Craig Creek Paddling Trip

On the weekend of May 14-15, 2011, Daniel and I went paddling on Craig Creek near New Castle, Virginia along with five other people. Dan and I stayed in a very nice rental cabin right on the river. My paddling friend Iva joined us in the cabin, along with her friend Erick. Meanwhile my friend Pete and his friends Atwill and Mary camped at a little third of an acre patch of floodplain land that Pete partially owns, a couple miles upstream from the cabin. (Pete’s friends Patrick and Susan and their one-year-old baby Bryce camped there too—Patrick is the co-owner of the land with Pete—but they went hiking instead of paddling.) Pete and I paddled in his canoe, leading the way, and the others trailed like ducklings behind us. Iva, Erick and Dan kayaked (Dan in my bright yellow kayak) while Atwill and Mary paddled their canoe.

It had been raining (and it rained on us again while we were paddling, though not so heavily as to cancel the trip or make it unenjoyable) and the river was high. The current was fast and “pushy.” On Saturday we covered about 14 river miles in four hours INCLUDING the time we spent stopped for various purposes (scouting a strainer, rescuing a capsized kayaker, and eating lunch). On Sunday we covered nine miles in about two hours (or was it two and a half?) of paddling, with a one-hour lunch break in the middle.

Saturday pictures


How to put four boats on top of one car. (My kayak is at the top of the pyramid.)


The flotilla.


The river.


Lunch stop, at a private ford. It had been raining and the river was too high to ford, but normally the landowner would be able to drive across.


Pete and his blue canoe.


On one curve in the river, we had a view across a farm field to the mountains.


Farm field.


Is it going to rain, Pete? (Dan in the leftmost yellow kayak.)


The river banks alternated between low flood plains and steep bluffs.


Dan leading the pack . . . of boats following Pete & me in the lead canoe.


The flotilla: Erick in the yellow kayak on the left, Atwill and Mary in the canoe at the back, Iva in the darker colored kayak, and Dan in the yellow kayak on the right.


We passed a very impressive osprey nest. (Or possibly it was an eagle.) The bird watched us paddle below, moving from one side of the nest to the other to keep an eye on us. You may be able to make out the bird’s silhouette poking up above the nest.


At one point Pete called my attention to the view of the mountains above the river behind us. As the river goes around horseshoe bends you get a changing view of the valley.


Better view of the mountains, and of the simple concrete bridge we’d just paddled under.


Another mountain ridge view across an open field.






Old footbridge, below a ford. Pete explained that there used to be a footbridge at each ford. We crossed over at least three public access fords, where a road crossed the river. It amazes me that there are still some state maintained roads where the river crossings are done by fording and not by bridges.


Better view of the swing bridge.


When we got closer, we saw that this bridge was closed with a big X blocking access. Pete guessed that the adjacent landowners might have complained about having people wandering through their yard.


For a short stretch, we had a trio of deer running along the river bank parallel to us. They got out ahead of us, then plunged into the water and swam across. I had no idea deer would swim across rivers! Too bad I couldn’t get a good picture—you can just make out their heads on the surface of the water here, in the center near the bank.


One of several permanent residents at the cabin.


Sigh came along with us for the weekend. He made a wonderful cabin cat and stole everyone’s hearts.



I tried to get the camera down at Sigh’s level to take a few pictures, but Sigh wanted to come up and sniff it.

Sunday Pictures


On Sunday morning, we dropped off a couple vehicles at the take-out location in a Jefferson National Forest recreation site near the tiny town (just a crossroads, really) of Oriskany, Virginia. This is a view from one of the parking lots. Behind that thick green vegetation and down a banking is the river, and behind the river is that imposing mountain.


Patterson Mountain.


As we drove in, we had to pull aside to let a caravan of Boy Scouts out. We think they must have been staying at a group camp site in the recreation area. They left behind a fishing rod and this bundle of bulbs, which I take to be ramps.


We stopped at one of the many fords so that Pete and Iva could scout a rapid from the adjacent footbridge.


Beautiful country. Very rural.


One end of the footbridge, off Slippery Ford Road.


Pete, Iva, and Atwill on the bridge. I did not venture out.




I tried to take some photos of the river banks, but it was hard to capture the character of the land.


Dan in my yellow kayak and Pete steering his canoe while I take pictures from the bow.


Atwill and Mary; Dan; and Iva. Iva’s friend Erick did not paddle with us on the second day.


In the flat peninsulas inside the bends of the river there were several farms, or what looked to be former farmland.


Dan paddling in a full spray skirt. He needed it for the few rapids we went over. With the river running high, there was not much need to steer through rock gardens, but when we went over ledges the standing waves could be a foot and a half high.


The plants clinging to the steep, rocky banks where the river ran up against ridges sometimes reminded me of Maine. We saw more evergreens here than in the Charlottesville area.


