Unguided White Water Rafting on the Lower Yough

Trip Start Jun 07, 2007
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Trip End Sep 01, 2007


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Where I stayed
Ohiopyle State Park
What I did
whitewater kayaking

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Over Labor Day weekend I went camping and rafting in the Ohiopyle State Park. I had never been on the Lower Yough before but Beth, another avid rafter I met in WV, was coming along as well as my brother and his wife.

We decided to do an unguided run of the Lower Yough to see how well we could do. Prior to the trip I rented a raft and secured private boater launch times from the state park. If you aren't on a commercial trip you must have a launch permit to get on the river.
 
We rented a raft, life vests and helmets from Laurel Highlands, one of several outfitters situated within the state park. Park rangers at the put-in gave us rapid maps for the river which came in handy.

When I called to rent the raft I asked for a four-man raft....what we got was an eight-man raft! There were only going to be four of us in the raft, I had very limited experience guiding a raft, Beth had prior rafting experience but both my brother and his wife were only rafting once. I knew it was going to be difficult to steer that raft but we decided to do it anyway. I also asked for a self-bailing raft but didn't get one....
 
We dropped our raft off near the Ranger's station at the put-in and walked over to see the Ohiopyle Falls which are just upstream of the put-in. We took a few pictures and got something to eat.

1:30 was our launch time so we got the raft and went to the put-in. We were following some kayakers down the river but both Beth and I had a copy of the rapid map to keep an eye on where we were going.

The first rapid is called Entrance and is a series of ledges and drops, apparently its a class 3. The river wasn't overly crowded at 1:30. There were a few kayakers playing on some waves but we missed the launching of the guided commercial rafting trips.
 
As we worked our way downstream it was apparent that the current was pulling toward river right and I could see Cucumber Rapid in the distance. Earlier in the day we walked down the side of the mountain to see both Cucumber Falls and Cucumber Rapid. I could remember seeing the route through the rapid right aside of the giant rock at the entrance. It was a nice drop into that rapid, we got thrown all over the place in the raft!

There was a photographer there taking pictures that you could buy at her shop in town. One of the kayakers ended up swimming so we pulled over into the eddy for a bit until he could collect his gear.
 
After everyone was situated we continued through Piddly, Camel and Walrus, all class 1 and 2 rapids. I could recall thinking at this level that the Lower Yough reminded me of a more technical version of the Lehigh. It seemed there were more ledges and boulders in the river. The current was a bit more pushy too.

Next we went through Eddy Turn and Dartmouth Rapids....it occurred to me that most rivers seem to have an Eddy Turn rapid...... why is that? They were both small class 2 rapids with some waves to play in.
 
After getting through those rapids we could see a railroad bridge coming into view, apparently its the bridge at the end of town in Ohiopyle. From Entrance Rapid to Railroad Rapid is about a mile stretch of river referred to as the Loop. It's a very popular run as you can leave your car at the take out by Railroad and walk a few blocks in town to the put in near Entrance. Lots of kayakers spend hours playing on this section of river..... it also occurred to me that nearly every river had a rapid named Railroad......and its been my experience that ALL rapids named Railroad are trouble! I've had a raft flip in an Upper Railroad Rapid where I was sucked into a nasty hydraulic and got trapped under the raft. I was thrown out of a raft on a Lower Railroad Rapid and got trapped under a raft then too.......this Railroad rapid was no different. The current pushed us far left before we could recover and our raft got stuck on rocks.

Normally its not that bad of a situation, everyone gets on the side with the rock, leans into the rock and the current starts to pull the side with no weight free......not this time! Our raft was sitting on four big rocks, one in each corner of the raft....f'ing nightmare! We tried all getting on one side but still the other side of the raft was stuck on rocks. I knew what I had to do.... I climbed out of the raft and entered the river where the current was least strong and where I could see the riverbed. This is a huge NO-NO and very dangerous as your feet can become entrapped between rocks and you can drown in the pull of the current. Don't do this, especially if you don't have much river experience!

