Spring Recap 2023
What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was writing from the middle of a summer drought, lamenting about how bad of a spring season we had. Now I write after Vermont experienced its worst flooding since Irene and reflect on a spring season that stands out as one of the best in the past 5 to 10 years.
A SLOW START IN MARCH
March typically provides substantial opportunities to kayak, and often represents a significant portion of the spring melt. This year winter lingered, with cold weather and frozen rivers persisting through the first 3 weeks, and the spring thaw only beginning in earnest during the latter part of the month. The highest maximum temperature seen in Burlington was a meager 52 degrees with a monthly average of 33. What fell for precipitation came in the form of snow, doing little to charge the rivers and flush out winter’s ice. In fact the Lamoille at Johnson only once peaked over 1500 cfs – considered a minimal level for runs such as the NBL.
AN IDYLLIC APRIL
What March lacked in warm weather and good boating, April more than made up for. While April is consistently the month for boating, it is also often grey, damp, and generally uninviting weather-wise. This year was an exception. For weeks straight we were treated to consecutive sunny,
warm hot days that delivered some of the most enjoyable spring melt boating experienced in a long time. The average temperature for the month in Burlington was the highest since the new millennium, at nearly 51 degrees. From April 10 to April 17 the daily highs were in the mid-60s or better with several days of 80+ degrees, including one scorcher topping out at 88!
Combine the amazing weather with a solid snowpack and you have the recipe for the best spring kayaking a Vermonter can ask for. Folks took advantage of this rare treat as the emails, texts and facebook posts flowed as quickly as the rivers. It seemed every takeout was consistently populated by cars with roof racks and trucks with boats sticking out the back, the license plates revealing a great mix of locals and out-of-staters alike. The eventual return of more typical April weather meant the good times continued to roll as perfectly timed and measured precipitation extended the boating right through the end of the month. At one point even Michael Mainer was forced to concede that it was in fact a “pretty good spring”. And while there seemed to be limited reports of folks chasing down exotic micros or big water runs, there was plenty of boating the classics at ideal levels day after day after day.
A QUIET MAY AND JUNE
Unfortunately all good things must end, and eventually with the snowpack essentially gone and the arrival of drier weather, the Vermont boating season died down. May and early June both saw very few precipitation events of adequate volume to provide much in the way of runnable flows. And though disappointing, fortunes would change in late June as modest rain brought kayakers back out for typical early summer get-it-while-you-can laps on the low water standbys. Enjoyable as this way, we all had no idea what was coming just around the corner in early July…
DOWN RIVER RACES
Adding to the highlights of the spring was the organization and execution of two fantastic races. One still relatively nascent, and the other experiencing a rebirth in its own right.
The New Haven Race
Before we go any further we must say a huge thanks to Ryan McCall and Will Seegers. For the majority of the lifespan of the immensely popular New Haven Ledges Race it was Ryan and Will at the helm orchestrating this event. From getting permits and lining up volunteers, EMTs and sponsors, to setting up the course and herding several dozen kayakers the day of the race, they made it look easy. Every year was a well attended, fun and safe event that both locals and out of towners, boaters and non-boaters all loved. Thank you both.. big time!
Unfortunately Ryan and Will were forced to make the tough decision to cancel this event for three years running (2020 – 2022) due to the impacts of covid. That combined with the increased obligations of life meant it was time to pass the torch. Enter Noah Greenstein, Jordan Vickers, Ben Schott and Scott Gilbert (note it takes 4 people to replace the jobs of 2). Though wet behind the ears they eagerly jumped in and brought the New Haven Ledges race back to life. The road was not an easy one though, as weather leading up to the originally planned race date of April 8th put in doubt the flows for the event. A decision was made to fall back to the rain date of the 15th and hope warm weather and snowmelt would provide good flows. Though feeling foolish initially as the 8th came and went and flows were adequate, the decision proved to be an insightful one. When the 15th arrived, the river revealed itself to be a perfect 1’3” on the painted gauge. The weather was gorgeous and warm, and the shore was lined with spectators excited to take in the action. The race itself went off without a hitch, as 29 boaters tackled the Ledges to below Toaster in two rounds, with a best-time wins all. In the end it was Bob Frederick that came out on top, posting the only sub-two minute lap at 1:56 beating the next closest competitor by a solid 6 seconds. French Canadians Francois Tremplay and Emerick Blanchette rounded out the podium both finishing with a speedy 2:02 lap. Once the prizes were handed out and the spectators dispersed, the real fun began, as Ben Schott loaded up more boats and people into one truck and trailer than I have ever seen, and the New Haven was dotted with brightly covered kayaks for nearly the entire length as racers (and those who came just to boat) ran full laps in the afternoon sun. It was perhaps the largest collective group run the ledges have ever seen and a fitting end to an undeniably excellent day of kayaking in Vermont.
The Peavine Race
After an impressive inaugural event in 2022, the Peavine Race on the White River from Stockbridge to Gaysville returned in early May of 2023. The final startlist featured an impressive collection of 40 individuals and teams in all varieties of crafts. The group was geographically diverse and ranged from under 10 years old to folks who could collect social security. In keeping with the theme of the spring, the day was gorgeous, sunny and warm. The water clarity and color on the White River in this section must be seen to be appreciated, and with water levels in the mid 3000s, one could not ask for a better flow for the event. Much like last year there was plenty of camaraderie, friendly on-river trash talk, and some exciting finishes that made the event a blast. The competition brought it this year, with the 1-2-3 finishers (Jeff Parker, Jerry Madore, and Robert Michalec) all competing in race kayaks and demolishing last year’s winning time by well over 10 minutes. A huge congratulations and thanks goes to the organizer of this race Michael McDonnell. Though only two years old, it sure seems like this has the popularity to become a staple event for the Vermont whitewater community. The sort of thing you put on the calendar in winter and look forward to for the months leading up.
Conversations from the take-out
What was your favorite boat you’ve owned?
Gonna have to be the Necky Blunt because it's the one I've put the most miles on. It was progressive as a pre-creeker but stands out most for durability. It took me 14 years to wear out my first one and even then it didn't crack, just got thin and threadbare like an old tee-shirt.
Wavesport EZ. It was my first boat and taught me a lot about proper technique, edging, etc. It continues to be my favorite boat to paddle to spice up runs I know well, and I love the way it surfs.
Well that would be the Dagger RPM. Equipment matters. No change in skill set from my Dancer, but suddenly I'm paddling down stuff I never could before. And hand rolling! It was also the boat I first took down the NH Ledges.
If you could schedule regular summer weekend releases on one Vermont river, which would it be?
Joe's Brook. I absolutely love this run and the scenery. Banks flanked with cedar groves and a very long stretch of whitewater (for VT, at least) consisting of a variety of features. It doesn't hurt that its merely 20 minutes from my front door!
The Green (Is it too early?). I've spent over 10 years of my life trying to get those releases to come to fruition and am still working on it. It will happen!
If the Big Branch ran as a release in summer we'd all be happier people and better boaters.
Now that Spring is in the rearview its time to enjoy the summer rain and take advantage of the extra daylight when the weather provides.
With that said, keep in mind that the historic flooding of July 10th & 11th as well as subsequent intense storms have had a dramatic impact on numerous Vermont rivers, including many of the whitewater runs in the state. Stay alert for new hazards and fresh wood in the riverbeds as you make your first trips down.
Stay safe, keep those who are recovering from this disaster in mind, and we will see you on the river.