Friday, September 5, 2014

Rafting the Hudson Gorge: 09/02/2014

Hudson Gorge, 09/02/2014.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Ever since our hike in – raft out trip to OK Slip Falls earlier this summer with Square Eddy Expeditions, we’ve wanted to return to the Hudson Gorge. Of course we wanted to see the parts of the gorge that we missed, but there’s also something compelling about the gorge that draws you back. Part of that draw is the natural beauty, the alternating stretches of calm water and rapids hemmed in by steep, wooded slopes. And part of the draw is the adventure of the paddling itself, with a new challenge around each bend of the river.

Rafting the Hudson Gorge, 09/02/2014.  Photo credit: Melody Thomas

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

With our trip from late June under our belts, we felt like regular river rats gearing up with helmets, pfd’s, paddles and booties at Square Eddy’s headquarters in North Creek. After a thorough safety orientation by Linc Marsac and Lori Benton, Square Eddy’s owners, we loaded into their re-purposed school bus for the 20 minute drive to the put-in in Indian Lake. There, dam releases from Lake Abanakee generate a “bubble” of water that rafters ride for the 17-mile trip down the Indian and Hudson Rivers to the take-out in North River.

Class III whitewater on the Indian River. Photo credit Melody Thomas

The whitewater fun began almost immediately after we launched our raft. The first three miles of the trip are on the Indian River with nearly continuous class II and III rapids all the way to its confluence with the Hudson. Class III rapids are considered “intermediate” by American Whitewater, but I found them plenty sporty, even intimidating at times. The photos by Square Eddy’s photographer, Melody Thomas, were taken part way down the Indian.

Daniel and Lori, our guide, on a mild stretch

On the day of our trip, the river was running at just about 3 feet, a level that is considered to be a good flow in summer. The dam release brought the river up to about 4 feet. You can see the effect of the “bubble” by checking the river gauge here. By comparison, the river level when we did our hike in –raft out trip in late June was around four and a half feet. I couldn’t distinguish a difference between the two trips – it was all fun to me.

Some mild whitewater somewhere above the Blue Ledges

Elephant Rock coming into view

We caught a break in the excitement once we reached the Hudson. A nice stretch of calm water allowed me to pull my camera out of the dry bag and snap a few photos. But before long we reached the next set of rapids. This was a pattern that repeated itself over and over for the entire day: rapids, followed by quiet water, followed by more rapids.

Elephant Rock. Biggest kid jumps first.

In the middle of the second calm section, between the Cedar Ledges and Blue Ledges Rapids, Elephant Rock - a gigantic boulder that we scrambled up to jump into the river - rises 8 or 10 feet out of the water. Just beyond, where a small stream flows into the Hudson, we pulled up on the north shore of the river for a lunch break. The setting was absolutely beautiful. A small waterfall, Virgin Falls, flowed behind us while the Hudson flowed in front. A couple of kayakers floated by, the only other boaters we saw once we left the put-in.

Lunch stop

Virgin Falls

After lunch came more Class III rapids, including The Narrows, Osprey Nest Rapids, Mile Long Rapids, Giveny’s Rift, Gunsight-In and Gunsight-Out, and the Bus Stop. It was a blast. Along the way we passed by OK Slip Brook, where we had put in on our hike in – raft out trip. If I have any regrets about the trip, it’s that I had to keep my camera stowed away after lunch. There’s no way my camera would have survived the big water, but at least we have the photos taken by the trip photographer on the Indian to capture some of the excitement of the whitewater.

Beth enjoying a stretch of easy rapids

Not long after lunch, we got a little more excitement than we had bargained for. Besides Beth, Daniel, Lori (guiding) and me, we had 4 of Lori’s relatives in our boat, including 3 kids all slightly younger than Daniel. As we entered The Narrows, one of the biggest rapids of the day, the youngest kid popped out of the raft. It’s not uncommon to end up with a “swimmer,” but we were caught off guard. Except for Lori, who somehow grabbed young Matt by the ankle and hauled him back into the raft. Matt’s swim lasted only three or four seconds, but without Lori controlling the raft we spun around and bounced off some rocks before Lori got us back under control. Kudos to Lori for showing us the stuff a guide’s made of, and to Matt who was (understandably) shaken up at first but recovered quickly. Now he’s got a great story to tell about being one of the youngest-ever rafters to swim The Narrows!

Quiet water on the way to the take-out

Eventually the railroad bridge at the confluence of the Boreas and the Hudson came into view, signaling the end to most of the whitewater. We floated the remaining 3 miles to the take-out in North River under blue skies and puffy clouds.

If you go: Warm water makes late summer a great time to raft the Hudson Gorge. Soon, the leaves will be changing, adding color to the already spectacular scenery. Dam releases continue through Columbus Day weekend, after which the commercial rafting operations close shop until early April.

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