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May Flowers – Cheat River Festival 2015

April showers bring May flowers. This old adage to me has always felt like a way people would just try to justify weather that they don’t like.  When you live in Ohio, springtime weather doesn’t make sense.  From somebody who has monitored the weather on a daily basis for years as a pilot, I will preach this til I die.  I think some people are tired of the winter and just want warm sunny weather, and rain puts a damper on their plans, so they justify it with the metaphor of flowers blooming in May.  Realistically, though, who cares about flowers?

For whitewater kayakers, however, April showers can create some fun times.  In many areas, the spring snowmelt (and associated higher flows) is over.  Now, we are starting to rely on a combination of rainy weather and dam releases to have some fun.  Sure, rain isn’t as predictable as snowmelt, and sometimes involves stopping whatever you are doing in order to grab your boat and drysuit and go make a run for it.  Any kayaker in Ohio who has paddled Tinker’s Creek knows what I mean by this.

Every year, the first weekend of May is the amazing event that we call Cheat Fest.  Hundreds of experienced boaters pile down to Albright, West Virginia to set-up tents and cots, drink beer, eat greasy festival food, and enjoy the many miles of paddling that the area has to offer.  Cheat Canyon, Cheat Narrows, Upper Yough, Lower Yough, and multiple sections of the Tygart are all within a reasonable distance.

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Cheat River Campground

Cheat Canyon is a beautiful and exciting run.  A Class IV run with a Class V+ shuttle (pick your lines and don’t bottom-out your car), there is nothing like it this weekend.  As an added bonus, the campground is at the put-in.  Literally.  Carry your boat 100 feet, and in you go.  I am a huge fan of big water, something we don’t really have in Ohio, so needless to say this run is worth the trip.

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Decision Rapid, the “entrance”

A nice thing about the Cheat is how it begins, with a rapid named “Decision.”  For most paddlers, this allows for a nice little warm-up, finding tongues and working our way around holes.  For some, it is a reality check, giving them the “decision” to hike out if they need to.  The entire river is read and runnable, although I’d recommend following someone’s lines (and/or scouting) a few rapids, notably High Falls. Very fun rapid but it can get shallow and sketchy.  Let’s not forget the other good ones, such as Big Nasty, Coliseum, and Pete Morgan, the latter two being my favorites on the river.  Some correct lines are also a little intimidating (“Wow I should not be this close to that rock/hole”), but hey, that just adds in to the fun factor.  The holes in this river can give you one hell of a beatdown.  Not only that, but good luck hiking out the river after Decision.

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Pete Morgan Rapid. Hug the rock and land the drop!”

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Riding the initial tongue into Big Nasty.

The only photo I have at the moment (until I get around to some video screen-grabs) of Coliseum is a first-person shot taken while approaching the top of the rapid.  I’m not posting it because it does not do the rapid any justice.  The line through Coliseum involves finding a tongue between two holes, a tongue which is not much wider than your kayak.  Extremely fun rapid, but I would not want to be in those holes, especially Recyclotron on the right.  Oh, and don’t fight too hard to make a path around one of the holes, because if you do, you are setting yourself up to quite possibly just be going into the other one.  Immediately following Coliseum is Pete Morgan, and extremely fun line that involves hugging a rock while riding over a drop, all the while not getting surfed at the bottom.  Caught a beautiful eddy right after the drop; just another reason why I like a boat with edges.

Cheat Canyon is a blast, especially if you spend most of your time read and running.  Plus, then you might get to spice it up with a few not so great lines, all the while side-surfing and fighting your way into a trashy pillow of water or fun wave train and bracing and punching your way down.

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Great playspots and great lunch spots

Pete Morgan is also a very fun rapid to run, eddy out, and watch other people drop through while standing and videotaping from a rock.  I’ve seen some pretty funny carnage there.  This is also a very good river to remember to throw yourself into a rock if you get pushed into one.  Some of them can be kind of funky, but in a fun way.

This river is a very good warm-up for the real excitement, which is the shuttle out.  Very rocky roads, wide enough for a single car, alongside drop-offs.  All-terrain vehicles are not a bad idea here.  My Honda Civic? Forget about it. I’m catching a ride with somebody else, even if I have to bribe them with a six-pack.

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As far as the festival goes, it is a very chill time.  All of the main camping, even if off festival grounds, is within an easy walking distance.  In my memory is correct, there are less food, gear, and souvenir tents than Gauley Fest, and it’s a little more difficult to buy and sell used boats, but the food is amazing, and if you enjoy bluegrass music, this is the place for you. 10845849_10206874859372908_7605201688295985085_o

If you want to buy new boats, open canoes, or squirt boats, you are in luck.  All of the aforementioned were available for sale, and in large numbers.  Piles upon piles of boats were out for adoption, of every make and model.  Liquid Logic was showing off their new Braaap, Blackfly Canoes had a few different models available, Russ’ Ribs had a food truck with some outstanding food, and probably every 2014 boat model from any of the major manufacturers was available, in a multitude of size and coloring.  The festival attracts many non-kayakers as well.  WVU students, locals looking to check out the festival, artists selling their work of all kinds, the list goes on.  To top it off, they even had a smoothie stand.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, I was only able to drive down this year Friday evening (after the race), and had to drive back Saturday evening, spending a total of close to 10 hours in a small car with a Wavesport Recon jerry-rigged onto the top.  And there is no question in my mind that it was worth it.  All kayaking festivals are fun.  Cheat Fest, Gauley Fest, Stoneycreek Rendezvous, Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, you name it.  But something stood out about Cheat Fest.  It has an aura to it that I find difficult to describe, but worth experiencing.  Being able to lay on a cot in a peaceful nighttime environment and falling asleep while looking up at the stars is always a pleasant experience.

After some very fun time hanging out at the campground and festival, I had to unfortunately turn back and head to Northeast Ohio, arriving just after midnight, in one of the most physically-tired states I’ve been in in a long time. Nonetheless, it was worth it because I spent the following day at a dropzone doing my first non-tandem skydive, and believe me, pulling that cord and flying a canopy around by yourself, while descending a couple thousand feet and maneuvering yourself to a safe landing, is a feeling that nothing can replicate.

Every large kayaking event leaves me with the same belief: go to festivals.  If you have to take off of work, do it.  If you have to spend $100+ in gas money to get down there, do it.  If you need to bring your dog down with you because you can’t find somebody to feed him, do it.  Besides, they love the festival as much as we do.

Now, we count down the two weeks until the next one.

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-Cheat Fest

-Gauley Fest

-Stoneycreek Rendezvous

-Falls Fest

-Bridge Day (BASE festival, but might as well paddle the New River Gorge while you’re there)

The list goes on.  These are just some of my favorites; there are way more festivals than this that are worth going after.  Last but not least, let’s not forget the race happening on the Little White Salmon!

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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

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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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