Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Musconetcong River
September 20, 27 and October 18, 2003

Duel trip reports by trip leader Bob Rancan and participant Valerie Josephson


by Bob Rancan, trip leader

Each fall, in preparation for winter, the Lake Hopatcong Commission draws down the water level in the lake to guard against damage caused by ice to facilities and docks. Most years, the drawdown does not significantly affect flow levels in the Musconetcong River. However, every fifth year the lake is dropped about 60 inches to allow lake residents to fix docks and do other work on their waterfronts. The fifth year drawdown begins after Labor Day and usually extends to the end of October or even into November.

Since it is a big lake, it takes many days to get the lake to the desired level. This means there is good flow in the Musconetcong all season, every day.
I have taken advantage of this consistency to explore most of the river's length. Trips can actually be scheduled without gauging the recent rainfall, snowmelt, etc. I first paddled several sections in 1992 and again found good water in 1997. Last year's release was postponed due to the draught. As of August of 2002, the lake was down and the Lake Hopatcong Area Business Association feared that it would not refill by spring, which would be an economic nightmare.

This year, the water started flowing the day after Labor Day. I did notice that the flow would be cut back after heavy rains, I imagine to prevent downstream flooding. But then the runoff replaced the lake water.
So, we scheduled three club trips. The response was very good. For the Hackettstown to Penwell section on September 21, 2003, we had 12 boats, 15 paddlers.
For Beattystown to Hampton on September 27, 9 boats, 10 people, and for the final run, Hampton to Bloomsbury on October 12, 10 boats, 12 paddlers. I was checking the Bloomsbury USGS gauge online, which is located at Lime Kiln Road on the Warren County side of the river. On the last trip, I also checked the outside staff as I paddled by. The levels were 2.33 (350 cfs) the first week, 2.34 (354 cfs) the second and 2.39 (372 cfs) in October. I have paddled this stream many times at much lower levels and a level of 2.0 is desirable. 1.75 to 1.8 is workable but your river reading skills really have to be brought to bear if you don't want to hit every rock. I would recommend you wait for rain if this gauge reads below 1.7.

As for the HRCKC trips, it was loads of fun. The company was nice, and there was a good mix of beginners and experienced moving water paddlers on each run. There was a Grumman, various solo canoes, a potpourri of kayaks, recreational, whitewater and even a Kevlar sit-on-top. With such a quick, strong current, I used my solo canoe as well as my Blue Hole Prowler. I calculate that we had 37 paddlers, 31 boats and 8 spills (plus one canoe capsize at the launch and a PFD attaching itself to a branch at a rest stop, causing the kayak to leave but not the helmsperson). It's a good place to learn about that juxtaposition of space and time on a fast flowing river. Self-rescue is usually possible because there's an eddy nearby or it is shallow water. I hope everyone will try again in the spring. Thanks to Fred Cohane, Phil Brown and Dave Prugh and Sybil Reid from the Mohawk Canoe Club for their steadying influence and thanks to John Brunner of the Musconetcong Watershed Association, who joined us for trip two and provided lots of information and neat maps.

Lastly, I can't write a report without some mention of the flora and fauna observed: Common mergansers were still around for all three trips, osprey were hunting, great blue herons, a green heron, a small water snake, many flickers, yellow-rumped warblers, blue jays and ruby-crowned kinglets were seen. When a sharp-shin hawk crossed the river right in front of me on trip three, I thought the day was made. However, Virginia Magee and Noreen Haberski spotted a Great-Horned Owl sleeping on a large deadfall on river right. Although I was about 40 feet away, it took several moments before they guided my eyes to it. It looked so much a part of the bark that I thought it was just a broken branch.
I've been close to perched owls before, but never this close. That magic moment is the reason I keep going back.



by Valerie Josephson, participant

Bob in a moment of brevity summarized this triple header on the river: “The sum total of all three Musconetcong trips was 37 paddlers, 9 capsized vessels, one car temporarily left behind, a couple of lost seat cushions, two possibly strained relationships and one dinner at Truck Stops of America where the waitress still calls you "'hon.'" Priceless.

I scored 6 of those dunks. Is that some kind of record?
In this first summer of kayaking, I learned the basics at Green Turtle Pond with Fred Cohane and other club members, took a Level 2 course at the Peekskill Center and enjoyed the Delaware without mishap. The missing part of the equation was learning to read rivers endowed with fast moving water and rocks, lotsa rocks. The Musconetcong triple header offered that opportunity. I learned a lot and hope that all those lessons will be remembered when my boat hits the water in 2004. My adventures on two of the three trips follow.

Trip 1: September 20, 2003:

All the enthusiasm chronicled in a previous report (“Up on the Delaware”) was still hot but it was one month colder and the Musconetcong was tight and frisky. Twelve boats and 15 people launched. It was my first time out on such a brisk current and I chose to take my new boat, WS Rascal, as maneuverability was a desired quality. Big mistake. Large cockpits are great for flexing your legs but do they swamp fast. Lesson One: always trust your instincts. The Shaman would have been much more forgiving and its length provides more stability when slamming into rocks.

