I've had the desire for an outdoor adventure of some type for a while. I thoroughly enjoy nature and getting off the beaten trail. As mentioned in my previous trip this summer, I've been preparing tactically and mentally for this trip for quite a while. Based on learning from the previous overnight trip in the Delaware Gap, I made a couple of equipment upgrades. The main item was to get a mummy sleeping bag that takes 1/4 the space of a traditional sleeping bag.
The trip that I planned was on the Delaware River from Hancock, NY to Frenchtown, NJ. This is a distance in river miles of about 160 miles. I've labeled where I stayed each night (Day 1, Day 2, etc) on the map. I studied the distances, read normal travel distances of others, and dovetailed this into available camping areas. The goal was to carry everything that I needed to complete the trip over 5 days. So I needed to travel light as I wanted everything to fit below the deck of my Wilderness Tsunami 145 touring kayak that I purchased from Backcountry.com
My inventory was as follows:
Coleman Hooligan 2 tent
Ledge Sports +20 Ultra Light Sleeping Bag
Camp essentials > Saw, Ax, knife, hand chain saw, collapsible shovel, waterproof matches, Vaseline soaked cotton balls, first aid kit, Camp Suds
Light: Head lamp, 2 flashlights (waterproof), Solar waterproof reading light
Tooth brush and tooth paste
Long pants (Cotton for camp)
Nylon water pants
Waterproof boating jacket
3 long sleeve under Armour shirts
3 short sleeve shirts (hiking)
2 pair socks
2 pair underwear
2 swim shorts
Cutoff jean shorts (for camp)
1 pair of old sneakers and 1 pair of water shoe
Gloves (1/2 finger)
Bailing pump and sponge
Partial Kayak Cockpit Skirt
Aqua-Bound Carbon Fiber Paddle
3 battery backups
1 power block and 2 USB cables (micro and mini USB)
Waterproof camera and deck mount
Water filter (Sawyer)
2 Clear 2 Go water filter drinking bottles
Coffee (Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso - 6 cans)
Power Bar 6
Beef Jerky 3
Bag of Almonds
Dried Fruit 4 bags (2 Mango, 2 Raspberry)
Salami (Gave up on meat restriction diet for a bit)
The weather didn't look all that great as there was overcast and high probability of rain, but I was determined at this point to make the trip. This would be my last chance to do it in 2013 as the weather would get too cold before long.
After Monday, the weather looked very favorable and I only had about 15 miles to go on Monday. So, I packed up all of the supplies into the van and we loaded the boat on top. Justine rode along so Judy would not have to drive back alone.
The Malone Downloader 2 roof racks were much easier to load the boat and seemed to be more secure for the 14 1/2 foot kayak. We hit speeds of 65 MPH without a problem on the interstates. We left Flemington just about 11 am for the 2.5 hour drive to Hancock, NY.
By the time we traveled up to Hancock, we were all hungry so we stopped in the local Subway for lunch. Several people commented that my kayak was nice looking boat. Generally, Hancock seemed to be a friendly community as I chatted with several people while in line. After lunch, we headed to the river access point and unloaded the boat and supplies in a light rain.
Rain interrupted our unloading the van and packing the boat. The rain became really light so I completed loading the boat. I was happy to see that I had room to spare. So after a brief photo shoot and saying our goodbyes, off I went.
As you can see, there was a slight foggy mist on the water as I headed downstream toward Soaring Eagle Campground. It was pretty neat paddling off into the fog with lots of expectations going through my head. One of which was hoping that I didn't get rained on...at least not a lot. We saw a fisherman who warned of potential thunderstorms passing through, but it look like it would be minor to me.
As I set out on the river, the fog started to lift. There were several threatening clouds that blew over and I even had a light sprinkle of rain. It was a bit cool but paddling kept me warm. However, the weather held out and actually improved as I passed down the river. I paddled for quite a while and realized that I was not seeing any people. There was some road noise off to my right on the PA side from the Hancock Highway, but I didn't see anyone on the river. It was a private river.
There was a spattering of what I will call cottages along the river, but most didn't appear to be homes. They were more of 3 season cottages. I think between 2 p.m. and roughly 6 p.m. when I stopped I only saw one person (woman fishing) on the river.
As I started down the river, I realized that bridges would be good way for me to track location and sort where I was as I traveled downstream. I think that I captured all but 1 of the bridges. During the trip I passed under 25 bridges including 3 interstate highways. The first bridge was the bridge at Lordville, NY.
The water was very smooth with almost no rapids on this section of the river. There were quite a few great photo opportunities.
