Pemigewasset, East Branch, New Hampshire, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||81 fpm|
|Max Gradient||210 fpm|
|EAST BRANCH PEMIGEWASSET RIVER AT LINCOLN, NH|
|usgs-01074520||300 - 3000 cfs||III||00h39m||141 cfs (too low)|
The East Branch of the Pemigewasset is a natural flow river best run in late April and May with
the snowmelt from the high peaks of the White Mountains.
The river gets its start in the mountainous federally designated wilderness area upstream from the put-in. As a result the water is clean, clear, and usually cold when the river is running. Don't be fooled if the water looks too low; local river lore states that if it looks like there's enough water then it's probably too much!!!
This river is a classic New England run. Continuous whitewater, a few more difficult rapids, and lots of technical moves required. Many boaters consider this river one of the best regularly run rivers in New England.
With the exception of a few bigger rapids on either side of Loon Mountain, the entire run is similar in character. (Although some purists claim that the upper section, reachable only by walking upstream is the best.) The river is relatively wide (85') for a New England river. It is strewn with car (and larger) sized boulders. These boulders create extreme turbulence during high water. The rapids are continuous and at high water all blend all together for a long class IV-V run. Any swim at high levels may result in the loss of one's boat as it is quickly swept many miles downstream. Be aware because of the nature of this river, boulders (even large ones) move and shift every spring changing the river character.
The Upper East Branch of the Pemigewasset run starts below Franconia Falls at the confluence of Franconia Brook and the North Fork of the Pemigewasset. To reach it you must walk/carry/drag your boat up the Wilderness Trail three miles along the river. The upper section is a bit more technical and unforgiving then the lower sections. Additionally the riverbed is more wide open, requiring a bit more water to paddle.
If a long walk just to paddle a beautiful river doesn't appeal to you, then start your run (as most do) on the middle section of the East Branch at the Lincoln Woods Parking Area (sometimes called the Wilderness Parking area.) This section benefits from the added water coming in from the Hancock Branch just below the put-in.
The lower East Branch (starting at Loon Mountain) holds its water a little longer than the upper (ie, it can be paddled at slightly lower levels). The river bed narrows somewhat allowing for less choice of passages. You will notice a lot more civilization in this section. Condos, ski area base lodges, and parking lots are found along much of the run; even a hidden sewage treatment lagoon located between the takeouts. Still, the river is pretty, seems secluded in most spots, and has a few nice swimming holes. During late spring weekends the scenery basking in the sun on warm days is especially nice.
Loon Mountain Rapid is the only section where scouting is required. The rapids immediately above and below Loon Mountain require more caution for the boater new to the river, as does the fourth major drop in the upper section. The rest of the river can be easily boat-scouted. Indeed, given the large number of drops and the changing nature of the river each year, it is impossible for one to know what is coming and each run is always a new experience.
Culvert Rapid, a short distance above Loon Mountain has a large steel pipe (culbert) in the
middle of the channel at the bottom. It's easly avoided as long as you know it's
there. Hurricane Irene left most of Culvert Rapid unchanged except for the bottom which is
more cluttered and technical.
At the bottom of Loon Mt. Rapid there is a large curved steel plate in the center of the right main channel of the river. The upstream end appears to be into the riverbed and the downstream end is up on a rock, so it just looks like a pour-over from upstream. From downstream you can see it is a large curved plate similar to the culvert plating in Culvert Rapid, but not a full section and not sticking up as much. It is located about 10 to 20 yards downstream of rapid section shown in the photo on the AW site description of Loon Mt. Rapid, at the last drop just before the left "sneak" route rejoins the main flow.
Since the beginning of April 2004, three strainers have fallen into the lower part of Potash
Rapid (about 1.1 miles downstream of the Lincoln Woods put-in) on the E Branch Pemi. Two of the
strainers, a Birch and an Evergreen, fell some time the week before 4/25 and the third, a tall
dead Spruce, fell some time the week before 5/9. The branches of the dead Spruce can be seen
sticking up well above the river as you approach that part of the rapid. Some of the branches of
the dead Spruce stick down into the water and are close enough together that it is not possible
to get a boat through. The trunk is far enough above the water that it looks possible to duck
under it before the first branch, but the other two strainers are just downstream and stick out
quite a bit beyond that. At low levels, portaging or lining on the left side of the channel is
advised. At medium and high levels, it might be possible to maneuver around the strainer to the
left, but scouting first is advised as rocks choke the left side of the channel.