My first swim involved misreading a rock, a legitimate error for a novice. Floated happily down the stream riding on the capsized boat, pushing towards shore where the trip leaders kindly got the water out of its floationless belly. The second dunk involved a pile-up with other boats because we were traveling too closely behind them. Lesson Two: Write it large, folks, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. A math nerd could probably figure out the relationship between stream speed and recommended DFNB (distance from next boat). Same routine, huge amount of water in the boat and much appreciated help was given by the Rescue Squad (Bob Rancan, Dave Prugh, and others). Still it was a beautiful day and nobody was getting cold. Third Event, the Big One, happened at a dam. Approaching the dam with a limited channel through it, I back-paddled to allow another kayak to go first. The fast current swept me up against the dam, over I went, under the dam and popped out on the other side in a instant. It was over before it happened. (Thank you, Yogi). I did realize at the time that this could have been a very serious event and that I was probably in for a day or two of “What Ifs” and nightmares. What if there was a shopping cart or two barring my exit. What if I hooked into some long green vines? Lesson Three: Keep Your Distance, always wear your PFD and get a knife. The first person I saw when surfacing was a young man who lived in the house closest to the dam. I asked if anyone had done that before and he answered “No, it’s a first”. . His wife sat streamside holding their infant daughter and the fear was evident on her face. Babies love water. The kayak was lodged stern down in the rocks of the dam, pinned down by the current. Dave and others roped it and maneuvered it up and out of the rocks. While they got the water out I figured maybe this was just a jinxed day for me and the Rescue Squad was probably getting tired of these constant mishaps; perhaps I should sit out the rest of the trip. We were at a cross road so pick up would be easy. If fear wasn’t my problem, Dave encouraged me to continue. Which we all did. Further downstream, a canoe got hung up on the rocks, blocking the obvious channel, and a second canoe threw them a line thereby blocking what I saw as my open water. NO! I yelled. This wasn’t directed at the Rescuer but at me. NO, I am not going over again! I shimmied along the stern of the canoe, spotted one small channel over the rocks, held my breath and paddled hard. Successfully. No more dunks that day. It was a beautiful day and certainly one full of lessons. Bob said that my three mistakes were all different - guess that is encouraging! The next day a friend told me that while she was kayaking in Alaska and floating past 15 grizzly bears, she went under a log and couldn’t get out of her boat. Now that is scary!

Third Musconetcong trip, October 18:

Meeting at the Truck Stops of America diner off Rt. 78, there were 4 canoes and 6 kayaks. We put in at Hampton Park, a lovely area with lots of parking. The weather was cool and the river swift but high enough to hide the really big rocks. This time I was riding True Blue, my WS Shaman, and feeling much more secure. I preached Keeping Your Distance to a few kayakers hanging at the back of the pack. They stayed dry the entire trip - I didn’t. Halfway to lunch, a canoe went over and Dave Hill and I sprinted for a fallen tree under which Fred Cohane had just successfully negotiated. Dave made it and I didn’t – couldn’t straighten out in time. Went for a long swim and as I floated downstream saw the Rescue Squad already resuscitating my boat. Got up on the bank to drip dry and walked down to where they were collecting floating paraphernalia from both the canoe and my boat. “Hey Guys, is my boat ready yet?” Just couldn’t resist that one. Downstream a bit, I eddied up to wait and felt comfortably warm. When we stopped for lunch, I was no longer comfortably warm and developing that little quiet shiver that bodes ill, so I changed clothes. Lesson Six-and-One Half : if the leaves have started to change color, change your wet clothes. The rest of the trip was pleasant, only one more person went over the edge. The dunking I refuse to count was a quickie. Four of us had eddied up and I held fast to a large branch while another kayaker rescued himself with Bob’s assistance. When we began to peel out back into the current, the friendly branch grabbed my PFD and over I went. Ticked off, livid, and other words we can’t print here, I was so angry that I dried out the boat and was back in it in about five minutes. We then hit a series of drops and everyone got through high and dry. Norene Haberski and Bob May (who has had his Shaman for one month) came through like champs and very dry.

The finale was the discovery that my car key had gone astray – maybe in the river, maybe while I was changing clothes. After trying all possibilities (searching every nook and cranny in the boat, a trip to the local Ford dealer with Bob, three people hunting for the spare key under the car), Dave Hill called the State Police and made arrangements so they would watch my car, as it was going to spend the night in the park. We adjourned to the truckstop for food. Lesson Ten: wire a key under the car, keep an extra in the car so you can justify breaking in the window, and have a spare crazy glued to your body.

You can read this as a personal egocentric diatribe, you can read it for Lessons Learned, you should read this as a thank you to the many people who instructed and come to my rescue all summer. I am active in two other “sports” clubs and have never encountered this level of help from the members. Paddlers are indeed special people.
As Red Sox fans are wont to say, “Wait until next year.”


Member Marty Lazar suggests the following advice:

"Suggest to Valerie and any other paddlers that she get a waterproof fanny pack. I wear mine every time I paddle. I keep my wallet, keys, tele and valuables in it. I have gone snorkeling with it repeatedly. It is absolutely watertight."

October 27, 2003