One of the high lights was spotting a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree. Normally, I don't go back for pictures, but I made an exception in this case. I took many pictures, but most were marginal quality as my waterproof camera has limited capabilities. It is a low cost, compact camera with only 4x optical zoom. It does take pretty good video.
I traveled down about 15 miles to Soaring Eagle Campground. I arrived just before the owner shut down for dinner for the night. I was arriving just as their season ended. The campground was pretty empty as most people must have left on Labor Day. It had a mix of RVs and campsites. There was one family tenting and one RV owner arrived later.
I only paid $10 bucks to stay the night then went back to the river and pulled the boat up. The camp ground is on the PA side of the river just before Kellman's Bridge. There is a nice little cove just before the bridge where I accessed the campground and pulled the boat up. The campground was a family run operation and the bathrooms were clean, so I would recommend it.
I replenished my water after dinner just about the time that it started to rain. Boy did it rain. We had very heavy rain all night. I got up at one point and pulled the boat farther up the bank of the river. I was concerned that the tent would leak, but fortunately the Coleman tent held up fine. I'm really happy with this tent. It is compact, not too heavy, works, and was only about $50. I just can't see paying $250 for a tent and another $200 for a sleeping bag. I paid under $100 for both and they worked fine for kayak camping.
Since I had already checked in, I went to bed early about 10 p.m. as I knew the next day might be a long one.
The river was moving at a nice pace and I thought that I was making good time. I didn't see any eagles or interesting wild life so I just paddled on. The water was very dark so I was glad that I filled up my water supplies. I didn't want to try to filter this brown water.
As the morning went on it started to turn into a beautiful day. The USGS gage at Barryville, NY was at ~4.3 ft which is slightly higher than normal and just at the recommended level for "intermediate" boaters. The air temperature was in the low 70's as well as the water temperature..so it was reasonably safe weather conditions. I didn't want to be in the water though as the boat was heavy with supplies.
I had a very scenic view as I went through the sparse number of communities along the river. I passed through Callicoon, NY and Cochecton, NY before reaching Milanville, PA. On the bridge at Milanville was ominous sign warning of the Skinners Falls Rapids. I heeded the recommendation and scouted the rapids before passing through. It seemed prudent based on my skill level and the high water. I actually scouted the river from both sides and was considering dragging the boat over the rocks to go around the rapid, but after observation, the right side looked passable. If I did end up in the water, the river was narrow with low banks here so I thought I could quickly get to the shore. It ended up just being a fast and fun pass through Skinners Falls (follow link to Youtube) as I only got wet from spray.
I headed down toward Narrowsburg, NY. This was the next landmark on my way. The river narrows here and gets very deep...hence the name Narrowsburg. The river gets to 133 feet deep here. I believe one hypothesis is there was an ancient water fall here. Anyway, after passing under the bridge, I pulled over at an access point a lunch. A fella came up in pickup truck and chatted with me for a while before I started on my way. He had one of those reflective vests on so not sure who he worked for. We both saw several fish there and he asked if I did any fishing on the route...maybe next time.
I passed through the rapids under the #9 Rail Road bridge and was getting near Sylvania Tree Farm camp ground which was my planned stopping point for the night. I was relying strictly on my GPS as there was not mobile service so I could not call them for directions. I ended up seeing a camp site by the side of the river and pulled the boat up. I got out and walked around. I found the bath house and lots of campsites, but no office. No one was camping there on the day after Labor Day. After about 20 minutes I decided that I should make a break for Lackawaxen which was the next town on the way as it was getting late in the day. I remembered that there were several campgrounds in the area. Again, the idea of going all the way to Buckhorn didn't seem feasible. I could not imagine running rapids in the dark. The last think that I needed was to hit a rock in the dark and take a swim.
I really started paddling hard with sense of urgency. I think that I must have breezed through the next 2 rapids (Masthope Rapids and Colang Rapids). I took some water on as I was hit with a side wave exiting Colang rapid. I keep paddling hard as it was getting very close to 6 p.m. I figured that I only had a little over an hour of light. Next, I went through Kunkell Rapids which was fairly rough. Again, I got wet with a side wave. I was pretty much soaked with temperature starting to drop just a bit. I was paddling so hard that I was not cold and started to dry out. I knew from the GPS that I was getting close to Lackawaxen.