We saw at least two different kinds of sedimentary rocks (only one of which is shown here). One kind looked more shaley and friable; this lighter gray rock looked more solid.



Another pedestrian bridge.


Usually when I paddle with Pete, we go on rivers that he has paddled many times already, and he knows the turns and rapids thoroughly. In this case, I think he had paddled the river only once before. He frequently checked maps as we went along. With the river running fast, we definitely did not want to miss the takeout! We also did not want to come up on any hazards unprepared. My job as the forwardmost person in the flotilla, paddling in the bow of the point boat, was to peer around bends and yell if I saw any “strainers” (trees down across the river) or other hazards coming up. I spotted one large strainer on Saturday morning, early in the float, and called for us to “scout it” (pull over to the river bank, climb out of the boats, and take a careful look at the situation before paddling through). After scouting the situation, we determined that it would be possible to steer around the strainer, but doing so would require some skill. Dan and Atwill & Mary chose to portage (carry their boats around the hazard). Pete & I, Iva, and Erick paddled through. Pete & I and Iva made it without incident; Erick got past the main hazard, then got turned around and flipped his kayak just below it. Pete & I and Iva went downstream to recover his swiftly-moving kayak and paddle while Atwill & Mary picked him up and gave him a lift in their canoe. We all reconvened in an eddy and got Erick set up in his boat again. Poor guy, he got all wet and cold and lost his favorite hat to the river.


More cows!


Although we passed some ramshackle riverside camps at various points, most of the float was beautifully scenic. We had acceptable weather for most of the time, but you can see the dark rain clouds starting to roll in from the left (north or west, I think) here. We started getting rained on shortly before lunchtime, so when we arrived at the creekside cabin right at noon, we decided to stop and eat our lunches inside. On most paddling trips, we have to find a cobble beach or low banking to pull up on and sit on our PFDs to eat lunch; if it’s raining at lunchtime, we crouch under trees. So by comparison, it seemed like a great luxury to pull up right below the house (there was a handily low stretch of banking) and go indoors for an hour and wait out the rain while enjoying lunch!


After lunch, I handed my camera off to Daniel so he could take some pictures of me canoeing. You can see that the sky was starting to clear.


I assume this shot was accidental, but it gives you kind of a nice view of the swiftly-moving water and the wet spray skirt. (Immediately after lunch, just below the cabin, we’d gone through a rapid with high wave trains.)


Here we are pulling over in an eddy to wait while Iva sorted herself out after flipping in a rapid. She deliberately took the more “interesting” route and paid for it when she hit a rock and went over. She’s an experienced paddler, though, and knew what to expect and how to dress for the possibility of a dunking. So I was not too worried about her. In the same rapid, taking what should have been a more straightforward route, Pete and I went over a big ledge and hit something at the bottom (a second ledge?) that made the canoe suddenly stop dead for a moment. It was like slamming on the brakes in a car, but canoe seats don’t have seat belts. I came out OK since I was kneeling to go through the rapid. Pete, who with his runner’s knees can’t kneel on the floor of the canoe, slid off his seat and bashed both shins against the aft thwart. (You can just barely make out one of the skinned spots in this picture.) This resulted in Pete emitting a lengthy and robust string of cusses. I don’t blame him. I would do the same.


Waving Hi to Dan and the camera!




I don’t recall what Pete was talking about here, but it looks like he was giving instructions.


Brilliant sun! But I did not want to take my rain jacket off just yet, in case the skies opened up again.


A nice wide shot of the river. (And blue sky!) You can see how high the water is—the trees on the right bank would presumably be up out of the water under normal conditions, but on Sunday they had their bases flooded.


Late in the trip, we paddled through a stretch of river where many leaning trees created a tunnel effect.


Here’s the group camping site at the recreation area where we took out. Another beautiful view.


I didn’t take these pictures until Sunday afternoon when it was sunny, but as soon as we pulled up to the cabin on Friday, I thought it was even cuter than it had looked in the pictures online.


There were a lot of fake flowers around (such as in those wooden tubs on the right side of the picture) but these azaleas were real and brilliant.


These pictures of the cabin are from Sunday afternoon, when we got bright sun on the front lawn. I went out to soak it up for a few minutes. We did not use the fire pit in the foreground here, but we used many of the cabin’s other amenities, including the big gas grill.


Standing on the bank of the river right in front of the cabin, looking downstream at the first rapid below the cabin, which was one of the largest rapids we hit while paddling.


A zoomed-in view of the rapid.


Looking upstream. There’s a short path that runs along the bank in front of the adjacent properties. There were a handful of other houses nearby, but there was enough of a buffer of woods between houses so that we couldn’t see any other structures from the cabin’s front yard. It felt nice and secluded.


Cabin cat!


On the move.


Each of the beds upstairs in the children’s sleeping loft came with a stuffed animal.


There was also this adorable “bearskin” rug.