When I focused my sights for the July 11 Thursday Paddle based on the weather forecast and gauge trends, I homed in on two choices in different directions: Hopeville Canyon, a long drive to the west, and the closer-in Patapsco in Ellicott City. The problem was that while both were running, neither was a sure bet to hold. As the clock ticked down on Wednesday, I announced Hopeville as the target with the caveat that if it fell too much, the target would switch to the Patapsco. As it turned out, Hopeville rose overnight, and it was the Patapsco that fell below the level of interest. So my backup bombed out, but the choice I'd worried about was great: Go figure!
Great, that is, if you enjoy paddling in a downpour for two hours with thunder rolling persistently (fortunately, in the distance). Luckily, we had a group willing to brave the rain: kayakers Bruce Campbell, David (Cotton) Cottingham, Jon Hauris, Jim Long, Cindy Rogers, John Snitzer, Gary Steinberg, and Jenny Thomas, and open boaters Kim Buttleman and me. Level at Cabins putting in: 669 cfs (12:30 p.m.); taking out: 717 cfs (2:30 p.m.), 4.3 miles. (Eventually that night, Cabins hit 1120 cfs.)
We had a splashy, consistently active run with Hopeville's cliffs making especially dramatic appearances through the rain and mist. The greatest challenge was spotting the gotcha rocks in time in the very dark, muddy water. These surprise obstacles caused some close calls but no actual mishaps. Jim Long added some excitement. (Can you imagine that?) He planned to put in at Seneca Rocks, doing an extra 9.5 miles with the idea of catching us at our head-of-the-canyon put-in—except that due to road construction, he got a late start and had to sprint like crazy, finally catching us only at Landslide Rapid.
Many of us ran the dam just above the Hopeville takeout, which involved crashing through a flexible, leafy branch in the middle of the drop at the far right. (If that branch had been inflexible, you would be reading notes from a decapitated trip coordinator.)
Given the still-persistent rain, we resisted Jim's attempts to get us to run the stretch again (13.8 miles in the rain being insufficient for him). Instead, thanks to the web-searching skills of John Snizter, we lucked into a delightful early dinner at Mullin's 1847 in Moorefield. (I highly recommend the fried chicken, which many of us ordered.)
It was one of those days where the stats make it sound terrible: for most of us, six to seven hours driving to spend two drenched hours on the river. (And almost as much time eating as we spent paddling!) But with the fine level and evocatively misty scenery, it was actually a great experience.
-- Larry Lempert