West Branch of the Ausable River (Monument Falls to High Falls)
|Stretch:||Monument Falls to High Falls|
|Difficulty:||Class III (IV to V)|
|Flows:||2.75' to ~6.0'. USGS Ausable River near Sable Forks gauge|
|Gradient:||81 fpm average in Wilmington Notch, 60 fpm total|
|Put-in:||Monument Falls on NY-86|
|Take-out:||High Falls Gorge on NY-86|
|Shuttle:||3.4 miles, (4 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Spring off snowmelt, summer and fall off of rain|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #158|
North East Road Trip 2021: Day 13 Morning
I have been to the Adirondacks three times, twice for boating and once just passing through. Every time I think to myself how pretty they are. On this trip, we planned to visit them early on when we anticipated not having any water. We figured the Hudson would be a sure thing and could get that and potentially go even further west to try to get some of the dam release runs over that way. But, as the rain came while we were in Vermont, we decided the Adirondacks would be where we would spend the last few days of the trip as the rain also brought many of these runs up.
The West Branch of the Ausable is a roadside run that was actually more fun that it looked like from the road. We scouted the main cascade from the road, first as we drove by and it looked much bigger than anticipated, so we then turned around and parked and walked up the highway to get a closer look at which time we realized it was much more straight forward of class IV. Continuing up the river you see flat sections and not much else until Monument Falls. We decided to still put in up here after some debate about just running the cascade. I am glad we did though as there were other fun rapids when the river was out of site from the road, just class III but still fun. The cascade would be tough to portage so if you aren't feeling it, use one of the access points just upstream to get out of the river.
As far as take out, AW and the book both said to take out at High Falls Gorge. This is a private company that charges you to view the river as it plummets over a large set of falls just below this run. We went in to get permission to park on the far side of their basically empty parking lot, and offer to pay an entrance fee to access as well. What we were told was that they own the river, and it is illegal to kayak on it. The middle manager would not give us permission, but also told us she wouldn't stop us. So we took that as a quiet ok and were sure to move quickly and quietly to not make a stir. I am not sure what the preferred access is, the turns outs were not plentiful upstream and the section below the cascade was great. So yea, I just am not sure what is the best approach there.
We had 4.2' on the gauge. I would say this was medium low for the river, but medium for the cascade. I have seen reports rating the cascade from III/IV all the way up to V. I can see it being both, at low flow it would be just a bunch of stair step drops that would be much lower stress without the push, but at high flows I can see it being huge holes all backed up one after the other. And high flow would have the added consequence of a swim taking your boat over the falls not that far downstream. It doesn't pose a risk (in my mind) for a swimmer, but the gear is a different issue of course.
I enjoyed the day. I would go back. Plus it was only a half hour from our next run, so that was a great double day. There are also other runs in the region so really it is a nice add on to a number of runs. Not the most action, but the cascade was first rate fun and the scenery along the river/road corridor also was very nice. So two thumbs up from this guy.
- Monument Falls (III to IV-). The first rapid is immediately below put-in. At our flow it was a straight forward ramp in the center moving right. But did have a weird hydraulic and seam that I could see messing with people.
First Pond (0). Immediately below is the first pond to paddle across. There is current, and it is pretty despite the road next to the river.
- After another moving pond in an open valley, exit right if you do not want to run the Cascade downstream.
Wilmington Notch Entrance (III). A long rapid that is easy enough to maneuver around the features. We started center and ended up following the water down the left.
- Entrance Exam (IV to IV+). At our flow, this was a IV, I could see at high flow it being IV+ due to the power of the holes and the consequence of what was immediately downstream. We ran a far left line punching the left wall's curler and boofing the ledge hole below. The center was a bigger ledge hole and I would imagine should be avoidable at all flows. You have a very short moving pool of maybe 50 yards before the Cascade begins. I would scout this one from the road before entering the river.
Cascade (IV to V). I thought it was class IV+ at our flow. I could see lower water making the moves less linked and making it just a stack up of class III moves with eddies between and adding up to IV. I can also see at high flows there are big holes throughout and would earn a class V rating. Scout from the road beforehand. There were a number of lines. The cleanest was down the right the whole way. There the ledges were clean, the line was generally a straight shot, and the holes were less powerful. There was a challenge line starting left and moving center. But you wouldn't want to finish left due to the rock pile on the outside corner.
- Runout (III to IV-). Cascade lasts about 1/10th of a mile and then the runout continues for another 1/10th. The runout is much mellower but still packs and punch and is harder than any of the rapids above Wilmington Notch. But then the rapid subsides and you have roughly a mile of quick moving class I/II to take-out.
Take-out: From Lake Placid, go 7.7 miles north/east on NY-86E. High Falls Gorge is a commercial endevour and charges a fee to look at High Falls. We asked permission to park here (weren't told yes, weren't told we would be arrested either). There weren't a whole lot of good turn outs upstream to access the river so we didn't have great options. Regardless of what you do, do not venture past the foot bridge as that is certainly very in the commercial company's face and of course the fact that immediately below that the river drops into a very large cascade that can only be run by the most expert of paddlers at the most specific of flows with the most outstanding of safety.
Put-in: Go back towards Lake Placid on NY-86 for 3.4 miles to the Monument and large turn out just upstream of the aptly named Monument Falls.
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