Patuxent River Cleanup
It had been awhile since I paddled on the Patuxent (Pax) River...March 17, 2010 to be exact. But that doesn't mean it isn't one of my favorite places to kayak. On the contrary, it and its tributaries is my favorite place on the western shore of Maryland. But in 2010, I just put more effort into paddling elsewhere and doing non-paddling activities, such as working on the house. So the Pax has taken a back seat...at least for awhile.
I felt bad for not helping with the April river cleanup. A wedding reception kept me away. So when I saw that Chip and Ralph of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) were leading a cleanup on November 6, 2010, I made sure to keep that date open.
I showed up a little before 0900 at the entrance to Brandywine Sand and Gravel just south of Estelle Lane on the west side of Sands Road in Harwood, Maryland. Unlike our typical CPA events that look more like a Subaru convention, this event resembled a truck show. But there was a reason for that. A significant number of volunteers were members of the Captial Offroad Enthusiasts, Inc. (CORE). Thanks to them, we had serious firepower; we were able to use their winches to pull big pieces of metal up hills them load them into the truck beds.
Other volunteers included Patuxent Riverkeeper and Greenskeeper Environmental, L.L.C.. The latter provided a really big truck, a Bobcat tractor, and operators. One of the local canoe clubs donated funds to help sponsor this event. Ralph, Chip, and I were the only CPA volunteers but since no actual boating took place, I guess I'm not surprised. CPAers come out in much greater number during the April cleanup.
I met many people that day. There were many faces that I'll remember (at least for awhile) but the only names that comes to mind are Wilt, Jacob, and Fred.
A few days prior to our cleanup, Chip and a few others worked 8 hours to cut 5 cars into much smaller pieces. Thus, when the 20 of us (all men...no women) showed up to work, our job went quickly. We only worked about 4 hours and removed several tons of metal that had been polluting the shore of the upper Pax for years.
Most of the car parts were cut up small enough for 1-4 people to carry up a hill and load into a truck. But a few pieces, such as a V8 engine, had to be moved with the Bobcat. See first photo.
At 1230, we broke for lunch which was provided to us for free. I took some of this time to pick a couple dozen of the deep red fruit from prickly pear. This cactus grows wild in sandy areas. I expected the main part of the round, thick leaf to be the only prickly part but I quickly learned that this plant also has
small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant.
- from Wikipedia
It was these annoying glochids (which are barely visible) that I removed from my hands with a scraping motion of my knife.
Why did I pick these fruit? Because Ralph told me he made jam out of them. He wasn't kidding. See Grandma Cooks Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly. I found this and some other interesting recipes on-line:
How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears
Cooks.com - Prickly Pear Recipes
Prickly Pear Cactus Sweets and Treats
One can also eat the cactus pads:
I found far too many recipes to list them all.
We unloaded more scrap and were done at around 1400. After posing for a group photo in front of part of the trash removed (second photo), we went our separate ways.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
James River Scouting
I took Friday, October 29, 2010 off from work to spend a long weekend with Norma in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. Charlottesville is a unique area with many claims to fame. According to a AAA World January/February 2011 article titled "Sweet Charlottesville," the city has earned the title
Number one city for retirement
Healthiest place to live
Number one place to live
This same article also mentions that this area may be best known as a haven for hikers. In addition to checking out the nearby Appalachian Trail, hikers should check out Humpback Rock along the Blue Ridge Parkway along with Apple Orchard Falls and Crabtree Falls (which has cabins). Naturally, one should check to make sure and visit the falls when there is a sufficient amount of water (probably not autumn).
After a fairly long drive, we checked into a relatively inexpensive motel then walked around the University of Virginia, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson and founded in 1819. This institution has been referred to as having "public ivy" status, meaning it has ivy league quality education at public university prices..
That night, we had dinner in the downtown area of the town. We weren't the only ones visiting. President Barack Obama was at the Charlottesville Pavilion. From just outside the restaurant where we ate, we could hear him talk. There was a big variety of places to eat. We chose a Mediterranean restaurant which turned out to be a big disappointment.
Keeping up with the Presidential spirit, the next day, we took a guided tour at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. Monticello means "little mountain" in Italian. See first photo. This is the only historic house in the United States to make it to the United Nations' World Heritage List. We also visited the gardens. It was quite cold for that time of year.
After Monticello, we went to the Persimmon Festival (see second photo) at Edible Landscapes where we ended up buying an Asian Pear tree.
By now, you're probably wondering why this blog is on my kayaking page. Well, one of the reasons we chose this area to visit was so we could check out the James River. Norma and I did just that on Halloween...without costumes.
We stopped in at the fairly new James River State Park, located in the rolling hills along the James River in Buckingham County, Virginia. Here we found several helpful signs. See third and fourth photos.
We parked at Dixon Landing (fifth photo). From here, we walked southwest on the River Trail along the south side of the river, heading upstream. The river looked fairly clean and certainly deep enough for kayaking. Turning left, we walked east on the Dixon Trail then on Cabell Trail which took us to the Tye River Overlook. At this vista (the most photographed spot in the park), we caught a nice view of the Tye River where it flows into the James River. See sixth photo. We also met some mountain bikers who told us about the river.
At the park entrance, we stopped in at the store where I purchaed the highly informative James River Water Trail (Middle Section) interpretive set of maps and guides. This isn't the wimpy James River Water Trail pamphlet. It is the six map set at James River Maps, James River Association. If you're also interested in the upper and lower sections of the river, land trails, state parks, etc. then be sure to check out James River Heritage Trail. This is a VERY long river and unless you have a very long time, you'll want to focus on just a few sections.
Our last stop for scouting was Bent Creek Landing which is 9 miles upstream of Dixon Landing at the intersection of route 60 and 26 in the town of Bent Creek, Virginia. See seventh photo.
Though we didn't get to see too much of the river, I was satisfied that we saw some and acquired some extremely valuable literature that will make a return trip all the better.
On the way home, we paid a visit to Norma's alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Ever since Brian moved south, I don't get to paddle with him as much. I miss that. So I was pleased when he arranged a weekend of paddling and bicycling out in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge area.
Norma and I met Brian, Kristina, and Catriona (Cat) M. at 1000 at Golden Hill Road (route 335). Here we launched on the Blackwater River. The plan to to paddle west to where the river gets narrow.
All of us used carbon fiber wing paddles that day. Aren't we high tech?
The day's forecast was
Sunny with a high near 67. Breezy with a northwest wind between 18 and 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph.
This made kayaking extremely difficult. I started out with a hat (first photo), but the wind asked me to remove it (second photo). It was difficult to make progress so rather than crawl along at a snail's pace heading west, we turned north and paddled up Buttons Creek. This was actually my second time on this creek, the first being on June 21, 2008.
Numerous bald eagles were seen. I think I saw about 6.
Somehow, Brian managed to keep his hat on. See third photo. Maybe it is because it was made by Epic, along with his paddle and boat.
We saw several duck blinds. One hunting area was particularly pristine with fresh camouflage and several decoys set out (fourth photo). But we didn't see any hunters...or maybe they were so well camouflaged that they were invisible.
The vegetation at Blackwater was fairly typical of a Maryland wetlands area. There were several phragmites and other bay grasses that bent in the wind. See fifth and sixth photos. There were also cattails and duckweed. See the seventh photo. Notice how the duckweed forms an almost solid layer as it floats on the water.
There were lots of logs near the surface which was somewhat worrisome for Brian who brought Epic 18s. Cat paddled a P&H Vela (eighth photo).
We stopped for lunch at a little area that was probably once a duck blind.
Paddling back downstream on Buttons Creek was fast with the wind behind us. Kristina (ninth photo) put her paddle up in the air and used it as a sail (tenth photo).
Back on the wide open Blackwater River, the wind made paddling difficult. I was wanting a rudder but my Prijon Catalina is without. Paddling on one side wasn't enough. I had to backpaddle on the opposite side to overcome the power of the wind.
We finished, having put in almost 8 miles.
Cat said her farewells while Brian, Kristina, Norma and I went to and set up camp at Madison Bay Campground. Then we went into Cambridge for the Crabtoberfest celebration.
That night, we sat around the candle and talked. But we didn't stay up late. October 17, 2010 was yet another adventure.
Special thanks to Catriona and Norma for providing the photos (my camera stopped working) and to Brian for organizing this little trip.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
After Suzanne and I led a successful Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) kayak car camping trip in Delaware, a few people thought it would be a good idea to have a reunion event at a different location. Hence, the October 9-11, 2010 "Broadkill River and Primehook Creek Reunion" at Chincoteague Island.
We had a good bit of rain in the days leading up to October 2, 2010. Hence, it seemed like a good opportunity to paddle one of the creeks that I normally only kayak on during the spring. But which one? Norma wanted the Monocacy so the Monocacy it was. Since not everyone in our group was an experienced paddler, I decided we should do what I call the "Middle Monocacy" which is quite easy. I paddled this route on April 27, 2008 and October 25, 2009. We would do a car shuttle.
Norma, Joyce, Jimmy, and I launched at 1200 from Devilbiss. See first photo. It was sunny and cool. Norma and I wore our wetsuits. Jimmy wore my splash jacket and rain pants. Joyce wore my splash pants and a rain jacket. See second photo.
The water was high but not terribly high. See third and fourth photos. The downstream current was about 1.5 mph. A few riffles but that was all in terms of rapids. There was never a problem of bottoming out but more push from the current would have been better.
We stopped for lunch at the very muddy boat ramp at Frederick City Park. See fifth photo. Here we found a paved trail that connects to the parking lot. From further upstream, Joyce saw people running on it. There was a porta-john but it was knocked down. While munching, we saw an ultralight motorized plane flying.
Further downstream we saw several gliders being pulled into the air by a convential plane then being released to float back to earth. See sixth photo.
A few deer crossed the water to an island.
About 5 turtles were seen throughout the day, seventh photo.
Norma took photos as I displayed my Halloween hair...orange and black. See eighth photo. That day, she took even more photos than me. See ninth and tenth photos.
Near the end, I saw a first. It was a groundhog 20 feet above the water in a tree! I didn't notice anything in the tree that looked tasty so I don't know why it was there. Perhaps a predator was chasing it. See eleventh photo.
At 1700, we reached our destination at Pinecliff Park after having paddled 14.4 miles.
We retrieved the cars then went to the Carroll Creek area of Frederick for dinner at Five Guys. The place was packed to the gills with people. There were also some bands and some performance artists.
This was the first time we took Jimmy and Joyce paddling. Hopefully, they will join us again.
That morning, I saw a caterpillar on the south side of the house. It wasn't moving, it wasn't in a location where there was any food, and it was curled up in an unusual position. I took a picture of it, thinking it might go under a metamorphosis. See twelfth photo. When we returned to the house that night, it had turned into a pupa. See thirteenth photo. On the weekend of October 17-18, 2010, the pupa hatched and turned into a moth.
