Monday, May 24, 2010

Wild River Trip

Paddling through the Delaware Water Gap
he river itself wasn’t so wild, but the trip featured wildly variable weather and about 160 paddlers (representing thirty-some nations), and we ran it through a most scenic section of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Middle Delaware Wild and Scenic River.

About 120 of the paddlers were 13—14 year old students with a dozen or so teachers, the rest of the paddlers being grizzled members of the National Canoe Safety Patrol.

The flotilla paddled the approximately 32 miles between Dingmans Ferry and the Portland Power Plant. Of course, that’s 32 miles for the most focused and competent paddlers, the rest having paddled many more miles of zigzags, ferries, eddy turns and circles.

This was the 18th year that we’ve run this trip, which is a sobering enough reality. The first students I guided down the river for this school are now over thirty years old (and I had brown hair back the early days). All told we’ve guided about 1,800 students from this school, logging at least 600 miles.

Day one this year was possibly the single most challenging of any of the other 54 days paddled over the history of this project. The students started out with the usual chaotic launch (picture 120 teens in 60 tandem canoes) in a light rain. By lunch break at the Eshbach access the wind and rain picked up in intensity and the air temp fell to 56 degrees, with about a 5-mile paddle down to the Rivers Bend campsite still remaining.

Even some of the Safety Patrol members were suffering from the cold, so we had to be vigilant for signs of hypothermia. Fortunately, nearly all the of the students paid attention to our repeated pleas to wear NO COTTON while on the water, and to pack extra clothing and a rain proof jacket. This helped mitigate the situation, as did our supply of Delaware Raincoats (a black trash bag with arm and head holes).

Once we got back on the water after fueling up the rain continued to intensify but everyone paddled onward to the end; some of the students were even singing (Beatles’ songs no less).

When we got to the take-out campsite the students seemed to perk up enough to set up their tents in the rain, and then the rain stopped in time for supper, only to start again by dark. Everyone slept soundly.

Day two was cloudy and ideal for paddling, especially since there was no headwind when we paddled the infamous two-mile “wind tunnel” between Poxono and Smithfield Beach. The river was smooth as glass. Last year we were faced with a steady 20 mph wind in this stretch (with 30 mph gusts), making for some extremely difficult paddling conditions.

Day three was exquisitely beautiful; it was sunny and with just a hint of a breeze. This class of students survived a brutal first day and they were rewarded with great weather for the remainder of the trip.

I camped at Worthington State Park for the rest of the week and enjoyed hikes to Sunfish Pond (Douglas Trail), Hornbeck Falls, Raymondskill Falls. I also drove up to Grey Towers in Milford PA; it was the estate of Gifford Pinchot and is one of the true "shrines" for the conservation movement.

Some noteworthy sightings: 1 bobcat and 4 black bears (each seen along the Old Mine Road), several bald eagles, an osprey and a mink (unfortunately the later was dead).

It appears that the cold and wet winter/spring may have benefitted the Eastern Hemlock. The trees showed vigorous growth. Could it be that the cold winter knocked back the wooly adelgid? I hope so.

Also noted: the sycamore trees are suffering greatly this year from the fungal disease known as anthracnose. I noticed this problem earlier in the spring here in Bucks County. The trees along the Delaware River across from Worthington State Park are in terrible shape. Fungal spores love to multiply in wet weather - tomato growers beware!

It was wonderful to get out for an entire week in the mountains and forests of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area, and spend three days on the river.

Balm for the soul

No comments: