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Tom had been hankering to get on this branch of the Patapsco for a year and having immensely enjoyed paddling the North Branch during a week of highwater dawn trips in ’05 (see report), I was looking forward to another high speed low drag Patapsco flush.
Scouting the river during Saturday’s rain remnants from the leavings of tropical storm Ernesto Tom and Brian declared there was sufficient water put in at Sykesville, paddle down to the confluence with the North Branch and on to the dam at Daniels.
No on-line gauge exists for this section, but the gauges for upstream tributaries Cranberry Branch and Beaver Run, having nearly doubled in volume, boded well for a fastwater day.
Our morning departure was delayed as we waited for Jim Obert and we eventually declared him a no-show after 45 minutes grace. Since Tom had brought a loaner canoe for Jim we decided that this would count as minus 12.7 miles in Jim’s paddling tally for the year, possibly leaving him in the minus column. No Duckhead has ever finished in the minus column before, and Jim is sure to earn a very special Duckhead award.
Jim, note that the Wye Island Race is 12.4 miles – you could avoid the embarrassment of the first ever negative mileage award by joining the Duckhead Racing Association on the 16th. The Malecite record is 2:26:04, set by Brian and I in 2003 (see report).
Shuttling upstream to the River Rd put in at Sykesville we arrived to find a suspiciously low river – the previous month’s drought had rapidly sucked up the water from Ernesto and the level appeared to have fallen as fast as it had risen.
There was, however, little question about putting on in any case; we’re here, with boats, shuttle is set and it’s still early in the morning. We’ve been wanting to float this section and for me it marks the 12th new river of the year. Time to sacrifice some vinyl to the river gods.
Gertler’s Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails remarks “If you like your streams tiny and your whitewater rocky and twisty, then head for this stream after the next hard rain”.
Or perhaps, if floating on the heels for a long drought, during a hard rain. We are scraping and occasionally walking the boats almost immediately. Realizing that we have 12+ miles to go the sacrifice of vinyl for expediency is a no brainer and we begin attempting to thread low water rock gardens (class 3- when the river is running) even when it is apparent that no logical route exists without pinballing off boulders and boofing off exposed rocks.
I begin wishing I had brought a beater boat instead of the new Odyssey 14, although the Odyssey’s shallow draft probably offers the best choice of any boat on my rack. (Note: taking the Odyssey off the car this morning I realized that I now have a shallow water beater boat – the Ody is well and truly a battle-scarred veteran now.)
More critically I wish I had brought a beater paddle, an old Mohawk or Norse, as I’m beating the crap out of my wood Bending Branches and wincing at the occasional sickening “THWACK” as I can not avoid blade-on-rock encounters, especially during backpaddle maneuvers in the shallow rock gardens. Methinks I’ll be scheduling a weekend of paddle maintenance this winter.
Threading our way downstream, a little hull pinballed off here, a little hull boofed off there – if we need to Hansel and Gretel our way back upstream we can just follow the trail of vinyl breadcrumbs - we pass the Marriotsville Road Bridge and note that the painted river gauge is a good 10 inches below the zero mark.
McKeldin Falls soon appears. We scout a portage on river right. A long, ugly portage on river right. Recalling that Gertler had recommended portaging on river left we investigate and find a short ugly portage. Ugly is ugly, but short is better than long.
A brief lunch break below the falls and we’re back at it. Back at it and immediately faced with yet another low water no-logical-route rock garden. No one wants get commence boat walking this soon after portaging the falls, so we again force a passage.
Tom, who has stood tall poling anything and everything thus far forces a bit too hard on the last drop and we pause to empty 200 gallons of water from the Uberboat. Tom needed to rinse the Mobey vomit from the Uberboat’s floor anyway (over the side next time Mobey, over the side, not in the boat).
I can’t blame Mobey though; all this damn poling nonsense makes me a bit nauseous too. Again, for the record, it’s all DougD’s fault. He’s a highly infectious carrier of the poling disease, the Typhoid Mary of mid-Atlantic standers. Virulent Doug.
The confluence of the North Branch appears on river left, running very low and full of strainers, as the upstream Liberty dam is releasing but a trickle. The South Branch is low but passable; the North Branch would be a boat dragging hike. Good choice Tommy.
Another couple of miles and we pass the biker bar at Woodstock, debate stopping in for a cold one but opt to continue on. A shady cobble beach soon beckons downstream. We pull over for a last leg stretcher and there soon appears a blue Prospector – c2g, standing tall with pole in hand has worked his way upriver to join us for the last few miles.
Quite a fine day Gentlemen; 12+ miles in seven hours. I am hoping we can better that time by a bit during the Wye Island Race in a few weeks. Maybe we need one more 12 mile training run next weekend.
Tom’s soft focus photos of a hard focus day: http://sports.webshots.com/album/553878718KssxhU
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