The day started at 2AM. I didn’t need to be to Frederick until sometime around 7. But at 2, the dog needed to go out. As soon as I laid back down, the youngest started crying. She often puts herself back to sleep, so I waited a little. Must have been gas pains, because just after inventing the methane powered rocket crib she giggled herself back to sleep. As soon as I wiped the smirk off my face, the eldest came in asking for help with her blankets. After tucking her back in, my wife wanted to know what was going on. By the time I told her, with especial detail on the noises eminating from our youngest daughter immediately preceeding her giggle-fit, I was done. No getting back to sleep now.
So I lay there for the next several hours waiting for the alarm. When it went off, I checked the weather, and then the gauges linked from American Whitewater for our intended run. 1.84 feet and roughly 160 CFS on Sideling Hill Creek in Maryland. Neither my partner nor I had taken this run before, so we were relying on guide books and AW. Based on those, it was going to be a bony run. We were pleased with the quality of the descriptions. Everything was exactly as we had anticipated.
After transport and running shuttle, we got to the put-in at roughly 9AM and onto the water about 20 minutes later. On the shuttle, we played Dirty Ed’s Hell and High Water CD. The lyrics from Bluestone were stuck in my head - “This first run signals boating season’s begun…” We ran the south part of Sideling Hill Creek, which is roughly 13 miles. We were on the water at 9:20 and back off at 2:30, with a break for lunch. It didn’t seem like it when we were on the water, but we were booking compared to my usual less than 1MPH fishing trips.
The water was roughly 45 degrees and the air was anywhere from 60 to 70, depending on where we were. Deep in the gorge, it was chilly. By early afternoon, we paddled by some south facing cliffs warmed by the sun and they were wonderfully radiant. We lolligagged in that pool for a while soaking up the warmth. We had taken the usual precautions of heat packs, spare clothes, etc. for a warm air/cool water trip. While we were prepared for emergency, the simple comfort of that warmth after running a deep gorge with a cool breeze coming off the ice was just what we needed. We didn’t need the spare clothes, but I used a heat pack placed over my heart. It was entirely a matter of comfort and not of necessity.
This was a lush, gorgeous, and moderately challanging run. Challanging for me, anyway. It was continuous Class I and Class II rapids. Most of them were shoals type rapids, but there were a few solid Class II ledges. The water was skinny enough that tight maneuvering was necessary from time to time. This was a great place for me to practice tight maneuvering because the consequences for a mistake were low. There were only two uh-oh moments for me. One was when there was a micro hydraulic that I didn’t see and stuck my paddle into. It screwed up my line, but it was at the end of the rapid so it didn’t matter. The other was where there was a tight spot that required about a 30 degree turn towards center. Water pillowed up off the rock that I was trying to avoid. Results were less than I had anticipated, but I did get to test the secondary stability! In any of my other boats, I’d have been swimming. Other times we had a ball charging through rapids where you enter center and then work your way … center.
All along the creek, there were ice forms that were very cool (no pun intended). It was obvious that the creek had come down significantly, as most of the ice forms were three or four feet above the current river surface. With ice still floating in some of the pools, we were suprised to see a couple caddis hatches. At the confluence of Sideling Hill Creek and the Potomac, there were midge spinners everywhere. Thousands of them. The air was much warmer there than back in the canyon, perhaps 70 or even higher.
After hearing MikeSawyer tell folks about a thousand times, the difference between having clothes that stay warm when wet and staying dry finally sunk in. A paddle jacket would have gone a long way to increased comfort today.
I put a fair number of scratches into this new boat and broke her in right. It was a great day, with great company, on a great stream. Tough to beat. Consider that the alternative was working, and it’s nearly impossible to beat!
My paddle partner Kent photographed much of the trip (actually it was his trip and I was the paddle partner). You can see a few shots on my picture site:
They’re at the end.
- Big D