I went on a whitewater paddling trip yesterday (August 15). It’s my first whitewater trip in about a year, and therefore the first since the Covid pandemic began. It was also my first time on the Mongaup, a tributary of the Delaware with a run that starts at a small power dam.
For a couple of years now, I’ve had my whitewater friends (including Mister Cowgirl, who’s been a whitewater paddler since the ’80s) mention the Mongaup, and since I was new to whitewater, generally I was discouraged from trying it. There are two flavors, depending on how many turbines they run: one or two. After paddling the Lehigh a couple of times, and the Esopus, I figured I was ready for at least a single barrel.
But, COVID. But, haven’t paddled whitewater, or this boat, or this paddle, in a year. So despite thinking I was ready for it, I had some trepidation.
We drove down a private road, slowly because it is rural residential. At the end, there was a small lot overlooking the dam; the power station is in a small blockhouse to the left, out of frame.
We could see the start of the river. While it’s hard to make out, essentially a couple hundred yards down, the river makes a sharp left, and then becomes a series of rapid for a bit.
We packed our boats before setting out.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos on the way down. We made two runs and I was more focused on learning, and reading the water. The highlights were: the first bend in the river; a slight drop; small rapids; an S turn to avoid a tree and line up for big rapids leading to the “boof rock”; the “backwards rapids” where people opted to tried backwards; the grand finale ,a relatively steep and rocky gradient flowing into the Delaware river.
That last bit was exciting. I remember seeing it from from the Delaware on a trip a few years ago and thinking, “those people are insane”. Being on the delivery side now – wow, what a ride!
Big waves splashing all over. Choices – left or right of center to avoid a rocky descent? On one run I landed squarely against a big rock and I swear, I caught air – but perhaps that was my imagination.
Since whitewater trips are generally one-way (from point A to point B), they nearly always involve a shuttle: getting boats and paddlers reunite with their cars. Here, we had the most unnerving aspect of the trip, albeit one handled as well as could be expected. We attempted as few people per vehicle as possible, masks on, windows down.
On the second run, I spent more time plotting my own line, rather than following others – though I did copy a lot of other people. Assessing myself as a learner, it was very helpful to run the river a second time immediately after, since the basic features were known and I could focus more on how to work with them.
It was a great trip, and felt like a milestone in my whitewater paddling career. It may turn out to be the only whitewater I do this year, though hopefully not. As experienced as I am as a sea kayaker, it’s refreshing to step back and have to learn something new.