The Lackawaxen and Big Water
by Bob Rancan
Saturday, October 9, 2010
End of September, finally lots of rain came to New Jersey and October's first weekend brought up all of the small streams. But canoeable levels often don't last long and looking forward to the next weekend, I figured we'd be back to limited choices. Then I checked PP&L's Lake Wallenpaupack generation and I saw they were releasing water (for generation) 24/7 at nearly full capacity. Apparently, northeastern PA got lots more rain than we did. Lake Wallenpaupack had gone from about 49% capacity to over 70% full and that's a very big lake. Meanwhile, the U.S. Corps of Engineers flood control dams at Prompton on the West Branch, Lackawaxen and Jadwin Dam on Dyberry Creek were overflowing and the Lackawaxen's main flow was flying.
I determined that if the flow dropped all weak but stayed above 750 cfs at the Hawley gauge I wanted to paddle from Hawley down to Kimbles. In addition, PP& L had not scheduled any release for the weekend so I figured we wouldn't be overwhelmed once we passed by the power plant. Although I have paddled the Lackawaxen many times over close to 30 years I've only gone from Hawley about 5 times. It is a beautiful part of the river.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the river and its flow, I rounded up some volunteers rather than post a Club trip. The Hawley gauge stayed above 1000 cfs through most of Friday and was dropping slowly. Late in the day, Jim Lyon, Mark Grossman and I agreed to meet at Zane Grey Museum in the morning and decide where and how far to go. Plan A seemed right but the twist was that PP& L amended the schedule and kept releasing at max levels throughout the weekend. After considering leaving three cars in three places to hedge all the bets, we figured on driving up the river, looking things over and still heading for Hawley.
The river narrows to about a quarter of its regular width at the Kimbles Road bridge and the problem was that this was just below the power plant. We'd have well over 2000 cfs pouring through that gorge. The good news is that the big waves can be scouted from the bridge and we stopped and spent a good deal of time looking everything over. Also got some advice from a local citizen in an old pick up with Alaska plates (go figure). His experience there seemed to jive with mine. He was more concerned with the rapids below Rowland that we all know well but I explained we weren't going that far anyway.
So off to Hawley we went. Got some advice from another local (woman this time) about an easier spot to put in and finally, we were on the river. I am not affiliated with the Hawley or Pike County Chamber of Commerce but on the first turn another gentlemen took some photos of us from his trailer home above the river and shouted that if we'd stop by later he'd put them on a disk for us (photos to follow if I ever stop there again).
The rest of the day was incident free, except for the two mature bald eagles we rousted from some pines along a bend, the six or seven belted kingfishers, four great blue herons and the great sights, including a lunch stop at the mouth of a rushing brook, the Hawley fall foliage excursion train with three restored cars loaded with waving folks and the ruins of the D & H Canal walls and locks that line the river.
Oh yes, there was the Kimbles Road bridge just below the running power plant. To end the suspense, all three of us came through high and dry. However, in the big eddy below the bridge, it was time for a break...too much adrenaline was expended. And for future reference, my idea to skirt the big waves river left while avoiding the wall was a good one, except that with those kind of cross currents pushing you towards the wall, it was easier said than done. I got turned around, was too close to the wall for comfort, ferried through the wave train and somehow only got two spongefulls of water in the boat. You can be lucky too. Jim took the waves head on and maybe got a bit more water (turned on his electric bilge pump) but had the better line. Mark was fine.
In the end, when we set out there was 838 cfs running past the Hawley gauge, a very manageable amount. The plant had to be putting in an additional 1200-1300 because downstream, the Rowland gauge was hovering in the 2500-2600 cfs range all afternoon. We covered about 7 to 8 miles, the last 2 plus on the higher water. I'll go there again next time it's up in decent weather (got to get those photos).