What Were We Thinking ?

It was a peaceful evening in sedate Friendsville, MD. The fireflies blinking lazily in the late evening sky were a stark contrast to the dark tree-lined shores of the Upper Yough River. The only sounds we could hear were the occasional car on Main St. and the Upper's water, having lost its gradient, gently making its way downstream. A little light from the moon, a few days past full, just barely made it through the thick clouds, enough to highlight the white crests from the waves. We really could have used the moon. A few hours of sunlight would have been preferable to what we just experienced. But more on that later.

May 23rd started out for Curly Steve & me with a wake of call of 5:20 am to meet Monty and Gene the Paddle Machine for a day trip to the western reaches of MD. We met up with Steve Mooge at his humble abode and came up with a game plan; Tippy Top into Top Yough, and at least one more Top run, then see what else we could hit.

We set shuttle and put on the Tippy Top Yough at about 12:15. This run is a PFD for the four of us with Steve Mooge as our experienced point-man. River level is about 550 cfs. It starts out on a solid class III that Steve has named Emma's Choice. We manage a nice clean run for all with 3 major rapids that are a fantastic warm up for the Top Yough.

I tighten up my back-band a little more when I notice the bridge that signals the beginning of the Top Yough with its lead-in drop, Swallow Falls, a 40 ft side with a big, rocky drop at the bottom. We opt to pull up and give it a look. No, the line hadn't changed from the last time I ran it. That glistening green tongue leads right into a major foaming mass of sweet whitewater. We get our bead on it and run clean, bouncing over the well padded out boulders in the bottom. Next up, Swallowtail Falls, eddy-out river right. Curly, Monty & Gene choose the far right curler line. Steve & I hit the usual middle boof drop. Wow that hole is big but friendly, hang for a second, get a good set up, roll up, get away from that undercut rock. Cool I'm good!

Down we ride through some sweet boogie water with lanes open all over due the nice, cushy level. Another Wow, on my last 2 trips I had not noticed those big openings the river punched through the rock wall way up river left above where Muddy Falls feeds in. Mother Nature is the Artist Extraordinaire. This is looking way friendlier than my last run at 570. With Curly as our probe we all hit good sweet lines, avoid holes and are onto Suck Hole Rapid before I know it. As I do a quick eddy out river right, Pat askes, "you know where you are?" I holler "yeah I'm good". Off I drop, peel out get left, oh no get right, all right then power thru that first hole if I'm not going to miss it, good get left!, get left fool! that's 'the' Suck Hole. Cool, first time I get through that one with my boat aiming mostly downstream. Everyone's through, all body parts accounted for. Last of the big, named rapids, now we can relax a little and adlib the final boogie-water, let Curly show us a few trick lines, no I think I'll pass on that one, looks cool though. Hey, they're still releasing into the Upper. That would be beefy today with all this water.

At the take out Gary from DC shows up. Then Hazmat and friend Ed pull in. We shuttle back to the top for run #2 of the TopYough. We are now a band of 8 for just the Top this run. Put on, quick peek at Swallow for the added paddlers and off we go, whooping and hollering down the accelerator drop. That thing gets you some speed! Into Swallowtail, show our additions a choice 2 of lines. I'm doing the normal boof line. Oops got a little left this time, worked out of the hole nicely. Those who know my aversion to holes mention I worked my way out that one pretty cleanly. All is good through the next run of boogie water. Someone (who knows my aversion to holes) says "Frank you handled yourself pretty well in that hole too". I chalk it up to the new boat. Down to Suck Hole Rapid. Wow, I'm really getting a handle on this one, twice in one day going down bow forward about where I want to be. Down the bottom Curly & Gene are talking, Gene looks a little rattled and breathless as he says, "Suck Hole gave me my first official working in a hole". "You were in the hole?" "Yeah, for what felt like 5 minutes! That thing worked me over good"! Back into the rest in the boogie water run down.

At the take-out we are discussing what else we can run. It is now 4:30? Curly Steve is still lobbying for the Lower Big Sandy, too far, too long a shuttle this late. Steve Mooge announces he's had enough for the day. Unfortunately, he was out of his boat a couple times playing with the fish and was not feeling up for anymore gnarly runs. We decide on the Upper and he offers to run shuttle for us. Mount up, off we go. At the put-in everyone is digging in bags for more warm, dry layers to add, this is looking like a winter run. That water is cold today and the sun is dropping! Get some quick eats, run shuttle, back to the put-in. Put on time 6:15? As we paddle past the bridge the gauge is reading 2.7ft.! an ominous sign. My highest level was 2.5, Gene's was 2.4.