I found an almost identical pupa a few weeks prior and brought it into the house. While I never saw it as a caterpillar, I did see it as a new adult. It had recently emerged from its sleep and was pumping blood into its wings, trying to get them at full expansion. See fourteenth photo. I took it outside and set it on a warm, sunny place. I did not see it again. This butterfly is called a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia).
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
McIntosh Creek and Breton Bay
On September 25, 2010, I woke up early, packed up, then drove Ralph's Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) Wicomico car camping kayak trip. Originally, I though this would be the Wicomico River on the eastern shore, which I visited back on May 9-11, 2008. I later found out it was the Wicomico River on the western shore, beteen Charles and St. Mary's County. I was last there on July 6, 2008. At least there are only two Wicomico Rivers in the state...there are far more Turkey Points.
I've packed up at the last minute enough times to feel comfortable about it. Doing so has its advantages in that I can check the weather and pack accordingly without having to repack every time the forecast changes. But unless I use my checklist, I am bound to forget something. Sadly, I did not use my checklist.
For this trip, I brought my Cobra Expedition. It's a great boat when I'm with a group because it is about the same speed as an average sea kayak, it carries a boatload of gear, and it is very comfortable. But what made me decide to bring it instead of my Prijon Catalina is the forecast for the day.
Mostly sunny with a nigh near 90. West wind between 8 and 10 mph.
- from the National Weather Service
On a hot humid day, wearing a cockpit boat with a spray skirt can get mighty uncomfortable. That's where a sit-on-top comes out ahead. Of course it has its share of disadvantages but those would not be a problem that day.
I arrived at 0845. I drove on the private dirt road that leads to the home of our generous hosts, Chris and Lynda. The posted speed limit was 10 mph and I was driving faster. An irrate neighbor yelled, "Slow down, this is a private road!" I slowed down and continued. I later found out that he (or another neighbor) yelled similarly at a few of the other kayakers.
I set up my tent in the back yard while we waited for one more to arrive. I knew everyone there: Ralph, Beth H. (Ralph's other half), Sue S. (formerly B.), Rich S. (Sue's other half), Steven J., Jim A. (Jihad Jim), Marla A., Bela M., Greg W., and Suzanne F. Our late-show seemed like a no-show so we headed off.
Ralph forwarded us three paddling options prior to the event: Chaptico Creek, Chaptico to Cobb Island (15.2 miles), and Allens Fresh. We ended up doing a fourth option that Greg suggested. It turned out to be a very nice surprise.
We launched at McIntosh Launch at 1030. See first photo. A fellow from McIntosh Outfitters was just returning from clearing part of the creek. The steep beach only allowed us to launch one or two at a time so it took awhile before we were all in McIntosh Run. See second photo.
The creek was narrow and scenic. See third photo. The fresh water allowed lots of trees and shrubbery to grow right up to the water, giving us shade. It also permitted numerous flowers to flourish. Steven is our club botanist so he was able to identify all of them. In the fourth photo, Steven is pointing to a pink turtle head flower. He also identified the following:
Fifth photo: Pink Turtle Head Chelone lyonii
Sixth photo: Bidens
Seventh photo: Hardy Blue Ageratum, Mist Flower Conoclinium (Eupatorium) coelestinum
Eighth photo: Asian Blue Dayflower Commelina communis
McIntosh Run can get pretty low. We had to do several portages (I'm guessing 5). See ninth photo. This is where my sit-on-top came in handy. Getting in and out was fast and easy. But after the first 1.25 miles or so, we were in deeper waters. In my opinion, this is where the creek was the nicest.
Tenth photo: Suzanne thinking she's paddling a sit-on-top.
Eleventh photo: Ralph carefully maneuvering around a fallen tree.
Twelfth photo: Ralph and Greg brining up the rear...no, actually I guess I am.
Thirteenth photo: The vegetation starts to change from freshwater to marsh plants.
Eventually the creek widened up and became Breton Bay after 2 miles (fourteenth photo). By mile 5 we were paddling in big open water as we headed towards the Potomac River.
Somewhere after Paw Paw Point, I spotted a bald eagle. I started taking photos from far away. I'd paddle in a bit and take another photo. I was able to get very close to it before it finally left. See fifteenth photo. It flew away and landed in a tree where another eagle stood.
We stopped for lunch near Clem Point, about a mile north of the mighty Potomac. Here we found a hedgeapple tree which I learned is also called osage orange. It was around 1330 and a little hot. Suzanne soaked herself in the water (sixteenth photo). I saw no jellyfish that day, even though just 3 weeks prior, jellyfish seemed to be at their peak.
From our lunch spot, we were able to see the place we would be dining later that night (seventeenth photo).
21540 Joe Hazel Road
Leonardtown, Maryland 20650-2518
We headed back, with Rich leading the way. At the Leonardtown Wharf, I climbed out of my boat and took a photo of the group. See eighteenth photo. From the wharf, I learned a bit about Leonardtown.
On November 6, 1685, the Maryland Assembly passed the Town Act, designating certain ports for trade. "Brittons Bay John Bayleys or Taunts," eventually named Leonardtown, after the younger brother of Cecil and first governor of Maryland, was one of three ports in St. Mary's County designated as legal for trade.
- from sign at Leonardtown Wharf
Southern Maryland had more than its share of Confederate sympathizers. In 1860...
voters in St. Mary's County cast 920 votes for secessionist John C. Breckenridge, 261 votes for John Bell, and one vote for Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, despite the presence of Federal troops bivouacked in Sheep-pen Woods west of town, contraband goods somehow found their way to Leonardtown's Wharf - at least until March, 1864, when Robert Clark and Robert Swann were jailed for smuggling.
- from sign at Leonardtown Wharf
In later years, Leonardtown prospered as a brick kiln town.
Following the Civil War, Captain Asa Lawrence arrived to assume leadership of the Freedmen's Bureau. Despite his association with this very unpopular agency of the Reconstruction, Lawrence's able leadership gradually improved life for everyone, black and white, and Lawrence too began to prosper. By 1879, Lawrence's brick kiln had become so busy that he was shipping bricks from the Leonardtown Wharf to as far away as North Carolina.
- from sign at Leonardtown Wharf
Paddling up McIntosh Run was now easy with the tide much higher. No portages necessary this time. The return trip was much easier and still just as scenic. See nineteenth and twentieth photos.
We finished our 15.1 mile trip at 1600.
That night, we left camp. In addition to our original kayakers, we were joined by Beth and Emily B. The latter showed up about a half hour after we left in the morning. I drove out with Suzanne and Jim. On the dirt road, another grumpy neighbor (with wine bottle in hand) stopped us and lectured us about speeding, which none of us were doing at the time.
At Fitzie's, we sat outside, overlooking the Breton Bay. I split the crab stuffed rockfish and flounder with Suzanne. Both were very good though I preferred the flounder and she preferred the rockfish.
Before leaving, I set my camera to take another photo of us with the nearly full moon in the background. I made the mistake of only taking one photo. Hence, 2 people have their eyes closed. See twenty-first photo. From left to right are Steven, Marla, Rich, Sue, Beth, Bela, Suzanne, Greg, Jim, Ralph, Dick, and me. Where's Emily?
On the drive back, I saw an opossum and three fawns.
Back at camp we stayed up for a bit longer. Just a few mosquitos out...not many.
I slept well that night.
Within 5 minutes of leaving my tent, I saw two eagles in a tree overlooking the Wicomico River.
Saturday morning's forecast called for a 20% chance of showers on Saturday night and a 30% chance on Sunday. It ended up raining during the night and well into Sunday. It was just a light rain but with the high temperature expected to be 20 degrees cooler than Saturday, we were not eager to paddle. Cold and wet are not a good combination. My Cobra was ideal for yesterday's heat but without a wetsuit, splash pants, or splash top (that's what I forgot to bring), my Prijon would have been a much better choice. So after a leisurely breakfast, we packed up and headed home. I don't know if anyone stuck around to paddle.
It rained for most of the drive home and throughout the rest of the day so I think I made the right choice to not paddle. Besides, it would have been hard to beat yesterday's adventure.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
On July 11, 2010, Norma, Carmen, and I launched from Bladensburg Waterfront Park and paddled on the Anacostia River. They went to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens while I paddled to the Potomac River. I didn't want to join them because I knew I would be visiting the following month to see the gardens.
On August 22, 2010, Norma, Gary, sherri, Ashlyn, Stacy, and I paddled from Bladensburg to the gardens. See first photo. We saw numerous egrets and white herons. It was cool and rainy. But around when we entered the Kenilworth area, the rain stopped.
We paddled around the little tributaries in the garden until we found a suitable place to land near the trail. There really isn't any designated boat launch/landing so we just made due with what we could find.
We were soaked and it was a little cold so Ashlyn wore her daddy's personal floatation device (PFD) which kept her warm. See second photo.
We saw numerous flowers...far too many for me to identify.
Third photo: Passion flower.
Fourth photo: White water lilies.
Fifth photo: Pink water lily?
Sixth photo: Something hanging off a tree.
Perhaps the most unusual looking plant was the Victoria lily. See seventh photo.
Nineteenth century explorers discovered this unusual wondrous plant growing in the deep, wide lagoons of the South American jungles. The leaves, or "platters", of the Victoria lily are veined on the underside and float on the surface of the water in a magnificent expanse, often covering an area 6 or 7 feet wide. The edges of the leaves turn up to form a 2 to 8 inch rim making the "platters" buoyant. The flowers of Victoria, up to 15 inches wide, open at dusk and remain open all night during August and September. This spectacular plant is named in honor of Queen Victoria of England.
- from sign in visitor center
The second most unusual looking plant (in my opinion) was the
pink-tinged East Indian lotus, [some of these plants at the gardens were] descended from ancient plants whose seeds were recovered in 1951 from a dry Manchurian lakebed. Induced into germination by the National Park Service, the seeds are believed to be one of the oldest viable seeds ever found. A recent estimate places their age at 640 to 960 years.
Unlike water lilies, the lotus (genus Nelumbo) has waxy leaves that rise above the water and shed rain. Its showy flowers drop petals to reveal seedpods that look like shower-heads. Its seeds ripen above the water.
- from sign in visitor center
Eighth photo: Now you know why I these are called "shower head" plants.
Ninth photo: See the seeds waiting to fall.
Tenth photo: White lotus.
Eleventh photo: Pink lotus.
We saw a variety of birds and a turtle (twelfth photo).
The gardens are a great place to visit. How did such a place come into being?
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens began in the 1880s as the private creation of Walter B. Shaw, a devoted lover of nature.
