Perspectives on Outings: A Beautiful River
click for print view
by Dan Soeder, Outings Chair |
Water-borne outings are becoming a regular feature of our Chapter's Outings Program. Join us for the next one!
I’ve been on a number of river trips since I took up kayaking ten years ago.
The longest was a run on the Delaware River from Bush Kill to the Water Gap that took a few days. We went in late October and woke up to frost on our tents, plus it snowed several times on the river. The last day rewarded us with beautiful, warm and sunny Indian Summer weather, as we rounded KittatinnyMountain and shot through the Water Gap at the end of the run.
Floating on the Cheat River ~ photo by Jim Sconyers
The scariest trip was a guided “moonlight” paddle on the Potomac River from Seneca Creek down to one of the lock houses on the C&OCanal. Unfortunately for the guide (who should have checked an almanac), the moon didn’t rise until 11 PM, and it got dark at 9. We spent a good two hours running a pitch-black river with rocks, eddies, riffles and tricky currents. I’m here to tell you that even mild whitewater is pretty terrifying in the dark. I slammed into a few things and got stuck a couple of times that could have been easily avoided in daylight. Or even moonlight.
I’ve been on lots of tidal rivers in the marshlands around Chesapeake and DelawareBays. I learned how to approach wading Great Blue Herons in a kayak by gliding in slowly with the paddle lying across the boat out of the water. They don’t recognize a boat, especially a non-paddling boat, as a predator, and allow you to get quite close before flying off. In Delaware Bay, the horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay eggs on high tides in the summer months. The bottom of the bay is alive with this ancient species that was old when the dinosaurs roamed, and paddling a kayak over the spectacle is a very primeval experience. Tidal rivers are tricky, however. One hot-shot paddler I knew with a sleek Dagger kayak and a fancy wetsuit zipped up a creek at Bombay Hook on an ebb tide, and got stuck in the mud as the tide drained the water out from under his boat faster than he could paddle back. He was a sorry, muddy mess by the time he trudged back through the marsh, dragging his useless kayak.
One of the most beautiful rivers I’ve been on was the Cheat, during Jim Sconyers’ paddle outing in June. Seven of us put in at an outfitter location in the tiny town of St. George, north of Parsons, and “leisure paddled” the river about seven miles downstream to Seven Islands. I like Jim’s outings, because they are done at a pace that allows for the enjoyment of nature, the place and the surroundings. Some outings warrant a vigorous pace. This one did not, on a partly sunny, warm and beautiful day.
This reach of the CheatRiver is quiet and undeveloped, with little more than a few farms and some campgrounds. Most of the banks and surrounding hills are heavily wooded. The river has classic, natural stream hydrology consisting of a series of deep pools connected by shallow, rocky riffles. I’ve seen this done artificially in urban stream restoration projects, but it is rare to find it in nature. Most of the riffles we were able to paddle through with only some bumps, although we did get stuck a few times and had to walk the boats off the rocks and into deeper water. We saw an eagle circling high overhead, woodcocks, geese and a variety of other birds, interesting woods, rocks and clear water. The water was clear enough to see freshwater mussel shells, fish and tadpoles, attesting to the health of this stream.
We had a dog follow us part of the way. He was a friendly but annoying mutt and ran along the riverbanks, swimming out to the boats several times. At a deep pool where some teenage boys had a rope swing to jump into the river, they recognized the dog as “Huggy Bear” (the informant from the old Starsky and Hutch TV show, for those who don’t know the reference). Thankfully, Huggy Bear stayed with the boys and we continued onward
We took the boats out of the water on a rocky, rather swift reach at SevenIslands. We all agreed that it was a wonderful trip, and I think the program should include more water outings. If you have a special stretch of river below Class III whitewater that you like to paddle, let me know. We’ll check it out, and maybe turn it into an outing. So instead of “see you outside,” how about “SYOTR”? That’s kayaker talk for “See You on the River.” Cheers!
- Daniel J. Soeder, WV Chapter outings chair (Dan.Soeder@sierraclub.org)