Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall on the water in Western Virginia - October 2008

October is a beautiful month in the mountains of Virginia. Summer gives way to autumn, humidity levels drop, and the leaves begin to display their kaleidoscope of colors, drawing you outdoors to appreciate the season. Nights are cool, while afternoons are comfortably warm.

This past Tuesday likely marked my last day on the water for the '08 paddling season, with water temperatures now falling into the upper 40s region wide. Winds were brisk on Tuesday, and I was able to use my sail on Mill Creek Lake during a mid-afternoon cruise.

What follows are some pictures from my last three cruises, this week and last week. Click on the links below each set of pictures to read more about those locations. Deep blue skies and golds and reds in the trees closed out a fine season on the water.

James River near Snowden

Lake Robertson

Mill Creek Lake

I look forward to resuming my exploration of lakes, rivers, and creeks in the area next spring. Feel free to get in touch with me with any questions or comments, or if you'd like to get together and go paddling anytime.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maury River at Buena Vista - October 2008

I visited Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista, Virginia today to checkout the flatwater available on the Maury River which borders the park. Glen Maury Park is a large recreational park in this small town, with ball fields, tennis courts, and camping. Access to the Maury River is readily available here, and it's a popular put-in spot for tubers and other people going downstream toward Glasgow.

The amount of flatwater available for paddling in this spot in very limited, especially with water levels as low as they were today. It's less than 1/4 of a mile between the first upstream rapid and the first downstream rapid. The downstream rapid drops the river 2-3 feet, and I did not venture through this rapid to continue down the river.

Paddling upstream past the park, one encounters a long Class I rapid after one a few minutes (see first picture). It's possible to power through this rapid and continue upstream, but only when water levels are higher. I was able to pick my way upstream about a third of the way before I had to turn around.

The amount of flatwater available on this stretch of the Maury - at least with low water levels - is extremely limited. It's a somewhat urban location, with Glen Maury Park on one side of the river, and a couple of manufacturing plants and the town of Buena Vista on the other.

Coming off the river, I noticed a Virginia Department of Heath sign warning people of the possibility of PCBs in the river at this point and continuing downstream to the confluence of the James River in Glasgow. Nice. I did notice a discharge pipe releasing brown milky water not too far upstream of this sign.

Due to the possibilty of PCB contamination, I do not intend to visit this location again, and I do not recommend the Maury River in Glen Maury Park (and points immediately downstream) for any paddler. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

James River at Eagle Rock - October 2008

Primitive access to the James River is available beneath the Route 220 overpass near Eagle Rock, Virginia. I arrived this afternoon to paddle the flatwater available on this section of the river with my 17' Heritage Expedition. I don't usually bring the big boat with me when I paddle on the James, but it worked out nicely today. For its size, it's highly maneuverable and very fast.

A rough gravel path leads down to the river here, and four-wheel drive is a requirement if you wish to drive down to the water's edge, being careful to not get stuck or bogged down on wet parts on the trail. The access road is very steep and rocky. Parking is available at the top of the access road for numerous vehicles.

The put-in spot is at the confluence of Craig's Creek and the James River, and you can choose to paddle upstream or downstream on the James from this spot.

It's about half a mile downstream to the next set of rapids, and the flatwater here is wide and deep. Water clarity is exceptional, with a view of the rocky river bottom at almost any point on the river. Lots of freshwater clams and crayfish are visible, as well as the occasional small fish. Route 220, a popular truck route, borders one side of the river, providing the paddler with a constant crescendo of diesel clatter and engine brakes. It is otherwise a peaceful and pretty location. Folded and faulted Ordovician and Silurian clastic sedimentary rocks are exposed along a roadcut where the James and Route 220 cut through a ridge.

I usually paddle upstream through the first set of rapids, too, and one will find another half mile or so of flatwater in that direction. However, water levels were low enough to prevent me from going farther upstream today - a first for me.

The Eagle Rock boat access is a popular put-in spot for James River trippers heading downstream, but it's also a nice spot for the flatwater paddler looking for an afternoon paddle.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

James River at Springwood - October 2008

Temperatures in the 60's, a light breeze suitable for sailing, and beautiful fall color lured me to the James River today to check out the flatwater available for paddlers at the Springwood boat access near Buchanan, Virginia.

Access to the river is located beneath the Route 630 overpass. Parking is available for a number of vehicles, and a nice gravel path leads down the river bank to the water. I used to my fat kayak wheels to roll my boat down the path. Put-in is available just upstream of a small rapid in very shallow water. Plan on getting your feet wet here. As is typically the case on my weekday paddles, I the river to myself this afternoon for an hour's paddle.

A series of three Class I rapids drop the river a foot or two in this location, and I was pleased to find about a mile and a half of good, deep flatwater upstream of the first rapid. Boat access is provided just above the third and final rapid. However, even with low water levels, I found it fairly easy to power upstream through the first two rapids to access the flatwater section of the river.

As I paddled up the river, I noticed a nice breeze coming from my rear, so I took the opportunity to use my Spirit Sail and test a new platform mount. In this case, I used some superglue and velcro to mount the mast platform, and with the help of a couple of bungees, found the platform to be stable and hold the sail as the boat skimmed across the least until a strong gust broke the superglue bond. So it's back to the drawing board; I may just have to bite the bullet and hard-mount the platform to the hull of this boat.

