NINE RIVER SALAD

By: Pat Montagne

Ingredients:
240 cfs Daugherty Run (V)
240 cfs Bear Creek (IV)
240 cfs Fikes Creek (IV-V)
325 cfs Meadow Run (IV-V+)
8,190 cfs Lower Yough (Loop) (IV)
300 cfs Little Sandy (III-IV)
990 cfs Upper Big Sandy (III-IV)
990 cfs Lower Big Sandy (IV-V+)
816 cfs Top Yough (IV-V)

Take Friday and Monday off of work, hook up with one or more of your best paddling buddies, mix all the ingredients together in three days, go home the fourth day and there you have it, "The Nine River Salad". Here's how we put it together.

All week long my eyes were glued to the internet as I salivated over all the green that was lit up on American Whitewaters river gauge web sites. My focus was on the ones that had the little "V" next to the river classification. In particular my gaze was on the heart throbbing Blackwater River at Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia. My ambition for the weekend eliminated 95% of the paddlers that I normally paddle with and because the temps were to be in the twenties for the weekend that eliminated another 4% who paddle class V. All I needed was that 1% or a fraction of and I'd be set. I sent out e-mails and made some phone calls to a hand full of potentials and ended up with one taker. My buddy Joel Maynard from Virginia was looking to paddle a four dayer this weekend and he was game for just about anything.

We canned the Blackwater idea because neither one of us had ever paddled the Blackwater River and on a river of this caliber which produces a lot of swims, the freezing temperatures and the lack of appropriate safety made the risk factor too dangerous for our taste. Friday morning we met in Friendsville, Maryland and drove up to Albright, West Virginia to paddle Daugherty Run. Daugherty is a small, steep, low volume creek run with an average gradient of around 200 feet per mile, max at 260 fpm. Rapids are continuous with many slides, some as long as 15 to 20 feet long, sometimes leading one into another. There are lots of 4-6 foot drops, many are blind and require scouting while most require edge of your seat boat scouting to run them. Neither Joel nor I had ever run this little wipper snapper before, so at first we proceeded very cautiously. We got out to scout a few of the bigger drops at the top and all of the blind drops, then as our comport level afforded it we just boat scouted our way down. Eventually we were so comfortable with this little snot ball that we started going down some of the drops backward.

We had to portage a couple of strainers which was a pain in the ass, I hate to get out of my boat and walk around stuff. I swim more getting out of my boat than I do getting worked in a hole. One time we got up to a river wide strainer, Joel got out to portage and I eddied out to study a small passage that I saw between the tree and a boulder. It was pretty sketchy so I was taking some time to contemplate if I should run it or not. The next thing I knew Joel grabs my stern loop and dragged me out of the water. Then he took my paddle away from me and walked off with it mumbling something, I guess he made my mind up for me because now I was up a creek without a paddle. Not long after we put back on we came upon another strainer, Joel portaged around it like any sensible paddler would have but Mr. lazy decided to bust a move on it and screwed it up and got stuck on the strainer. It wasn't a life threatening situation unless I would have been alone or if Joel would have left me there, which I'm sure, he wanted to do. He had just gotten back into his boat and when he saw me pinned he ejected out of it and it looked like he was running on air as he leaped from boulder to boulder to get to me. Within seconds he was on me and had me pulled to shore. I think I annoyed him a bit because he stormed back to his boat mumbling something about cupid and my mother and a trucker, I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I think he was pissed. I didn't intentionally try to paddle through anymore strainers after that, although I did have one more encounter in which I'm probably lucky to be alive to tell the story.

