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Ohio Kayaking – Fighting Boredom in the Midwest

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[In addition to writing, I am also an amateur videographer and am working on a feature film of the name “Fighting Boredom in the Midwest.” Expecting to debut late August, 2015]

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The Midwest, like many named regions, has no defined political boundaries, and the true definition of “Midwest” can be rather subjective.  I live in Northeast Ohio.  Is that really Midwestern?  Debatable in my opinion, but generally a “yes.”  Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, are they all considered the Midwest? I’d say so without hesitation.  Maybe one could define it by a process of elimination of sorts. Does it count as the East Coast? West Coast? Pacific Northwest? Southeast? Southwest? New England? If not, then it’s probably the Midwest.  Again, however, these are all pretty much subjective definitions as well, and true boundaries are hard to define.

There is a stereotype floating around that the Midwest is flat, barren, sparsely populated, full of nothing but corn and soybeans, and is a boring, low-key place.  However, from somebody who has not only lived in and traveled all over the Midwest, but is also a licensed pilot and has flown over it extensively, I can very easily say this about the aforementioned notions………they are pretty much on point. This place sucks.  Short and simple.

(People like to throw out counter arguments and reference cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis, both of which are absolutely amazing places in my opinion.  If you ask me, however, they are the exception and not the rule. Also, Summit County, Ohio is a beautiful place worth visiting.)

I grew up in Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington D.C. before moving out to Northeast Ohio to go to school.  To me, it made sense to try somewhere new, far enough away from home to be away, but close enough to be able to return a couple times per year in half of a day’s drive.  I still reside in Ohio, until I can transfer to a different office.  However, instead of complaining about where I am, I’d rather make the most of it, with the amazing friends and resources I have here.  Now, let’s get into the adventure seeking, adrenaline-filled highlights of an overlooked area.

Ohio Creeking

Whitewater kayaking gave me a sense of purpose in an otherwise difficult time of my life, in addition to some of the best friends somebody could ask for.  But wait, Ohio is flat and dry right? Wrong. Remember, we are on the gray area boundary of the Midwest and, in my opinion, definitely not in the Great Plains yet.  Ohio is definitely not a good state for whitewater, but it has it’s crown jewels, including, yes, some steep creeks and other fun rivers, including:

  • Cuyahoga River (Upper and Lower Gorge)
  • Tinker’s Creek (Often considered the most fun in Ohio)
  • Sagamore Creek
  • Chippewa Creek
  • Rattlesnake Creek

Cuyahoga River Upper Gorge/Sheraton Section – Class V, 75fpm*

*Per American Whitewater, and my own observations, this section drops 60′ in just over 1/10th of a mile

AW Description

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Second Drop

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First drop

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Entrance to the first drop

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Nearing the lip of the first drop

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Eddie on river left to scout the second drop

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Second drop

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Ian running the river right side of the second drop

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“Staircase” line on river left, skipping off of a shelf then running the left line of the boulder garden at the bottom. The more common line

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The end of the whitewater, in a beautiful gorge. Following the falls there is a nasty boulder garden followed by two very easy holes

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Midair on the first drop

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A hole above the first drop has flipped the occasional boater

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What the whole second drop looks like. Staircase line is on far river left, the boulder garden “The Jumble” present downstream. The far river right line is a sieve that loves to collect wood and can have dire consequences. The Jumble can be run on the left or right side, with the left side being easier and less consequential. These rocks are always changing, and as myself and many others can attest, this is a very terrible place to swim

There are many things that contribute to the awe of the Sheraton Section.  First off, it is located right in the heart of Cuyahoga Falls, alongside the Sheraton Hotel from which it gets its name.  95% of the time, you will have some spectators cheering you on from a balcony.  Secondly, the gorge is beautiful, and even hiking it can be a very fun, somewhat technical, and physically demanding hike.  Third, it is runnable at a wide range of flows, and as long as there isn’t ice (ice in this section gets bad), it is runnable the majority of the year.  Runs at extremely high water have been done successfully, but leave no room for error, and are not recommended.  Fourth, there are bars and restaurants all within walking distance.

