Smoke Hole, West Virginia Trip Report
We had nine boaters for the trip on May 11 and 12, 2019, including one kayak, one tandem canoe, one ducky, and five solo canoes. We had two boaters come all the way from Tennessee!
Unfortunately, the forecast was calling for up to an inch of rain Saturday night and we did not want to run the risk of getting caught in the canyon with really high water on Sunday. So, we opted to at least start with a day-trip on the section from the low-water bridge to the take out at Big Bend Campground, which is the end of the road into the canyon.
The only gauge on the South Branch of the Potomac River above Smoke Hole Canyon is at Franklin, WV, which is about 19 river miles above where we put in so, the readings from there are not a very good indicator of what is running down in the canyon.
The run on Saturday was low, but not intolerably scrapey considering we were paddling mostly unloaded canoes, and we had to pick our lines carefully to avoid the shallowest of the gravel bars. It rained off and on while were paddling but it was pretty warm and the company and scenery was nice. On Saturday at noon the Franklin gauge was reading 2.64 ft and 68 cfs. After the morning paddle trip, some people went sight-seeing in Seneca Rocks, some took a nap, and at one went fishing.
We had rain most of Saturday afternoon and during the night, but it did not bring the river up very much. The weather service measured about 0.5 inches at Franklin, WV from Saturday morning to Sunday morning.
Sunday morning we considered putting in at Big Bend and paddling down to Petersburg through the canyon as a day trip, but that would have involved running at least 3-hours of shuttle and paddling 15 miles from Big Bend to Petersburg. (There is also a possible take out about 12 miles below Big Bend, but that increases the shuttle time.) So, we decided to do the same section as Saturday. The river was a few inches higher and that made it a lot easier to pick lines and some sticky holes and surfable waves started to appear. The gauge at Franklin was 264 cfs and 3.00 feet on Sunday at noon. The river continued to come up after we took off about noon on Sunday.
The only real hitch we had was that the vehicle we left up at the put-in had a flat tire when we returned on our way out of the canyon. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of help (and helpful advice) in jacking up the car and changing the tire. Despite all the rain, I think everyone had a good time and I never heard anyone complain about the weather.
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