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 Canal)
                     R&T 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
Playing minor features
Daryl bites her tongue and punches wave.

This one could have been a great picture.  The beef I have with the Optio WR series cameras is the lens is exposed and needs to be constantly wiped.
Almost good picture
Daryl, somewhere on the Little Falls run.
Playing minor features

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.
Behind cleaver rock
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.
Daryl eschews the eddy
Mike reenters his boat after setting safety.
Mike enters boat after setting safety
Downstream view of the last drop to tidewater (low tide).  Photo taken from the big eddy, Virgina side.
Virginia side fall to low tide

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 to Potomac. 

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.

Concerned 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 too many animals would have invaded us. Virginia side fall to low tide
Sunday morning we paddled out the canal and across the weeded flats to Rileys Lock take out. 
Paddling through the weeds

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 Brunswick.

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 340 bridge.
50 Tubes in all directions
Mike explains the day's float plan to us on a rock in the Needles section.
Dean, Courtney, and Mike
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.
Cooling below Needles

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.