Photos and text by Eric Adsit
In the fall of 2010, Taylor Krammen and I completed the first descent of a gorge that none of the local Adirondack paddlers had heard of. Vertical walls, unscoutable rapids, a mandatory 45-footer. And put-in--only 15 minutes from my then Lowville, NY house. After three years of waiting, cleaning and dreaming, I returned June 23 for the second and July 2 and 3 for the third and fourth descents, sparking rumors of “a new pinnacle of New York whitewater.” These are my tips for finding the next classic:
Keeping your focus close to home ensures a thorough examination of drainages that might otherwise get overlooked. It eliminates the pressure to head in before you’re ready, which a long drive creates, and makes it easier to check flows. Finally, there’s something about being in a familiar area that expands the comfort zone.
Do your Research
Start with maps. I like to use the USGS streamfinder, a great tool for figuring out how big drainages are and what gradient profiles look like. But maps aren’t perfect; you’ll have to put in some legwork. I typically hike a potential first descent before I’ll put on with any flow. Figure out what flows you need to make a controlled trip down, and when you’re most likely to experience them. Most importantly, make sure you have a solid Plan B and C if your first trip in goes south.
When you think you’ve struck gold, waiting for the right flows, the right crew, and all the other pieces of the puzzle to come together feels like waiting for the planets to align. Remember the river (probably) isn’t going anywhere, and the consequences of pulling the trigger too early can result in a brutal hike out, a complete loss of faith from your crew, or much, much worse.
When you do make it into your first descent of choice, don’t rush. It took Taylor and me six hours to travel three miles (the second descent took less than two). We scouted every drop and corner possible and made sure we could climb out until we committed ourselves to the 45-footer. Savor those moments, even if you’re stressed, scared, cold and tired. You’ll miss them.
Approach Every Descent Like A First Descent
Rivers change, rocks move, trees fall. Before I even considered returning to Brokeback Gorge, my dad and I spent four hours climbing in with a chainsaw and cleaning out wood. The second descent marked the first no-portage run, proving that expectations are made to be broken.
It’s all Relative
Overall, the likelihood of finding “the next classic” is pretty minimal, but even a first descent down “the next okay river” is worth the experience. It takes much more than just paddling skill, and success depends on patience, good judgment and teamwork. Remember, when people say “if it hasn’t been run, there’s probably a reason” that reason could just be that nobody has really looked at it yet.