Off we go, waste no time on the paddle in, right to Gap Falls, stay right, wow that hole was big. Curly leads down through the first boogie water, I'm getting a feel for the pulse of the river, feeling pretty comfortable, waves seem a little bigger, a bit more push. We stop at the eddy above Bastard for a quick discussion. Let's run the normal boof line, leave a little room. I notice Gene has a pretty serious game face on, good.

I get down to the boof, oh crap a little left, a little late on my stroke, of course I'm on the eddie line upside down. Try my roll, rush it, miss it, damn, set up, miss again. Curly's trying to Hand of God me, try another, no good. Now I think I see his paddle next to my paddle, pull skirt, grab his paddle, trying to hold my paddle, Curly is desperately trying to hand roll down through Bastard, pass him his paddle, grab my boat, loose my boat, feet downstream, swim fool. I see the bottom of Curly's boat, see him roll, see him flip, see him roll, get to eddy on river right. My boat is below on a rock. Curly's yelling boat, boat! By the time I get on shore my boat is gone. Downriver, it is pinned upside down on a rock on river left above Charlie's Choice. Everyone is down there but Gene. "Frank I'm alone here buddy, where do I go?" "Gene, they are all down on the river left bank, go middle around that wave and then go hard left." Good, I see Gene on the left bank just above everyone. I'm the right shore, no help at all. They've got a rope on/under my boat , it is pinned Tight. Pat is in the eddy below, it's too turbulent, the rocks too big to reach the boat. He flushes out. Hazmat tries, can't reach, paddles over to me. After 20 -30 minutes they get it off.

Reinforcements arrive, Art and Sambino get to us as I am walking Charlie's, Triple Drop, and National. They ferry my boat over to me, I tell Pat it is time for sneak lines and he is all about that. Me, Gene, Pat right side of Little Niagara, the others go left. I see people on a rock river left, now Ed's boat is pinned. They got it off quicker, Ed is walking. The trail is right there. I briefly consider walking (at Art's suggestion), no it'll be faster in the boat, and we are switching to ultra-conservative but fast mode. Pat takes the lead, Curly and Gary are sweeping, down river right, great clean lines, big waves, managing to avoid holes, back to the middle, back to the right past Zinger. We are going way right at Hienzerling. Wow this side is really cushioned at high water. Ferry way river left around Meatcleaver, we're good. Into the big boogie water on the approach to Powerful Popper. Oh no a big, wide ledge hole, crap Gene's in it side surfing, get right! Don't hit Gene! I can't get to the corner, now I'm in it (and you know how much I like holes). Flip, it's a nasty one, can't set up, reach for the bottom, feel it soften a little, set up, it rolls me! Now I'm side surfing. I know Gene got out left, keep bracing, keep backing up, I feel it turn my stern out, back-paddle hard. I'm out, cheers from all. I'm down to Powerful Popper, I'm passing the curler, I'm passing the Death Slot, hey there's a back door, cool I'm good, river right to Hazmat. I look up river to see Pat sneaking river left with Gene, Curly and Gary. How are we running Lost & Found Matt? "normal line, start right, work hard left stay away from the bottom hole!" I paddle in, working left, good so far, crap into the nuisance hole above the big river-wide, boat eating bottom hole, set up, it rolls me up, hard left, hard left, thank God I got around that surging, frothing monster, it looks extra mean tonight. Now we are really losing light, the green tongues are highlighted by white foam piles. I can barely see Matt's silhouette in front. Hard river left line around Cheeseburger, I can still see Matt. The others are further back, right, middle, left, middle, left through the boogie water below. We go middle right around Wright's Hole. I can hear it but I'm not looking. We hit Double Pencil Sharpener clean, WE ARE THROUGH IT! Matt pulls off to walk up for Ed. I hang for the others. Now I notice the Fireflies, now I can breath again. Even the paddle out is big. At least it's faster with all that flow.
By 9:30 it's dark, we get to the take-out, hugs, back-slaps, at-a-boys and beers all around. Hazmat shows up, Ed is good but still walking. He's heading up for him with a couple beers. Gene is changed, looks at Monty, "hey Pat, my second run on the Upper was at 2.4 ft., my third run was 2.7 in the dark!! What do you have planned for my fourth?" What an epic adventure.

Papa Duck reverting to Baby Duck
Aka Frank Werts
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