Labor Day Trifecta
by Chip Walsh, Sep 7, 2009
Three Potomac River sections: Lock 6 to Fletchers Boathouse
Rileys Lock to Pennyfield Lock (Seneca Breaks/GW
Launch (Engels, WV) to Brunswick
Level: low. 2.7 to 2.8 at Little Falls gauge.
I was actually looking forward to Labor Day weekend at home. A
boatload of backlogged chores and projects beckoned. But with
three days, there should be a chance to sneak in an afternoon paddle or
two, right? So I called Mike Martin and we talked about maybe
running Little Falls, Violettes, or the Needles. These are all
sections of the Potomac. Mike said, "let me call Courtney and
Daryl and get back to you."
When he called back, Mike suggested we bring camping gear and paddle
all three spots. That sounded nuts. How could I resist?
We met at Fletchers Boathouse about 12:30, cross loaded some boats and
put on to the feeder canal about 1:30 with Daryl and Courtney.
The Little Falls run is only 3 miles. We played the heck out of
those three miles, two miles, really, because the last mile is
flatwater runout to the takeout. Daryl dumped on that tricky last
drop of Z channel. We worked up to the dam ruins below Brookmont
and worked across to far river right. Then we played our way down
among the rocky gorge taking the time to eddy and surf every minor
features. I got window shaded trying to jet ferry across some of
the large diagonal waves that shoot off the bend to the left. It
was a deep water swim and I was able to push my boat and me into the
following eddy. It was nice to be able to get back in the boat
and then ride the eddy back up to the wave that dumped me. Mike
and I jetted back and forth there for a time searching for the troll
that dumped me, but it was gone.
Mike--Playing Minor Features
|Daryl bites her tongue and punches
This one could have been a great picture. The beef I have with
Optio WR series cameras is the lens is exposed and needs to be
|Daryl, somewhere on the Little
We stopped to scout the main drop. Courtney, recovering from a
broken ankle, and I, recovering from hip replacement, used our paddles
like canes to gimp across the car-size boulders. The tide was
out, and the last drop on the Maryland side looked very
complicated. I decided to try the Virginia side. I tossed
sticks in the top of the rapid to discover an entry point that would
flow beside the big hole at top right. I put my canoe on that
flow and it carried me right around the hole to where I just had to
make several strong strokes through the three-foot waves to get into
the big eddy above the Virgina falls. That was not a hard move
but is scarey because the features are big and loud, and I have screwed
up there enough to know how easy it is to get it wrong.
Surprisingly, my three compatriots choose to hit the left-side
eddy. I saw Mike there and thought he would try the "hairy ferry"
move across to the Virginia side, but all three went to the left of the
Rocky Island and I lost sight of them.
Miss your move to the Virgina side and this is where the current
usually deposits you.
|After all my stick throwing to
show how to get on the good flow, Daryl stuck to the Maryland
side. The bottom part looked difficult to me, but three of our
group bumped through.
I road that tongue at image lower right, past the nasty hole.
|Mike reenters his boat after
|Downstream view of the last drop
to tidewater (low tide). Photo taken from the big eddy, Virgina
To get to the take out at Fletchers, cars pass under a low tunnel
beneath the C&O Canal. That tunnel raised all sorts of havoc
with our shuttle. Mike's van can't get through, and neither
Daryl's nor my pick-ups can go through with boats on the top. We
got to Fletchers about 5:30, but easily lost an hour running shuttle
and cross loading boats.
Mike said goodnight to Daryl and she departed with Mike's and her solo
canoes. Courtney headed back to Virginia. Mike and I headed
We dropped my truck at Pennyfield Lock and proceeded to Rileys
Lock. Mike loaded up his Dagger Dimension and I tossed what I
could into the Encore. We were an all-Dagger expedition as we
paddled out Seneca Creek into the Potomac. We watched what was
left of the sunset while we sipped cold beers on the wide river-pond
above the dam ruins at Seneca Breaks. We dilly-dallied, waiting
for the moon to rise, then paddled casually toward the sound of rushing
water. The moon was still low, so we decided to go down the wider
Breaks on river right instead of going into the GW Canal. I was
trying to navigate with "the force". My jedi training needs
refreshment. I ran onto some shallow rocks and had to walk the
boat a ways. Mike's jedi power was better. Somehow,
we lost our way, but managed to find a campable spot, set up tents, and
cook dinner. In perfect weather, under a full moon, we sat on
some wide rocks and sipped a last beer before bed. Midnight comes
quick when you put on at dusk.
about attracting animals, I took the usual precautions of
cleaning up and securing food before bed. When I got up in the
morning, I saw our island wasn't but 30' around. I don't think
many animals would have invaded us.
morning we paddled out the canal and across the weeded flats to Rileys
Lock take out.
When we packed up and got paddling, I began to recognize the features
of the GW Canal. While we'd started down the Breaks Saturday
night, we somehow had threaded through to the Canal. Daryl was
waiting for us at Pennyfield when we arrived there about 11:30 Sunday
morning. After another ineffecient shuttle we headed for
Dean and Courtney were already at the ramp when we arrived in
Brunswick. Another cross-load and then wow, we hit weekend
traffic on 340. Bumper to bumper for 5 miles to Harpers
Ferry. It was probably 2:00 by the time we got underway at the
River & Trails launch near Engle, WV. We started down the
Needles, working features and playing. We stopped for a second
break near the end of the Needles section. It may have been 5:00
by this time and we'd only proceeded 2 miles and still had 5 or 6 to
go. I was "canoe-tired" by this time. Not really out of
energy, but not having been in a ww canoe since April, the hours in the
saddle were beginning to wear. I told the group I was going to
dead-head to the take out and said goodbye.
|An astounding quantity of tubers
being sent out onto the Needles. Congratulations to local
outfitters for finding a way to get Americans out of their
armchairs. The tubes and rafts exit on river right just above the
|Mike explains the day's float plan
to us on a rock in the Needles section.
|Dean, Courtney, Chip, and Daryl
resting below the Needles. Chip told the party he was done
playing and was gonna scoot to make Brunswick by dark. But he
never shook the group.
A half-hour later, under the 340 bridge, I stopped for a break and the
gang was right behind. We entered Weaverton ledges together, but
Dean, Mike and I came out on the right side and Daryl and Courtney went
left and kept going. We could see the bridge at the take out by
the time we all get back together. We made Brunswick about 7:00.
Trifecta, accomplished. In fact, if you count Seneca Breaks and
GW Canal as different runs, it was a quad-fecta.