Black Creek

Trip Start Jun 06, 2009
Trip End Oct 10, 2009

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What I did
whitewater kayaking

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Thursday, August 13, 2009

This was my first creek run in a hard boat. I've paddled other smaller, lesser creeks in an inflatable kayak but this was my first attempt in a regular kayak and its one of the harder creeks in the area.

The Black Creek is a tributary of the Lehigh that runs for 6.6 miles before joining the Lehigh in the lower two thirds of the Lower Lehigh Gorge. The Black is a tight technical run through class II-IV rapids. When I think of the typical creek, tight, narrow, technical, big drops, holes, strainers, the Black is what comes to mind. Whitewater creeking is the most dangerous sect of whitewater kayaking because of the addition of things likes strainers and sieves which flourish in small creeks.

To say I was nervous about running the Black was an understatement! I've seen the Black on my way to the Upper Gorge and it looks intimidating, there are rocks everywhere, ledge drops, trees in the middle of the creek, old bridge abutments.....but I bought a creek boat and wanted to step my game up a bit so I decided to give it a try. I called Neil and asked his opinion since he kayaks with me alot and knows what I am capable of and also knows the Black Creek and he thought I could handle it. He warned me to bring my creek boat and not the playboat!

The Black Creek doesn't really have a gauge. Conventional boater wisdom states that if there is a 2,000 cfs differential between the gauge in the Upper Lehigh Gorge and section 3 that the Black is running. I made plans to meet Neil and Bob at the train station in Weatherly. When I got out of my car the water looked low but the guys assured me there would be enough water to run the creek.

We carried our kayaks across the parking lots and down into the ditch where the creek runs alongside town. I helped Neil launch and they got into my own boat. There were rocks everywhere and just as the guys promised there was enough water to float the kayaks. Sometimes you'd have to "monkey arm" it to get off some exposed rocks but it wasn't nearly as bas as it looked.

I was really glad to have the stability of my creek boat since I could see a drop in the river just around the bend. We paddled through some riffles and went over a 4 foot drop next to a bridge abutment. It was alot of fun. I was finding the Black to be fun but very tight and technical, there was not many places to stop or rest and you had to be constantly paddling to maneuver around the many things in the creek. I had my first combat roll in about the first mile of paddling the creek.

Shortly thereafter we came across one of the biggest drops on the Black Creek. It's a multilayer drops which descends about 20 foot and is very tight and technical. We got out of our kayaks to scout it. I decided that I didn't think I had the skill to run the entire drop and portaged to run the 2nd half of the drop. Neil helped me walk my kayak around and watched as I ran the 2nd half of the drop and eddied out below. Both Neil and Bob ran the full drop. Its awesome to watch people who are more advanced than yourself paddle, you can really learn so much that way.

We continued on our way through more class II-III rapids. Once we hit the confluence of the Quakake Creek with the Black the creek began to pick up speed and got much pushier. I was really glad to have Bob leading the way for me, he is a class V boater and has paddled the likes of the Grand Canyon already. He picked out really good lines for me, they were very challenging and maybe a bit harder than I would have chosen for myself but they were within the limits of my skills.

Every so often Bob would eddy out in the middle of a rapid and take pictures of me and Neil going through. I was glad because I was too nervous to deal with my camera and I knew it would be great to see the pictures.

We came around a sharp bend in the creek to find a tree across most of the river. Bob scouted it while I hung out in an eddy. He told me it was passable but I had to stay close to the big rock sticking out from river right. I turned the corner saw the tree branch in the middle of the creek and froze for a second. In that time my kayak got pushed sideways against the strainer. I was in trouble!

I've never been stuck in a strainer and it is scary. In truth it is one of the easiest ways for a kayaker to drown. Thankfully I was still upright in the kayak. I tried to pull myself off the branch but the force of the water was just too strong. I was stuck! Thankfully Bob had a throw rope and a biner with him. He attached the rope to the biner and I clipped it into the bow of my kayak. Bob pulled my kayak from shore while I pulled on the side of the branch and was freed. It was a scary first time experience with a strainer but I was proud that I didn't freak out and was able to help in my own rescue.

After all the excitement we continued on down the creek. We were about halfway though and my arms were starting to feel it from all the continuous paddling. It is not necessary to paddle this much on a typical river but a creek is more difficult. I was having a good time and was feeling like I was doing pretty good for my first time down a big creek. So far I had had three combat rolls, 1 swim and the strainer incident, talk about exciting!

It's a shame the rapids on this creek aren't named because it is hard to orient yourself without that but about 2/3rds of the way down the creek is the second biggest drop which goes over huge boulders and crashed into a big recirculating hole. It was awesome, my line was dead on!

The rest of the day consisted of many more rapids, the gradient kept picking up and getting pushier and it seemed as if the rapids became longer. It was such a fun day. At the end of the 6.6 mile creek we confluenced with the Lower Lehigh Gorge and had to paddle another 6 miles of class III whitewater and through 3 of the Lehigh's biggest rapids. The waves in the gorge were pretty big considering the amount of rain we'd had. I really enjoyed my day on the Black and learned alot.

Things Learned on the Black Creek:

1. The Black Creek doesn't really have a gauge. Conventional boater wisdom states that if there is a 2,000 cfs differential between the gauge in the Upper Lehigh Gorge and section 3 that the Black is running.

2. Black Creek info:
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