We came up on a nice slide which led into a five or six foot ledge drop with about 90% of the creek flowing directly into the branches of a tree that had fallen just below the drop. The trunk of the tree was about eight feet or so above the water line but its branches draped down into the water like tentacles waiting to suck up any object that was unlucky enough to wander in its path. We spotted a small three or four foot slot on the far river left side of the drop that would allow passage and avoid the strainer. The question was could we control our trajectory down the shallow slide and make it to the slot without getting swept out into the main current and into the strainer. I got into position to run the slide while Joel crossed over above the rapid to go down to the slot to see if there was any wood or a pinning rock at the bottom of the slot. After I got the "all clear" signal from him, I peeled out of the eddy so fast that I left skid marks and a trail of smoke behind me. Things were looking good; I was on a bee line for the slot and then when I entered the slide my forward momentum and trajectory changed and all of a sudden things turned for the worst. As I'm zooming down the slide the current catches me and I'm now heading back to river right straight for the tentacles of the hungry strainerpus. I plopped off the lip of the drop and any momentum that I may have had that could have inched me past the tree was now totally gone. I was now being washed into the branches with no hope what so ever of getting past it. Yeah, you can believe my butt was puckered up tighter than a pretty boy at a gay biker's convention. I'm not sure exactly what happened but I managed to flip upside down just before plowing into the labyrinth of branches. My 230 pound carcass crashed through the strainer with such force that I broke every branch that I came in contact with. I could actually hear the sound of wood breaking from my position under the water and at one point I felt the rescue leash from my PFD snag on a limb as I was crashing through the branches. I can remember the feeling of relief when I felt the snap of the branch that it was snagged on. I was so glad when I reached the end of that strainer. I rolled up and immediately belted out a thunderous roar of triumph and gratefulness to have made it through that death trap alive and still in my boat. Now I know if I would have portaged around this thing I would have swam getting out of my boat, go figure. When I caught site of Joel, his jaw was in his lap and his eye balls had popped out of his head in disbelief of what had just happened. You would think that he would have walked around the drop after witnessing this near disaster, but no, he just figured he'd correct my line and pull it off, and so he did, but only by mere inches. We both started hooting and hollering like two damn fools who just cheated death one more time. We paddled the rest of this thrilling little creek without incident and we were feeling all manly. We didn't need any liquid poison today because we were on a natural high already, but we had one anyway when we got to the take out, we popped a top and toasted to another great day on the water. We finished the day by driving over to Pringle Run and scouted this little rip-snorter in hopes of running it the next day. Then off to the cabin for some hot tubing and celebration.

Saturday morning we decided to hang around the Friendsville/Ohiopyle area so that we could paddle as much as possible so we bailed on Pringle Run to cut down on travel time and headed out to paddle Bear Creek for breakfast. Bear is a sassy little screamer and was a great way to start the day. We wanted to really clean the sleep from our eyes so we spiced it up by running just about the whole thing backwards. Now if you ever want a good workout, just have some of that backwards action, it's guaranteed to loosen you up and get you ready for a great day of paddling. When we got to the take out we loaded up our boats and our buddy Mike Shallenberg drove up looking for trouble. We told him that we had plenty of trouble on the menu today, so we all hooked up and paddled the rest of the day together. We headed up to Fikes Creek and paddled that pretty little gem. None of us had paddled it before so once again we enjoyed the adventure of the unknown. It was pretty easy and Joel and I paddled quite of bit of it backwards, this was our new thing, paddling class III -IV backwards. After Fikes we were well warmed up and ready for some goose bumping, adrenaline pumping action so we scooted over to paddle Meadow Run in Ohiopyle.

Before putting on we drove down to the bottom to scout the slide. You know the one that the kids slide down during the low water summer months by the bridge at Entrance Rapid on the Lower Yough. Well when there is some real CFS pumping through there, it becomes the real deal. That rapid is what gives the Meadow its class V+ rating. We looked it over and discussed how we should run it and then took off to the put in. The Meadow is a very fun, very technical, action packed creek. It has a really awesome class V'ish drop in it called the Cascades. The Cascades is a boney slide that culminates into a 6' ledge drop, it's a very beautiful rapid. Then there is Seven foot falls which is always changing character as the water level changes and is notorious for separating paddlers from there boats. And of coarse there is the big kahoona, "The Slide". There use to be a ribbon that was tied to the trees on river left just above the top of the rapid to signal you that the Slide was coming up. It may still be there but I missed it if it was.

We were paddling along, Mike in the lead, I'm following with Joel in the rear when all of a sudden we get to another slide. I knew that where we were at, there were no more slides other than the Grand Poo Pa. I never saw the ribbon in the trees; I must have been day dreaming like I am known to do sometimes, gandering at the beautiful scenery and all. I wasn't sure if Mike knew where he was because I didn't think he had intended on running it. I suddenly got into the rescue mode thinking that I'd stop him before it was too late. That lasted all of two seconds when I found myself in the final approach to the slide. At that point I completely forgot that Mike even existed as I caught the first banking turn to the left that shot me into the next banking turn to the right up the wall at the top of the slide and then like a rocket I was shot down through the middle of the slide. OH #&%?!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My line was off, "gurgle, gurgle, gurgle", "bam, bam, bam"; I was looking for fish but seeing stars, as I went upside down through the narrow three foot slot towards the bottom. Come to think of it I think I saw starfish! I made one attempt to roll but my paddle was just hitting the sides of the wall and I was laying face down with the back deck of my boat over my head. I didn't have time to think this one out so I just kept my paddle as close to my body as I could in hopes that it wouldn't get hung up on anything and break or get jerked out of my hands. I tucked my chin into my chest as tight as I could to show the bottom of the slide my forehead instead of my face, although I did have my face mask on. I felt my head getting thumped several times and then I felt myself drop off of the slide into deeper water, so I immediately attempted a roll and nailed it. This all happened so fast that there wasn't much dialog going on in my mind, it just kinda happened by itself.

