Trip Start Feb 17, 2011
10Trip End Oct 23, 2011
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What I did
The New river had risen further over night to over 2 foot and the Cranberry Creek was holding at 3.03 ft, it was a little below the recommend level but we decided to run that since I had never done that creek before. George assured me that I could handle and it that it was mainly a class III-IV run and since the level was low there wouldn't be much push. It was still just George and myself paddling but I trusted him.
I followed him for about an hour and 15 minutes through country roads deeper into a section of West Virginia I had never been in. We drove through twisty backcountry roads until finally arriving at our destination after a wrong turn or two
It looked beautiful, the creek was situated within Cranberry Glades Botanical area in the Cranberry National Wilderness area. We drove along a small road that ran alongside the creek past hiking trails and various campsites.
The section of the Cranberry we were running is sometimes called the Middle Cranberry, it starts in the Cranberry Recreation area and continues downstream about 6 miles. George found a small picnic area spot for us to pull into. We got changed into our river gear and left his car at the takeout. We had to walk down to the river and put a piece of lumber near a tree on the riverbank so we wouldn't paddle past out takeout. Once we were changed we drove my car to the put-in.
As we drove further north the creek picked up gradient and became increasingly choked with boulders. We got to the put-in unloaded the boats and put in the river. I followed George ofcourse. The first half mile or so was rather mellow and a little shallow. We ran some smaller shallow rapids that reminded me of the Nescopeck Creek at home. We rounded a bend and all of a sudden I could see nothing but boulder choked horizon line after horizon line for atleast a mile down river
Poor George, I knew my eyes were about the size of saucers at this point and that my fear was showing on my face. He took one look at me and paddled over and said to me "this isn't your first creek right?" It wasn't, but it was the first creek that looked like this. I have never paddled anything with this much gradient, so many boulders, drops and was so tight. I told him that and he reassured me that I could do this and that we would be breaking things down by pulling eddies and looking at everything. He is such a sweet guy, he made me feel safe and convinced me to keep going.
We paddled the first few drops without incident and pulled over to eddy scout whatever was coming up next. George is very good at picking lines and eddy scouting! Things were going ok. Then we pulled into a rapid that I think is called "Tres Amigos y un Chingada". The first drop was ok but I could see wood in the second drop. George paddled back and forth and could see a line to the far right that avoided the wood. I had a bad experience getting caught in a strainer on a creek once before so I decided to walk around this drop. George waited for me in the eddy below. Portaging takes alot out of the body. I forgot how heavy my creek boat is!
We paddled over more and more ledge drops, some with tighter lines than others. All the while I could see down river and the gradient never really let up and there were house-sized boulders everywhere. I was definitley nervous but George kept reminding that the level was low and there was very little "push" in the creek and I had plenty of time to make my moves. The river must sense when you are nervous and deals with it in its own way. It flipped me twice and forced me to make key combat rolls or risk swimming in shallow water. Thankfully I was able to roll both times.
After my rolls I managed to settle down a little bit. We got through about a mile and a half of the large ledge drop sections and the creek settled down a little bit but then we went through a very shallow area and had to use or arms to almost walk to boats by hand over shallow boulder gardens. Man does that take alot of energy! This creek is very pretty and isolated so I tried to enjoy the scenery while in the mellower sections.
Next we came to Full Nelson rapid which I didn't really have much of a problem with at all. Then we came to S-Turn rapid which is class IV and one of the tougher rapids on the creek. George went and scouted it and decided we had to portage. This was one of the toughest portages I ever did. I had to boulder with my kayak on my shoulder and climb over a log jam and a huge dead fallen tree and then climb over my boulder and push my kayak into the creek and climb back down. That really took the energy right out of me. I was able to run the second half of S-Turn.
After the portage from hell we still had another 3 miles of heavy ledge drop sections and really shallow sections of river to go. It was a long day on the creek! I think we got to the take-out around 4:30 p.m. It was good that we got off the creek before the sun started to set! I was exhausted and had a 6 hour drive to make to get home. George helped me load my boat and we got changed and got the maps out to figure out the best way to get back to the highway.
I had fun and pushed my level a bit. It was a little too low to paddle the Cranberry at this level but I'm not sure how I would have done if the level was at a normal level. I could see that creek getting very pushy and trashy at higher levels.
Cranberry Creek info: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/2364/#zzqi6iloktear80ContainerView44
Cranberry National Wilderness info : http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5090665.pdf