There are few things as pleasant as paddling whitewater in a snow storm. Uniquely pleasant, that is, in its simultaneous purity and complexity. At a glance from a calm eddy below the notorious Big Splat rapid, I stopped to witness the slow, downward drift of a million big, fat snowflakes, the thunderous waters of the Big Sandy chew away rock at a geologic pace, and a hundred mile wide cloud mass expose the sun to me through a tiny hole. I admit that I chuckled aloud in amazement.
And only two other people were there witnessing it all with me.
But I couldn't hear them.
Because the roar of whitewater is too loud.
And that damn rubber hat I have to wear was sealed over my ears.
I nearly missed this opportunity to experience the first day that Mother Nature showed us her cold side. With a big rain on Sunday night and steady snow throughout the day Monday, Tuesday shaped up to have a lot to offer. Thankfully, two paddlers from the DC area, Tyler and Matt, responded to message board posts. Neither had run this section of Big Sandy Creek before, and it is on every class 4 boater's list. If I had to rank the best types of experiences on whitewater, introducing a boater to a new river to run is just below being introduced to a new run. But, if the river is one of my own favorites, we can call it even.
According to the ultra-precise thermometer on my dashboard, it was 24 degrees when we parked the car at the put in. This was after more than an hour of driving to drop the shuttle vehicle at the take out thanks to the snowy, rough roads of Preston County, WV. I was told by Charlie Walbridge last week that the quickest way from Masontown to Bruceton Mills is through Jenkinsburg. This may sound perfectly normal to most, but Jenkinsburg is not a town and the road through it is more than 8 miles of rocky, muddy (and snowy today) switchbacks. We made it without a single slip.
Just as modern vehicles can be designed to tackle these roads, modern paddling apparel has been designed to keep out the cold. Never mind the fact that it takes a full 30 minutes to buckle, strap, and zip it on; it works. And so, Matt, Tyler and I put onto the river just under the bridge at Rockville (also not a town). And, I was responsible for getting them the appropriate information to successfully navigate the river. I am proud to say that I am apparently good at transferring this information, because when the information was given, all the right moves were executed. Strangely, both of them styled the line at Zoom Flume rapid, a line I have yet to style myself. All theory, no practice
One swim occurred and it was not in one of the major rapids. And, like I said, the gear works.
Reaching the take out point where the wild waters of the Big Sandy are injected into the wonderful Cheat River, a breath of relief accompanied each of our sighs of awe. This place is awesome.