I saw a fire on the left hand side of the river (NY) and paddled over. It was a Japanese family at a campground. One of the men helped me pull the boat out of the water as I was beat. They were really nice couple of families out for a camping visit from NYC. I quickly went to check in. Again the rate was only $10 for the night. I was the only other person there so I knew they had space. The camp ground (Ascalona) had a Barryville, NY address but was pretty far away from Barryville. It was owned by a retired couple from the Czech republic. I chatted with them both about my journey for a while before breaking away to make camp. He told me that he had kayaked the Yukon River. It sounded great (next?).
It didn't take long to setup camp and although the rain-fly was still damp, the tent was dry. I had a quick dinner of bagel and salami. Since I was very hungry, it was still very good. Dessert was dried Mango and Almonds. I ended up going to bed that night just after 9 p.m. Although at the time, I didn't like going on the extra 8 miles. This change of schedule setup the rest of the trip. I ended up doing 34 miles on the second day which made it feasible for me to target getting to the upper part of the Delaware Water Gap by Wednesday night.
I heard the Japanese men up late at night several times as they conversed around their camp fire. I had gone to bed pretty early after the long day paddling with excitement of going through so many rapids. This was a much more lively river experience than I was used to on the middle Delaware River near my home. My expectation was that this would be even better. There is about a 12 miles stretch of the river that has multiple rapids and riffles.
Next the river made a hard right just before passing under I-84. At this point, there was a restaurant that advertised water side dining. I thought about asking if I could get a burger to go, but it looked too upscale since I hadn't showered in a couple of days. Anyway, I had been about 30 miles with 10 to go. I was staying in primitive camping (free) in the Water Gap and wanted to setup before it was dark.
I paddled past Milford, PA and approached Namanock Island where I planned to stay. To my surprise, there was a large group there of either a camp or school as they looked like Junior High age. There were no spots left so I had to go on.
Day 4 started just about 8:00 a.m.. I took a walk down to the water as I was thinking that I would wash off a bit. I was surprised when I went down to the river that the level had dropped a good 5 inches over night and had become clear so you could see bottom a good 3+ feet down. It was a bit nippy in the morning probably about 55 degrees so I was not eager to go wash up. So went back to camp and had breakfast.
I splurged and had 2 Starbucks as it looked like I was going to have excess since the trip probably was going to end a day early. I had 1/2 a bagel and power bar. I ended up throwing out the rest of the salami as 3 days in a row was too much already.
I went down to the river with my Camp Suds to wash up. Fortunately, the water temperature was above the air temperature and I quickly washed up. Next I changed into paddling gear and broke camp. It seemed that I was starting later and later every day as I didn't launch until 10 a.m.
Just before I started down the river, the part of group that had taken the island camp sites had passed me by. I over took most of them before rounding a bend to see the bridge at Dingman's Ferry. At this point, I decided it was prudent to ensure I know where I was camping tonight as I had good mobile service.
I tried to stay at Delaware Campground in Delaware, NJ but I think their focus is RV camping. They close the office at 5 p.m. I thought it was unlikely that I could traverse ~40 miles by this time given my late start and probably that the river was slowing down. Also, the river flattens out and becomes 200 yards wide in places in the Water Gap making it difficult to find the fastest channel.
Fortunately, I had strong data signal as I did a Bing search and found Driftstone on the Delaware Campground. I called them and they were open until 9 p.m. although I obviously didn't want to be on the river at that time. It did give me flexibility as it was light enough to paddle until at least 7:30 p.m. They gave me directions so I went ahead to Dingman's Ferry. I made brief stop to empty trash and use facilities before getting back on the water.
Since I new exactly where I was trying to stay, I just had to make a big push to get there. I did have other potential options at the lower half of the water gap, but I wanted to make it to Driftstone as this would setup the last day to get home.
I was now paddling along the route Justine and I had taken in July. It was quite a bit different from our previous trip though. Although the water did go down over night, it was still considerably higher that the previous trip. I was moving along at a good pace, but none of the small rapids that we went through in July were visible. It was big flat water. This was a bit of a let down after the previous two days.
I can't truly complain about going through the Water Gap, but it started to feel more like civilization than the upper Delaware. It is quite beautiful. The upper Delaware officially ends at Port Jervis and the river loses some of it's primitive feel. The change is from seeing one or two people per day on the river, to one or two people every few miles.
This part of the river was familiar. I passed the location in Peters, NJ where Justine and I camped and shortly later Smithfield Beach where we were picked up. I was definitely making good time.
