Monday, June 22, 2009

Lake Moomaw - June 2009

Lake Moomaw is the largest lake in the region, over 10 miles long and a couple wide, situated in a narrow valley in Allegheny County, Virginia behind Gathright Dam. Two public beaches are available as well as three concrete boat ramps suitable for large and small boats, plus public campgrounds and a marina. Located a little over an hour away from my southern Shenandoah Valley home, Lake Moomaw is my favorite place to paddle in the region. It's a large lake with a generous amount of open water and countless little coves in which to explore.

Today was a beautiful day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and enough of a breeze to rig the kayak sail on my 17' Heritage Expedition. I typically visit this lake on a weekday, since big boats are allowed on the lake and weekdays minimize traffic on the water. I chose to put in today at Coles Point, a public beach with double boat ramp near the center of the lake. There are restroom facilities located here, a water fountain, dock, and plenty of parking. A $3 day use fee is required.

In the two hours I was on the water today, I covered only a fraction of the lake. To begin, I explored an old quarry with exposed folded Valley and Range shales, sandstones, and limestones.

I then crossed the open water of the lake to explore a couple of secluded coves. The water in the middle of the lake was choppy with a stiff wind driving the water like a river current. I was able to use my rudder today and stay bow-on to the waves as I crossed the lake, and my Expedition performed like a champ - smooth and stable.

The return trip was downwind, and I enjoyed my Spirit Sail for an extended period of time. The rudder was helpful in combating weathercocking on the following seas and for steering the boat as it sailed downwind. I noted two other kayakers in a nearby cove as I sailed by, but they were quickly left behind as the boat skimmed across the water. The Spirit Sail is at its best in a stiff wind, and I thoroughly enjoyed sailing the boat today.

My two hours on the water were over too quickly, and it was time to pack up and hit the road. Lake Moomaw is remote and secluded, yet large enough to occupy any experienced paddler for several days.

The above picture is looking down at the Jackson River from the top of Gathright Dam.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Walnut Creek Lake - June 2009

Walnut Creek Lake is a 40-acre lake located about 10 miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia in Walnut Creek Park, an Albemarle County Park with full facilities, including a boat ramp, public beach, and plenty of parking. It cost me $4.50 to enter the park and explore this small lake on a sunny and warm day with my 17' Heritage Expedition kayak.

Being Sunday, the park was fairly crowded. There were several boats fishing on the lake, and I saw three other kayaks as well as several canoes. Compared to my typical paddling experience, this was equivalent to being stuck on the Jersey Turnpike during rush hour. Winds were breezy today as well, and while I was tempted to break out my sail, the lake was just too small to bother.

The lake itself is relatively long and linear, with two small coves to explore. The edges of the lake were fairly covered with aquatic vegetation which limited my ability to get back into the corners of the coves.

I spent about 35 minutes working my way down the lake from one end to the other, including some time exploring a feeder creek, although I wasn't able to paddle very far upstream.

Including the return trip back to the parking area, I spent about 50 minutes on the water this afternoon. The lake itself if pleasant enough, if a tad small. I'm learning that lakes under about 50 acres or so are, for the most part, good for exploring and poking around but too small for much of a workout or sailing.

For Charlottesville-area paddlers, the lake is convenient and worth exploring, and it's especially attractive as a paddling destination while the rest of the family lounges on the beach. However, I wouldn't drive too far specifically to paddle on this lake.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Maury River at Stuartsburg Road - June 2009

Access to the Maury River is available on the Chessie walking trail off Stuartsburg Road, just east of Lexington, Virginia. Parking is available for a handful of vehicles in this location, and access to the river itself is provided by a short dirt path. I used my kayak wheels to push through the overgrown vegetation along the path today to explore the flatwater available along this stretch of the river.

A set of long rapids are present immediately downstream of the river access point, but there is a short area of flatwater right at the access, and I thought I'd see if I could paddle and/or walk through the next set of rapids upstream to access what looks like a longer stretch of flatwater. As it turned out, it wasn't possible to power through the rapids, nor was there an easy to way to walk around them. So instead, I paddled around and enjoyed the rock garden just below the rapids.

