Under Prepared

Jaclyn insisted that I get out of the house this weekend and do something to burn off some energy. My friend, Mike, from work agreed to go on a river float trip that I had been scouting out. The plan was to put our canoe/kayak in on the Youghiogheny River in Confluence, PA and drift down 8 miles to Ohiopyle, PA.

The Youghiogheny is rumored to have spectacular smallmouth bass fishing in some areas, but I have yet to see it. I have hiked it around Ohiopyle, but that area is class 3 and 4 rapids and the only thing I’ve seen in those waters is serious rafters with helmets plunging over waterfalls. The virtual reconnaissance I did leading up to the trip suggested that this section is a lot less volatile and offered a more subdued experience.

I dropped a kayak and canoe off at Confluence, then drove to Ohiopyle and parked my car and trailer, my friend picked me up and brought me back to Confluence to begin our trip. A couple items signaled that I had miscalculated the trip before us:

  1. As we tied on fishing lures and put on our life vests, we observed a separate group of people in the parking lot taking their preparations a little bit more seriously. This rugged group pf adventurers were putting on full body neoprene suits to insulate them from cold water temperatures. They also put on helmets and had tiny kayaks that were perfect for navigating around numerous rocks. I made a mental note that these chumps were overdoing it for such a placid stretch of river.
  2. There was a check in station that required you to log in. You penciled in your name and the time before you embarked down river. I guess in the event that you did not return, they would know how long you were gone to calculate how far down river they would need to go to find your drowned body.
  3. There was a large giant sign that talked about the rapids nearby that could easily flip a raft and pin your body under water if you were not careful to avoid them all the way to the right of the river. The sign did specify that this was a bigger concern if the water was high and the water looked very low to me.

Mike and I finished our preparations and concluded that the fishing would be much easier from a canoe, we locked the kayak to a tree, entered the canoe and shoved off into the river. At first, the water was so low that we could feels the smooth river rocks pushing against the green plastic bottom of our Old Town canoe, it was very slow going, a little rickety, like the ascent of an amusement parks log flume ride.

The fishing rods remained on the floor of the canoe as it was not yet deep enough to fish. Since I expected to be in the canoe myself, I only brought a single canoe paddle, this left Mike uneasy as he saw us bump into rocks and skid across the bottom, he quickly persuaded me to get to shore so he could fashion himself a “push stick” that he could use to push us away from rocks or propel us forward similar to a pole vaulter. We ran aground, hopped out of the canoe and into the woods, rooting around for sturdy pieces of wood suitable for the job. We both grabbed sticks and hopped into the boat. At this point, we were about 15 minutes in, we moved about 200 yards downstream and crawled along the bottom in shallow rapids. With the single paddle and push sticks, we were now prepared to get this show on the road.

The water got slightly deeper, which was a relief because our canoe no longer rubbed the bottom and we were moving a little faster. It still wasn’t deep enough to fish and fishing was not yet on our mind as we heard the low rumble of more significant rapids ahead and could see strange angles of white water on the horizon. Mike raised his push stick out of the water and pointed at the rapids ahead and warned that is looked pretty hazardous. I reminded him of the wooden sign that mentioned there would be rapids ahead and that we should stay to the right.

At this point, I feel compelled to mention that all my online research indicated that this is a more relaxed stretch of the Youghiogheny River:

Middle Yough Family Rafting

Perhaps this is a more relaxed section in comparison to the lower portion, but what we experienced next was a lot more adventurous than I anticipated. The first thing I noticed about the approaching rapids was that there seemed to be a ledge, like, the river just dropped over a large shelf. I recalled the sign indicating we should steer right, but neither side was particularly welcoming. Mike and I put our gear on the bottom, I tried to attach everything to a throwable floatation device as I was already assigning heavy probability to capsizing. I was in the back, aiming for a narrow spot between two boulders with rapids gushing between them, Mike held one side of the canoe for balance and held the push stick with the other. Our canoe hit the target beautifully, right through the two boulders…success! However, we failed to anticipate that this was just the beginning of a complicated slalom. The canoe sped forward heading right for another boulder, Mike stretched out the stick, but we still smashed into the rock, water splashed high in the air, gear rattled all over, the canoe tipped side to side, but stayed upright. The canoe’s forward end was to the right of the rock, but the current was pushing the back end of the canoe to the left of the rock, spinning us clockwise. The clockwise spin happened slow enough for us to fully realize how undesirable our next moments would be. This would result in us going down the next stretch of rapids backwards, facing the wrong direction, heck it was scary enough facing the right way. The rapids succeeded in spinning us backwards and the perilous journey resumed (still haven’t made a single cast with my fishing rod). I pushed my paddle into water and paddled in reverse with all my might to spin us back around, this occurred fairly quickly and just as we were facing the right direction again, Mike spotted an enormous boulder that was completely under water but rose up sufficiently to stop us completely. The canoe rammed into this immovable object, rose up several inches into the air, skidded along the top, and came to a complete stop as it rested perfectly on this boulder in the middle of the river, in the middle of rapids.

Eventually, we wiggled off the rock and encountered several more situations equally unnerving. 4 or 5 hours later, we made it back to our take out point in Ohiopyle (which is a very important spot not to miss as a quarter mile past the take out point is Ohiopyle Falls which drop about 18 feet and could easily kill a person). It was great to be back on land, I’ll do the trip again, but I’ll prepare differently, maybe I’ll bring a GoPro too.

For the record, we did get several casts in, probably about 15 minutes of fishing time on 4 to 5 hour trip, we did not catch anything.





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