A Kayaking Blog By Dan Simenc

The Mighty Moose

The Mighty Moose

Oct 19, 2011

With my face pressed to the mirror I plucked 13 stitches out of my nose then got some help from Jared with the last three. After giving the wounds a few more days to heal it was time to go kayaking again.

After a surf session at Scudders hole on the Delaware River we left Pennsylvania to chase the rain to Ithaca, NY where several large un-run drops awaited us. There we were put in touch with local boy-wonder Danny Doran, who made a spot for us to crash on his dorm room floor and showed us around town.

Those rocks are sharp! Huge thanks to the Seiler family for their extended hospitality while I recovered from this one!


Jared Seiler surfs the remarkably good Scudders Hole on the Jersey Shore of the Delaware River.

Years ago I had done some online research on several waterfalls and slides in the Ithaca area when I was considering attending grad school at Cornell. It was exciting to now see everything in person and explore the beautiful campus. We spent a day scouting and hoping the night would deliver the rain needed to fill the small creeks for our descents.

One of many sweet falls waiting to be run in Ithaca.

Unfortunately, the forecast kept downgrading and the rain was never delivered. We settled for a good Plan B and headed to Moose Fest. A throng of other boaters decided to do the same, and the town of Old Forge was overrun by kayakers. On Saturday the Moose River would be stage for an unbelievable amount of carnage.

The rain that missed Ithaca was falling hard on the Moose River Plain, and by Saturday morning the water was high and it was still pouring. A dam that usually withholds water from the Bottom Moose was still recovering from being struck by lightening months earlier, which let the high flow carry on into the most difficult rapids on the bottom stretch of the river. That morning we scouted the first stout drop on that stretch, Agers Falls, then headed upstream to put-in just above the impaired dam, which could be run at the high water level.

Tyler slides over the Dam that was spilling extra water into the Bottom Moose.

At the dam we joined a massive herd of dry-suit wearing kayakers heading downstream. We ran the dam and made our way down towards Agers along with the masses. From my earlier scout of the falls I assumed most people would either portage or sneak the stout 10-foot center boof line. To my surprise a steady stream of bold but shaky paddlers were lining up and charging directly off the center line into the massive hole at the base of the falls.

I followed behind one such group and boofed into a scene of utter chaos. Upon landing at the base of the main falls I saw two swimmers clinging to rocks above the second half of the rapid. One terrified lady was shrieking at constant intervals as she clung to a rock immediately above a six foot ledge drop. I waited in a moving eddy just below and was ready to assist her when she eventually lost her grip and was flushed over the ledge. While paddling her to shore I watched at least four more paddlers swim at the base of the falls.

The author stoked to be back on the water and boofing over the site of some epic beatdowns.

After a good recue session I hiked up to run the falls again. Having seen many people flush out of the hole I was confident enough to freewheel it twice. After each run I encountered more swimmers and boats to help retrieve, one of which was Tyler whose skirt had imploded on his freewheel attempt, though he calmly self-rescued on a small rock island. Later that night I was told that a kayak club of 15 paddlers all ran the falls and all swam!

Some advice that was ignored a bit too often during Saturday's carnage fest.

The epic beatdowns continued downstream and we witnessed several more swims below every significant drop. While scouting Crystal we witnessed a steady stream of lost boats and gear floating through the rapid. Then things got ugly.

Shouting alerted us to a lady who was floating down the rapid holding onto what appeared to be a corpse. The man’s skin was a sickening grey-green and foam was coming out of his mouth. I hurried downstream to where a group had pulled the swimmer to shore, and was astonished to find him slowly regaining consciousness without even needing CPR. The gal who floated into Crystal with him on her boat surely saved his life.

The river had flexed its muscles to the group of inexperienced boaters recklessly attempting to tame it. Though this lucky paddler would escape with his life, it was a haunting scene that made me ready to get off the water. We still had one more sweet drop downstream and tried to keep our spirits up as we made runs through Magilla just above the take-out.

A paddler drops into the fold on Magilla.

Tyler Allyn boofs into the meat of Magilla.

The day had sent several paddlers to the ER and shook the confidence of many others. Some highly-skilled paddlers did suffer injuries, but the majority of the carnage I saw came from boaters who were in WAY over their heads. Several paddlers running Agers Falls before me looked as though they might flip on the eddy line above the drop and were in no way ready to be running a class V rapid. Pushing ones limits is necessary for self improvement, but this should be done in manageable increments rather than quantum leaps.

The mixture of high water, big crowds, and the festival atmosphere led to what was the most chaotic day of boating I’ve ever experienced. Though many of the day’s events are comical in hindsight, a lot of the carnage was very serious and scary. On Sunday, the water was even higher, and the Bottom Moose was a much quieter place. Tyler and I enjoyed running laps on Agers completely alone and without any carnage. The scene couldn’t have been more different from the following day. The energy and excitement during river festivals like the Moose is awesome, but we shouldn’t let it sweep away our typical notions of safety.

A tranquil scene on a turbulent river.

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