This was another pool in the river that was simply too short to do much flatwater paddling, so besides a couple of 'laps' between the rapids, I spent much of my time on the water poking around the rock garden and enjoying the afternoon.

For trippers putting in or coming out of the Maury River, this is a fine access point, and it also works for local paddlers looking for 30 minutes of paddling and poking around. However, I wouldn't recommend driving too far for the flatwater available along this stretch of the river.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

James River at Springwood - June 2009

A hazy, humid airmass with distant thunder was the backdrop for a couple of hours of paddling on the James River above the Springwood boat access this afternoon, just off Route 43 north of Buchanan, Virginia. The Springwood access point provides good access to the river, with a gravel ramp and plenty of parking. Unfortunately, access to the river is smack in the middle of a rapid, and when the water is relatively high, as it was this afternoon, you have to be on your game as soon as you place your paddle in the water.

My intention today was to paddle upstream through the rapid to a long stretch of flatwater, then follow the river upstream to the next rapid. The water level was about two feet higher today than it was last fall when I was here, so the water was moving pretty quickly - making it a bit of a challenge to power through the rapid to the flatwater. Once through the rapid, however, the paddler is greeted with a relatively long stretch of flatwater with only a moderate current.

To my rear, a distant thunderstorm over the Blue Ridge Mountains became severe, then tornadic, all the while providing rumbles of thunder as my soundtrack. Depending on cadence, the next set of rapids is reached in about 30-40 minutes. It's a long set of rapids and looks like it would be difficult to power through, so I rested in an eddy and admired the overgrown vegetation lining the riverbank.

I had been keeping a wary eye on the weather as I was paddling, knowing that storms were popping all around me. The tornadic storm behind me, I knew, was traveling away from me, but overhanging trees made it difficult to see if new storms were firing nearby, even from the middle of the river. A close-by rumble of thunder made me reevaluate my presence on the water, so I turned around, lit the afterburners, and paddled back to the boat ramp in about 10 minutes. By the time I had the boat loaded on the truck, light rain was beginning to fall.

On the positive side, the boat access ramp is located directly beneath an overpass, so it's possible to load and unload in the rain without getting wet.

Several vehicles in the parking area belonged to James River trippers. You can put in here and paddle downstream to Buchanan, Alpine, Arcadia, Glasgow, or Snowden. Or put in farther upstream towards Eagle Rock, Gala, or Iron Gate and paddle back down to Springwood. You can read about each of these locations be selecting the appropriate category in the menu on the right side of the page.

This afternoon, though, I had the river to myself.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

James River at Snowden - June 2009

High humidity, an air temperature in the upper 80s, and the threat of severe storms made for a sultry afternoon paddle today on the James River at Snowden. The Snowden boat access (click on James River at Snowden in the right column for more trip reports from this location) provides about a mile or so of calm flatwater on the James River behind the Snowden dam. On my sleek 17' Heritage Expedition, it takes about 20-30 minutes of paddling upstream to reach the first set of rapids, passing several rock gardens along the way. Factor in the return trip, plus some poking around time, and you have 1-2 hour's worth of paddling time on the river.

The Snowden access has enough flatwater to kick it into high gear and really fly across the water. Today, however, with the sun bearing down, I stayed near the shore and paddled from shady area to shady area.

It's not unusual to see whitewater paddlers and James River trippers coming downstream through this stretch of river. Although there were several vehicles in the parking area to suggest this, I still had the water to myself today for an hour's paddle.

With the exception of some highway noise and the occasional train, this part of the James River offers the paddler peace and solitude along with sweeping views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. And a fair amount of noisy geese, at least today:

As is typically the case during a weekday afternoon, I was alone on the water today. If you typically paddle alone, too, but would like an occasional paddling partner, join the Virginia Paddlers group. This group is intended to be an informal gathering place for area flatwater paddlers - share your access points, and plan local outings.

View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.