2014 Short Video Compilation

Tinker’s Creek – Class IV-V, 120fpm

AW Description

Unlike the aforementioned Sheraton Section, Tinker’s Creek rarely flows (save for spring snowmelt; in 2015 it flowed for a week straight).  Additionally, the “main” section of Tinker’s Creek can be run below recommended levels, resulting in an easier run, sometimes Class III/III+.  Tinker’s Creek flows over Tinker’s Falls, a Class 5.1 20+ foot drop with a rather fine line and a shallow pool that requires a definite bit of water to get flowing, through a bending tunnel, into a series of rock gardens before opening into a few miles of easier waves and holes.

When Tinker’s Creek flows, it’s a big deal.  There is something else about the mystique of Tinker’s that somebody once pointed out to me.  “A lot of the big name pro kayakers have probably never paddled this.”  An extremely fun creek, that is very demanding, but flows so unpredictably and drops faster than anything I have ever seen.  Somebody once jokingly told me “If you want to paddle it at 500cfs, gather your gear and start driving to the put-in when it’s at 900cfs.”

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Tinker’s Falls at below runnable level

I paddled this river at mid-December last year, and portaging the falls might have been one of the sketchiest parts of the trip.  The ground was frozen over with ice, and the guard railing that you need to climb over was frozer over with ice.  Luckily I was only carrying a Wavesport Fuse at the time, not a nice fat creek boat.

All of the aforementioned photos were taken at around ~520 cfs, mid-December 2015.  On the lower side of runnable (per AW, 400 is the general “minimum runnable flow.”) , but still class IV/IV+ to keep you on your tows. Not to mention the delightful mid-winter water temperature.

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Upstream entrance to the tunnel

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The tunnel empties into a slide which empties into an intimidating hole. Good times; definitely gives you quite a bit of speed

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The aforementioned hole is friendly enough to give you full stern squirts without any effort

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If only it was easy to take out, hike up, and run the tunnel multiple times

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Fun river, with some fun slides, slot moves, holes, and avoiding being backendered here and there

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With it’s fair share of surf spots

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The gorge is absolutely stunning

Climbers may enjoy the gorge almost as much as kayakers do.  Trees also like the creek, since they seem to fall into it all the time, creating a little bit of an inconvenience or, if you’re not being observant, danger.

Sagamore Creek– Class IV

AW Description

I have been dying to give this creek a try.  I only know of it being run once, in late 2013, and have talked to a few of the people that ran it. Looks like a blast, comparable to Tinker’s (even has its own tunnel!), but it’s never really run.  I have a few guesses as to why:

  • Since it hasn’t been run much, it hasn’t been very advertised or talked about much
  • It takes a LOT of water to get it flowing. I was told 700cfs and rising on the Tinker’s gauge. Extremely difficult to plan for in advance
  • If Tinker’s is flowing, people generally tend to want to run Tinkers. I opted to try out Rocky River once instead of Tinker’s, and I wished I ran Tinker’s (save for the end of the day when two of us ran a section of Rocky at relatively higher water with some small drops, a slide, a river-wide ferry, and very good food at a local bar.  Rocky River scrapes by as a Class III and isn’t something I’m going to touch on much in here)
  • In line with my first point, many people just haven’t heard about it

I will give this place a good scouting sometime soon, just to see what it’s like and somewhat familiarize myself with the location.  Fortunately, one of my friends and I have talked about running this when we get the opportunity, possibly for its second descent ever, and it should be a great time.  Besides, I cringe when I see an American Whitewater article with few or no pictures of the river, and I take it upon myself to fix it.

Chippewa Creek- Class V+*

*Probably unrunnable these days in my opinion.  Maybe would turn into “questionably runnable” after going out there with some chainsaws to get rid of some strainers.  The falls at the entrance, however, are runnable

AW Description

I’ve scouted this once at low water (Tinker’s wasn’t flowing, Cuyahoga was reading around 1000 I believe).  Holy sieve fest.  I know of a few people who’ve ran it, and know one or two of them personally.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s been close to a decade since it’s been ran.  Additionally, I’ve been told it’s changed since then due to flooding, and somebody I know who has ran it in the past said it very well might not be runnable now, save for the falls at the entrance.

However, this is an absolutely amazing place to hike.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Video of low-water scouting

(Video disclaimer: I had no intention of making a video when I went out there; just happened to have my GoPro with me at the time and brought it.  It’s a little shaky, and since I didn’t plan on making a video, I didn’t bring any sliders or tripods)

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In the aforementioned video, many angles of the creek’s last drop are shown, which even at low water, creates a hell of a sieve that empties into a cave.  In other words, it’s a very fun scout and hike, but don’t fall into that.  The top of the drop is a pool, where water flows down a narrow slow between two rocks.  When I was there, it was very serene, with almost completely still water at the top and a beautiful view on all sides.