After marrying Lucy Maria Miller, Shaw purchased more than 30 acres along the Anacostia River from her parents. He soon found his new estate lacking some of the beauty of his native Maine. To remedy this, he imported twelve white water lilies from his home state in 1882. By planting them in an abandoned ice pond, Walter Shaw began the aquatic gardens and a life-long hobby of cultivating water plants.
- from sign in visitor center
The six of us left the area about an hour after high tide. We got a little discombobulated in leaving but managed to make it back to the main part of the Anacostia where we saw someone speeding along in a rowing shell.
Thirteenth photo: Gary and Ashlyn paddling my Ocean Kayak Cabo.
Fourteenth photo: Still at it.
Fifteenth photo: Stacy going the wrong way.
Sixteenth photo: Stacy going the right way.
Seventeenth photo: Paddling hard to avoid getting stuck in ebb tide.
Eighteenth photo: We found the exit!
Stacy found a big osprey feather.
We loaded the boats on the cars then tried to leave. Norma's 1994 Saturn with 235,000 miles wouldn't start. Deal with that later...we're hungry. So we went out to eat at a local small restaurant whose name I forget. We said our farewells then called a tow truck.
It was a good day for seeing friends, paddling, and visting the gardens...but not driving.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Once a year, I like to spend a weekend pushing myself physically. I call it a "Challenge Weekend." To read more about this event in 2010 as it pertains to kayaking, see Challenge Weekend 2010.
The weekend of July 9-11, 2010, was lots of fun and a little unusual. What made it unusual is that so much came together at the last minute. On Friday, Norma and I went to see a classic rock band called Vanderhook at Perry's in Odenton. On Saturday, we rounded up Teresa, Michael, and Justin, then went for a walk on the Savage Mill Trail, out to eat at the Ram's Head Tavern, then played board games at The Family Game Store where we met Helen. So on Sunday, it was no surprise that even more fun came together in such short notice.
A fellow we hired to give us landscaping advice on Sunday canceled the day prior. I wanted to fill in that void with some long distance fast kayaking. Norma wanted to go paddle to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on the Anacostia River, launching from Bladensburg Waterfront Park. It was hard to turn her down because the high tide would be around the peak time to see the flowers. But I also didn't want to go because we might be going with some of her friends next month. Hence, one of us (I forget whom) suggested that she bring a friend while I launch with them but go a different route. Norma invited her former housemate, Carmen, who said yes. They would be doing a similar trip to the one we did back on May 20, 2007. That afternoon, in preparation for an early morning adventure, we loaded up my slow tandem Ocean Kayak Cabo sit-on-top on her car then loaded my fast Futura/Huki S1-A surf ski on my car.
On Sunday, July 11, 2010, we were up at 0500, getting ready for our big day (after about 3.5 hours of sleep). We arrived at the front gate of the park at 0620. Unfortunately, they weren't open. At around 0630, a park employee arrived...but he wasn't there to let us in. I'm not sure but I believe the gates officially open at 0700. Anyway, he was nice enough to let us in.
I wasn't worried about Norma or Carmen. Norma has paddled the Cabo with me lots of times. Carmen used to swim competitively. Their destination was only 2 miles away. They both had personal floatation devices (PFDs). Additionally, that section of the Anacostia is extremely flat with little or no power boat traffic.
After reviewing the map with them and warning them not to fall into the river for fear of chemical and biological poisoning, we were both on our way, just after 0700. High tide was at 0830 which meant they would have about an hour before high tide to explore on land and an hour or two after. After that, it might be a very muddy launch.
I raced downstream, against the tide for the first half of my downstream trip. I hadn't paddled on the Anacostia since 2007 and I hadn't been on the lower half since maybe 2005 or 2006. My things have changed. For one thing, I saw more boat launches. One was a floating dock at the National Arboretum maybe a mile downstream of the water entrance to Kenilworth. I reckon this dock would accommodate about 3 or 4 kayakers to tie up and explore the trails on foot. There were other launches, some appearing to be private and others open to the public. I saw several people in outrigger canoes making use of one of these launches.
There a good bit of new upscale brick development. Clearly, folks were putting money into this place.
I also got a close-up view of Nationals Park, the stadium where the Washington Nationals baseball team plays. That wasn't there the last time I paddled in this area.
I had the tide on my side for about the last third or half of my downstream trip. The water was extremely flat and there was little wind. My form was good that day and I was really pushing myself.
After about 8 miles, I turned north to paddle upstream on the Washington Channel. I went up that as far as I could go. There was one last bridge that I would have had to duck and push my way under to get to the other side. I could see that the other side was blocked. Clearly, boats were not welcome beyond, which was the start of the Tidal Basin. I turned around and headed south.
I paddled a tiny bit in the Potomac River then across the Anacostia to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before returning.
Now the tide was really against me and it would be for the remainder of my journey. While my moving average downstream was about 6.3 mph, my returning speed was only about 5.6. A few breaks to rehydrate, rest, and pee would slow my total time down even further. I knew this would not be one of my faster times.
In the last mile or so, I passed Norma and Carmen returning from their outing at Kenilworth. I went a bit upstream of the launch until things got too shallow. Then I returned. We finished at the same time. I managed to get in 20 miles in 3 hours and 40 minutes. That means an overall (not moving) average of about 5.45 mph. On June 30, I got in 20 miles at 5.72 mph. I don't know what the tide was doing that day, but today, I had it against me for about 75% of the trip. I'd like to get in 20 at 6 mph with neutral tide but I don't know if I'll be there this year.
Norma and Carmen's trip sounded great. Folks often say I take good photos or that I'm a fast paddler. The truth of the matter is I have a good camera and a fast boat. I just happen to be fortunate enough to own them. At left are some of the better photos Norma took that day...yes, she took all of them. I especially like the second and seventh photos which feature a plant that we saw in the wild on Mattawoman Creek back on September 21, 2007.
Special thanks to Sue B. for helping identify the plants in the below photos:
First photo: White flowering hibiscus.
Second photo: Pink lotus, cultured.
Third photo: Dragonfly and pink lotus flower buds.
Fourth photo: Pink day blooming water lily.
Fifth photo: Miss Carmen, primo soccer player with orange cone head low creeper plants.
Sixth photo: White water lily.
Seventh photo: Pretty pink tinted lotus with what I call shower head plants.
Eighth photo: Bull frog.
Ninth photo: Great blue heron.
Tenth photo: Tiger swallowtail butterflies on eastern button bush.
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Baltimore Pirates of the CPA
On July 6, 2010, I joined the Baltimore Pirates of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) for some paddling at Island View (first photo). Here, we launched at an old boat ramp (second photo) by Balliston Point near Rocky Point Park. There were about a dozen kayakers who braved the hundred degree temperatures including a fellow on an Epic 18 (third photo). We paddled out to Sue Creek just off the Middle River where several people worked on their rolling skills. I didn't stick around as late as the rest but I presume many of them ate at the restaurant where they launched afterwards.
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Independence Day on the Potomac
On July 4, 2010, Norma and I paddled from Edwards Ferry to Seneca Landing Park. This is a trip I planned back on May 28, 2006. She was in my Cobra Expedition while I paddled my Prijon Catalina.
We got a late start which wasn't so bad because the hot sun stayed to our back for most of the trip.
At Edwards Ferry, a few power boaters were also launching. This included some famlies with dogs. See first photo.
Norma and I paddled straight across the Potomac River to Goose Creek. We decided to see how far upstream we could go. There was lots of gross floating algae-like globs in the water. The place smelled a little like cows or horses.
This shaded creek was shallow and we could see to the bottom for much of it. We saw several fishes, turtles, and golf balls. Also an immature bald eagle. There was a golf course on the north side.
After 0.8 miles of paddling upstream, we came to a very narrow section and had to turn around. Here's a view looking downstream: second photo. I don't think we could have gotten much further with a portage.
Next, we got back on the Potomac and paddled downstream for 0.8 miles.
What appeared to be a creek flowed into the Potomac...but wait, the Potomac actually flowed into the creek! It turns out we were at the east end of Selden Island. This is a 2.3 mile long island that has a small tributary of the Potomac defining its south end.
The tributary on the south end of Selden Island is narrow, shaded, fairly scenic, and shallow. We had to do about 4 portages because things got too shallow. I estimate it this tributary was only about 17 meters across on the average. I do NOT recommend paddling this route in the summer with anything but a plastic boat as you will surely hit bottom. After about 2 miles on this tributary, it deepened considerably where Broad Run flowed into it.
Several small fish and a few 18 inch long catfish were seen. Another kayaker found some large (4 inches long, 2.5 inches thick) clams.
Eventually, the tributary widened as it bordered the south side of Van Deventer Island, Tenfoot Island, and Sharpshin Island. Paddling in deeper was nice but that also meant a good deal of power boat traffic was encountered. I guess we can't have both on a holiday weekend.
After 10.4 miles, we came to Seneca Creek. I would have loved to explore this shaded, narrow creek but we were running out of daylight.
We unlocked our bikes, locked up our boats, then biked back to the car on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath. Since it was around dusk, the insects were very busy. They kept flying in my face. I had to squint to keep them out of my eyes. But it was a nice, shaded ride through thick greenery. After a mere 8 miles, we were back at the car.
It was a nice day trip...one that required little planning as I had already scouted few years ago. The day was sunny and warm. It would have been nice to have more water but considering how little rain we've had, I was pleasantly surprised how far we could paddle up Goose Creek and that we could paddle on the south side of Ven Deventer Island...even if we had to portage a few times. It made for a much more interesting paddle than if we had just stuck to the Potomac.
Maybe another time I will launch from the takeout, paddle up Seneca Creek, paddle downstream on the Potomac through the whitewater, then take out at Riverbend Regional Park in Virginia. But this is something I need to scout out first. In Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails, Gertler says this area has whitewater up to relatively easy class 2. Not being an experience whitewater paddler or owning a whitewater boat, I'll check things out first on foot and avoid these sections...or not go at all if I deem them beyond my level of skill. But this is for another scouting trip. The following are notes, maps, and photos from people who did this trip.
Paddling.net: Potomac River - Kayak Trip
Kayak 411: Violette's Lock/GW Canal Loop
River Facts: Violette's Lock - GW Canal Loop section
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For a trip report of a Delaware Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) kayak car camping trip I co-led on June 25-27, 2010, see Broadkill River and Prime Hook Creek 2010.
In June 16, 2010, I had the opportunity to meet and paddle with Warren Richey (aka Shark Chow) at Pier 7. Warren is the winner of the Watertribe Ultimate Florida Challenge, a 1200 mile self supported small boat race around Florida. He recently completed writing the book Without a Paddle which is about his experiences during the race. He completed the course (including 40 mile portage) in 19 days, 6 hours and some change. That's paddling over 60 miles a day on average! Although "day" is a relative term for Warren, since he rarely slept. Warren holds a day job as a journalist. At the time of the big race, he had only been kayaking for 4 years, so his experiences are much more relevant to us normal people who once and while dream of pushing the envelope.
- largely plagiarised from Don (aka doooobrd)
For a trip report of my May 28, 2010 paddling trip at Elkhorn Slough in California see California 2010.
On May 14, 2010, Chip joined me for some bushwhack kayaking on the Mason Branch Water Trail. I first paddled this area a year ago with Ralph on May 10, 2009. But with Ralph, we only went 3.2 miles upstream from Tuckahoe Lake Launch Site, turning around only when portaging was necessary. The goal for the day with Chip was to portage, cut, and do whatever it takes to get the boats further upstream, preferrably up German Branch to a road but if not that, then up Mason Branch to Mason Bridge.
We got a late start sometime around noonish, launching from the lake ramp. It rained the day before so the water level was good. Chip paddled his kevlar Wenonah canoe and I used the newest addition to my boat family, my Prijon Catalina. See first photo. We both carried saws and loppers. We weren't about to let any obstacle stop us.
Paddling across the lake, we saw numerous turtles, as I did last year with Ralph. In my opinion, the east side of this lake has a higher concentration of turtles than anywhere else I've paddled in Maryland.
We also saw several people in recreational kayaks out fishing. Beaver lodges too.
Tuckahoe Lake narrowed to Tuckahoe Creek. The thick vegetation kept us in the shade. No need for sunscreen on this trip. We made it up to where I turned around last year then did some portaging to continue onward.
The confusing thing about this area is that the waterways meander. It is very easy to lose sight of the main part of the creek. Some signs along the way helped a bit but after awhile, we were on our own.
I never felt I could maneuver a canoe very well. A kayak seems much better for exploring. But Chip proved me wrong as he paddled and poled his Wenonah through shallow water, narrow openings, and hairpin turns. He had the right boat and the right skills for this trip. See second and third photos.
Chip led most of the way upstream. He cut much of the foliage that blocked the water trail and I came behind making the path a bit wider. Lots of debris and bugs fell on us and our boats. After awhile, we were both filthy and full of creepy crawlers. But not all the wildlife was creepy. We saw several geese including some juveniles that could swim but not fly. Also some infants still in the nest. See fourth photo.
There were a few times where I thought we should turn around but the desire to see what was around the corner kept us going. With all the bushwhacking, it took us 4 hours to paddle just 5.1 miles. But our efforts were rewarded once we realized we reached our objective, Mason Bridge.
Naturally, going back downstream was much easier and faster. That only took 2 hours. When we finished, we completed 9.64 miles. If we could give it another go, I would consider doing a one way trip, launching at Mason Bridge and taking out at the lake boat ramp. Obviously, doing this again would be much faster with all the water trail clearing we did.
Unfortunately, we never saw German Branch. On my Queen Anne's County ADC map, German Branch looks pretty significant. But I paid it a visit before returning home and found that at German Branch Bridge, it looks no wider than Mason Branch at Mason Branch Bridge, despite the map indicating it should be much wider. See fifth photo. Lesson learned: don't always trust the maps.
Upon returning home, I studied satellite photos. It is very difficult to find where German Branch splits from Mason Branch. That general area is very marshy and the creek really doesn't have a well defined shoreline. I noticed from the photos that had we kept paddling upstream on Mason Branch, things would have cleared up but it might have also looked very unnatural since it seemed as if some development was taking place.
Ticks were a major concern for us and I found none on me. But what I didn't plan on was poison ivy. Was that a mistake! I got a pretty bad case of it on my arms and legs. I used Zanfel, Tecnu Extreme, Calamine, Hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl tablets, and Benadryl spray. I even got prescription strength Prednisone tablets. More recently, I was told that Caladryl is good though I haven't had a chance yet to test it. I've had poison oak twice and this is at least my third time with poison ivy. It was also my worst case. It lasted for 2 weeks! Next time (yes, this is a resolution), when I go kayaking and there is a good chance of bushwhacking, I will bring a thicker long sleeve shirt (I wore an Under Armour weight shirt), long trousers, and Ivy Block. Afterwards, I will wash off with Zanfel or Tecnu Extreme immediately after. It takes a couple of days before the symptoms show and I've been told that bathing with regular skin soap isn't as effective as using a stronger detergent or medicine specifically made for removing the urushiol oil. Lastly, I will thoroughly clean all gear that comes in contact with the poison ivy before using it again. This was a tough lesson, but after having come in contact with itching plants so often in the past, I think I needed a good kick in the ass to force me to change my ways.
But despite the problem with the poison ivy, the trip was a good one. Chip and I got a major sense of accomplishment by paddling up to Mason Bridge. Based on how narrow the stream was and how many obstacles we encountered, I don't expect many people can say they've done what we did.
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KIPP Five Year Anniversary
If anyone in the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) mentions the acronym KIPP, you should know it stands for "Kent Island Peer Paddle." These are events that have been organized by Marshall for the last 5 years. The purpose is to give kayakers the chance to test their skills in open water and to challenge them physically to paddle longer distances. Like the Mountain Club of Maryland's Hike Across Maryland (HAM), there are several training sessions to lead up to the final event. For the KIPP, the test is to circumnavigate Kent Island while for the HAM, it is to hike 40 miles on the Appalachian Trail from Pennsylvania to West Virginia. Both goals must be accomplished in a single day. Even skilled kayakers and hikers typically find these tests strenuous.
On September 8, 2006, I did my own little solo circumnavigation of Kent Island after doing a couple of Marshall's KIPPs.
I was one of the first year KIPP veterans. Over the years, there are been well over 50 participants. Marshall decided it was time to celebrate with a KIPP 5 year birthday event on the April 30 to May 2, 2010 weekend at Camp Wright.
I showed up around 1800 on Friday, April 30. There I met Marshall, Debbie, Brian, Christina, Dan H., Bob P., Tim, Frank, and George. It was good seeing everyone but especially Dan who moved to Charleston, South Carolina a couple of years ago. From his descriptions, it sounds like a kayaker's paradise.
I was quite pleased with the campground which is not open to the general public. The bath house was clean, they had hot water, the staff was friendly, and there was nobody near us. The only thing lacking was a fire ring.
Things were getting buggy as the sun set (see first photo) so I set up my Wenzel Deluxe Panorama Screenhouse 15' X 17'. See second photo. I had never set this up before but found this task very easy...even by myself. It gave all of us room to sit and socialize in a mosquito-free environment. I'll definitely be bringing this on future car camping trips.
The next morning we were joined by Lucy, Yvonne (with her kevlar Impex), Rich, and Paula. We launched a little after 1000 from the campground (third photo). Heading north (clockwise), we paddled under the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge (Bay Brige). See our organizer in the fourth photo.
We posed for a group photo. See fifth photo.
After about the first 2 or 3 miles, the rudder control pedal of my Cobra Expedition broke, which left me without control of my rudder. Bummer.
We took a lunch break in the backyard of some dentist's house (sixth photo). It is a fellow that Marshall knows. The dentist was nice enough to let us use his restroom.
Continuing onward, we rounded the northernmost end of the island, Love Point. Here, Dan and Yvonne headed back. But for the rest of us, it was only 2 more miles until we reached our destination...the waterfront area of a bed and breakfast. See seventh photo. We took a short break then started heading back.
One of my goals for the year is to do some kayak camping. The only single boat I have suitable for this is my Expedition. I taped up the venturi to keep water out but the tape came off. I also put silicone around the hatches to keep waves splashing on my deck from getting inside the boat. This didn't work either as I found out later when I drained out my kayak. This definitely isn't the ideal boat for camping but it is the best I've got. Looks like I need to do more work...including fixing the rudder pedal.
Our last stop was at a public beach (eighth photo). After a couple more miles, we were done. My global positioning system (GPS) said I paddled just over 17 miles.
Back at the campsite Kingsley joined us. We made fun of his funny looking Greenland kayak.
That night, many of us did carry out from Stevensville Crab Shack which is just 4 miles from the campsite. The place was booming busy...a good sign.
After dinner, we had a KIPP birthday cake. See ninth photo.
Paula and Cliff joined us later that night.
It rained a bit during wee hours of the next morning.
I stuck around for breakfast then headed home. My Wenzel Deluxe Panorama Screenhouse was easy to take down and stow away.
It was good getting out on the water...but even better seeing good people I hadn't seen in awhile. Hopefully Marshall will have a 10 year KIPP anniversary...though I'm sure I will see him long before that.
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Scouting the West Branch of the Conococheague
I made fairly good progress on my January 29, 2010 launch site scouting. But I was unsatisfied with not having found a place to launch in Pennsylvania on the Conococheague River. Hence, I studied satellite photos then asked Chip W. of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) who referred me to Yukon John of the Monocacy Canoe Club. I also consulted Ed Gertler's Keystone Canoeing. I mapped out the places I wanted to investigate. The roads were inconsistently named depending on which map I employed so I used various sources and combined information on one high resolution printout. Then on April 10, 2010, an opportunity arose.
It wasn't a kayak trip but rather a wedding reception. Norma's cousin was having a reception at the Montgomery Church, right near the West Branch of the Conococheague. We left early so we could scout.
I took Yukon John's suggestion and checked out a place just north of the intersection of Findley Road and Buchanan Trail West (route 16) on Findley Road. Here I found exactly what I wanted at what I now call the Findley launch site. There was a dirt parking lot on the west side (first photo) and a small dirt trail that gradually led to the water (second photo). Launching here would put me 17.5 miles upstream from the next known launch site at Route 494 in Maryland. Perfect! See the third photo for a downstream view of the river from the route 16 bridge.
Next, we checked out a couple of dams that Gertler mentioned. They were both 5 foot high dams. The first, just before Heisey Road (T330), is about 1.5 miles from the start. Based on my observation of this dam from a bridge, if facing downstream, it looks like portaging on the right (fourth photo) is easiest but Gertler recommends to portage on the left (fifth photo). I don't have a strong opinion about this so his suggestion might be the better one.
The second dam occurs on the southeast side of Anderston Road (T328), about 2.8 miles from the start. As with the first dam, it looks like portaging on the right (facing downstream) is easiest but Gertler recommends to portage on the left. Again, my opinion on this is not strong. See sixth photo
We then set out to explore other possible launch sites. These were just places on the map that ran very close to the water. None of these amounted to anything but they did permit me to see the water. It is still spring and we had a lot of precipitation during the winter so I expected the river to be rather high. I'm sure that is the case further downstream in Maryland but here in Pennsylvania, there were quite a few spots where a kayak would scrape bottom so if I return, I'll definitely bring a plastic boat. More water would be better. I don't know if I'd want to paddle with less.
According to USGS Real-Time Water Data for Conococheague Creek, the height of the river at noon was 2.93 feet while the discharge was 661 cubic feet per second. While this report was based on data a good bit downstream of the West Branch, it nonetheless can be a good indicator of water level on the West Branch. Gerler says the water level is suitable if this monitoring station reports at least 2.6 feet with a discharge of at least 500 cubic feet per second.
Other than the dams, I saw no obstacles worth noting. I only saw riffles (seventh photo) and flat water moving at about 2 mph. But Gertler does mention that there will be class 2 whitewater ("2-" according to his rating) if one starts upstream at Fort Loudon (route 30). Unfortunately, he does not specify where these class 2 rapids occur so it might be on my 17.5 mile route and it might not.
It looks like the scenery on this paddling trip will be wooded or farmy. The area is extremely rural (expect the occassional smell of manuer) and if you want to use an actual toilet before, during, or after the trip, you might have to drive a ways. Of course if you're a man, then the whole world is your urinal.
One thing I learned on this scouting trip was that while land around bridges and roads passing near the water will likely be private property, narrow strips of land bordered by water and roads might still be in the public domain. In the case of the Findley launch site, it is only about 15 meters between the road (on the east side) and the river (on the west side), with route 16 on the south side. It isn't enough land to develop or use for anything. Hence, as far as I can tell, it is public property. I'll assume that until I'm told or see signs to indicate otherwise.
It took an hour and 43 minutes to get to the launch site from Savage, Maryland. It would have been a shame to drive so far just to scout but with the wedding reception less than 5 miles away, things worked out just peachy. I was happy that day to find such an elusive launch site...though maybe not as happy as the bride and groom.
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For a trip report of my April 2-8, 2010 paddling trips in northern Florida, see Florida 2010.
Little Patuxent River
On March 17, 2010, Norma and I tried to paddle on the upper Patuxent (Pax) River in Laurel. Our mission failed due to numerous downfalls. Hence, I was a little hesitant to explore the upper Little Patuxent River. But after getting lots of input from Chip W. of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA), reading Ed Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails, and studying satellite photos, I decided that it was time to explore the Little Pax.
What makes the Little Pax so special is that it flows less than a mile from my house. It would be a shame NOT to explore it at some point.
Not all parts of the Little Pax are suitable. Just a short distance upstream of Foundry Street in Historic Savage is class 4 whitewater. I've gotten gray hairs from class 2 so I have no intention of doing class 4 at my current skill level. Further downstream, between Piney Orchard Parkway in Odenton and Crain Highway (Route 3) in Crofton on the Little Pax is difficult due to all the downfalls. According to Chip,
Piney O. [Piney Orchard] to route 3 used to have 10 or 15 blockages. It was about like the Middle [Middle Patuxent]. The Riverkeeper sent a couple work parties in there in 2008 and we cut out all but a few. I have not been in there since January 2009. At that time there was a train-wreck size jam a short-ways downriver of the bridge for the bike path. Most everything else I could work around. BTW, I often work through what others might call a blockage. Unless I have to get out and drag the boat, it's not blocked. Be careful at the big jam below the bike path. At first I thought I could get by on one side or the other--it looks possible from upriver--but if you get into it I don't think you will find it passable. But you probably know to be careful. It's the nature of timber jams. I often walk on them and I half expect to be devoured by timber sooner or later. It will just take one that starts shifting while I'm on it. It's hard to recognize the main stem of the river when it joins from the left within sight of Rt. 3. It is much smaller than the Little [Little Patuxent], but very deep at that spot.
The section of the Little Pax between Savage and Piney Orchard was what I had in mind. But what about the Patuxent Research Refuge, North Tract and their unexploded ordnance? See my March 17, 2010 trip report for background information. Gertler mentions
I recommend sticking to the water through here because of the remote possibility of old (possibly live) ordnance in the woods.
Unfortunately, this would not be possible if we have to portage, and Chip advises that we will likely need to. But Chip set my mind at ease by reporting the following:
GBCC [Greater Baltimore Canoe Club] notes that in the 1990s the Army released several reports on "Unexploded Ordnance" (UXO) in PWR [Patuxent Wildlife Refuge]. Reports on surveys conducted after the completion of contracts to remove UXO found that the risk of encountering an exposed UXO "indeterminate", i.e., the risk exists but cannot be estimated. Further, the report stated the Army has never recorded a case of injury from accidentally stepping on UXO. Accidents either resulted from tampering with the UXO after removal, or encountering UXO during digging. Risk of UXO is acceptable to allow hunting in the Refuge and hunters walk through the Refuge. Given that paddlers would be floating through, their risk of encountering UXO will be dramatically less than hunters.
Additionally, Chip cautions
In 91 - 93 [1991-1993], Army contracts combed the whole north tract and removed 14,000 pieces of ordinance. In 94 they went back and sampled 240 sites of 1/8 acre each to see if new stuff was coming up to the surface. They found 50 new items, of which 5 were on the surface and the rest buried as deep as 60", but most in the top 6". Of the 50, 12 were live ordinance, and there was no breakdown by depth--i.e. whether the live stuff was on the surface or buried. So, the risk of encountering UXO, including live ordinance is there.
What else did I learn prior to launching? Chip states
As you approach 198 [Fort Meade Road (route 198)] there is an easily recognizable dam. Perhaps 100 meters upriver of the dam, a side channel around the dam has evolved on river right. It was well clogged with timber when I was there in November [of 2009?]. I got out on river right of the dam, below the timber clog, and dragged across that island and put back onto the side channel. At that point, I looked upriver, and I could see a runnable slot in the timber clog. So, if I was there again, I'd carefully examine that timber clog on river right above the dam to see if you could run it without getting out of the boat. That right side channel is strewn with logs every which way. I was able to work around or bull over all the obstacles with not more than a foot on a log maybe one time. There's been a lot of high water down the river since then, so I don't know what you will find. From there to Piney Orchard there were two blockages. From Savage to the dam, none, which amazed me. Savage gauge reading was 4.3 when I went in November. That's a nice level. Floats you well, decent current, but not so much as to be dangerous.
I now had a plan. I even had a date too...March 31, 2010. As is often the case, I had in my work hours for the month so I set aside the day to go out and play. It was just a few days after a big rain so I expected the river to be fairly high. According to USGS Real-Time Water Data at Little Patuxent River at Savage, MD, the height of the water was 4.33 feet while the discharge was 177 cubic feet per second. This was a good bit above the median for the last 48 years. Gertler mentions that one should have at least 3.8 feet and 90 cubic feet per second of discharge so we were sitting pretty. The day was sunny and 56 degrees at 1100. The expected high was 67. Still wetsuit weather.
I invited a few people (including Chip) but my only taker was my good friend Lisa.
Lisa met at my place. We loaded our boats on my car and then went to the take out at Piney Orchard. Here, we scouted a bit on foot. We found some nice graffitti under the bridge. See first photo. I deemed the side on the southwest side of the bridge to be the best place to land (second photo). But Lisa couldn't park near the bridge (no parking signs posted throughut) so she left her car 0.3 miles away at the Piney Orchard Nature Preserve.
Next, we went to Fort Meade Road (route 198) to check out the dam just before Welch Bridge. See third photo. We saw a fellow looking for fish jumping up the fish ladder to get around the dam. He said it was too early in the season for fish to migrate this far. He saw me taking photos of the dam and warned me that the military police might get upset with me taking photos. I reckon this area is part of Fort Meade. We set out on foot to figure out how we would get around the dam. Chip suggested we portage and paddle on a creek on the west side of the main river. Upon investigating, I deemed this to be a suitable option. There was a huge pile of debris that we would need to portage around (fourth photo) but after that, we could simply paddle around the dam. I'm really glad I checked this out on foot first because coming downstream, I never would have known such a creek existed. There would be a bit of whitewater and some shallow parts on the creek but still, it was doable.
Finally, Lisa and I made it to the launch site at Savage. In the fifth photo is a view of the river downstream from the bridge. We spoke to some construction men who told us about the class 4 rapids upstream. We assured them we would be going the other way. Next, we carried the boats to the southeast side of the historic Bollman Truss Bridge (sixth photo) and set sail.
We encountered only class 1 rapids (riffles). In comparison to our March 20, 2010 trip on Antietam Creek, this should have been easy. But it was not. After 0.4 miles, we came to a strainer. It was a log that stuck out from the north (left) side. We figured we could just paddle around it on the south side. I backpaddled to position my boat before venturing through. But I wasn't far enough to the right. My boat, actually Lisa's Prijon Catalina, turned sideways and got stuck on the log. Then Lisa came through before I could get unstuck. She fared much worse. She was further to the left than me. Her boat, an 11 foot long Dagger whitewater kayak, also turned sideways but at a part of the log about 16 inches above the water. Her kayak continued under the log, pulling her along. She had to do a wet exit. Prior to launching, I loaned her my paddle leash but the old Velcro did not hold so she was forced to chase after her paddle, boat, water bottles, and bilge pump. Sadly, I saw all this while my boat remained stuck on the log. I eventually hopped out into 4 foot deep water then pulled my kayak downstream, catching up with Lisa. The moral of the story is that even class 1 whitewater can kick your butt if there are strainers.
Things remained quite calm for the next several miles. I don't believe the water ever got deep. We passed a couple of railroad bridges. One was in good shape (seventh photo) and the other was not (eighth photo). We saw 4 deer, countless groundhogs, and 2 bald eagles. The first eagle looked like it was just coming into maturity. It was a little small and its white head still had some dark patches (ninth photo). It also had the personality of an adolescent eagle...it wasn't as camera shy as the more mature eagles (tenth photo).
Most of the river was calm. We had perhaps a 1.3 mph current much of the way down. See eleventh photo
At mile 6.3, we came to our portage around the dam. This was at the huge log jam that occurs where the river bends to the left. Numerous people were fishing on the right, where we landed. We carried about 25 meters then scoped out what remained. The whitewater section just below our jam had a big log sticking out on the left at head level. I thought we might just go around it but Lisa felt the current would be too strong to avoid it. Thinking back, I'm sure she was right. I climbed across to the other side of the creek and sawed the log, thereby giving up a clear path. We ate a snack then hit the first rapid. See twelfth photo. A little further, there were some shallow parts that were easier to walk the boats through rather than try to paddle. But soon, we were around the dam and back on the main part of the river.
Every few minutes, some black helicopters with white spots underneathe flew overhead, as if they were watching us. Did they not like the fact that we were paddling so close to Fort Meade? Hard to say. More likely than not, they were just doing training runs from Tipton Airport near the base.
Further downstream, in the Patuxent Research Refuge, we came to the mother of all log jams and a good bit of litter. It was just one jam after another. I was having flashbacks to my March 17, 2010 trip on the upper Pax with Norma. We got out of our boats then carried them one at a time on the right side of the river for about 1/6 of a mile past the numerous obstacles. We saw no unexploded ordnance.
Continuing downstream, we came to several bridges near the end. At the railroad bridge just 0.1 miles before the take out, there were five ways to get under the bridge. Lisa took the first (leftmost) option which was calm and easy but required a short portage (see the rightmost full-sized passage in the thirteenth photo which was taken downstream). I checked out the others. I tried for the third passage but the current took me to the fourth (the fourth full-sized passage counting from the right). I had to get to the far left to get past a strainer. But instead, I was flat up against the strainer. The bow of my boat started to get pulled under a log. I knew if I didn't respond appropriately, the rest of my boat would follow. I grabbed onto the log and just used brute force to pull the boat away then turn my kayak around and to the left of the log. There was no paddling or technique involved...just brute force. I've come out victorious from martial art sparring matches due to brute force before. It is not a good way to win (superior technique is best) but I'll take what I can get, especially considering the alternative.
When I got to the other side, I saw Lisa's boat on the shore but she was nowhere to be found. I pulled ashore and started looking for her. It turns out she got past the bridge and didn't see me so she got worried and went back to look for me. We got back on our boats and finished our trip, making a muddy exit at the Piney Orchard bridge.
Our adventure took 4.75 hours. The portages really slowed us down. We ended up paddling 11.6 miles. It was a good trip with some valuable lessons learned...respect the strainers!
After our paddle, I went for a short walk on the Wincopin Trail to check out some spotted salamander eggs. See my March 31, 2010 blog for more information.
It was a fantastic day to get outside, both on the water and on land. Too bad for all my poor co-workers who had to go into the office.
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Antietam Creek - Vernal Equinox
The forecast for March 19-21, 2010 all called for high temperatures in the low 70s. The 19th was a Friday and thus a work day. Sunday the 21st called for some clouds. Thus, I decided I ought to get in some paddling on Saturday, March 20, 2010. With such great weather, I was favoring a long trip.
Norma was spending the weekend in New York City with a friend so I figured I ought to get on some rougher water that she might not like. With the days still a little short and the places I wanted to paddle a good distance away, I was wanting to do a car shuttle rather than a bicycle shuttle. Just having another person with me would be much wiser anyway in case I hit some rough rapids. Thus, I sent out an e-mail to 18 of my fellow kayakers, inviting them to join me for a day on the water. My good friend Lisa was the only one willing to join me.
I chose a route on Antietam Creek. This was based on the scouting I did on January 29, 2010. On March 8, 2010 I paddled on Catoctin Creek because I knew this creek would be one of the first paddleable ones that I've scouted to get low. After that, Antietam Creek might be next.
We left at 0930. It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the take-out at Porterstown Bridge. Along the way, we passed Crystal Grottoes Caverns which piqued my curiosity since I have never been in a cave in Maryland and didn't know there were any so close to home.
Next, we left Lisa's car parked along the side of the road, loaded her 11 foot long Dagger whitewater kayak on my car, then drove to the launch site at Funkstown. This is the most upstream launch site on Antietam Creek I know of.
Lisa and I posed for a photo (see first photo), donned our wetsuits, then launched at 1130. I did a very unimpressive seal launch in her Prijon Catalina. In addition to cold water gear, we also wore helmets. I didn't know if we would actually need them but after looking at photos from Antietam Creek - deepcaves.net, I figured it would be the safe thing to do. Additionally, I was expecting rougher water than I had encountered previously. This trip is described in Edward Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails. It is a part of his "Funkstown (Oak Ridge Road) to Antietam (Harpers Ferry Road)" trip. We launched at the spot he mentions but would take out a few miles before. He uses the international whitewater rating scale that runs from 1 to 6. As far as I know, I think I have only paddled on class 1 rapids. He claims that our route has some that is rougher than class 1, easier than class 2, but closer to class 2 than class 1. He gives it a "2-" rating which is his own modification of the whitewater standard. For class 2, he says it
means medium difficulty where rapids
are more frequent, composed of waves less than 2 feet high and in
regular patterns with easy eddies. There are more rocks and
obstructions, but maneuvering is still easy and rescue spots are still
Of course this didn't describe the whole route. Most of it would be easy. But still, we needed to plan for the toughest part. Hence, helmets were appropriate.
I also got input from Vince. He said
There is a weir in Antietam Battlefield that is maybe a 2' drop, but it's runnable. Best on left or middle.
Lots of riffles and Class I stuff on this, some rocks and trees to go around, but nothing crazy for most of it. But it's generally shallow, and will be scrapy in a lot of spots if the water level is not above normal.
Just before getting to the Potomac, there is a long stretch of rapids that I called Class II the first time I ran them, Class I last time. I think the water flow was less the second time, even though the level was about the same. I was getting water in the boat the first time. Good turning skills essential here!
This is a good intro to whitewater for novices - most all the rapids have a shallow runout below them, so if anything catastrophic does happen, you can stand up in 2' of water.
Another info source I found later was Canoeing the Antietam Creek.
According to USGS Real-Time Water Data for Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, the water was 3.90 feet high with 749 cubic feet per second of discharge. Gertler says we should have at least 165 cubic feet per second of discharge and 2.6 feet depth near Keedsyville. While I didn't see any monitoring station reports for Keedysville, Sharpsburg was quite close.
It was great being on the water on such a lovely day. Lisa reminded me that it is the first day of spring, which I overlooked. According to Infoplease.com, the sun crossed directly over the Earth's equator at 1332 of this day. This moment is known as the vernal equinox of the Northern Hemisphere and marks the end of winter. Good-bye winter!
We saw a deer swimming across the creek. It crossed to the west bank then ran off.
Around mile 2.1, we came to some heavy rapids at Poffenberger Road. See second photo. But we knew what to expect since I read Gertler's book. We pulled to the side (third photo) and checked things out on foot. Climbing on higher ground, we saw some of the rocks just below the surface. After making a plan, we gave it a go. Lisa went first in her whitewater boat. If she capsized, I would choose a different route. She succeeded with flying colors. I followed. I made it down the big drop-off just fine but got both my boat and paddle stuck at a log jam under the bridge. I was only there for about a second or two but it was a very intense moment as I stood still and the water rushed past. I did what I could to keep my balance while freeing my paddle and pushing off. As my boat turned sideways, I was unstuck. I floated downstream and caught up with Lisa who kept an eye on me. Those rapids were short but intense. I think I got few gray hairs from that experience. Fortunately, that would be the roughest part of the trip for me.
A little later, we drained the water from our boats. We were not wearing spray skirts. Based on the fact that most of the creek was only 60 feet wide and rarely deeper than 4 feet, I didn't think it was necessary. The place we pulled over turned out to be a little place on the side of Wagaman Road where one could park and launch. It was a good place to avoid the Poffenberger Rapids or paddle up to them to play in a whitewater boat.
I saw 2 groundhogs and about 5 more deer running on the side of a hill. A few unidentified mammals were seen. They could have been something as exotic as a weasel or as common as a housecat. Too hard to tell. We saw no wasp nests like I did on the Antietam.
Just 2 tenths of a mile downstream from the Wagaman Road launch site, we came to Rose's Mill Bridge. Another set of rapids lie in wait for us here. In my opinion, these rapids were easier but more spread out than the ones at Poffenberger Road. We went ashore to scout things before proceeding. See fourth photo.
According to a sign on Rose's Mill bridge,
This handsome three-arch bridge over Antietam Creek was constructed by John Weaver in 1839 and was specially adapted to the grain mill which was built at the same time. The westernmost of its three arches was designed to accommodate the millrace flue, and the floor of the bridge at its southwest corner was widened to permit loading and unloading of wagons directly under the second-floor level mill door. The arch spans are 23', 26', and 23' with a total bridge length of 123'.
See fifth photo.
Stone remnants of the mill were still intact. See sixth photo.
Just downstream of the bridge on the east side was what appeared to be a cave. On closer investigation, it was clearly man-made. Some water was in there and if the creek was very high, quite a bit of water might get in. The space was tubular, about 8 feet in diameter, and went back about 10 feet. Not sure why it was created. See seventh photo.
Looking down from the bridge, we saw a log laying parallel to the bridge. It was about 16 feet long and lied just under the surface. Clearly, it was something to avoid. Some canoeists came by and said hello. We talked shop and they told us what to expect downstream.
After getting back into our boats, Lisa ventured through the rapids first. Her boat got turned sideways but she managed to avoid obstacles while keeping an eye where she was heading. Once again, she did fine. I went next, hitting the log that I so desperately wanted to avoid. It all happened very quickly and it seemed my boat just went where the current took it. I think if I had done some backpaddling, that might have bought me more time to change directions and avoid it. Regardless, my boat just hopped over it and continued.
A little later, Lisa and I swapped boats. The first kayak I ever tried (perhaps in the 1980s) was a whitewater boat that my Uncle Don had me paddle. I didn't like it because I couldn't get it to go straight. In Lisa's Dagger, I was having the same problem. Whitewater boats are made to turn on a time. They aren't made to track. In her boat, I tended to go to the right. Not sure why. I had to change my technique radically if I wanted to make it downstream. The first change was to stop paddling like I have a wing paddle. For one thing, I was using a Euro paddle, not a wing paddle. But since I usually use a wing, that is the way I have modified my stroke. But in a whitewater boat, that is bad if I want to go straight because the lateral movement of a wing paddle stroke amplifies any tendency to turn. Secondly, I had to lay off the power strokes. Light, short strokes seems to work best. It may not get me going fast but if I want to maintain my strength over the long run, that is what I need to do. We had a pretty good current taking us downstream anyway.
After some more rapids (easier ones) I learned the strengths of the whitewater boat. I had no problem keeping it pointed where I wanted to go in the rapids. At one point, Lisa got stuck on a rock. I turned my kayak around and paddled upstream to her. I could not have paddled the Prijon so easily going upstream but the Dagger did so just fine. When going upstream, the long boats just seem to catch the slightest lateral force then get all turned in the wrong direction. But the short whitewater boat allowed me to be in control when I paddled upstream. It was an interesting experience. Perhaps I will someday seriously get into whitewater paddling.
Around mile 10 we came to Devils Backbone Park. There were lots of people out enjoying the beautiful spring day. Many were fishing. The water got very deep. I don't know how deep but I couldn't touch bottom with my paddle. We went ashore on the left side. We didn't see a good place to launch or land so we did the best we could. But further downstream was a better place, also on the left, about 20 feet before the 6 foot dam.
Lisa and I ate lunch. Then we walked across the foot bridge to use the restrooms on the other side of the creek. Unfortunately, they were closed. We checked out the river from the Lappans Road (route 68) bridge. We didn't see anything that looked too challenging immediately ahead.
