WEBSTER WILD WATER FEST
By Pat Montagne
It was a year since Bill Blauvelt and I vowed to return to Webster Springs, West Virginia and sponsor a co-club paddling trip to the Webster Wild Water Festival. Dale Griffith was the trip leader for the Greater Baltimore Canoe Club and sweet cheeks, as I am affectionately know by the better smelling and much better looking members of our group, was the trip leader for the Conewago Canoe Club. We started rolling the rubber on Friday morning with the CCC posse` caravanning to the Middle Fork of the Tygart in West Virginia while Buck, as Dale is fondly known as, and his GBCC contingent headed out to the Maury River in Virginia. Word has it that the Buck-a-roos and the Maury got along spectacularly. Our CCC group and friends thoroughly enjoyed our stint with the Middle Fork and the lower section of the Tygart Gorge down to the Buckhannon. Our posse` consisted of Kim and I, Chris Iverson, Joe Haynes, Kyle O'Reilly, Art Barket, Mike Hostetter, Dave Witmer, John Giorgini, Barbara Tschida, Liz Garland, Stuart Holbrook, Logan Smith and Ely (what's his name). It was a nice day with temps in the mid 50's, water level was a little on the low side at 3'-8" (627cfs) on the Middle Fork and just about right on the Tygart Gorge at 5'-3" (1230cfs).
It was a great level for taking our first timers down and to start off the weekend with a nice spoon feeding of some class III - IV white water. Kim and Chris took the shredder down and had a gaggle of fun, especially when they got stuck in, and surfed at one of the major rapids, (Hook). I bet they were in that hole for three of four minutes. That doesn't seem like a lot of time but I know it seemed like an eternity to Kim. At one point while the hole is putting the smack down on them, she tells Chris, "I can't do this anymore", and Chris says, "What do you mean you can't do this anymore"?!!!! Apparently she dug down deep into her stash of courage and hung in there. Thirty feet below them was the main drop of the rapid which they went down backwards after they finally got out of the rubber muncher. To have caught the expression on Kim's face as they were going down that huge drop backwards would have definitely been a Super Social Supper classic, worthy of a dubious award of distinction. When they got to the bottom they just hugged with relief as if they were just spared their lives.
Other excitement that day went as follow; Ely swam above "The Wall", Joe swam after breaking his paddle at "S Turn", and Mike got stuck in a big hole somewhere near the top of the Tygart Gorge section. This would have been another classic for the SSS. I paddled back up to Mike as he is getting worked in the hole with the intention of paddling into the hole hoping that I'd be able to bump him out. The hole was pretty big and deserved some respect, so I figured that I should try to talk him out before going in myself. He was side surfing and getting bounced around pretty good but holding his own. I could see that if he could just back paddle to the shoulder that he would probably catch the out flow and get flushed out, so I'm yelling at him to back out. Well first thing I know he's pulling his skirt while still upright and side surfing and he bails out of his boat, it turned out that he couldn't hear me well with the roar of the rapid and he thought I said get out, so he got out. That was the first time I ever saw anyone wet exit from the upright position. Kyle was a little apprehensive at Shoulder Snapper and at Hook and after getting out to scout the rapids, he chose to portage around them. I think he was at war with himself over weather or not he should run the rapids, but in the end good judgment prevailed as he went with his gut feeling and portaged. I assured him later that there is no shame in walking a class IV rapid or any rapid for that matter, if it didn't feel like the right thing to do. I don't hesitate to walk if I don't feel good about running a rapid and I could care less what anyone thinks about it. Kim also didn't want any part of Shoulder Snapper so she walked around it carrying Liz's canoe while Liz and Chris ran the rapid in the shredder.
The mile long walk out on the railroad tracks went by fast as we were all in a state of euphoria as the endorphins produced from the mesmerizing paddle down the Middle Fork and Tygart worked their magic on our bodies and minds. After getting everything packed up, we all had dinner together at some greasy spoon, (but the food was good,) and then we continued our journey to Cowen, West Virginia where we had a nice warm bunk house waiting for us complete with hot showers and a kitchen. We stayed up til around 1:00 am in the morning just enjoying each others company and reminiscing over the days events before laying down for a nap. Morning would be here soon and we had a big day ahead of us.
Saturday morning we woke up, had a delicious breakfast buffet at the mess hall there at Camp Caesar and met up with our GBCC buddies at the festival site to figure out what river we were going to paddle. Our eyes were on the Williams, Cranberry or the Upper Meadow with the Williams being our first choice and being the closest to us. The rain we got in the early morning hours boosted our hopes for good flow somewhere; we just had to figure out where. It didn't seem like it was enough to guarantee water everywhere, especially the Williams which takes a good rain to bring it up. The phone gauges were not current readings so that meant that to know for sure what was running, we'd have to drive out to the river and see for our selves, or maybe the internet gauges would be current if we could get on the internet. The day before, when we were on the Tygart, Jay Venable called my cell phone and left a message offering any assistance in gauge readings if needed, he said the weather patterns had changed from previous predictions and that it looked like we were going to get quite a bit of rain, maybe even snow and surely colder temperatures. I tried to call him on my cell but neither I nor anyone else had reception on our cell phones there at the festival site. Finally we located a pay phone down the street and I called him up to have him do his magic and locate the water for us.
