Bill Camp is best known in Triangle adventure circles as an avid mountain biker and the original president of TORC. Before that, though, he was an avid whitewater kayaker. Avid and, perhaps, a tad crazy: He's the only person I've ever run into who has gone whitewater paddling at night. Intentionally, that is.
Like many of us, he also had an inadvertent night whitewater paddle. As part of GOGF's look at playing in the dark, Bill shares his nocturnal exploits — both intentional and otherwise — in a two-part series. Today: Otherwise.
"In mid January 1997 my wife and I were on a paddling trip in West Virginia with some other canoeing friends. It was an unusually mild January weekend, the Upper Meadow River was running at a reasonable 750 cubic feet per second, so we decided that conditions were perfect for a first-time trip down this highly recommended section of river. At this level it is a Class III-IV paddle without any really significant rapids. Just eight miles of fast moving flat water with a few I-II riffles along the way. Then comes the meat, four miles of continuous Class III-IV boogie water. The last big drop is a 6'-7' ledge with a left hand move in front of an undercut on river right. After this last rapid it's another three miles to the takeout through mostly fast moving I-II water.
"This section of the Meadow is in the middle of nowhere, and there is very limited access from put-in to takeout. However, there is a way to cut out almost all of the eight-mile section of mostly flatwater if you can only find it. Well, after setting shuttle at the takeout, our party of three tandem canoes (all husband and wife teams) and two solo canoes set out in search of the shortcut. After three hours and numerous false starts, side trips down mountain goat tracks and looking for roads that were on the map but not really there, we ended up all the way at the beginning of the 15-mile run. It was approaching 1 p.m. with about 4 1/2 hours of daylight remaining. After some spirited discussion, we decided if we didn't stop more than a couple of times we could make good enough time on the flatwater to complete the run before dark.
"We made really good time through the first eight miles completing the easy part in a little over two hours. We spent the next two hours paddling "The Rapid", the four-mile section of continuous Class III-IV, which was lots of fun and not pushy at all at this level. Unfortunately, down in the bottom of the river valley, it was getting dark much earlier than we expected. After one swim and a near pin on the final big drop, we decided to portage the rest of the boats and eat a quick snack before paddling like hell to the takeout before dark.
"I don't think I've ever seen my wife paddle harder than she did that day trying to get back to the vehicles before darkness fell. Unfortunately, we had about 1 1/-2 miles of river more than daylight left. We ended up paddling in what soon became a pitch black night. Enough cloud cover to conceal the stars, and nowhere near a full moon. Amazingly enough, our vision adjusted enough to make out the whitecaps from the green water, and by avoiding the white patches we were able to paddle to safety without any mishaps.
"It was a scary experience because we couldn't distinguish any of the landmarks we had noted to identify the takeout when we got there. It was beside a moss covered old stone bridge over the river, which we actually paddled under before we even saw it. It was about 6:30 when we arrived and we had paddled at least the last 45 minutes in what could safely be called pitch darkness. Looking back on this escapade, it was one of the stupidest things I ever attempted on a river in my entire life. Not the stupidest, but close enough to qualify for top two status."
Remind us to ask Bill, next time we see him, about the other stupidest thing he's done.
Tomorrow: Paddling whitewater in the dark, part II (intentionally).