WHY ASK Y?
Christy and I have been trying to learn to canoe in whitewater. There's really only one way to develop those skills. Here's a surprise - you have to practice. I imagine learning to paddle through rapids is a lot like learning how to ride a bike. You have to fall off a few times before you get the hang of it. This past week, Christy and I fell off for the first time.
After several dreary days at Christy's family reunion, we finally had a chance to paddle on Monday. Our destination was the Wild and Scenic Clarion River, which runs through the foothills of northwestern Pennsylvania. I had been looking forward to experiencing this river all week. However, the wild & scenic section alone is about 60 miles. What part should we do?
For the most part, the Clarion is a flatwater stream. However, one section downstream from Portland Mills features a few rapids. We knew we wanted to practice on whitewater, so it seemed like the ideal choice.
Somehow we talked Christy's Dad into helping us with what turned out to be a nightmare shuttle. We drove to our intended takeout at the Belltown (no bell, no town) bridge. We didn't see a decent takeout at the bridge, so we drove downstream. Eventually we left Christy's Dad's car on what may have state highway department property. It was all rather iffy. Later, at the end of the trip, we discovered an ideal takeout with parking upstream from the bridge.
We drove on to the Arroyo Bridge, but endured an aggravating delay due to road construction. We found ample parking there, as well as other paddlers. On our earlier trips near Clearfield we hadn't seen another soul. Today though, we found a whole family, including two kids and an infant, preparing to launch for an overnight trip. Christy's Dad dropped us off and drove Christy's car back to the takeout. Finally, at an all-time record starting time of 1PM, we were ready to go.
Christy, Saucony, and I paddled downstream about 100 yards and stopped at a huge rock for lunch. The sun was making a rare appearance today, and it was a great place to soak it up. After lunch we continued downstream through the Allegheny National Forest. The river is probably 60-80' wide, which means it is narrow enough to be interesting. The Clarion River is very clean, and the first part of the section we were running had no development or roads. Soon we could hear the roar of the first set of rapids ahead.
The first set of rapids, X, Y, and Z, are grouped fairly close together. I didn't know much about them, since I hadn't done much pre-trip research. I did have a map, which showed recommended routes. Each rapid featured a difficult route and an escape route along one bank. We had come to practice, so I was determined to challenge the river.
We entered "X" and didn't have any trouble. The rapid required some maneuvering, but it wasn't difficult. Our confidence really began to build as we approached rapid "Y".
Y looked different from the start. It was basically a single ledge with several possible channels between the rocks. We approached the ledge, moving from left to right. I was headed for the channel we had selected, but at the last second I wasn't sure if we could make the turn into it. The next channel down looked just as good, and easier to reach. I switched and headed for it. Christy cried out, "NOT THAT WAY, THERE'S A ROCK", but it was too late. We plunged over the ledge into a raging torrent of foam.
All seemed well at first, until we came down on a submerged rock. The boat tilted to the left, and suddenly I was underwater. I popped to the surface and spotted the canoe a short distance downstream. Christy was swimming beside it and trying to steer it towards shore. Meanwhile, Saucony was perched on a small rock in the middle of the river. I immediately tried to stand up, but quickly remembered that that was the wrong thing to do. I floated on my back, without the aid of a lifejacket (which was still in the boat), and paddled towards shore. Saucony first swam toward me, and then headed for Christy once she decided that I wasn't going to drown. I applauded Christy's efforts as she single-handedly swam with the boat to shore. She also managed to salvage most of the gear that hadn't been tied into the canoe. We regrouped on the bank, and found that we were only missing a towel and one of Christy's flip-flops.
Getting the water out of the canoe was a challenge. It was nearly full and probably weighed a ton. We were able to drain some of it in the river. Once it was lighter, we wrestled it up onto the bank and drained the rest. Finally we were ready to resume our journey.
We got back in and immediately passed a nice campsite. Then, up ahead of us, we spotted the missing flip-flop. We retrieved it and prepared for rapid "Z". After the disaster in "Y", our confidence was shaken. For this one we avoided the heart of the rapid and stayed near shore.
Below Z we passed through a long stretch of flatwater interrupted only by the occasional ripple. The scenery continued to be wonderful, and the wildlife was impressive. Trout were jumping everywhere. At one point, we passed through an area full of giant carp. Those fish appeared to be at least 2' long. Even more impressive were the Herons. They were everywhere. We even spotted a wild turkey along the bank.
Eventually a forest road joined us on the right side. The scenery was still excellent though, and the road wasn't much of an intrusion. We passed under a bridge, and entered a section with a few more rapids. We skirted the next significant rapid, as it was getting hard to see. We were paddling west, and it was late in the afternoon. The glare on the water was brutal, and it was incredibly difficult to see the rocks.
This nearly cost us at the next rapid. This one featured a couple of different sections. We started out well, but suddenly a large rock loomed ahead of us. I nearly didn't react quickly enough, but was able to pull us around to the left at the last second. We shot through the rest of the rapid and breathed a sigh of relief.
Below the rapid we stopped for a break and a swim. We had already gotten wet once, and the water didn't seem too cold. I had a pleasant time by walking upstream and floating back down with my lifejacket. The river was quite refreshing after a long day of paddling in the sun.
The last hour of the trip was tedious as we paddled into the sun. In the future, we'll start trips on rivers flowing west earlier in the day. We didn't run into any more difficulties, and eventually reached the takeout at Belltown. It had been a fun trip despite our mishap. We had flipped the canoe, but I believe that it will prove to be a valuable experience for us.
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