Looking In on the Lackawaxen
by Jeff Bowen
August 3, 2007
For quite some time I had noticed in the Club Activity Schedule frequent references to day trips on the Lackawaxen River in Pennsylvania. I was aware that it was a "white water" trip, and although I am more of a flat-water recreational paddler, I decided that I should go on one of these Lackawaxen trips and see what it was about.
A scenic drive north from Port Jervis along the Delaware River brought me to the Roebling Bridge and the nearby Zane Grey Museum parking lot where we were to meet. Here, where the Lackawaxen meets the Delaware, many river paddling enthusiasts were meeting. Not all of them were from our Club. I soon spied my Trip Leader Fred Cohane and some other Club members and parked the truck. Fred smiled and greeted me, but his eyes strayed to the recreational kayak on the roof rack of my truck. He asked me if I had some basic equipment, helmet, skirt, PFD, and handed me the sign-in sheet.
Most of the rest of the group had boats more suited to white water: lots of rocker for the canoes, and generally shorter kayaks. My coated nylon spray skirt was rather wimpy compared to the robust neoprene skirts that most of the others had. Most of the gear I saw on the others looked of high quality and well and frequently used. By comparison, my helmet didn't have a scratch on it. Their paddles were rugged and bore what I can only describe as 'battle scars’ from use in close proximity with rocks and boulders. It was all a tad intimidating, especially when I overheard the comment: "He must have some experience...he's the President of the Club."
We arranged the shuttle and headed upstream to Threshmans put in. The sun was out and the day was getting hot as we parked and readied our boats by the water's edge. There was a lot of activity; we were not alone on the river. The water was rising from the release upstream, almost imperceptibly at first, but wading into the river to launch it seemed that the water was cooler than I would have expected. It was almost noon, and the current was definitely energetic. We formed up our group, appointed a lead and a sweep, and headed downstream.
The Lackawaxen runs through the hilly forests of Pennsylvania that surround it. It is narrower than the Delaware, and it was running a bit quicker, with a more pronounced drop. The river was clear of strainers and branches for the most part, and as the water levels came up, there were plenty of wide channels to pass down. Occasional boulders provided eddies to pull up and play in, but my strategy was to be cautious and keep the open side up. I timidly tried to copy some of the moves I saw the others doing, but I lacked confidence in my ability, and my boat was not as nimble as some of the others. My paddle, which always seemed effective and comfortable on lakes, began to feel too long.
At one point a Bald Eagle appeared flying upstream and flew directly over us. There was beautiful scenery all around us, but I tried to keep my attention on the water.
We stopped for lunch on an island, and saw an eagle not far away on the opposite bank. There was disagreement whether it was an immature Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle. Some of our group got quite close to it when we set out after lunch, hopefully the pictures they took will provide a definitive answer.
After lunch there were increasing clouds, and the sound of thunder was clearly discernable. The constantly changing current and the challenging maneuvers coupled with the ominous thunder heightened the sense of excitement I felt. Even some of the experienced paddlers would capsize at times while playing in an eddy, then roll up impressively. Everyone was having a great time.
At one point one of our party flipped over, almost pinned against a rock. Help arrived quickly, and he exited his boat and was assisted to shore. He managed to keep hold of the water shoe that had come off his foot, but had lost hold of his paddle, and did not have a spare. He elected to take out, pull his boat up the steep bank and hike the hundred yards to the road and await the shuttle. We found his paddle in an eddy a few hundred yards downstream.
A few more exciting rapids later, and with lightning bolts visible in the far distance, we reached the Delaware River and the take out. The sun was trying to come out again, and I enjoyed the invigorating thrill of having navigated white water while eluding the thunder storms.
I enjoyed the trip greatly, and I think it is a trip that many members of our Club could do well on and enjoy. I must say, however, that it gave me insight into the kinds of equipment and boats that are more suited to that type of river than the casual recreation kayak set-up that I currently own. I used to think that my next boat would be a faster, longer kayak. Now I’m not so sure. I think my interest in white water paddling has been reawakened with a healthy dose of Lackawaxen.