I saw that Mike was out of his boat so I yelled at him to get himself to shore which was easy enough for him to do. The tuff part was rescuing his boat before it got to the bottom and washed into Entrance. With the Yough at around 7 ½' we would have never seen his boat again. I finally got it to shore right at the mouth of the Meadow. Mike made it down there and took possession of his boat. I looked for Joel and he wasn't within site. For the first time that weekend I was really scared. I ran back up the trail to the slide hoping that Joel wasn't stuffed under water somewhere or knocked out floating upside down. When I got there he was still in his boat and right side up at the bottom of the slide. He had managed to get out before getting flushed into the rapid and walked over to scout the slide one last time before running it. There was a young man standing there who had seen Mike and I run the slide. Joel asked him if we made it through OK. Joel said the guy just stood there looking like he was in shock with his mouth wide open nodding his head yes. So Joel got back in his boat and ran it, he got a little messed up and ended up going down backwards about halfway through. This time it was unintentional but I suppose all the backwards paddling that he did today helped him stay upright.

When we all finally united together at Entrance, the young fellow had walked down and by then was able to talk. He said that he prayed for our safety as we were running the slide. I thanked him for the prayers and we all took off into Entrance to run the Loop. At 7'and some change the Yough was huge; I'd say it was as big as some of the rapids on the Cheat at around 4'. I bet it didn't take us much more than ten minutes to run the loop. It was so cool to finish the day of creeking with a big water run. We all went back to Mikes place and had dinner with him and his precious wife Michelle. After dinner Joel and I went back to the cabin where we were staying, and relaxed in the hot tub sipping on some brewskis and reliving the day's events.

Sunday was a repeat of Saturday only with different rivers. Joel and I had the Little Sandy for breakfast which dumped us into the class III-IV section of the Upper Big Sandy. This was a good warm up for the swollen Lower Big Sandy. When we got to the take out of the Upper Big Sandy, which is the Put in for the Lower Big Sandy, a couple of cold weather paddling dudes were putting on to run the Lower. John Guilfuse and Robert Johnson invited us to join them on their run. John said that he had room to haul our boats back and that it was cool for us to get into his SUV with our wet gear on. Joel and I were ecstatic to be so lucky to stumble on these guys and get to bag the Lower Big Sandy, what are the odds of that happening! WHOO HAA it was soooo awesome, we even got to show our new found buddies some neat lines that they didn't know about, high water lines at Zoom Flume and Wonder Falls on far river left.

I was really studying the river because I was just about on the brink of having it memorized, so this trip got me over the hump where I'm now comfortable remembering how to get down it. Joel was studying it while going down most of the boogie water backwards. That dude is incredible, I can't figure out how he can stuff himself and those giant nads in that little plastic boat. We all seal launched off of Big Splat, this is the way to go off this drop and not have to say that you walked around it, it's the girly man line. We finished the run without any carnage, John took us back to our vehicles and Joel and I boogied on to the Top Yough for the Grand Finale of the day.

By 4:30 pm, we were on the water, leaving us an hour to get to the take out before it got dark. The Top was running at around 816 cfs, slightly on the high side, very challenging but doable. The afternoon was cloudy, very cold, it had started snowing, visibility was at a minimum and we were not fresh baked cookies any more. We knew that all these ingredients raised the difficulty of this river up a notch, so we put our serious faces on to tackle this one. We paddled up to Swallow Falls with the intension of walking around it because it was huge and the hole at the bottom looked like it had teeth. We looked it over and wanted nothing to do with the main line. Joel picked out a sneak line on the far left side which looked pretty easy if you landed it right. Too for right and you landed on a log that looked like it could ruin your day and too far left and it looked like it would push you under the shelf into kind of a cave under the curtain. The line looked like it was easy to nail but with no margin for error and only about a three or four foot passage to play with, and this was the sneak line!!! I stayed up on the ledge where we were scouting while Joel ran the line just in case he screwed it up; I'd be there for safety. He ran the line and nailed it, he made it look so easy that I decided to run it just so I didn't have to carry my boat around it.