I knew enough to keep my toes pointed up and my feet balanced on two bigger rocks....I grabbed hold of the chicken line and started to pull with all my might and the raft only slid a few inches! I pulled and pulled and slowly the raft moved a little bit. I was getting exhausted trying to move a 100 lb. raft plus the combined weights of three adults inside. I had Beth get out and pull with me....at this point we were attracting attention! Passing kayakers were telling us to get back in the raft.....people up on the railroad bridge were yelling all kinds of things at us. Between me and Beth pulling we were starting to get there....we managed to get the raft off 2 of the 4 rocks but the one trapping the raft in the front was huge. We had George get out and pull with us. After about three good pulls the raft let loose and we all climbed back in. We were stuck for well over 20 minutes and Beth, George and I were already exhausted and we weren't even a third of the way down the Lower Yough!

Just beyond Railroad Rapid is the takeout to the Loop section. We were tired but we decided to stay on the river and ride it out. There was about a 2 mile stretch of nearly flat water that allowed us to rest a bit before the next rapid came up. Next up was the infamous Dimple Rock, this rapid has claimed the lives of several rafters and kayakers, most notably three deaths in the summer of 2000 alone. The safety video that plays at the put in to the Lower Yough talks about Dimple Rock, its dangers and how many deaths have occurred on the river. After seeing the video I was a bit apprehensive about running it, a seriously undercut rock is not a thing to mess with...... but my sister-in-law was horrified! I promised her that when we got there if she didn't want to run it that we would portage. Tracey was nervous about rafting to begin with and I didn't want to make her do something that would scare the hell out of her.

When we got to Dimple I asked her what she wanted to do and she said portage so that's what we did. Both Beth and I wanted to run Dimple because its supposed to be a good ride but we knew we couldn't control the raft with just 2 people in it.....so we portaged...Dimple will have to be conquered another time!

Just upstream of the rapid on river right is the portage spot for Dimple and its well marked. We pulled the raft into the little beach and dumped as much water as we could out of the raft to make it less heavy. We had taken on alot of water trying to free the raft and the fact that it wasn't self-bailing didn't help at all. There was sort-of a trail that wound its way through the woods about 50 yards downstream of Dimple Rapid.

I've never had to portage a rapid before so I wasn't sure what exactly to expect. I knew the raft was going to be heavy but if I would have guessed that it was going to be half as bad as it was Tracey would have run Dimple! The raft was so heavy and we had to drag it uphill, through slippy mud and sticker bushes. It was exhausting trying to get this raft back to the river!

After the portage from hell we got back in the raft and continued onto Swimmer's Rapid. This is a pretty famous play spot on the East Coast and you can always find kayakers lined up in the eddy waiting their turn for the wave. We pulled the raft in down stream to let the kayakers play on the wave while we hiked up the beach to find a good spot to watch the action from.

We watched as each guy took their turn and pulled all kinds of tricks on the wave. After a while we got bored so Beth and I jumped in up river and swam through Swimmer's, hence the name!

We headed downstream through Bottle of Wine rapid, a nice class 2 until we came to Double Hydraulic rapid....this was a fun rapid! There's a huge hole at the bottom of the first wave that hits hard. The second wave and hole aren't as big as the first but its a fun run.

Next up was River's End rapid, then School House Rock Rapid. Two of the kayakers got flipped at School House Rock and we had to wait a bit so they could collect their boats before we continued on.

After those rapids we went through Stairstep rapid and Killer Falls rapid. Killer Falls is actually a tiny little drop but for some reason the local tradition is to run it backwards and that's what everyone does.

Next was Maze rapid which is just trying to pick your way through a bunch of boulders strewn all over the river. The final rapid on the Lower Yough is Brunner Run rapid and there are huge boulders on either side of the river, which are referred to as the Gates of Hell. They are just wide enough to make a chute which lowers into a fun wave train through the rapid. This was another fun rapid.

Just after Brunner Run on river left is the take out of the Lower Yough. We collected all our gear and drug our incredibly heavy raft up the hill to where the shuttle picks everyone up and drops them off at the parking lot.

It was a fun day. We spent about 6.5 hours on the river. We were all exhausted but it proved we could do a more challenging river unguided.
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