Had a good paddling trip this weekend out to West Virginia. I headed out with Zach, Kev, Big Drop, and The Orange Crush. I didn't make up the nicknames. Crush actually introduces himself with the article, "The" Orange Crush, in case you might get him mixed up with somebody else. All of his gear is orange. The inside of the van looked like this:

So we drove out to Webster Springs and got in around 1am. The drive wasn't too terrible, though a little sketchy due to Crush's driving. We crashed in the bunkhouse, and rolled up around 8am and went to a little cafe to grab breakfast (mmmm... biscuits and gravy). Then we headed to the Upper Meadow with some other HCC paddlers to do a little baby creeking. The run was good, and padded out a little as the day went on. The shuttle was pretty rough though; we did some plowing with the trailer hitch on Crush's trailer. I lead a lot of the run, even though I hadn't run it before, since it was fun class III-ish boulder gardens and since I just like leading that kind of stuff.

After resetting the trailer's leaf springs, which sucked, we headed back to Webster for dinner at the cafe, and ran into some other paddlers from our group. Then we headed back to the campground/bunkhouse. We caught some local musicians jamming on a little stage, chatted with some people about levels, and crashed. I ended up pitching a tent outside since the bunkhouse was pretty hot and crowded. We caught some rain throughout the night, but not too much.

The local talent:

The next morning there was all kinds of debate at breakfast over what there was enough water to run. After an hour or so of kicking out a couple ideas and then rehashing them ad nauseum (a problem when you're rolling with a group of 20 paddlers of mixed abilities), we decided to go down to the racecourse to see what the locals had to say. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, so I spent most of the hour gritting my teeth and trying not to take anybody by the shoulders and shake them until they agreed with me. Once we conferred with the locals, it became clear that we were running the middle Cranberry.

When we arrived at the Cranberry, our hearts dropped. It looked really low. After some protracted shuttling, a group of us were standing around waiting for the shuttle vehicles to come back, and Zach, Kev, Scarecrow and I decided to start out early and break the group up a little bit, since we couldn't easily run with 15 people in the group. We started down, boat-scouting everything as we went. The run was great; full of technical rapids that I would probe, grab a setup eddy, see the line, and we'd all run down. Nothing too scary, but plenty of stuff to keep us busy. We had a bit of a worry that we had missed the take-out, but finally came upon the cars.

Since we figured the main group was going slowly, we loaded up our boats and drove to the put-in. We found Fufu walking out, and she hopped in with us to run shuttle. We started a second run, and caught up with the group maybe halfway through the run and lapped them.

Once everyone was packed up it was back to the campground for dinner and a shindig. A bluegrass band was playing, there was beer on tap, and pizza next to the beer. And fraternizing paddlers. It was fantastic. I did a bit of dancing, hung out with the Marshall Whitewater Team, and got to bed at about 2am in the midst of a healthy rain.

I awoke the next morning to another debate over what river we should run. The rain fell on saturated ground, and all of the rivers were up. After more debate and teeth-gritting, we decided to run the Back Fork of the Elk.

Though we had originally planned to split the group up, we ended up gelling together when we came to the three big drops. Armed with the idea that these were just plop-and-drops, I let Zach scout and tell me the line. He said that I had a big hole in the center, and that I wanted to go left over two boofable ledges. I lined up middle left, and as I came over the lip I saw a big hole feeding a nasty seam. I looked to the left and saw the line he had described all the way on the left bank. "This is bad," I thought, and tried to boof the hole. I got my bow up, but didn't have the speed I needed, and was typewritered into the seam. I braced right and left, and thought I had gone under, when I realized that I had been shoved through the hole and into a cave. I was upright and dry and behind the curtain. "Bad," I thought. I tried to paddle out and got flipped by the curtain; when I rolled up I was in the clear.

Just about everybody else rand the drop on the right, aside from Zach, who ran our intended hero line.

The second and third drops were both run clean (though I looked at the big one this time around, not trusting second hand beta).

The problems started on a river-wide, irregular ledge further down. Most of the group ran a long rock finger with a few inches of water running over it; Zach and I ran a hero line on the river-left over a large-ish hole.

Then the debacle started. I outlined the entire story and safety issues HERE, but the cliffs notes version is that we had a swimmer, people tried to rescue both boat and swimmer, failed at both, and then people followed the swimmer through a small ledge drop and plopped sideways into the hole themselves, on top of said swimmer. Then we had 3 people in the water, and since only two of us were still in our boats, we had a hell of a time pulling everyone out. At one point I thought I might be pulling out a body. At the end, everyone was ok, but shaken.

Then, on the last drop, Sharron flipped and caught a rock with her face and almost blacked out. She was rescued, but had her two front teeth slammed backwards to the point that she couldn't close her mouth. She had a trip to the emergency room in her future.

We finally headed home at about 4:30, and rolled into South Bend around 2:30am. It was a good trip, though it brought up some concerns about the safety consciousness of the club. Hopefully we'll be able to get on some more good water this spring.

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