Spring Recap 2020
Spring 2020. To hell with it.
As difficult as it may be we will do our best to not subject you to further opinions regarding the state of the world. If curious please again refer to the initial statement.
My family is safe, I am safe. I have a roof over my head, and food on the table. I was able to paddle Vermont whitewater this spring. I saw friends (from a distance). I haven’t swam yet. I am lucky. If the same is true for you, I hope you can recognize that too.
Now on to the recap.
An Early Start
Enthusiastic boaters managed to take advantage of several mid-winter periods of warmth. A classic January thaw provided a short window of cold boating before the return of winter. Unfortunately for the skiers the return was short-lived with another period of warmth and water arriving at the end of February. Shortly after this second thaw, spring arrived in earnest. Early March served up above average flows for the time of year. They say hindsight is 20/20 and looking back most boaters would have liked to take better advantage of that brief window, when packed shuttle cars and beers shared on tailgates were still normal. For many the idea persisted that spring still had plenty in store, and things wouldn’t be that different. But by mid-March it was clear our world was going to be a wildly different place, more so than we could have imagined.
Compare snow water equivalent on March 31, 2020 (left) vs March 31, 2019 (right).
A modest April
Perhaps mother nature took pity on the predicament of whitewater kayakers during the Covid pandemic, as shortly after the implementation of Vermont’s Stay-At-Home order, the whitewater begetting runoff slowly began to dwindle. April is typically peak whitewater kayaking season in Vermont, with the first three weeks providing reliable flows on the standbys with a scattering of high water days for getting on the rarities. 2020 provided a minimal amount of both. And while this could be viewed as a disappointment, given the times there was a silver lining – reduced temptation.
Most boaters in Vermont took the public health restrictions put in place seriously, meaning avoiding unnecessary contact, following social distancing guidelines when out and about, as well as dialing down the difficulty of their paddling. With low flows came little temptation, and in particular limited opportunities for those high water days that often beg for missions involving long shuttles, and the potential for mis-adventure and carnage. As a result many paddlers were content to stay within their comfort zones, paddling well known backyard runs at modest flows, or exploring normally overlooked class fun with family members in various crafts.
With a handful of exceptions all reports indicate Vermont boaters did a commendable job of recreating responsibly this spring.
A minimal May
With snowmelt over, May is often a hit-or-miss month, heavily dependent on precipitation. In 2020 rain was limited compounded by already low water levels. Two brief events allowed for some coveted warm water spring boating before the spigot turned off entirely. Since the end of May whitewater in Vermont has been all but non-existent with mere trickles in the riverbeds, providing little hope as even 1″ rain events are insufficient to bring boatable flows.
Reports from Around the State
News from the North
From Chris Ingram – edited for length / detail.
Eric and I talked and felt that we could pod up early in the pandemic. That worked well for us. We didn’t venture far for a while, but got out as often as we could. As I mentioned, we were joined by Adam Putnam, and Christian Sorenson as well here and there. Bike shuttles, back of truck, or masked shuttles all happened. We both tuned down what we felt comfortable with, considering a possible hospital trip to be not worth the joy and risk.
We had many Gihon runs, top-to-bottom being the standard. Good flows held for a while, and we hand many runs in the 2-4’ range. After a number of people last season were surfed in the dam hole, we were a bit more cautious and decided not to run it higher than 3.5’. The Gihon still stands as the bread and butter for the north country, due to its watershed size.
We paddled Notch Brook in Stowe a number of times as well, with spiking flows one run. That is a good time in there, especially at high flow. There is no real break in the gradient, and a few real nice defined rapids.
We got a run or two on Kennefield Brook, which has re-entered my favorites list. There doesn’t seem to be a too high flow, although I’m sure there is. It just keeps getting better, more padded, and juicy as flows rise. 1’ is low, 2-4’ med, and up to 6’ high. I haven’t seen it higher yet.
We ran the NBL from the school/gorge down through the slides at 3’. Still a great run. There are a few new changes in the slides. The first slide has a large block of concrete dead center below the slide hole. It broke off the old dam abutment. It doesn’t close out the line, but backs up the hole, and gave us pause. There was wood in the next rapid that blocked out all three options, including the far right sneak. The rest of the slides are good to go.
We have been play boating at Itheal falls a good bit. We are dialing flow ranges back in, 900-1000 cfs is a sweet flow for a nice wave with pile. Lower and the hole is less glassy, more foam pile and great for spins and shallow ends. Squirt lines are great. Many features to surf in the rapid lead-in.
We’ve also surfed and played at the rapids below Dogs head. Just below Drybridge rapid(where the river flows into a pot, and out from under it) there is a small lead in to a fun rapid with a play hole and eddy lines at the bottom. It’s just upstream from the Sawmill on River Rd in Johnson. 200 cfs seems to be a good flow, with more flow welcome.
Covid Kayaking & A Return To The Gorge
From Jordan Vickers – edited for length / detail.
As the melt came into full swing so did the stay home stay safe orders. I remember riding a New Haven Ledges shuttle in a sprinter early March as we were all speculating on what was to come. It would be the last time I was inside a vehicle that was not my own. As the stay at home orders came the feeling around Vermont boaters was uneasy. The email chains went silent and invitations to go paddling became scarce. Much of the consensus became to paddle well within your skill level, do not share shuttle vehicles and follow the first rule of Fight Club; don’t talk about it. As we saw skinning at the ski resorts get shut down we did not want to follow suit. Time passed, stay at home orders were lifted and eventually I was back at the New Haven Ledges figuring out how to shuttle while distancing. With the water getting low fast options became limited and I paddled the Middlebury Gorge including the Birth Canal after a two year hiatus.
It had been a couple years since I had paddled the Birth Canal as some changes in Rebirth had made it less inviting. After getting word that it was good to go seven of us made our way down to the put in at 8am only to find Culley and Mike McDonnel had already done a lap and were on their way back home. We split into two groups since it was the first time for a couple of the boaters and to keep some distance in the gorge. The section from the put in to the North Branch confluence had changed somewhat and certainly needs more time to clean up however no portages were necessary. The Birth Canal held up to it’s normal mystique. The crux of Cunnilingus certainly wants to flip you more than it used to. Below the Birth Canal was more or less the same and Your Mom changed again making you start far right and drive left above the drop. I made it back to Midd Gorge several more times before things dried up for good. I am stoked to have such a unique and challenging run that often has water when other creeks do not.
With flows abysmally low this summer, the best we can do is dream of a wet fall. In the meantime we hope everybody had a safe summer and is doing okay in these difficult times.
WE WILL SEE YOU ON THE RIVER.