Handling the Crowds on the Upper Yough

posted May 24, 2012
by Charlie Walbridge

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The Upper Youghiogheny River has some of the East's finest expert-level summer whitewater. Memorial Day Weekend is the first of many busy release weekends which create crowded conditions on and off the river. For the past four decades the paddling community has done a good job managing themselves. Here are some things you can do to help your trip run more smoothly.

Collisions between boats are very rare on the Upper Yough. Here are a few things to remember: Commercial rafts are a lot bigger and heavier than kayaks and even a skilled Upper Yough guide can't stop or change direction at the last second. Give them room to work!  In general, the upstream boat has the right of way. Cutting in front of an oncoming raft or kayak puts both boats at risk. Sometimes a group enters an eddy to discuss their line, then everyone follows the lead boater. Each paddler should look upstream individually before entering the current. Don’t block traffic by back-paddling above a big drop; catch an eddy so you can scout without blocking traffic.

Rafters and kayakers need to wait for openings, and this requires patience on busy days. Think of raft "trips" rather than single boats. Stay completely in front of or behind a trip if possible, passing only in easy rapids or when the trip pulls into an eddy. Don't float casually in between rafts. If you pass a trip, stay ahead of it! Sometimes it makes sense to pull over for a few minutes and let a faster group pass.

Be aware of what other boaters are doing, especially in complex rapids like Charlie’s Choice, National Falls, Tommy’s Hole, or Heintzerling Falls where different lines converge downstream. Keep your group small; no more that 4-5 boats. Big groups fill up the eddies and approaches, causing traffic jams and making it hard to keep track of everyone. It’s difficult to keep track of more than 3-4 other boats on busy release days, so larger parties should split up.

Regardless of any "right of way", it's everyone's job to avoid collisions! A quick apology after a near miss (“Sorry to crowd you there, man!”), even if you’re not sure you’re at fault, goes a long way towards maintaining goodwill.

At the takeout, remember that we’re guests in a town which has done a lot to support Upper Yough whitewater. Be careful when parking along Maple Avenue: keep your eyes open so you don’t block oncoming traffic, especially when you’re carrying or loading boats. Don’t drive or park in residential areas of Morris Avenue and Water Street unless you’re the invited guest of a homeowner. Be discrete when changing clothes. American Whitewater built a change house at the end of the Wilderness Voyageurs store; please use it. In general, you shouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see on your mother’s front lawn and this includes public drinking and loud socializing.

American Whitewater volunteers will be maintaining the Sang Run Access for the State of Maryland for the tenth consecutive year. We’re asking $2 per visit or $20 per season. Your money pays for the portable toilet, gravel for the driveway, and gas for the lawn mower. Enjoy!

Charles Walbridge
Bruceton Mills, WV