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Appears smaller in the photograph than in person. Not a place I’d particularly want to be

Rattlesnake Creek- Class IV 

AW Description

A 20′ waterfall. Takes a LOT of water to get flowing.  Has been run by my friends who live in the area at very low levels, but when you have a 3 hour drive to get there, “very low levels” isn’t really worth it, especially when I have the Sheraton Section nearby.  From what I’ve heard, as far as 20′ waterfalls go, this is notoriously easy and fun, and can be a park and huck if you set ropes.  I’ve been dying to run this thing.

The Outer Circle

Now, what if instead of only focusing on local creeks in the Northeast Ohio area (plus Rattlesnake, which is on the other side of the state), we broadened our horizons slightly, and considered other areas within an hour’s drive? Or a couple hours?  I’m not going to touch much on these.  Everybody’s familiar with the Lower Yough and the Gauley.  Slippery Rock Creek and Stoneycreek Canyon aren’t as well-known nationwide but are still extremely popular spots for those not more than a couple hours away.  As kayakers, we don’t expect to walk out our backdoor and into a park and play or a steep creek.  Driving long distances and setting up tents for a few days is a part of the sport.  I’ve driven from Northeast Ohio down to central West Virginia and back, four hours each way, on a single day by myself while sick to buy a boat and get out on some new whitewater and went to work the next day.  I’ve taken day trips often on 2-3 hour drives each way with a group of people, and I’ve had whitewater trips where I’ve camped out in what was basically a torrential downpour, enough to bring the Lower Yough up significantly over the course of a single night.  That’s the beauty of kayaking; paddling the river is only part of the overall experience.

I yearn for the day I can move permanently to the Southeast, where rivers such as the Tallulah Gorge, Ocoee, Gauley, etc. are much more feasible as far as time and logistics goes.  For those that aren’t familiar with Western PA, or parts of West Virginia, I’ll throw a few more pictures into the mix.  Just for fun.

Kayaking Ohiopyle Falls, September 2014

Falls Fest 2014, Ohiopyle Falls. My Wavesport Fuse never lets me down!

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One of my favorite photographs I’ve taken; the top of Ohiopyle Falls

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Middle Meadow, West Virginia, 1400cfs

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The mill at Slippery Rock, around 3 feet. Beautiful place when there’s snow on the ground

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Someone getting swallowed at The Slip

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The Slip

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs. Fun wave trains

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The classic seal launch at The Slip

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Lower Yough: got to the put-in and realized one of my screws was came loose and disappeared. Was advised to jam a stick into the hole, with the reasoning that it would swell up and plug it. To my surprise, it held tight all the way up through river’s end

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Snow just adds to the beauty

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KeelHaulers Canoe Club April, 2015

I highly recommend checking out the Keelhauler Canoe Club.  A great bunch of very talented paddlers who I am proud to be a part of.  Far more whitewater rivers exist in Ohio than just those that I have mentioned.  In addition, there is some outstanding hiking in my area.  Brandywine Falls, Brecksville Reservation (Chippewa), Upper and Lower Gorges in Cuyahoga Falls, just to name a few.  Drive a little further, and you have beautiful areas such as Hocking Hills State Park, Mohican, and Allegheny National Forest, just to name a few.

Sure, this isn’t the Southeast or the Pacific Northwest, and I yearn for the day when I can move permanently to the Southeast.  Nonetheless, wherever you are, there is always something else to do, somewhere else to be explored.  You don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to get outside and have an adventure.  Get out, travel, explore, and see what the world has to offer!

Written by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article, by all means feel free to contact me.  I also wish to bring recognition to organizations such as Team River Runner, American Whitewater, and Friends of the Crooked River.  Whitewater kayaking has an amazing community, and over time many barriers to entry for this sport have been mitigated.  If you are wanting to learn but unsure how to go about doing so, feel free to contact me and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.  In addition, be on the lookout for courses offered by the American Canoe Association and the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  Lastly, even though I mentioned you don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to have an adventure, extreme sports bring out a feeling that nothing else can!!

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