Monday, October 16, 2006

Crashing down the Mullica...

Rivergeek inspects a beaver lodge on the Mullica River during a winter '06 trip with the Outdoor Club of South Jersey.

I have been paddling solo for so long that I almost forgot how to handle a tandem canoe. Yesterday I was forced to re-learn quickly on the Mullica River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Sharon was my bow paddler and she can do a good draw stroke, perhaps the most important stroke on this windy, narrow and surprisingly swift stream. We were joined by Eric Sween who paddled a kayak

The stream gage read about 1.90' and any higher and we would not have squeezed under some of the low hanging trees, and I mean we were forced to lay flat in the boat to avoid getting stuck.

This is a gorgeous river that starts out below Atsion Lake at about 4 feet in width. It is an extrordinarily meandering river that flows through Atlantic White Cedar and hard wood mixed forest as well as the classic shrubby Pine Barren habitat. At one point the river opens into a lake-like savannah that features many large beaver lodges. The Mullica is a wilderness experience through Wharton State Forest, devoid of buildings and highways. It is really quiet except for the occasional intrusion of the fossil fuel addicted, stinking white trash redneck ATV rider.

Trees and shrubs grow right out over the water, making for tricky paddling. My hat was knocked off at least six times, one resulting in a near hat-sinking, but I don't mind wearing a wet hat when it's sunny and over 60 degrees.

At one point Sharon and I almost tipped, she was actually half in the water and half in the boat but I somehow got us righted, miraculously. We went flying around one of the dozens of blind curves and sideswiped a tree that was near the right shore. The only thing that prevented a cold swim was that I managed to grab the tree and force the boat back up. By then we had taken on several inches of water and became very tippy, but we found a place to dump out the water.

We put in bekow Rt. 206 at 10:30 AM and took out at Pleasant Mills about 4:40 PM (with a half hour lunch break). My understanding is that this is a 12-mile run, but it felt more like 20 (it's really close to 14 miles). That is because we were forced to duck, squeeze and careen our way through the narrow and sometimes obstructed stretches of the river.

The Pine Barren rivers are truly beautiful. But paddling one of these streams often involves a degree annoying struggle with downed trees and overhanging vegetation. A taste of the Mullica has increased my appetite for the local upland streams that I repeatedly paddle without ever having my hat knocked off my head.

The next rainstorm will bring the Musconetcong River and Tohickon Creek back up to runnable levels.

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