Fall Recap 2020

I wish I could avoid the overused cliches and tired laments about just how bad 2020 was.  And the truth is, in the insulated and isolated bubble of Vermont, things weren’t so bad when measured against the rest of the country.  But this is a kayaking website, and even if we were to judge the 2020 summer and fall kayaking season in a vacuum, it is undeniable that it followed the general theme of the year; it was terrible.  Really bad, I mean I think I even paddled flatwater for fun on several occasions.

Ben Schott Runs Fallopian Falls Middlebury Gorge Vermont Whitewater Kayaking
Ben Schott heading into the Middlebury Gorge under beautiful fall foliage. A rare opportunity to boat in the fall of 2020.

Drought Conditions For 6 Months

For the 6 months of June through November, kayakers in Vermont refreshed their weather apps to icons of sunshine and blue skies.  The average citizen rejoiced and we should all be thankful that the weather facilitated outdoor gatherings and allowed countless businesses, schools, camps, restaurants and other organizations to operate and survive very difficult times.  But as kayakers, the infinite days of sun were maddening, and so we shook our fists at the sky and cursed Tom Messner, Gib Brown and Mark Breen. 

From the Vermont Drought.gov site regarding recorded drought conditions:

The U.S. Drought Monitor started in 2000.  … The most intense period of drought occurred the week of September 29, 2020, where D2 affected 29.39% of Vermont land.

Drought conditions in Vermont 2020. Y-axis represents % of the state experiencing the conditions.
Yellow - Abnormally Dry, Pink - Moderate Drought, Orange - Severe Drought
From Drought.gov

The opportunities to boat anywhere in the state, aside from the most low water desperation spots, were so rare you could count them on one hand and still have fingers to spare.  The Ranch Brook Gauge crested over 100cfs once, for the length of a sneeze.  Even the typically reliable New Haven crested 400 cfs an abysmal three times, and two of those instances barely for enough time to sneak in even one lap.  

Six months and the New Haven gauge only surpassed 400cfs three times (two of those just barely)

In late September I drove over the river on my way to work at 6:30 am in the midst of one of the heavier rain events we had experienced in several months.  The river was still too low, but on the rise.  Checking gauges at work showed that it had come up over my desperation threshold of 350cfs and despite the rain tapering off, was continuing its upward trend.  To my dismay, even with an early departure from work, by the time I arrived at 3 pm, the level had dropped to a boat breaking minimum.  Thank goodness for the Middlebury.

Desperate times call for desperate measures - low water Otter Creek Exploring in Middlebury Vermont.

Conversations from the take-out

What was a change in the way you participated in kayaking due to the pandemic that you were surprised to find you enjoyed?
Jamie Dolan profile picture Vermont Whitewater Kayaking

Jamie Dolan

Began solo kayaking and found my kayaking improved because I was so concentrated. That and the shuttle/walk which was a nice way to enjoy the river in a more mellow fashion.

Profile picture of Mike McDonnell Vermont Whitewater Kayaking

Mike McDonnell

Reconnecting with 90s style play-the-river. As the drought took hold I focused on compressed sections of the White River at levels that i'd always considered too low. I was surprised to find quality features for squirts, splats and surfs that made for fun sessions in warm weather.

Ryan McCall profile picture Vermont Whitewater Kayaking

Ryan McCall

This year I spent more time hiking and cleaning creeks on my wish list that had been collecting dust. I now have a new batch of creeks that I’m excited to hit this spring.

What kayaking related activity are you most looking forward to once the pandemic is over?
Jordan Vickers profile image Creek VT

Jordan Vickers

When the pandemic is over I cannot wait for The New Haven Race!

Ryan McCall profile picture Vermont Whitewater Kayaking

Ryan McCall

Sharing the intimate experience of running a tight creek with a few friends. I don’t boat as much these days, so the few days I get to be on a river with friends is cherished. I can’t wait to be able to enjoy those runs with friends in unfettered fashion.

Profile picture of Mike McDonnell Vermont Whitewater Kayaking

Mike McDonnell

Quebec. C'est la vie!

A late attempt at redemption and a Christmas gift

Finally in December, when a distraction from the world could not be more necessary, the rain came providing two good separate extended windows to get on the water.  The beauty of precipitation this time of year is that the runoff continues well past the the initial event, so even those who might have missed the day of, opportunities to boat often persist for several days.  Particularly fortunate were those able to take advantage of a weekend featuring a Green release on Friday followed by a Missisquoi release the following Sunday.  And in fitting ironic fashion, the best water event of the past 8 months fell on Christmas day.  Normally this would have prevented many from getting out to play, but with everybody home for the holidays a surprising amount were able to get out and enjoy one last weekend of quality boating before the arrival of winter.

Ben Schott digs in to clear a sizeable hole on the Waterville Ledges

Now winter has set in and though snow has been below average thus far, our most recent storm blanketed the mountains with 1’+.  We hope you can get out and enjoy the water in its frozen form, and we hope even more to see you when it begins to find its way into the riverbeds.



Ben Schott runs Mustang a Class V rapid on the Gihon River Vermont Whitewater Kayaking
Ben Schott on Mustang - looking in online and in control. The next few images of the sequence, well we'll leave you guessing...