Thoroughly enjoyed this website and the stories told on it. Although my experience with the Upper Yough didn’t come until the early 80’s, I was fortunate in having John Sweet and Dave Demaree as my guides. With their knowledgeable leadership, I had a pretty good idea of what was coming around each bend and boulder, resulting in one of my most memorable and enjoyable river trips. Although I had heard some of the stories then, it’s great to hear the balance of the history.
One minor correction: If you listen to John Sweet’s video interview about Bill Heinzerling’s rapid-naming run, you’ll note John mentions that Heinzerling was “another C-1” running the river when Bill pitoned in Gap Falls and broke his outfitting. As a C-1 paddler, the critical outfitting that would have broken out by pitoning would almost certainly NOT have been “foot braces” as mentioned in the story text, but probably his knee and thigh outfitting (e.g. knee cups, thigh straps, and/or bulkhead). In C-1 foot braces or “toe blocks,” if used at all, would be behind the paddler and unlikely to be damaged in a piton incident.
Chris, I really enjoyed seeing your high water footage of the Upper Yough. And I enjoyed the commentary by Roger, Jesse, John & Jeff, all of them great paddlers!
Jesse, when I heard your comment about doing a “boof” that wasn’t really a boof, and you getting caught in a really nasty hole, I had a flashback. Although my run in 1973 was at 4.5 feet, and your run was considerably higher, this sure sounds like the same hole I was caught in, on the river right, about 30 feet downstream of Tommy’s hole. I remember the awful feeling of being stuck in that hole, wondering if I was ever going to get out.
And at 4.5 feet, the hole on river left (formed by the ledge known as Little Niagra), is much larger and more vicious than about anything people can imagine. When Isbister was caught in the hole (in a 13 foot fiberglass kayak), I could only see him from about the shoulders up. The backwash had to be 7 feet tall, if not more, and extremely powerful.
If anyone, even a very strong boater, is thinking of running the Upper at these high levels, I would advise against it. As I was swimming down below Tommy’s Hole at 4.5 feet, I remember swimming for all I was worth to get to the river right side, convinced that I would die that day, if I hadn’t made it into shore before the next rapid. And then standing knee deep in the fast rushing waters by shore, holding onto a branch, watching Dan Isbister, with his kayak popping up and down violently on its vertical axis, reaching his paddle into the foam pile, in a desperate attempt to get out of the hydraulic! Lucky for him, Isbister’s sprayskirt popped taking his boat deep, and surfacing in the raging waters below the hydraulic. I will never forget it.
If after all of this, you still want to test your luck, please talk to others who have done it. There is a sneak route past the holes below Tommy’s Hole, if you know about it ahead of time. However, when I walked out, I saw two places, Heinzerling and Powerful Popper, where it looked like hell on earth with no sneak.
More than 40 years later, I still think back to the unbelievable power of the Upper Yough at high water. And now Chris, your video’s are bringing it all back to me!
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