As I started walking back to my boat, I caught a glimpse of a line coming off of the main line that got my attention. I paused for a moment to study it and it just felt like it was calling my name so I changed my plan and decided to run it. Joel was expecting me to run the sneak line so it must have blown him away to see me coming off the top of the drop into the meat. I missed my mark by only inches which threw me off line and into the rock jumble on the far right side of the slide. I braced off the pillow that forms on a huge boulder there and was launched into the curler that makes up the right side of the massive V shaped hole at the bottom. This funneled me right into the throat of the hole. This monster tried to gum me to death but I was able to maintain some form of control and a sense of awareness which helped me to stay cool and figure out a plan to get out of there. There was no way that I was getting out from the sides because the shoulders were nearly as high as my head and it was impossible for me to paddle upstream to reach its weak spot, if it even had a weak spot. In a hydraulic flow in equals flow out, so I just had to find where the flow was exiting the hole. Because the hole was shaped like a much defined V and I was sitting in the base of the V where the two shoulders were funneling the flow, it made sense to me that the flow was exiting directly under me. Being in a side surfing position and bracing on the foam pile, I leaned into the foam pile sinking my blade deeper until I found the exiting pressure of the water on my paddle blade. By the time I found it I was leaning so far down to reach the outflow that I was upside down. Now yous can call me lucky or yous can call me bucky but ya don't has to call me stucky because up and out the back of the hole I went. I attempted a couple of unsuccessful rolls that didn't feel right so I switched over to my offside and BAM! Up I rolled, and just in the nick of time because I was worn out, out of air and it was ~`*^ing cold under there. When the extraterrestrials returned me to earth I paddled like the dickens to get the hell out of there.

When I caught site of Joel, he was racing towards me, hollering and yelling like a wild man, he couldn't believe that I just ran the meat, got beat and came out of it smelling sweet. We both booked it to Swallow Tail Falls with the intention of walking that one as well. We got out and looked it over and the backwash was at least ten feet or more back from the hole and rising up into a huge boil that was formed right in front of the falls. I didn't even take a second look because I didn't want to find a line on it that would sucker me into running it. I was still breathing hard from the last spanking. Joel ran a sneak along the left side where we were scouting and I hung out for safety. After he made it down safely I walked over to get into my boat and noticed that one of my paddle blades was broken in half. I waved my paddle at him to show him that it was broken. It turned out that he new it was broken; he thought that I was going to paddle out with it. I can understand why he would think such a thing, he's a guy who hand paddles the Upper Yough. I pulled out my four piece breakdown paddle and with frozen fingers fumbled around putting it together. I came so close to calling it quits when I was struggling with that paddle, daylight was melting away quickly and I knew we were flirting with disaster. I finally pulled it together and ran the sneak and we blazed on down river.

By the time we reached Muddy Falls we got a good taste of what was being served for dinner. The river was huge and very pushy, I yelled to Joel to pull over into an eddy because I wanted to be sure that he understood what we were about to get ourselves into. This was the last chance to get out before we got too deep into the run. I shouted over the thunder of the rapids and the roaring of Muddy Falls, "Do you understand that this is not going to get any easier"? "Yes", he shouted back, "Let's blaze through this thing". "OK, but be careful" I hollered back. We were so amped up, we had fire in our eyes. With a nod of reassurance we peeled out and blazed down the river. We leap frogged where things were congested and blind and worked the features to our advantage to get us down as efficiently and as quickly as possible. The endorphins were flowing and we were in flight on a natural high. We were razor sharp as we filleted our way down that puppy. When we got to Suck Hole we pulled out and portaged without any questions about it. We weren't taking any chances because it was starting to get dark on us and we were very tired, and there was still a little bit of meat left to this run. We wasted no time putting back in and finished our decent to the take out just a little before dark.

We experienced an awesome, exciting and invigorating whitewater adventure that we will never forget. The whole weekend was filled with running new rivers, making the easy ones harder and pushing the envelope on the harder ones. This will be a weekend that will nourish our souls forever. NOW THAT'S HOW YOU MAKE A NINE RIVER SALAD.

 

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