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Pemmigewasset River, 1999
by Matt Hopkinson

Ready to go
Hal swore off paddling for the summer, in order to get his house painted. It was an easy pact to keep, since there was nary a river to paddle in this long summer drought. Perhaps he was overcome by paint fumes, but he agreed to revisit the Pemmigewasset, four years after his and Scooter's fateful first trip.

Hal's wife determined she might be strong enough to endure Scooter and Hal, and all the reminiscing that was likely to occur. She took her long-empty place in the boat and they pushed off the boulder-strewn shore in North Woodstock. Besides Scooter, two other guys were along, Bob and Wayne.

Hal and Nancy
Loaded with coolers, camping gear and other luxuries, they headed down the river for a fun overnight. Perhaps it was the El-Nino cycle, but somehow the summer's drought had been reversed by a ferocious rainstorm, and there was plenty of water in the river. This section of the river is rated Class II, though water levels weren't quite high enough for a smooth ride. Not surprising, since the guide also says it should be paddled in May, not September.

Scooter launches
The morning was filled with rock gardens, crunchy shallows, and neat little chutes. Another foot of water would have been quite useful, but hey, that's why they make Royalex. One particularly memorable rapid consisted of a chute, straight and narrow for a couple hundred feet, then turning right out of sight. It was a wonderful set of haystacks, followed by a small, strong eddy on the left. In a fit of bravado, Wayne went for the eddy, which was not quite as long as a boat. Speed, beam, and angle were all against him and in he went.

After a great day of errant waves and a sudden shower, the group spied the water level mark, left by Scooter and Hal marking the level reached by the flood of record October 21, 1995. They had nailed it to the tree that they stood in that long night. "Wanna camp here?" asked Hal.

1995 Campsite
"NO!" was the resounding reply from the whole group. So they shoved off and paddled into new territory, a part of the river Hal had never experienced before. Within sight of the spot, they chanced across a nice campsite, river left, and fell to the task of setting up camp. Before long, the tents were up, the campfire started, and many strange cooking contraptions sprouted up around the flames.

Day 2 was one of those perfect Fall days, clear blue sky, warm sun, crisp air. The leaves were just beginning to turn colors along the river, now running lazily along with the group's spirits. This stretch of the river meanders with good current through the wooded countryside.

All too soon, the Blair Road covered bridge came into sight. Nineteen miles all told, and a terrific camping spot at Mile 10 to boot. This river is not considered wilderness, a few other people were out paddling, they were holding a motocross race that filled the valley with the unbridled roar of performance engines, and there is a highway either side. For all that, there is a surprising amount of peace. Weather, season and great folks all conspired to make this a memorable trip.

Blair Road Bridge
The 1995 Trip

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