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Sunday April 9, 2017. Water level: 970 cfs at 7:30 AM on the Pine Grove gauge. Air temp was about 70 F and the skies were clear. We had a lot of rain the previous few days, and the creek was up to nearly 5,000 cfs about 3 days earlier.
We had 6 paddlers: 2 solo canoes and 4 kayaks. We put in at the Rt 645 bridge in Pine Grove and took out at the Waterville Bridge in Swatara State Park. The trip was about 11 miles and the time on the water was about 3-1/2 hours.
The first few miles above I-81 had several strainers near the banks. In one place both channels around an island were blocked. The river-right side had a log at water level with a branch on the left end of the log about 2 ft above water. The left end of the log could be sneaked by getting real low in your canoe and ducking under the branch. We had a solo canoe and kayak flip and swim at this log. No significant gear was lost except a water shoe and a water bottle. All paddlers had extra dry clothes. Just a bit below there was another case with a narrow channel between the end of a fallen tree on the left and some logs on the right. Still farther down was an S-turn where the river went left and then right with a log sticking into the creek about half-way across the right hand turn in the river.
Just below the I-81 bridges over the creek, keep to left of the island because there are river-wide logs across the bottom of the right-hand channel that you cannot see from the top. You can see all the way to the bottom on the left.
Swopes Valley Trailhead Canoe Launch – just down stream in the left channel there is a river-wide log blocking that channel; in the right channel, there are a bunch of sweepers on the river right, but it is mostly clear.
There is a big island in the park with pine and hemlock trees, the left channel is blocked at the top so stay right.
The take-out at the Waterville Bridge is on river left. There are some rapids just before the takeout and the current pushes right but there is a big eddy on the left to get to the take out. The parking area for the take out is off of Old State Road, and it is marked on the DCNR state park map. There is no takeout on the river right and there is also no convenient parking on river right (the nearest parking is about a 20 minute walk). You definitely want to use the parking on river left.
At this level (970 cfs), the river is a pretty easy class I paddle from the Swopes Valley Trailhead to either the Waterville Bridge or to the Lickdale Trailhead.
The section above I-81 has strainers and sweepers so you need to be careful and need to be able to get you boat out of the current and hold it on the side of the creek. One thing we did better after the first couple of strainers was to spread people out a bit more so we did not crowd up when we came to an obstacle and people could line themselves up better to get around the obstacles.
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