Wednesday, September 3, 2008

James River at Alpine - September 2008

The beginnings of fall color in the surrounding hillsides framed the James River on a beautiful September afternoon. My previous outing near Alpine, last week, was one set of rapids downstream from this put-in spot. While the previous location provided about 1000 yards of flatwater kayaking, this spot - just upstream - provided about a mile or so of upstream kayaking before it was time to turn around and paddle back to the car.

I greeted two people fishing on the banks of the river as I slipped into the water around 1pm in the afternoon after a 30 minute drive from my southern Shenandoah Valley home. The water wasn't quite as high as I expected after 3-5 inches of rain in the area last week, thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay. But the water was a few inches higher than what I encountered before.

This part of the river is lined on one side by a steep rocky hillside, adding to the dramatic scenery. No homes or structures were visible in the section of river I paddled today, although a small road and railroad track separated the river from the cliffs.

I paddled upstream through one small riffle and continued until I encountered a set of rapids with a one foot drop. I wasn't able to paddle through this Class I rapid, but it was simple enough to hop off my 14' Heritage Sea Dart in ankle-shin deep water and portage right over the rapid to continue on upstream. The easiest way to do this in a sit-on-top kayak is to straddle the boat with your legs hanging off the sides, then just stand up. Reverse the process to sit back down. It works like a charm in shallow water.

After what I estimated to be about a mile from my launch site, I encountered another, longer, set of rapids. I wasn't sure if I could paddle through this set, and it would've been a long portage otherwise, so I turned around and paddled back to the launch site, taking advantage of the shade provided by large trees lining the riverbank. Erosion has exposed their complex and intricate root systems.

With but a single small portage, this section of the James River provides a long and interesting paddle for the flatwater kayaker in western Virginia. A bonus was relatively deep water for most of the length of this section of river, minimizing paddle strikes on submerged rocks.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

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