We spoke to Greg at Antietam Creek Canoe Outfitters. He was very friendly. We told him what we encountered so far and he told us what to watch out for ahead. His rule of thumb is that log jams will tend to occur on the outboard side of a bend in the creek, so stay to the inboard side. This isn't always the case but it is more often than not.
I found some stone steps just below the dam on the left (portage) side that led up a hill. A trail perhaps?
I got pretty cold over the last few miles so I donned my splash jacket and splash pants. They gave me just enough warmth over my wetsuit. Lisa was fine with just her wetsuit.
We launched just below the dam, catching some riffles. After swapping boats again, I was back in the Prijon with Lisa in her Dagger.
The river got wider below the dam.
I was surprised that we didn't see any other kayakers. I know we saw a few on cars during the drive up.
If I had to compare Antietam with Catoctin, I would say Antietam is deeper and more challenging in terms of whitewater. But both are quite scenic and fun.
We came to a fairly big drop off (about 4 feet of decline in about 12 feet of horizontal distance). It wasn't difficult but it did take Lisa and I by surprise. I actually thought that was the funnest part of the trip. It reminded me of an amusement park water log ride.
There were several geese and ducks on the creek. A few herons too. I told Lisa how ducks are better at getting high up into the air from the water than many other birds which appear to run on the water before they get enough altitude. We saw many wood duck boxes.
As we neared Antietam National Park, the sun got low. It was shining into our eyes which was a nuisance. At least my helmet had a visor.
About 1.3 miles after the Keedysville Road bridge and 0.9 miles before the Porterstown Bridge, we saw a beautiful waterfall called Antietam Falls. At first I thought it was a drainage pipe because there was so much water flowing out but as I passed it I realized just how pretty it was. I think I would like to return to this spot to get more photos of it. See eighth photo.
At 1815, we arrived at our take-out, sneaking up on some fishermen. We kayaked 18.3 miles!
We pulled the boats ashore, drained them out, changed clothes, loaded gear, loaded the boats, and were off. Back at my car, I took the Prijon and my gear and we said our farewells.
This is one of the best kayaking trips I've done in a long time. The weather, the route, and the company were all fantastic. I got to do a few things I hadn't done in a long time (paddle a whitewater boat), and do some things for the first time (class 2 rapids). I did some exploring and found a new launch site. It was a full day of fun.
The next day I worked for 11 hours on my townhouse. But it wasn't bad. I got my weekend's worth of fun on Saturday so I had no problem doing a long day of chores on Sunday. It's like the band Autograph says
I'm working hard, you're working too
We do it every day
For every minute I have to work
I need a minute of play.
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Patuxent River - Laurel
On March 13-14, 2010, we received quite a bit of rain. The rivers were already high with all the snowmelt and the extra precipitation pushed things even higher. It was a good opportunity to get out and paddle in creeks that would otherwise be too low. Hence, on March 17, 2010, Norma and I took the day off from work to go kayaking.
It was sunny with a high temperature of about 64 degrees. Quite comfortable but since the water was still hypothermia cold, we wore wetsuits. Additionally, I brought quite a bit of extra warm clothes in case we were out late.
We took Norma's car to Route 3. Then we drove in my car to Brock Bridge. Not much room to park on the side of the road but it would suffice. At 1230, we launched my tandem Ocean Kayak Cabo on the most upstream section of the Patuxent River (Pax) I had yet to explore.
The river was narrow and surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, it was far from pristine. There was a significant amount of trash, mostly in the form of plastic bottles. See first photo. I participate in quite a few river cleanups but I don't believe this area gets cleaned.
The water was moving at about 2 mph. As long as we didn't encounter too many obstacles, we would complete our 12.4 mile journey fairly quickly. Unfortunately, we found several downed trees (second photo). It seemed like as soon as we negotiated one obstacle, another one was within view. We got out and pushed the boat over logs. Some were above water so we ducked under them. Many were comprised of smaller branches that I could cut with my loppers or saw. We simply pushed our way through others (third photo). It was a good thing we were paddling a sit-on-top which was easy to get in and out of easily.
It was obvious that few people had paddled this part of the Pax in recent years. Too bad since it could make for a nice, scenic trip if a group were willing to clear obstacles. Also, by clearing the obstacles, much of the trash could float downstream where volunteers like myself could collect it from a more accessible location. But making this paddleable would require a significant amount of work. It would definitely require a chainsaw. I could easily picture myself helping make this into a water trail once I retire or after paddling season. But it would be hard work.
It took us 50 minutes to get 0.8 miles downstream. Then we came to a big obstacle that would require a portage. We pulled the boat ashore and explored on foot before continuing. It was obvious that after this obstacle would be several more. At this rate, we would be paddling well into the dark of night. Thus, I decided that we should turn back. I've never had to abort a kayak trip before due to obstacles but based on how slowly we were progressing, it was clearly the right thing to do.
But before we headed back, we walked around a bit and ate a snack. We hadn't yet come to the Baltimore Washington Parkway (highway 295) so we were still in Maryland City Park grounds and free to explore. We saw several animal tracks. Many were from raccoons. A few were deer prints, perhaps even one with funny looking toes? See fourth photo. I believe we found some otter slides. See fifth photo. At a different location, I caught a glimpse of an otter entering the water. I am quite sure it was an otter as it was dark, had shiny wet fur, and looked to be as big as a beaver but without a beaver tail. I have seen few otter in my life so this was a treat. Unfortunately, Norma didn't see it.
The return trip was also slow because we had to fight the current. We finished 2 hours and 20 minutes after we started (though much of this time was spent on land). Norma and I only paddled 1.5 miles.
This trip is described in Edward Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails. What I attempted to do was a shorter version of his "Laurel (9th Street) to Md. Rte. 3" trip. He describes this route as having "Numerous fallen trees." He also says it takes 10 hours to complete this 16.7 mile journey. At the rate I was going, it would have taken even longer though perhaps things cleared up a bit later.
One big concern of mine that made me decide to abort the mission is that a significant part of the journey is through the Patuxent Research Refuge, North Tract. According to Running Around Town,
Fair warning is given to stay on designated trails. It may be possible that unexploded shells could be found.
Additionally, for Gertler's "Savage (Foundry Street) to Md. Rte. 3" trip on the Little Patuxent River, he writes the following about the Patuxent Research Refuge:
...formerly part of the army base and, though I have never seen any warnings to this effect, I recommend sticking to the water through here because of the remote possibility of old (possibly live) ordnance in the woods.
The section of the Little Pax that runs through this area is just north of the part we would venture but still part of the north tract of the refuge. I'm not sure why Gertler didn't mention this warning for the "Laurel (9th Street) to Md. Rte. 3" trip. Perhaps he has talked to refuge staff and has a better idea of where the ordnance lies. While I would have felt fine in the water passing through the refuge, I don't think I would have wanted to spend too much time on land (i.e. portaging around obstacles).
Upon retrieving Norma's car at route 3, I noticed that the upstream view was narrow with fallen trees but the downstream section was wide and clear. See sixth photo. Of course this doesn't necessarily mean anything beyond my field of view.
This uppermost section of the Pax in Laurel was a disappointment but at least it satisfied my curiosity.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Back on January 29, 2010, I did some serious launch site scouting. During that time, I found a great place to launch on Catoctin Creek. A couple of weeks later, we received record snowfall. Driving was hazardous and paddling was out of the question. Hence, when the forecast called for sunny weather with a high near 55 on March 8, 2010, I knew it was time to get out on the water.
Even though it was a Monday, I found someone to join me. My good friend Susan Justice drove about 2 hours to meet me in Ellicott City. From there, we drove another hour to get to the take out at Lock 29 on the Potomac River.
As she loaded her gear into my car, I checked our her homemade aluminum roof rack which holds 4 long boats. See first photo. I was a bit jealous. But while my homemade aluminum roof rack only holds 2 boats, it also works well at carrying 4 foot wide by 8 foot long plywood and drywall. I don't think Susan's rack could do this though the inside of her van might be big enough to suffice.
We drove my car to the launch site at Burkittsville Road. Along the way, we drove through pastoral farmlands. This would be a nice place to return for some scenic bicycling.
I parked along the east side of the road, just south of the bridge over the creek. There was plenty of room for several vehicles. We unloaded the boats and gear then I changed into my wetsuit, splash pants, and splash jacket under the bridge.
By 1130, we were off. Susan paddled a 12'9" long plastic boat (see second photo) and I used Lisa's longer and narrower Prijon Catalina (see third photo).
At the monitoring station near the launch area, we went over a small dam. I'm not a whitewater paddler so even small whitewater gives me a bit of a rush. It was a good start.
The rest of the trip was a series of sections of flat water, riffles, and some easy whitewater. With the heavy winds and snow we received in weeks prior, I expected several downed trees and was prepared for such obstacles. I brought my loppers and two saws but never needed them. In fact, we never even had to portage.
We saw several wasp nests in the trees.
USGS Real-Time Water Data for Catoctin Creek near Middletown, Maryland, the height of the water at 0600 was 2.22 feet and the discharge was 113 cubic feet per second. Looking at data since 1948, it is obvious that March is the best time to paddle the Catoctin. The average number of cubic feet per second in March is 153. There were a few places where we scraped bottom and we managed to hit several rocks but still it wasn't too bad. But I do think a little more water would have been better. This is definitely NOT the place for a fiberglass, kevlar, or carbon fiber boat.
I didn't wear a spray skirt but I did bring it just in case. The creek was generally 30-40 feet wide. I checked the depth with my paddle and I never found a section that was deeper than my height.
It seemed strange to paddle with snow still on the ground (see fourth photo). Clearly, spring was on the way. Our winter was harsh and it was ending abruptly. Yay!
After about 9 miles, we pulled over to the left under some power lines. We then climbed a small hill where we had a nice view of the creek and a big farm on the other side. The two of us ate lunch. There was a 9 mph wind from the northwest but we never felt it on the creek or at our lunch spot. Before launching, I used my Gorillapod camera tripod to take a photo. See fifth photo. I think that might have only been the second time I've used it.
We saw about 7 deer and 2 muskrats.
The current carried us at a good pace. I reckon we maintained a moving average of about 4.8 mph without too much effort.
As we neared the end of our journey, we kayaked under an aqueduct and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath. I remembered that we had been there before on July 4, 2007 while paddling the Potomac. Back then, we didn't even make it a half mile up from the mouth because the water was so low. But today, we paddled 15 miles on the creek!
Continuing down the Potomac, Susan and I soon came to our takeout. We completed 15.9 miles at 1500...and neither of us capsized all day!
A few minutes later, a park ranger came to ensure we had our personal floatation devices (PFDs). Of course we did.
