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2014 on the New Haven Ledges

Wednesday-Wednesday Jan 1-Dec 31, 2014
Kayak: Many
Open Canoe: Couple folks
C1: One or two
Raft: Maybe a few?
Organizer: The New Haven River
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: very high
Author: Mike M

Growing up on a south-facing hillside in Hinesburg, the crescent skyline of Lincoln Ridge was a familiar sight for the 18 years I lived there, or the time I spent living with the same view in Charlotte. Hiking along it one finds a remarkable and relatively rare microclimate of consistent mist, rain and heavy moss growth, with it's considerable, orographically-enhanced runoff running east into Vermont's most well-known whitewater river, the Mad, and to the west into a slightly less well known but more notable watercourse, the New Haven River. I have hiked many times on Lincoln Ridge, but am equally familiar with it's western drainage, my parents having taken me swimming at Bristol Falls and Circle Current (among other swimming holes) since I was young.

A few other things: First, Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen (the 3rd and 5th highest in the State of Vermont) sit at Lincoln Ridge's southern end, both somewhat conical peaks. A tight notch, Lincoln Gap, is found just to Mount Abe's south and divides Lincoln Ridge from the Breadloaf Wilderness (also a relatively high-elevation area). Second, this topography captures the local storm tracks and enhances the precipitation, to the tune of 60 or 70 inches of liquid equivalent per year. No wonder this river is so popular with paddlers, with consistent spring flows and at least one runnable weekly day (on average) July through December. Third, this topography is largely responsible for the massive 1998 flood, when the river rose to 20,000 cfs. After that, I saw the river as an elegant, brutally powerful feature, more than just a swimming spot. But of course an 11-year old would not really think of it as something to paddle. Paddling was what you did with you're folks on Lewis Creek, not the waterfall-studded New Haven.

Of course that was then and this is now, and it wouldn't really be easy to describe what the river's steepest section, the New Haven Ledges, really is about. It's a whitewater run - a quality one for sure - a training river, a proving ground, and a sort of home-away from home for many Vermont boaters. But rather than waste time delving into some sort of conceptual, spiritual or essential nature of something that is just for sport (this has been done to no end by creative and ambitious authors), I'd like to list a couple milestones from 2014.

Things got off to a late start in April - a start more typical of the 1990's or 2000's rather than the globally-warmed 2010's. I think we got about a week of training in before the New Haven Race. Which, by the way, was awesome for 2014. Past years have seen levels that were pretty high and pretty low, and weather ranging from mediocre to wonderful. But in 2014 things pretty much aligned and we had perfect racing flows of about 600 cfs on the gauge.

The following week saw a heavy rain-on-snow event and the river rose to many thousands of cfs. Things move around a bit. Chute by the Road now has a serious FU rock at low water, and is now called Sh*t by the Road. Some say Oh By the Way has gotten more difficult at medium levels, and my numerous personal trips through the Schott Slot confirm this, though I can't really say why it's gotten harder. Scott G kept himself in his boat in Roostertail at the race this year while a Quebecker swam - so I don't know about changes there, but Playpen cleaned up a lot, and now has a fantastic greenwater boof at the top. Finally and most importantly, the much-maligned slab of rock that All-American Boof lands on dropped 8 inches and even at low water this landing is soft and friendly. This riverbed changes a lot. It even changed a bit in December, for the better I think- and will likely change at ice-out this coming spring, for the better I hope. But it will be good regardless.

2014 saw a couple new faces here. Justin Worth, Eric and Anders Newbury, Felix Touzin and Andy Lockey got their first runs here, and Ryan McCall and Paul Dawson returned after a several-year hiatus. Culley, a hard-whitewater-right-off-the-couch specialist moved in and randomly confused us with his California license plates one day. And no doubt several other people were introduced to this fine run. Apologies to whoever I omitted from this list. As Scott G once said "if there is anything as good as running a rapid for the first time, it's seeing someone run a rapid for the first time".

Unfortunately some valued crew members also left - Daphnee and Nick moving to the desert southwest. We no doubt miss them, but were pleased to see that Nick, one of our own and a New Haven Ledges regular ran the mother of all rivers, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. Also, Christian moved somewhere, I am not sure where...

But this really just goes to show how unique each day here is - the exact water level, the configuration of the riverbed, the weather, who you're paddling with and whatever happenings might occur off the river. It is a one-time event never to be repeated again in the entire universe. Yet somehow every season is rewarding. Here's to 2015 on the New Haven.

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