I have a complicated relationship with this particular rapid. I suppose I would be the beaten housewife who defends her drunk husband in this scenario. Nelson’s Falls is a class 4 multi drop waterfall on the Middle section of the Moose river right near Old Forge, NY in the Adirondacks. Every year I go up to Moosefest and tackle this beast again. It’s not the gnarliest feature I’ve gone down in a kayak before, but it gave me the worst beating.
The saga begins several years ago. Moosefest is always in October and sometimes the weather is good, other times, there’s snow on the ground. My first time down the river, the day broke clear but cold. After waiting at the put-in for my Father-in-law to get back from running the shuttle, we put in on a calm section of river and floated down right past our campsite at Singing Waters. The water was cold but calm, and we floated easily, avoiding the few rocks in the way. Then we got out at the railroad bridge to scout the rapid. This is something I recommend for any new feature you run that has a risk of being nasty. Winding my way through the trees, I got my first look at the rapid.
The falls starts by narrowing towards river left, there’s a 2 ft drop, then, 10 ft later, another 2-3 ft drop on a diagonal. 10 ft. after that, there’s a 5 ft. drop onto a wierd slanted section. Then you have 200 ft to recover before the entire river turns 90 degrees to the right with another 3 ft. drop and right after it there’s a big 6-7 ft. drop/slide with a big hole at the bottom. After watching 90% of people walk around the falls, I was interested in the 10% brave enough to run it. Of that small number, many boaters got trashed. Either flipping on the first big drop, or getting worked in the hole at the bottom of the falls. I watched their mistakes and learned from them. Then we hiked up and put in ourselves. I admit I said a prayer before pushing off. I left enough room in front of me so I wouldn’t run into Phil. Going down was exciting. It all happens so fast. After studying the rapid for half an hour, 30 of fun and fear is all you have. I was using my Wavesport X at the time. The boat is 8 ft. long so it can plow through a the foam pile of a hole pretty well, which it did the first time. I was ecstatic that I made it down unscathed. Whoo hoo!
The next year, I wasn’t so fortunate.
I came back armed with my new Wavesport ZG (zero gravity) which is a playboat designed for tricks like front flips, not general river running. At just over 6 ft. in length, it has all the inertia of a cork when trying to bust through big holes. After our customary scouting, we put in (another prayer- hey, it’s still scary) I made it through the top section OK but right before the final drop I didn’t peel out of the eddy very well and lost a lot of speed. I sped down the ramp and slammed into the wall of water waiting hungrily for me at the bottom. I nearly made it over and through, but the force of the recirculating water sucked me back in. I tried side-surfing for a few seconds to get out of the trough, but as soon as the water hit my upstream edge with enough force, I got flipped under.
Depending on the type of person you are, this can be a terrifying experience, or a defining moment of calm against the chaos of a life lived to the fullest. It was the latter for myself. I ducked forward so as to protect my face from getting smashed in by the rocks, then reached my paddle over to my left hip to try a combat roll. I pulled upwards hard and did the hip flick that always brings me back up to the surface, except this time, nothing. Once more…nope.
At this point, figure I’ve been underwater for 15-20 seconds getting pummeled against the rocks by a freight train of whitewater. I try one more time and manage to get a breath before I go back under. After three tries, I’m begining to feel worried that I might not escape via rolling up. So I decide to do a wet-exit. This is the bail out manuever for kayakers where you rip off the neoprene skirt keeping you sealed in the kayak. Water rushes in and fills everything, but usually, you and your boat get flushed out of whatever nastiness made you pull your skirt in the first place. I still had the presence of mind to hold onto my boat in one hand and my paddle in the other. Difting downstream from the rapid, I hit several other rocks before jumping up onto a large one and essentially beaching myself so I could catch my breath and dump out my boat. I also need to mention that while the weather was nice that day, it was still the middle of October in NY, therefore the water was a balmy 40 degrees or so. Quite a shock to the system.
The next time I tried it, I used a Wavesport Y, which is a creek boat. Read:tank. It busted right through the middle of the bottome hole like it was nothing. Then the two years after that, I snuck down a slide on river left. My ZG may have a few more scratches, but I wasn’t trapped under water for 40 seconds either. Who knows, maybe next time, I’ll try and run it through the middle again. It guess it all depends on the weather, the scouting, and my nerves.