Mike McDonnell runs Rebirth on the lower Middlebury River. Vermont whitewater kayakaing.

Fall Recap 2023

If this were a movie, here would be the part where a montage of news clips play:

A field reporter stands in the flooded streets of Montpelier.

“In total, the central Vermont region reported more than 20 inches of rain over the summer, the most it has received in 75 years.”

A stern-faced anchor behind a desk encourages residents to evacuate.

“By July 14th, at least 212 urban and swift water rescues have been performed across Vermont.”

A clip flashes of a destroyed home floating down a swollen river.

But this is not a movie, this was real.  The summer of 2023 in Vermont was historic.

As a kayaker it is easy to reflect on this with positivity. We have never experienced so much opportunity for warm weather boating in the state.  However I will be careful to acknowledge that for most, the events of this summer were not viewed in the same light, and for many the weather was downright devastating.  Homes, property, and businesses were destroyed.  Lives were lost.  So before I continue to discuss the past months through the lens of a kayaker who was only modestly impacted (2” of water in an unfinished basement is lucky when compared to others), I will recognize the devastating impacts of this year.


Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont in late August of 2011.  It was considered a 100 year storm.  So it seems unfair that barely a decade had elapsed when yet another once-in-a-century storm slammed the state in the summer of 2023.

On July 9 – 11 Vermont experienced flooding on a scale close to, and in some places exceeding that seen during Irene.  I will do an inadequate job of summarizing these events so will leave that to the experts at NOAA.  Their phenomenal recounting of the July floods of 2023 can be found here: The Great Vermont Flood Of July 10 & 11 2023

During this historical flooding boaters were, for the most part, content to gawk from the banks or stay home all together.  This event was the type that made no river safe for travel.  The steeper drainages became freight trains of destruction tearing away banks, causing landslides and ripping down bridges.  The low lying areas saw flooding that inundated large downtowns and isolated entire communities.  Even friendly class II rivers became hazardous.  For days they swelled and surged unpredictably, laden with debris and carrying untold amounts of sewage and other forms of hazardous runoff.

From a kayakers perspective we are still discovering the impact of these storms.  Riverbeds were significantly rearranged, and many are still yet to be visited.  With that in mind I encourage all paddlers to treat any trip on a river not paddled since the summer to do so with heightened caution.

House falling into flooded river Vermont July floods 2023
After the water has started to recede. Building lost to the flooding in northern VT. Photo credit -Maddie Clark
Jeffersonville Flooded Vermont July 2023
Silos at the roundabout Jeffersonville, VT. Photo credit -Noah Greenstein
Flooded Waterbury Reservoir July 2023 Vermont
Waterbury Reservoir flooded. Photo credit -Cathy Webster
A mudslide along the New Haven shuttle.
Otter Creek Falls Middlebury Vermont High Water Summer 2023
Otter Creek falls raging.
Car lost to flooding in Middlebury


As if the events of early July weren’t enough, mother nature did not let up, instead insisting to deliver relentless rain.  For the entirety of the summer the ground had hardly a moment to dry.  For farmers, mountain bikers, and those battling basements growing mold this meant challenging conditions.  For kayakers this meant entire weeks of sustained paddling.  Typically in summer, and particularly in the past three years, boaters wait anxiously for the handful of boating opportunities that are presented.  In 2023 the challenge was not waiting for the opportunity to paddle, but rather deciding when not to.  Supporting evidence is easy to find.  In July and August of 2023 The Lower Mad was runnable twice as much as it was not.  On July 11th 2022 the Lamoille river at Johnson was running at a mere trickle of 91cfs.  That same day in 2023 the flow was a staggering 24,200 cfs.  A quick look at discharge graphs of several Vermont rivers make the difference of a year obvious.  Here are the Lamoille, Winooski and Ayers Brook graphs comparing 2023 in blue and 2022 in tan.

USGS Graph of Lamoille River At Johnson Discharge Summer 2022 vs 2023
USGS Graph of Winooski River Discharge Summer 2022 vs 2023


While virtually all rivers across the state saw some changes as a result of the summer weather, perhaps none experienced more consecutive and impactful events than the Middlebury.  The drainage from Middlebury Gap down through Ripton and East Middlebury saw no less than 3 historic flood events all within a one month span.  The Middlebury river itself experienced dramatic changes, with significant rearranging of some of the biggest rapids of the run (below the gorge).  The van sized-boulder perched well out of the water at Tester flushed into the pool below, the often portaged “Your Mom” transformed into a unremarkable read and run boulder garden, and the takeout rapid shifted with each event, from an amazing in-your-face whiteout to a potentially pinny boulder bash and back again.  Spring of 2024 will likely continue this rapid’s evolution.

Tester Before and after the floods of 2023 Middlebury River Vermont
Tester Before and after the floods of 2023. Notice the van sized boulder gone from its perch in the first image.
The rapid formerly known as Your Mom on the Middlebury River Vermont after the floods of 2023
The rapid formerly known as "Your Mom" (a common portage) is now a nothing rapid.
The top of the takeout rapid of the Middlebury River Vermont post floods of 2023
The top of the takeout rapid of the Middlebury post-floods. This rapid is significantly different and may be amazing or a boulder bash depending on levels and its current configuration. RIP to the amazing shoulder boof that used to exist at the very top here.


The start of fall saw a return to some form of normalcy, as September dried out and provided opportunities to participate in activities other than kayaking.  And though the brief break from paddling was appreciated, kayakers were still pleased to see boating opportunities present themselves with a pleasant regularity throughout the remainder of the fall.  Periodic precipitation allowed for several opportunities each month to get on the water, including a of pair well timed high water days in October.

Mike Mainer aces the put-in drop on the Upper New Haven.
Mike Mainer Runs Cave Drop on the Big Branch. Photo Credit -Justin Crannell
Nick Bondurant runs Mushroom aka 50/50 on the Big Branch. Photo Credit -Justin Crannell


Winter seemed to have slept in.  November and December arrived with little conviction.  Though an early shot of snow provided optimism for skiers, it quickly disappeared with warm weather and rain that made quick work of the nascent snowpack.  In Burlington December was the 2nd warmest on record.  As a final reminder of the year we experienced, a significant storm came through just a week before Christmas that sent rivers spiking for the final time of the year.  In any other year this storm would have been easily the most notable event. New Haven crested at > 9,000 cfs, the Lamoille at Johnson at > 16,000, and the Mad at > 12,000 (even higher than it’s peak in the July flooding).  But after the crazy year of 2023 Vermont kayakers simply shrugged their shoulders, swapped the skis and poles for paddles and boats and took advantage of the conditions given.

Finally, though somewhat unconvincingly, winter has made a token appearance in January.  While it remains to be seen if we will get the snowpack to fund another round of high quality spring boating, even if we don’t, we will be sustained from the year that was. 

If anything can be said about 2023, it was memorable.

SYOTR in 2024

-Creek VT

Mike Mainer working through Panty Dropper on the Upper New Haven.