As I followed the river as it meandered around several islands, I saw what I initially thought was a Black Lab playing in the river on the right. I went over in that direction, but didn't see an owner. It was about then that it sat down on its butt in the water to observe me. At this point, I saw a light brown snout and it had its tongue hanging out and I realized that I was looking at a Black Bear. I reached for the camera to remove it from the mount and quickly focused as best I could. At this point, the bear was spooked and took off. I did get a picture but didn't have time to zoom or really let the camera focus. All you can see is something black with the splash as it ran up the bank. It watched me briefly from the bank, but then shot into the under brush. I will have to say this was definitely the highlight of the day although I did see my second Bald Eagle about 30 minutes later.
As I approached Shawnee Island I spoke to a kayak fisherman who told me that I was only about 2 to 2.5 miles from the gap. I knew this area as I-80 runs along the river for a bit and there is usually some rapids along this area.
After paddling for ~5 hours on what seemed like flat water this was encouraging news. I picked up the pace and passed by Worthington State Park on the NJ side. The river must have been 250 to 300 yards wide at this point. An occasional head wind was slowing me down.
I rounded a bend and saw the remains of an old bridge. Only the pilings were left standing in the river. I knew that I was just entering the gap and finally I could see visually that the river was narrowing and it was going down hill. Around the next bend, I saw I-80 and a long set of small rapids. Paddling instantly became easier and I was speeding up. I think that I had less than 10 miles to go with about 3.5 hours of good light left. Piece of cake.
I cruised under the I-80 bridge and was fully into the gap. This is truly beautiful area. The pictures with the sun casting symmetric shadows on the water were spectacular. The only negative and it is a big one in my opinion, is I-80 road noise. It was very loud from all of the trucks creating an echo in the gap. This is basically an end to the National Park. After this point, it started to change even more to a developed feel. Don't get me wrong, it is still a pretty area.
I started to hit a few more rapids. They caught me off guard a bit as I didn't expect anything significant until Foul Rift south of Belvidere, NJ. They were nothing major and a lot of fun, but I just didn't expect it and I got splash with some side waves. The air temperature was lower so it was not entirely pleasant to get wet.
In all honesty at this point in the trip, I was anxious to find my campground. I didn't want to miss it as there were not alternative places to stop. This would have not been good. I called Driftstone and got future directions. I think that I was just miscalculating how far that I'd gone on the water.
I was less than 1/2 mile from the campground so I put one final push and was there pretty quickly. I pulled the boat on the ramp and was greeted by one of the owners. He was a fellow kayaker (although more advanced) and said he had done the trip a few years ago.
I did my check in ($10 for the night) and picked out the campsite. I just wanted something close to the water as I didn't want to leave the boat unattended or have to carry it a long way. He walked down to the campsite and helped me pull the boat up. The boat was heavy with all the gear, but we got it up the embankment. I asked the guy how long the campground had been there and he said his parents started it over 40 years ago. He also gave me advise on getting through Foul Rift. Now this guy was a "Creeker". These people go down feed creeks into rivers after heavy rain. You can see a Youtube example here. Anyway he told me that Foul Rift should not be an issue at current water levels on the Delaware as well as path through the rapids.
I really like this campground. For one thing, they had food and chocolate milk which was a real treat as I had not had anything fresh to eat for days. The bathrooms were immaculate and each site had electricity and water.
A cold front came in and by the time I had setup camp, I could see my breath. I believe that it got down to about 45 degrees over night. I didn't start a camp fire but instead had light dinner with my chocolate milk. I checked in with the family and went to bed. Tomorrow would be the final push.
I woke up early at around 7:30 a.m. Initially, I thought that I might get an early start. I broke camp and laid the tent out to fully dry as it still had some wet sand stuck to the bottom. I went to bath house for a nice hot shower which was FANTASTIC. I felt refreshed and ready to go. I also was sure to void negative comments from the crew picking me up in Frenchtown. Did I say the shower was FANTASTIC?
I had a light breakfast consuming the last of my Starbucks. I consumed my last 1/2 bagel and packed the rest of my food in the nylon mesh compartment of the splash guard. I must say that at this point, I felt that I had not prepared enough different types of food. Two eggs over easy would have been great.
Although I started early, I wasted time and lost some time drying out the tent so I didn't hit the water until 10 a.m. I was still apprehensive about going through the notorious Foul Rift. These rapids drop ~22 feet over about a 1/2 mile. The banks are high on each side of the river so if you hit the water you are there for a bit.
I remember the guidance from the night before. "Stay right of the island and you can either go through the large wave or around on the right or left. Then work your way back to the center of the river. Most people get hung up on the rift that traverses the entire river. Their boat gets stuck and they get separated from it and they have to swim. You have to find a way through it although at this water level it should not be a problem." I was sure that the advise was good, but wondered if I should take further assessment since it came from a radical kayaker that was 1/2 my age. He told me that he didn't scout any of the rapids including Skinners Falls and Four Rift. He only scouted the wing dam at Lambertville, NJ.
