The Ashuelot is the quintessential "step-up-to-Class III" stream. It has 3-ft. drops, sometimes in complex, with plenty of recovery pools. It has, in addition, a Class IV Surprise at the top and a IV- gorge at the bottom (at low levels). At splashing 7 on the Gilsum gauge, Surprise has monster holes, and the gorge goes thrashing around a corner, splits over a knife-edge, etc., etc. What remained was four miles of quite continuous Class IV action, with big holes, sometimes 3/4 the width of the stream, and complex pourover-mixmaster combos which made us shift from "let's find a feature" mode to something more timid--"maybe I can afford to catch the edge of this hole, curl the edge of that drop." I have just bought an Ultraclean-- However, in this water, the decks are constantly awash, and the ends rarely out of water. I found myself slicing through the far side of holes going downstream, being frequently held in suspension over drops, buried in bubbles up to my navel, and having to paddle briskly leaning foreward to avoid being backendered more than I already was. Ryan found the run at this level a memorable experience, and it was a kick to see him disappear over standing waves, ledge drops, and to see him struggle through the 10-yd foam piles in the narrow places. One curl thrust me about 5 ft to the right in one shot.
Note: You can avoid the two toughest sections of this river (Surprise and Gilsum gorge)and cut the trip down to 3.5 miles. Put in about 1/2 downstream of Surprise rapid, (you will also avoid some flatwater here). Take out well above the gorge at an old lumber yard on river left. Gilsum gorge is considered class V in very high water and a difficult Class IV+ in high water.
Gilsum Gorge also has a keeper hole at low flow, so all paddlers should be wary and scout this carefully before entering it.
Put in elevation........1069'
Take out elevation......731'
Average drop/mile.......64'.......Including Surprise and Gilsum gorge
1st mile drop...........52'......Includes Surprise rapid
2nd mile drop...........30'
3rd mile drop...........75'
4th mile drop...........69'
5th mile drop...........85'......Includes upper Gulsum gorge
5.3 mile drop...........27'......(90' average) includes lower Gilsum gorge
River width average.....25'
River geology...........Small to medium schist boulders, some ledges
River water quality.....Good, clarity average
Scenery.................Nice river valley usually within view of
route 10, a few homes on the banks.
Wildlife................Occasional deer, hawks
From Keene NH to NH state route 10/12/9 north.
Approximately 3 miles take a left (north) on NH 10.
Approximately 10 miles look for Surprise rapid on your left shortly after crossing over the Marlow town line.
Head back south on NH 10 approximately 3 miles.
Park and take out shortly after the first or second river crossings (first one easier).
If you are running Gilsum gorge, take a right at the Gilsum bridge 1.25 miles until the river comes into view with a private bridge crossing.
9 years ago
by Jon P Hansen
10 years ago
This section of the Ashuelot lies above the Surry mountain flood control dam and therefore is a natural flow river.
The USGS gauge is located below this flood control dam 6 miles downstream from the take out, therefore it should only be used as reference since the Army Corps of Engineers could be discharging more or holding back water for flood control. To get a more accurate reading on the flow go to Army Corps of Engineers Ashuelot tabular data and look at the last reading under the "inflow cfs" heading. It is estimated you will need at least 430 cfs for a scratchy run. The usual gage for this section is on an outside staff of an abandoned USGS gage building just upstream on river right of the stone arch bridge entrance to Gilsum gorge. People with good eyesight or a pair of binoculars can read the level from the river left bank.
Gilsum gorge Surry Lake
visual gauge Inflow cfs Interpretation
~4.4 ~430 Minimum
<4.8 ~480 Scratchy
<5.1 ~560 Low
<5.4 ~700 Low to medium
<5.9 ~900 Medium
<6.4 ~1200 Medium high
>6.4 ~1500 High
Thanks to Will Kranz for the information used to develop this table.
Note: As a result of the two hundred-year-flood events in the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007 the riverbed near the gage has changed.The table above appears to no longer be valid. New observations will be posted as they are accumulated.
Date/Time Gilsum Gorge Surray Lake Interpretation
visual gage Inflow cfs
6-Apr-08 4PM ~4.7 785 (FS 10cfs/hr) Medium
(FR=Falling Rapidly, FS=Falling Slowly, S=Steady, RS=Rising Slowly,
Estimated chance (%) of finding the river runnable.
January ............ 0%....frozen.
May ................25%....Best chance in early May with rain.
August...............5%....Just a trickle
September...........10%....Tropical storms and their remains
November............35%....Fall rains, dormant trees
December............30%....River starts freezing about Christmas.
Be aware this is averaged out over several years. The % chance refers to the probability of finding the river running on any given day. For instance a 5% probability for August means on average you can only expect 1-1/2 days of water. One year there could be 3 days in August with water, other years none. Spring levels are usually higher than fall levels.
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Northeast boaters can celebrate that another beloved whitewater gem has been protected. Paddlers on the Winnipeseaukee River are now assured that the put-in on the Lower Winni in Northfield, NH will be forever protected thanks to the donation of a parcel from Gloria Blais in memory of her husband Roger. Gloria donated the land to the Town of Northfield for the purpose of assuring that future generations of boaters will have access to the river. Protecting river access to the Winni is part of an ongoing effort by AW in the northeast region to protect river access.
A hardy group of northeast boaters climbed into the natural river channel below a hydropower dam to participate in a flow study designed to assess whether whitewater flows should be restored to this dewatered river reach on the Connecticut River. While significant obstacles remain, this site has the potential for providing instruction, playboating, and a big water feature that that could be run throughout much of the year and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
American Whitewater and Merrimack Valley Paddlers have reached an agreement to purchase a 10-acre parcel fronting on Contoocook River in Henniker, NH. The land serves as an important launch point for whitewater paddlers enjoying the popular section of the river that runs from Hillsborough to Henniker. This section of the Contoocook River contains rapids ranging in difficulty from Class II to Class IV.
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