You have to know how Jay operates to really appreciate this, but he's the best at figuring out water levels and conditions, he's got it down to a science. He checked around the web sites that he monitors and figured that the Williams was going to have enough water in it and possibly might have too much. We agreed that the only way to know for sure was to go out there and see for ourselves, but he was pretty sure that it would not be a wasted trip; he was banking on the Williams being at least minimum runnable level. From what Jay was seeing on the internet, he had a hunch that it was going to be running high and suggested that we drop an intermediate shuttle vehicle or two along the way so that if Willy was packing too much of a punch we could get off the river and not be to far from a vehicle.
The road follows the river the whole way down the section that we were going to paddle so we were able to scout it on the way to the put in. It was definitely high but didn't look like much, just looked like a big flush. The closer we got to the put in, the more features we saw, but no one's bone meter was pegging; it just didn't look like what we were expecting to see. When we got to the Tea Creek Bridge put in, the water was up to the pavement on the bridge. No one in either group had ever seen the river this high, not even close. The coolmometer was showing temps in the mid 30's and we were getting zephyrmanded by the chilling breeze. The water was a nice blackceptable chocolate color and looking a tad forceful. Barbara, the only girl paddling today, didn't think that she was going to have any girlficulty on the river because the needle on her mojometer was in the green zone, so we were ready to rock and roll. These are words that the Caballeros invented in the last year; we are working on the new abridged paddling dictionary. We don't let a moment go by that we don't milk it for all the fun we can get out of it.
Anyway back to the story, from water level things looked a lot different than they did from the road. Last year when Bill and I joined forces to lead the group down the Upper Meadow, it was at a high pushy level, especially for taking newbies down it. Today, Bill and I looked at each other and it was deja-vous, I could tell that he was thinking the same thing that I was, I said, "Bill it looks like we did it again; we're taking another group of newbies down at high water". Now lets keep things in perspective here, they were newbies, but they were good strong paddlers who earned the opportunity to paddle this thing and we did have the safety factor of the road running along side the river the whole way, such was the same last year on the Meadow, which had the railroad tracks running along the river the whole way. Also we had a force field around them with a large group of very strong paddlers to support them. Although they were very well protected, they were going to have their hands full today. There were a few folks that didn't want to get on the river under these conditions, so taking Jays' advice; I asked if they would follow us down river as we paddled. With the Williams pumping at 2780 cfs, (6') and as cold as it was, it was nice to have that level of safety with us. A couple of the road crew even set safety with their throw ropes at the more threatening rapids.
A swim today would not be in our best interest because of the velocity of the water and the big holes that were present. Speaking of swims, we had a couple of special moments that proved to be quite exciting, or at least one of them did. Although not in our best interest, they were very interesting to say the least. This is how it all went down; when we put on the Baltimore crew started out ahead of us while our crew waited on their slow pokey trip leader to get his "sweet cheeks" in his boat and on the water. Lagging behind worked out well because we avoided a traffic jam on the water with all the people that we had, I think there were nine of us and there must have been at least fifteen Baltimoreans. We finally came up on the "B" team as they were all eddied out at the top of this knarly looking rapid, it didn't look like we'd have any trouble getting through so I lead the "C" team down. This is where we started playing leap frog. The "B" team would protect the rapid as we paddled through and we'd go on to the next nasty rapid and protect it for them as they went through and then they, then we, then they, then we, so on and so on. We finally came up to this really big boulder garden rapid, one of two monster rapids on the river with a nice "S" turn of sorts down at the bottom that look like it was studded with three or four big holes. A couple of the more advanced "B" team players, Pat Hamlin, Bill Blauvelt and Buck were at the bottom waiting to clean up the debris that came out of their plastic containers. The rest of the "B" team was all eddied out at the top of the rapid. I remembered this drop from when we drove past it on the way to the put in and I had decided then that although very big, it was very doable. So we eased up to the horizon line at the top and after boat scouting it, I led the "C" team down through it. I got stalled in a big hole at the top of the last drop just above the "S" turn but made it down to the bottom with nothing more than a good stern squirt when I just clipped the corner of the last big hole, and a very big hole it was. I caught an eddy as quick as I could to help with the clean up should there be any. No sooner than I turned into the eddy facing up stream the spit hit the fan. It seems that a few of the "C" team wasn't able to negotiate the "S" turn quickly enough and plowed right into the mouth of the bottom hole. I don't know the name of this rapid but I'll call it, "She Swallows" because she was swallowing any paddler that she could wrap her lips around. I remember seeing Art swimming aggressively to shore, Witmer was out of his boat as well but heading straight down stream. Pat Hamlin hit Wit on the bulls' eye with a throw rope and pulled him to shore right away. I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched all of this unfold before me. Chris was in the hole giving it a lap dance. I watched him for a moment and just knew he was going to get the stink kicked out of him and we'd have another swimmer, I don't know how he did it but he hung in there and finally found the way out. By this time Witmers boat was close enough to me and with all the bodies pulled to shore I assumed the job of boat chaser and I chased his boat for about a quarter mile down stream before I finally recovered it. After pulling his boat onto the shore I scurried up to the road and ran back up to the crash site. When I got there everyone was out of the water except Mike Hostetter, who was in an eddy waiting for someone to tell him what to do. I told him to get out of the water because I didn't want him paddling down without anyone with him; there was some pretty juicy stuff below. My boat was a quarter mile down stream performing CPR on Daves' boat. The entire "B" team was portaging around the rapid on the other side of the river. Chris, Kyle and Art had enough and decided to call it a day. Our road crew came in handy; Kim and the Taj were there to pick up the pieces.
