Middlebury River (Gorge)
|Flows:||Visual gauge only at take-out (eyeball it). Look for New Haven to be between 300 and 500 generally. USGS New Haven River gauge|
|Gradient:||255 fpm average|
|Take-out:||Bridge on VT-125|
|Shuttle:||1.4 miles, (2 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Spring of snowmelt, summer and fall off of rain|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #158|
North East Road Trip 2021: Day 10
Along with the Gulf Hagas, the other highlight of the trip was Middlebury Gorge. 5 years ago we had hoped to get to run this river, but the inner gorge was full of wood which makes the run more or less not possible... or not worthwhile unless you just put in below the gorge (which is a high water option and perfectly reasonable). So we were stoked when the little bit of overnight rain brought this in to a low, but in level. I say I was happy about a low flow because this run is tough... for the 90% of the run not in the inner gorge a "good" flow makes the inner gorge very stout and dangerous. For the inner gorge to be a reasonable flow, the rest of the run feels a bit low. For us, it was a minimum give or take.
The main event on this is directly below where the North Branch of the Middlebury confluences in. Here, a long rapid leads to a blind, must run, tough to scout (basically scout before hand, high from the rim) 15 footer than lands into a walled out gorge, with caves on either side. At low flow the caves are not an issue, at high flows the one on the left especially, will cause epics. Below is a ledge that leads into a pinch drop which is directly above the exit drop, a congested pinch with an undercut wall acting as a catchers mitt downstream on the right. Again, not an issue with low flows. This whole section is named after the women's anatomy (or so) as it involves child birth. While the names seem meh to me, I do like the overall feeling of Rebirth you get as you experience this gorge, and exit safely. It is a beautiful place, with both walls touching above the exit drop. Our day was filled with fog, which added to the ominous feeling of the place and the sensation of helplessness you have outside of your own kayak, paddle, and skillset.
Outside of the inner gorge, don't let the run fool you. There are still some tough sections of boogie that aren't the cleanest, and a few more drops that register as class V, the last of which is in eyesight of take out. So stay on your toes on this one!
Regarding flow, the New Haven was at 350 cfs from rain the night before. I have heard New Haven at 300-500 usually indicates this will be in. But it is a visual only, so the only way to be sure is to go look. Checkout www.creekvt.com for the latest visuals or check the "Class V Vermont" group on Facebook. Generally, this is one of the last things to run after rain or snowmelt as you want the low flow for the inner gorge. So if things are spiking... look elsewhere.
I was super pleased to get to get a lap in here. Culley put us in contact with Michael McDonald who was nice enough to show us the lines. It is for sure one that was made much easier by having someone familiar with the run, who had done a lap a few days prior and knew the wood situation. So thanks Michael, we appreciate it!
- We put in at the "Low Water Put-in" which is a short distance of boogie downstream from where the river is more roadside. The river gets more walled in and the rapids get taller from this point on. I will point out just a few of the standout boogie rapids.
Put-in Drop (IV-). A double drop run down the center.
Shoulder Buster (IV-). The main flow goes into a bunch of rocks. Michael was showing us down and told us about popping a shoulder here. We went down a small channel to the right.
- North Branch Middlebury. This creek enters on the right and indicates you are approaching the inner gorge.
- Fallopian Tube (V). You can scout from the center island at the very top to get a lay of the land. We plopped down a stair step ledge on the right to a staging eddy. Then ran down the main flow on the left, punching a few holes and driving to the middle for the 15 foot falls. You can't scout this and can't portage. It is a deep pool so that is nice since it is hard to not plug it as it kinda seams you out. At higher flow you can boof the right side. Note, both sides of the landing have sorta catchers mitts like teacups typically do. The left will swim you but is less commonly entered. The right has a green eddy at the very top that can be used to paddle out if you find yourself in it. It is mostly a problem at higher flows.
Ledge (III to IV). Basically just a ledge directly above the next rapid. We ran the right side. You can get out above the ledge to take a look at the lay of the land down to Cunnilingus.
Cunnilingus (IV+ to V-). I didn't name this. Nor do I like the name. But anyways, after the ledge above you have half a second to collect yourself before you are making these moves. The river splits a little around a midstream underwater rock. You want to go right. The water rejoins as it drops off a few foot ledge in a tight pinch. You want to boof this off the right wall, pointing back left. Eddy out immediately on the left as 15 feet downstream is Rebirth. If you roll, you need to be quick with your roll, no carping allowed here.
Rebirth (V- to V). The exit of the gorge, hopefully you caught the eddy after Cunnilingus. Hopefully you also know that this is free of wood via local feedback or a pre boating scout. The line is straight forward. Right of center down a double drop and into the caldron below. You don't want to piton right after the first drop and don't want to piton the wall at the second drop. At low flow downstream is mellow. At high flow it goes into a catchers mitt on the right which can be dangerous place to be caught.
- Boogie Continues (IV). Lots of boogie and an occasional junky rapid and occasional clean and classic rapid. Below are just a few of the standout drops.
- Tester (IV+). This rapid was pretty straight forward but had some bad consequences to not being on the easy line. Basically the line is to run as far left as you can and boof downstream. Don't melt off early and don't let your bow drop, as the right side goes under a rock and has really bad pin potential. It is an easy move, but worth a look via the right shore.
Lots of nice boogie...
- Right Shore Junk (IV+). There is an exceptionally junky rapid that you go down a smaller right channel and weave between rocks and off of rocks. But it is better than the junk piles further left!
Backward Ledge (III-). A nice uniform sliding ledge that you gotta run backwards.
- Your Mom (V). This is a rather nasty drop and probably the only legit class V by itself drop, at least at this low flow. The inner gorge is serious because of the stack up and the gorged out aspects. This one is just nasty. It's a double drop, after the first one the water pillows up, the water that goes right goes under a big rock and sieves out. The water on the left also wants to tow you back into the falls, so you gotta punch through and exit smoothly out of the danger zone. I walked easily on the left.
Take-out Rapid (IV). Just above take out is a steep bolder pile. We hit a great boof on the far left. Below, it then breaks out onto a slide, we ran the left side of the slide. I am not sure what happens on the right side which has more water, it looked like it pinched off and maybe some water goes into a pocket hole against the rock ridge in the middle of the river. Takeout just downstream below the bridge on the left.
Take-out: From Middlebury, take US-7 S for 3.7 miles to East Middlebury. Here, turn left onto VT-125 E. Follow this for 1.6 miles. Park just after you cross the bridge over the river.
Put-in: Continue up VT-125 for 1.4 miles. You will need to u-turn. We used the low water access which is a turnout along the road on the river side of the road (west bound) which then had a steep trail down to the river. At higher water you can put in further up where the river is along the road. I guess just find a turnout up there. Its only a half mile further tops.
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