The river is wide and deep in this location, and there is enough flatwater for a lengthy cruise or good workout. There seems to be little activity on this section of the river, resulting in lots of peace and solitude. I noticed a number of hawks soaring on the thermals above as they migrate southward. A train track follows the river on one side, but it's hidden for the most part, and only one train went by me on its way downriver during my cruise.

Depending on how fast you paddle and the speed of your boat, it may take 30 minutes of paddling upstream to reach the next set of rapids. This is a long Class I set of riffles and waves, and it would require a lengthy portage to go through.

I'd recommend this stretch of the James River for anyone looking for an hour's paddle on flatwater. Easy boat access and a location only a few miles off I-81 are a bonus.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

James River at Glen Wilton - October 2008

A narrow dirt track beneath the Route 622 bridge near Glen Wilton, Virginia provides primitive carry-down access to the James River. This section of river offers about 1/2 mile of flatwater for the paddler between two Class I rapids.

I arrived on a Monday afternoon after a 35 minute drive from my southern Shenandoah Valley home for a short 30 minute paddle on this section. Access to the water is down a relatively steep, but short, bank; it was easy enough to slide my boat down the hill and into the water.

This is a nice stretch of water for a local paddler, but it's a bit short for anyone else, and the location is probably used mostly as a put-in or take-out spot for James River trippers.

This particular stretch of the river is straight as an arrow and bisected by the Route 622 bridge. But the water is deep enough to accommodate my 14' Heritage, which I used today on the river. Scenery is rather sparse on this section of the James with no mountains or rock outcrops to peruse.

It takes only about 5-10 minutes to paddle from one rapid to the next, in either direction. I suspect that when water levels are a foot higher, it would be possible to power through the upstream rapid. Today, though, there is a good 6-10" drop that requires a portage. The same is true for the first downstream rapid.

This part of the James would provide a good 30 or 45 minute workout for a local paddler who is content to paddle back and forth between the rapids. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

James River at Snowden - October 2008

The Snowden boat ramp on the James River in Virginia provides access to about a mile of flatwater behind the Snowden Dam. See my previous posts about this location for details. I arrived on a beautiful Friday afternoon for a couple of hours of paddling upstream into the first set or two of rapids, while enjoying the changing colors on the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

There was a large group of students on a school trip coming off the James River as I put in. They had been on the river for the past three days and intended to spend the following four days on the Appalachian Trail, which also crosses the river at this spot. I otherwise had the river to myself today. I brought along my 17' Heritage Expedition for this cruise, and it made quick work of the flatwater section of the river.

As you travel upstream, you first paddle through a flooded rock garden. It's here where you see many turtles sunning on the rocks, fish in the clear water, and crayfish. The water is generally deep enough to permit plenty of poking around. Traveling upsteam, the water shallows out. Depending on water levels, it's possible to paddle upstream through the first two or three sets of rapids.

Today, however, the water was low, and portaging would be required to continue upstream.

I instead prefer to get out of the boat and walk around on the rocks exploring, sitting, and enjoying the view. This part of the river is remote, and there is but a single railroad track on one side of the river to occasionally break the silence and solitude.

This part of the James River offers a decent amount of flatwater for the sea kayaker, and the scenery is spectacular. It's one of my favorite spots to kayak. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Maury River at Glasgow - October 2008

The town of Glasgow, Virginia offers a public boat ramp at the confluence of the Maury and James Rivers. I arrived at the access ramp on a cloudy, cool October day, with a few light sprinkles failing on the water, to check out the 1/4-1/2 of flatwater on the Maury River upstream of the Class III rapid that marks the confluence with the James River.

The access ramp is steep and rutted, but it was no match for my fat kayak wheels. I wouldn't recommend attempting the pitch with a vehicle, however. There is also access to the James River down a footpath a little ways. But the riverbank is steep, making access to the James a difficult proposition for any boat larger than you can carry on your shoulder.

There is a large rock garden at the confluence of the two rivers. When water levels are higher, this is a Class III rapid. Today, however, the water is very low, and it's not possible to run the rapid. It is possible, instead, to poke around the garden by boat or on foot.

Upstream of the rock garden is a short stretch of deep flatwater. When water levels are as low as they were today, it only takes a few minutes to reach the first upstream set of rapids, and it was not possible to paddle through them. If the water were about foot higher, then it would probably be easy to paddle through these rapids and continue upstream.

This section of the river has an exposed sandy cut bank, something of a rarity in these parts, given all the sedimentary rock outcrops, and it reminds me of my days paddling in eastern South Dakota on the Missouri River, Big Sioux River, and Vermillion River.

I did about two 'laps' on the river, between the rapids, before getting out of the boat at the confluence of the rivers and exploring the rock garden.

I was reminded to watch where I put my hands when scrambling over the boulders; I encountered one of the largest spiders I think I've ever seen. I didn't have the guts to get close enough to put any 'scale' into the picture, but trust me, it's big!

The rock garden is large, and it's pretty easy to hop across the river from boulder to boulder. This next picture shows part of the rock garden at the confluence of the rivers, with the James River in the distance as it heads downstream through a cut in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This section of the Maury is scenic and interesting, but the small amount of flatwater is only worth it for local paddlers. View and listen to a short (15 second) video clip of the rapid at the confluence of the rivers.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.