Dave, Mike, Joe and I walked back down to where I left the boats and put back on there. There was a cable strung out across the river that hung down about a couple of feet above the water just below where we were to put on. By then our Baltimore buddies were coming down so I had Dave, Mike and Joe pull on the cable to tighten it up so it would lift up higher above the water to allow us to paddle under it. Once we were all past the cable, our cable crew put back on below the cable. When we got down to the second of the two monster rapids on the river, we had our last swim. Now this was one mean mother trucker and it was a bit grumpy today. It took out its anger on Joe as he was flopping around it picking the crud out of its teeth. It gargled him and spit him out of his boat. We pulled him into an eddy at the bottom of the rapid and got him hooked up, and then we paddled about another mile and called it a day.
We were quite exhausted, everyone probably stayed up later than usual during the week getting ready for the trip, I know I did. Friday morning we all met up at 4:30 in the morning to hit the road for this mega party, we paddled and partied until 1:00 am, took a nap and got up to paddle this monster today at a foot over maximum suggested level, I'm getting tired just thinking about it. We were beat, there was just enough energy left in us for the barn dance and some serious partying tonight. When we got back to Camp Caesar, some of us showered up while others just stood outside in the wind to blow away the smell. We then feasted on some spectacular chili that Kim made and some awesome taco salad that Witmer made and delicious chicken on the barbie, a` la Haynes that Joe made along with many other delicious treats that others contributed to the table. We feasted like royalty and shared drink of the finest spirits with good friends; you know it just doesn't get any better than this.
After Dinner we all headed out to the barn dance to raise a little hell and blow off the last of the steam that we had in us. Most of us were pretty burnt out and I for one just couldn't muster up the energy to dance and raise any hell, so I took the role as photographer and sat up in the bleachers and watched and photographed my friends partying it up. Kim and Barbara on the other hand were full of energy; they were dancing up a storm and provoking everyone in the crowd to dance. Before long they had the whole crowd dancing around the fire that was in the middle of the dance floor. Yes a real live camp fire, almost big enough to qualify as a bond fire was burning right there in the building. The smoke rolled directly up through a hole in the middle of the conical roof. The party cooled down somewhere around midnight and we headed back to the bunk house and eventually all bedded down for the night.
Sunday we woke up at around 8:00 am, packed it up and said our goodbyes to our Baltimore friends. They went in one direction and we went in the other. On our way home we stopped off near Mount Storm and paddled the Upper Stoney from Mount Storm Lake to the route 50 bridge. It snowed all night long and dropped about four inches of snow on the ground, the wind was howling with hurricane force and the temps were in the 30's. Sometimes I wonder if we're not all lunatics. The wind blew so hard at times when we were on the river that it almost caused me to flip over a couple of times, this was the first time that I ever experienced that on the water. The level was a pleasant 420 cfs, perfect for the last paddle of the weekend. It was just enough excitement to keep a worn out crew of die hard paddlers smiling and out of trouble. We even mustered up enough energy to conjure up a couple of swims, one when Barbara went down a blind slot upside down and pinned and another when Chris and Dave came around a bend shooting the bull and encountered a river wide strainer that extracted Chris from his boat. There was enough room for one boat to pass under the strainer on the far left. Apparently they spent way too much time talking about who was going to do what and Chris drew the short straw and ended up under the log. I think he got mud in his panties on that little debacle. Other than that close call, the weekend ended with a very nice little seven mile paddle down a sweet little class III run that took us about two and a half hours and we were back on the road heading home. We enjoyed an extremely wonderful weekend spending time on some fantastic white water and sharing time with some incredible friends. We're going to do it again next year, hope to see you there.
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