Crisp Air and Warm Water – Raquette Release Weekend
Summertime boating can be fickle. Sometimes you get storms and get some great naturally rising water. The rest of the time you have to rely on water that humans have stored behind dams. Fortunately, American Whitewater and other whitewater advocacy groups have managed to arrange recreational releases at many hydroelectric dams throughout the country, prompting enthusiastic kayakers to make the trek from around the region to catch a few hours of quality high water.
The Raquette in the northern Adirondacks is one such dam controlled recreational river. Featuring several large Class V rapids separated by only short portions of flatwater, the Raquette is the hi-light reel of ‘Dacks boating – big drops without the swampy flatwater in between that other rivers in the area seem to always have.
Our first trip to the Raquette this summer was two weeks ago. Nick and I drove over Friday night, camped at the put-in, and met some of the usual suspects from our Vermont creeking crew the next morning. By 10 am the water was rising as the release started, and we put on. The water was delightfully warm and the air sunny, cool, and crisp – a rare late September day in mid August.
The action starts almost right away with the impressively large Colton Falls. Colton is a complex, large rapid with a 10 foot ledge or slide at the top followed by a tricky horseshoe-shaped ledge that requires a tricky sideways boof (a move to launch your boat out horizontally over a drop). At this point there is an eddy to catch your breath before a 60 foot slide with a big hole on the bottom. The whole thing looks pretty scary when scouting from the side.
My heart was pounding as I put on, but as soon as I bounced off the first ledge, instincts took over and I got into the rhythm of the rapid. Following Nick’s lead, I hit a good boof off the horseshoe ledge and found myself in the river center eddy contemplating the slide. Our Vermont buddies had already gone and were waiting at the bottom, so Nick briefly pointed out the line, then paddled into it, airing off a flake right at the top. I gulped, then paddled after him. The flake was great and I launched off it with an enthusiastic stroke, airing into the slide. The landing was shallow, making it a bit of a hit, but it was steep enough that it didn’t hurt much, and I kept my boat straight for the run-out of the slide, negotiating the S-turn and flying across the final hole into the eddy at the bottom with a huge grin on my face. This river is fun!
The next few drops flew by. We stopped to get out at Tub Drop, a double waterfall with an evil looking hole in a pothole between the two drops and a very sticky (read- bad/hard to get out of) hole at the bottom of the second. The basic idea was to skirt left, with enough direction to avoid the middle hole, regroup in the fast moving water, then launch off the second falls with enough angle & momentum to get over the hole. Simple right? As we were scouting, another kayaker we didn’t know came down, but rather than running the safer, skirting-left line he launched right over the meat of the middle hole, catching a big pillow on the far side that turned him into position to launch over the bottom – a very difficult line, but oh-so-smooth looking. Some people are really good…
After we finished swooning we got back in our boats and ran the drop. It went well, and I hit pretty much exactly the line I wanted to. Confidence was high going into the last drop, Particle Accelerator. Alan didn’t give much beta – just go center, then right, don’t hit the rock wall, don’t go left and don’t flip over – then launched into it. My head slightly spinning, I followed. There were some difficult features including a badly placed curler to negotiate in the top part of the rapid, then the gradient steepened, the water become more chaotic and I lost all sense of where I was going… A big drop ahead, boof it? And suddenly I was over the falls, in the bottom eddy, not sure exactly what had just happened. Particle Accelerator is an apt name.
We did two more laps, getting more confident and taking more pictures as we went. On the last lap Simone flipped on the curler part of the way through particle accelerator where Alan had said not to flip, and got pretty banged up, though luckily he was wearing elbow pads and not seriously hurt. It was getting late though, so we decided to call it after that and head home.
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