A few of those rapids were big enough to get quite a bit of water in the boat. I drained 3 inches of water from the cockpit of my boat. Maybe I should have worn a spray skirt.
After retrieving my car, we headed back to my neck of the woods where we joined Norma and her mother for dinner at the Rams Head Tavern in Savage Mill.
I was really glad to get out on the water on such a nice day and even happier to have someone join me. It is a fantastic route. Very pristine and scenic. There are no formal launch sites and absolutely no way a power boat could make it up more than a half mile from the Potomac. The whole time on the water we only saw two small children on the shore and a few vehicles further back. The rest of the time it was mostly trees, rocks, and farms with an occassional road or bridge. The water was clean and the air was fresh.
Spring may not be for another 12 days but in my mind, it has already begun.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Conococheague, Antietem, and Catoctin Creeks
Having gotten in my hours at work for the month, I decided to take Friday, January 29, 2010 off. The temperature was in the high teens and mid-20s. Much too cold for kayaking but just fine for scouting.
On June 6, 2009, I paddled on Conococheague Creek. This was an excellent trip, well worth repeating. But I wanted to see more of it. Hence, I packed up my maps and Edward Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails book, then set out to find launch sites upstream of my then most northernmost launch on the creek, Route 494.
I've found some good places to paddle and launch using Gertler's books. Some launch sites are ones that I don't think anyone else knows about. But some are sketchy at best. What makes a place a good launch site? Three things.
First, it needs to be public property or a place I can get permission to launch (e.g. a marina). I need a trespassing violation like I need the swine flu. I think I have read somewhere (I forget where) that so many feet around public bridges is public property. But I'm not so sure about that or if property owners know that either.
Secondly, I need to be able to get my boat down to the water. This sounds like it should be easy near a bridge but to carry an 18 foot long 45 pound boat down a steep, unstable hill through thick tick-infested brush then through deep mud to the water is far from easy. Of course most places are somewhere between this and an easy paved road but it is still something to consider.
Lastly, I need a place to park where I can be assured my car will be present and probably undamaged when I return. Many roads just don't have shoulders and others have them but far from the actual launch. I can always use my wheeled kayak cart to haul my boat further than I'd like to carry but if possible, I'd like to avoid this...especially when the roads are narrow and traffic zips by quickly.
Not only was I searching for launch sites but I was also testing out my new Christmas present, a Magellan RoadMate 1440 global positioning system (GPS). It seems to do pretty good if I have the address of a place I want to go but if I want to go to a particular bridge that isn't in a city, the device can be difficult. Still, it can get me close and tell me what street I'm on or coming to which is much better than not having a GPS.
I drove to the bridge over the west branch of the Conococheague on Bino Road (SR3004) in Greencastle, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Here I saw that the creek was deep and flowing nicely (see first photo). There was barely enough room for one car on each side of the bridge (northeast and southwest sides). On the southwest side, it looks like there are remnants of a trail that start about 70 meters west of the river near some roadkill. Is this private property? I don't know. Another option is to ask the folks at 4926 Bino Road if you can launch at the end of their road. It looks like a private road with little or no room for parking but getting down to the water from the end of this road shouldn't be difficult. This launch site is a maybe.
Next, I checked out Worleytown Road (SR3005) in Greencastle, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. I would like to buy an ADC map of this county but I could find none on their website. This location has a bridge that passes over the east (main) branch of the Conococheague. It is maybe half a mile from the Bino Road bridge. The only place I found where one could park nearby and carry a boat down to the water was definitely private property. It was the entrance to a dirt road leading to a field. No good.
Cool Hollow Road
The third place I considered was the bridge on Cool Hollow Road (T334) just south of Burkett Road in Greencastle, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. It passes over the west branch of the Conococheague. This is about 2.25 miles (driving distance) from the bridge at Bino Road. It has the best parking which is just one vehicle on each side of the road. Launching would not be difficult on the southeast side. Some of the areas here are definitely private property. For the other parts, I can't tell. This launch site is a maybe.
Welsh Run Road
The last place I checked for launching on the Conococheague was the bridge at Welsh Run Road between Bradley Road on the north and Dumeny Road on the south. It passes over the west branch of the Conococheague. Here I found no parking within reasonable distance from the bridge. No good.
After having poor results with Conococheague Creek, I set out to explore Antietam Creek. Here my luck changed.
The Funkstown launch site is a real gem. I've never paddle on the Antietam but have been wanting to ever since I've heard of other kayakers exploring it. This area is full of history and park land dedicated to preserving the memory of those who fought at the Antietam National Battlefield. Making a day out of paddling down the creek, eating at Firehouse Grill next to the launch site, and checking out the battlefield seems to me like a fine way to spend an early spring day in Washington County. There is some easy whitewater in this area. See second photo.
Devils Backbone Park
This Washington County park is as good as it gets. It has restrooms, parking, drinking water, picnic tables, and a grassy, open area (see third and fourth photos). It is even set up for those who don't have their own kayak or know how to paddle. For those who fit this category, it is Antietam Creek Canoe Outfitters to the rescue. See fifth photo. So why does Devils Backbone Park have such an intimidating name? Maybe the little dam/waterfall scared the crap out of one too many kayakers. See sixth photo. There is also some easy whitewater in this area.
At the edge of the park, I saw Booth's Mill Bridge (seventh photo), while near the outfitters, I saw a bat box (eighth photo).
My next stop was one that I just happened to find on my way to another potential launch site. I saw a small gravel parking lot on the southeast side of Porterstown Bridge at the edge of Antietam National Battlefield. Hence, I investigated. I started to drive into this lot and noticed that there was a steep drop off into a ditch. I REALLY drove slowly and heard my car scrape bottom. I continued and parked. Then I walked down a steep path to an open area under the bridge. Another launchable place...or a good rest stop for a future long trip on the Antietam. Yes, I did scrape the bottom of my car on the way out, but it is fine.
After finding several good places to launch on Antietam Creek, I looked for a take-out near the mouth of the creek on the Potomac River. I found one at Canal Road in the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park. Not just a good launch site, this might also make for a nice campground for a kayak camping trip.
Near the Canal Road launch area, some moist ground held the footprints of a bird or two that hopped by (ninth photo). A short distance south of the launch area I saw the Antietam Aqueduct, built in 1834. See tenth photo.
My luck started to run out when I set out to explore launch sites on Catoctin Creek. My first stop was Poffenberger Road. About a mile of this road closely parallels the creek so it is a great place to check out the flow of the river. The river was narrow and running smoothly though I expect it would be too shallow to paddle in the mid-spring or after. It appeared smoother than the Antietam. See eleventh photo. I don't know if the small stretch of land between the road and the creek is privately owned. If not, then I suppose one could just pull over (if there is room) and launch along any of this one mile section near the creek. I didn't investigate how feasible this would be. But I did check out the bridge over the creek which I found unsuitable due to private property signs and/or difficult river access.
My next stop on the Catoctin was the bridge at Sumantown Road. I got mixed messages at this site. I found parking for 2 vehicles, lots of no hunting signs, and a sign that read "no offroad vehicles." If they didn't want folks trespassing, then they could just have put up "no trespassing" signs...right? On the southeast side of the bridge I saw a wooden sign that said "county parkland." So it is public property. But just a short distance away, I saw a battered yellow sign that read "private property." But I only saw one "private property" sign and it looked pretty old. However, I saw several nearby trees in the area painted with blue marks. What does this mean? According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Hunting on Private Property (a source that once existed but I can now no longer find),
Blue oil-based paint can be used in the state of Maryland to indicate "No Trespassing." This is per the criminal law on trespassing § 6-402. Trespass on posted property.
(a) Prohibited.- A person may not enter or trespass on property that is posted conspicuously against trespass by:
(1) signs placed where they reasonably may be seen; or
(2) paint marks that:
(i) conform with regulations that the Department of Natural Resources adopts under § 5-209 of the Natural Resources Article; and
(ii) are made on trees or posts that are located:
1. at each road entrance to the property; and
2. adjacent to public roadways, public waterways, and other land adjoining the property."
The Department of Natural Resources says that for paint marks:
"Maryland law allows the use of blue paint stripes, as well as signs, to indicate private property boundaries. Vertical paint marks at least 2 inches in width and 8 inches in length must be centered at least 3 feet, but no more than 6 feet, from the ground or water surface. The paint must be oil-based and bright blue."
In the end, I could have simply called the Frederick County Division of Parks and Recreation at 301-600-2353 to find out if I could launch here but that of course means risking being told no.
Bennies Hill Road
Here I found parking for 2 on the east side of the bridge at Bennies Hill Road over Catoctin Creek. One can launch under the bridge on the east side. Things looked a little shallow. Did didn't see any "private property" or "no trespassing" signs but it wasn't exactly the most inviting place to launch. In other words, I wasn't totally convinced it was public property.
This was the jackpot. Here at Burkittsville Road bridge, I found a place with plenty of room to park on the side of the road and a big, wide dirt road to get to a launch area. I found no better place to launch on Catoctin Creek. Just watch out for the dam. See twelfth photo.
I saw an interesting mushroom-shaped piece of ice resting on a twig. See thirteenth photo. Not sure how it got this way.
I also saw more animal prints. I believe these belonged to racoons. See fourteenth and fifteenth photos.
Old National Pike
The Old National Pike (alternate route 40) bridge over Catoctin Creek in Middletown is probably the most upstream area that one might want to launch on Catoctin Creek. The bridge is called Catoctin Creek Bridge and it was built in 1923. I believe anything upstream of this would be too shallow and/or narrow. Unfortunately, the only place I found here that is launchable is on the northeast side of the bridge. This area is owned by
Poole & Sons Excavating
3108 Old National Pike
Middletown, MD 21769-8807
Phone: 301-371-6767, 301-473-5289
If you ask nicely, they might let you park and launch on their property though it might be easier to just launch a little downstream at Burkittsville Road.
Upstream of Old National Pike, the creek was narrow and tree-lined on one side (sixteenth photo). Downstream, it was wide and lined by farmlands (seventeenth photo).
Where does one take out after paddling on Catoctin Creek? Why at Lock 29 on the Potomac River, where else? Boat ramp, restroom, and parking available.
Overall, I would say my day of exploration was a success, but just mildly so. Had I found a good launch site on the Conococheague in Pennsylvania, it would have been a superfantastic day. But I'll take what I can get. That's the thing about research. Maybe the results are what you want and maybe they aren't. But after investigating the options, you learn what works and what doesn't. Knowing what doesn't work is knowledge in itself and that is what we seek as researchers and explorers...knowledge.
After having completed all this scouting, I am really looking forward to paddling on some of these small elusive creeks. Timing is of the utmost importance as the Antietam and Catoctin need to be paddled when the water is still high. Hopefully by late March I'll have taken my boat (and maybe an adventurous friend) on at least one of them.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.