April Outsider: Spring Melt

Time to head for the river – if you dare.

Where does the snow from a New Hampshire winter go? Much of it melts and flows into the state’s rivers where avid kayakers and canoeists don their boats and paddles for the thrill of whitewater paddling. In spring, weekend warriors ferry down the rapids in places like the Souhegan, Contoocook, Winnipesaukee, Androscoggin, Swift, Otter Brook and the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River to name just a few.

Which is the best? “The best of anything is difficult to quantify and the same goes for whitewater rivers in New Hampshire,” says paddling expert Mark Lacroix of Thornton. “It really depends on personal preference. It would be similar to asking a skier what is the best ski trail.”

Rivers are generally broken into sections, as not every part of every river is navigable. There is a rating system that goes from easiest (Class I) to expert (Class V). Those easy sections are characterized with fast-moving water and small waves that can be done with minimal training to expert passages with large swells and waterfalls where paddlers must know how to rescue themselves.

Paddling clubs and river outfitters are excellent first stops for whitewater novices, as both offer advice and trips across the state. Those venturing into the state’s rivers must approach the passion with a clear head and be sure to have and wear a personal flotation device (PFD), helmet (those bottoms are rocky), and know where they are going (and be aware that an easy section during a dry spell in summer can swell up to dangerous levels after a July downpour). A wet or dry suit are good ideas, too, especially when the water’s cold.

Run river run.


Gear Box

The Wave Sport Diesel 65 (wavesport.com, $995) is billed as the “SUV of kayaks.” Weighing in at just under 40 pounds, the 7 1/2′-long kayak is easy to maneuver in all sorts of fast water. The one-piece, 48 oz. River Passage paddle by Harmony (harmonygear.com, $69.95) is a top choice for entry-level whitewater enthusiasts. If you love the rapids, you’ll eventually want to upgrade to a lighter paddle. Harmony also makes a basic spray skirt ($69.96) to keep the water at bay. A bit higher-end is the vest-like Extrasport Pro Creeker PFD (extrasport.com, $199), which allows ease of movement and has all sorts of pockets. Don’t forget your head. The Pro-Tec Ace Wake Helmet (pro-tec.net, $60) is a sound investment.


Expert Advice

Running the state’s rivers for more than 30 years as a kayaker and canoeist, Mark Lacroix is a contributor to the river guidebook “Let It Rain,” past president of the Merrimack Valley Paddlers, a certified American Canoe Association Swift Water Rescue instructor and American Whitewater board member. He lives in Thornton with his wife and paddling companion Sharon.

What is the best way for a beginner – someone with no paddling experience or someone making the transition from quiet water – to be introduced to whitewater paddling?

Some prefer professional training from a whitewater school. Others would rather take advantage of the paddling clubs’ trips and training. You can also experience easy (Class I) whitewater by renting equipment from one of the many outfitters in the state. They will give you a quick safety talk, explain the equipment, then drive you to the put in and pick you up at the end of the day.

What is the value of joining a paddling club?

Joining a paddling club provides a wonderful source of help and information for the new paddler. Meeting like-minded adventurers provides support and camaraderie. Clubs provide skills training, trips, socials and a multitude of other services and information that can be difficult to learn any other way. All the paddling clubs in New Hampshire have a Web site and/or message boards that post upcoming trips, river levels, paddling tips and other information.

Every pursuit has an element of risk. What are the dangers?

Whitewater sports are inherently dangerous, but with proper training and equipment those dangers are minimized. Rushing water, holes, strainers, rocks, hypothermia – all are elements of risk a paddler will learn to deal with over his or her paddling careers.

Do you or paddlers you know work conservation into paddling by participating in river clean ups?

River clean ups and conservation work are a big part of the club’s functions. Paddlers are very environmentally aware and often volunteer full days to clean-up efforts on a wide variety of rivers throughout the state. Tons of trash are picked up along the river and roadside.

Over the years we have pulled out breached dam debris such as iron spikes and log cribbing, tires, rusty oil tanks, boat docks, bicycles, road signs, and even two submerged snowmobiles. These conservation efforts are for the benefit of all river users including fishermen and bird watchers.

Can you describe the thrill of spring whitewater paddling after a long, cold winter?

The best whitewater conditions come in the spring when paddlers skills are a bit rusty from a long winter. To get back out on the rivers after a long winter is thrilling. There are so many whitewater trails just in New Hampshire it could take a few dozen springs to experience them all.


Impressive Fact

The thrill of spring whitewater paddling is kept alive through fall with scheduled dam releases by power companies, the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.