapid.
Mark had pretty big eyes after the pillows, seams, and pitons of boulder drop # 1, and elected to set safety and call it a day.

And then there were two.

After scouting and with ample setting set, I entered the rapid, made the first 4 or 5 moves, and whipped into an eddy above the last offset chute. Looking upstream, I saw Don scurry off his rock perch and assumed something had gone wrong. Aquaintance # 1 was pinned, head well out of the water, but in a place where swimming would be not fun. We managed to get him stable, and out of his boat, then roped the now filled Diablo to shore as well. He planned to get back in the saddle, and finish the rapid, so with a pat on the back I went back to my boat and pinballed in a most ungraceful fashion down the last third of the rapid. It was apparently so ugly that it dissuaded him from his plan, and he joined D and aquaintance #2 in walking the last hundred feet or so to the trucks.

After a long and frustrating game of dropped cell phone calls with his auto club, Oliver ended up calling his wife for a set of keys. While catching up with him at the takeout, he started laughing, and pointed out that it was like an episode of Survivor: Pringle Run.

Pringle Run, like many in West Virginia, has serious environmental issues. AMD has colored rocks orange, lowered the ph and killed off much of the aquatic life. The town of Tunnelton is pretty much the headwaters of the creek, with stormwater, polluted runoff, and sewage getting into the water at one point or another. The creek is quite full of trees and relatively flat above the falls, I have always hiked up from the bottom (scouting the whole way)and put on just one rapid upstream of the falls. The falls has been run center and on river right. A unique aspect of low water runs is the opportunity to boof from the river right launch pad into the curtain of the center. Fun!