Anyway, it was a beautiful day and I paddled toward Belvidere. I made it in no time. I was quickly under the bridge and knew Foul Rift was less than 1/2 mile away.
As I approached the rapids at Foul Rift, the noise level rose with the sound of white water. I was surprised to see a fisherman part way down with his boat anchored. I was wondering if I was at the right spot.
Neither the less, I worked my way to the right as I saw an island that looked mainly flooded. The rapids didn't look bad at all as I passed through the channel to the right of the island. I didn't even see the wave (which I was going to try to avoid). So I paddled back to the main channel and went directly through without a hitch. I could not even see much indication of the rift across the river. I kept looking for it for probably another 1/2 mile as I stayed alert. When I passed the power plant, I knew that the last major excitement sans seeing the family in Frenchtown was done.
I had a decent paddle to get to Phillipsburg. I believe the distance is about 10 miles. It had some mini rapids, beautiful scenery, and industrial areas (2 power plants). Overall, the water was moving and I enjoyed the trip. The number of fishermen and other people on the river increased. I passed a young couple in a canoe as we passed through a series of homes on the river. The change was definite in that the majority of the homes along the river were in fact homes vs. vacation places. On the upper Delaware, this model is reversed.
I did see my third Bald Eagle on the trip just as I spotted the Phillipsburg Truss Bridge. It was interesting to see one so close to an industrial looking area. I tried to get the camera out before it flew off but failed miserably. I have a Panasonic waterproof camera that doesn't have a view finder. This is a major liability in open sunlight.
I approached the old truss bridge in Phillipsburg. I wanted to take some video but I couldn't tell how much battery that I had left on the camera. I cruised under the truss bridge and the suspension bridge. Off to the right was the dam where the Leigh River enters the Delaware. There were several railroad bridges as well. The last indicators of Phillipsburg passed by and I entered a more quite area again. There were only four major milestones to go: (1) I-78 Bridge, (2) Roebling Bridge in Riegelsville, (3) Milford Bridge, and (4) Frenchtown Bridge. I had 20 miles to left to home.
I knew most of the rest of the trip would be completed by the paddle. There were virtually not many real rapids on the rest of the trip. The water was moving, but you don't get the burst of adrenaline and speed from a rapid.
I was anxious to see the family so I left the GPS on so that I could try to establish and to keep a cadence. I wanted to get to Frenchtown before 7 p.m. I also wanted to have a hot meal.
I passed under I-78 rather quickly. I sent a text to home letting them know where I was and confirming that I was going all the way to Frenchtown. I gave a rough ETA of 7 p.m.
It took longer to get to Riegelsville. I had a nice view of the Roebling bridge from the water. After Riegelsville, I think there was only one rapid. This coupled with fading strength and energy made the trip to Milford seem to last for ever.
Once I passed under the bridge, I got some renewed energy. I sent a text to the road crew and told them to start in about 10 minutes to get me. It was only about another 10 minutes when I saw the Frenchtown bridge that I said "come now".
I passed under the Frenchtown bridge about 6:45 p.m. I was able to empty the boat and pull it 1/2 way up the embankment before Judy and Jill arrived to get me. It was a fantastic trip full of excitement, beautiful scenery, and wild life. It was great to see the family though.
This was a great trip. I enjoyed all of the upper Delaware. I tried to follow the "leave no trace". The only exception was that I lost the top to one of my water bags. The trip gave me time to think. Much of the land is marked "Posted" as it is private along the river. The major exceptions are Buckhorn Natural Area and the Delaware Water Gap. I didn't trespass on people's land although I did think about Woodie Guthrie's song "This Land is Your Land".
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
For some reason, this song just kept popping in my head as I paddled along.
I'd like to see more areas like the Delaware Gap and Buckhorn Natural Area. It would be great to have this along a lot of the major water trails. I know the Susquehanna has a section lined with public lands for primitive camping.
I did have a few lessons learned on items to bring and things to do differently.
Full Spray skirt for Kayak - Stop deck wash in rapids
Bring Kayak Cockpit cover (keeps out bugs over night)
More diverse food and do some cooking
Plan stopping points (multiple options in advance > This isn't like driving up I-95)
Stop to setup camp earlier.
Camp rake to get rid of sticks
Extra battery for camera
1 additional battery backup (10,000 mAh)
1 additional power block
1 cotton shirt for sleeping