East vs. West
by Amy Leppo
ď The water is cold and then it runs out and then it sucks.Ē This is my eastern paddle buddyís feelings on western boating.
ďThe river is fun but there are two many people. The eddies are packed.Ē This is my western paddle buddyís impression of eastern boating.
So, what is the real deal? I had to figure it out for myself. After a couple of years of paddling in the Northeast, I decided it was time. Time for me to get out, see it, love it, paddle it and share my opinion. OK. What is the crucial difference between my beloved east and the wild, wild west? Volume. I know, I know, it is still high water here. Things havenít dried out. And no, I havenít paddled that river. Or that one. Just let me make a gross generalization, please! Up until this year, I have paddled on dam-controlled rivers. That is right. Pure fun. Big, warm, consistent water. It isnít difficult to learn every wave and every hole at each of the 4 release levels. CFS made no matter to me. Big water was when Harris station checked the turbines. And I became intimate with several features on a particular stretch of river. Eddy access. Plenty of recovery time. Now, what about when there isnít a dam? What happens? Well, the snow pack melts off and drains into tributaries, creeks and eventually, a river. This water adds up! For the past month I have been paddling anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 cfs. And let me tell you, volume makes all the difference in my boating.
Last spring I paddled the Hudson at an obscene water level. The night before we paddled, I remember sitting in a bar watching flood advisories blinking bright red on the television. We woke up the next day and the river was at 10 feet and rising. That must have been 25,000 cfs. The swollen river provided tall, standing waves as far as I could see. Whitewater for miles. It took me a quarter mile to pull out of an eddy the river was so big! Features became rather, well, large. And the penalty points? Letís just say swimming wasnít an option.
So, these characteristics carry over to this big, olí river I find myself playing on these days. A typical, high volume, western river. The water came down before my intimidation wore off. Boating a river that doesnít stop for 30+ miles is exhilarating. Around every corner is a powerful rapid. No recovery time. Cold water. And definitely no eddies. Actually, I take that back. There are a few eddies, but they are full of debris such as 60 foot Ponderosas. My friend calls them floating undercuts. It is all about staying in the current and loving every minute of this larger than life roller coaster ride.
So, the playboating. There are some phenomenal boaters out here. And they all have fast boats. I have a Liquid Logic Skip and a Prijon Delirious. After being crucified in the Skip for a week, I switched over to the Delirious. Hull speed is key. Popular boats here? The Necky Witch and the Prijon Delirium.
There are tons of playful features, but they can only be caught on the fly. No paddling back up for a ride. And walking back up isnít worth it: There are about 50 million more features downstream to spin, carve and ride on. One chance on each wave. Period.
So, there is an update. The water is coming down. Iíll be sure to let you know how the boating evolves as the snowpack depletes.
by Will Hartman
There was very little to be done at that point in time. My R2 partner and I both were clinging to the high side of the raft like drowned rats as it flipped violently backwards into Exterminator. Instantly my body was wrung like a wet rag as I hit the water and was dealt with by the hole. The next 30 seconds became a movie slow-mo as I swam balls-out for my raft through the Gorge. I swam over rocks and through Mass Hole and thought, "damn I want to be on that raft." When we finally paddled our upside down boat into Dead Moose Eddy, I was a happy, happy man.
This was the scene of my second R2 down Ripogenus Gorge on the West Branch of the Penobscot and my first real meeting with the river-wide Exterminator Hole.
In hindsight, I'm glad it happened. Neither my R2 partner or I got hurt and it's nice to know some of the worst the Gorge has to offer. Perhaps we got ourselves a little life lesson, too (I'd sure like to think so); even though we were high as high could be (on the side of the raft) there are some things that you just can't prevent no matter how hard you try. As the saying goes; sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bears eats you. And friends, we definitely got eaten.
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