(Thanks to Tommy T. and Norm R. for the above info.)
Note that the steep mountainous watershed causes the river to rise and fall rapidly. During
periods of heavy rain the river can rise especially fast. This may catch old hands by surprise
who expect a few hours of delay before any rain takes noticable effect.
An example is shown below (taken from the USGS Lincoln Gage). Note that in the space of only 15 minutes the flow increased by over 500 CFS; the increase over a two hour period was almost 2000 cfs, peaking at almost 3000 CFS before dropping back over the subsequent four hours. The Woodstock gage several miles downstream showed the same pattern of increase/decrease delayed by 20 minutes.
Date CFS Level 2000.05.13 23:45:00 1190 2.85 2000.05.13 24:00:00 1160 2.82 <<< Flash flood starts 2000.05.14 00:15:00 1680 3.22 <<< 15 min 500 cfs increase 2000.05.14 00:30:00 1900 3.38 2000.05.14 00:45:00 2150 3.56 2000.05.14 01:00:00 2340 3.68 2000.05.14 01:15:00 2720 3.92 <<< Next hour 1000 cfs increase 2000.05.14 02:00:00 2860 4.01 2000.05.14 02:45:00 2910 4.03 <<< Peak 2000.05.14 03:00:00 2560 3.82 2000.05.14 04:00:00 2500 3.79 2000.05.14 05:00:00 2170 3.57 2000.05.14 06:00:00 2180 3.58 2000.05.14 07:00:00 1960 3.43 <<< Drops off over four hours
Put in elevation........ 1410' Lincoln Woods elevation. 1178' Loon Mountain elevation. 943' Upper takeout elevation. 817 Lower takeout elevation. 688' Total drop.............. 722' Average drop/mile....... 81'...Including Loon Mtn rapids Distance................ 8.9 miles Upper East Branch Mile 0-1 drop......... 93'...Starting just below Franconia Falls Mile 1-2 drop......... 55' Mile 2-3 drop......... 74'...Ending at Lincoln Woods Parking Area Middle East Branch Mile 3-4 drop......... 63'...Includes Hancock Mile 4-5 drop......... 95'...Includes Potash Mile 5-5.4 drop....... 69'[173 ft/mi] Incl Culvert & Loon Mtn Rpds Lower East Branch Mile 5.4-6.4 drop..... 89'...Includes Gov Adams Mile 6-4-7.4 drop..... 67'...Includes Mill Dam Mile 7.4-8.4 drop..... 84'...Incl South Mtn Rapid & Lincoln Bypass Mile 8.4-8.9 drop..... 15'[30 ft/mi] Upper section width avg (not measured) Middle section width avg 85' Lower section width avg.55' River geology...........Medium and large granite boulders, some ledges, smaller boulders near lower section take out, some ledge River water quality.....Excellent, crystal clear upper and middle sections; some degradation on lower section after Lincoln sewage treatment plant (between first & second takeout) at lower water levels. Scenery.................Excellent mountain and forest scenery on Upper & Middle sections. Good mountain scenery, ski area, and condos line the banks most of the lower section. Some old dam remains on lower section with log cribbing and some rebarr. Wildlife................Occasional deer, moose, tourist
Food: McDonalds, pizza and sub shops and more expensive eating establisments
located in Lincoln.
Lodging: Many hotels and motels located in Lincoln and Woodstock.
Campgrounds: Hancock campground, located just before the put in on route 112, is run by the National Forest Service is open year round has nice wooded tent and small camper sites with picnic tables, modern outhouses, pump water, no electricity. Lost River Campground located 4 miles west of exit 32 on route 112 is a familly campground with all the amenities. Wooded sites with electricity, water available at sites. Sites for tents and campers of any size. Open early May until Columbus day.
Gas: There are several gas stations in town at the exit but it is expensive. The further south on 93 you get gas the less expensive it is. Exit 20 in Tilton (40 miles south) has the cheapest gas in the region.
Etc. Franconia Notch 6 miles further up interstate 93 has many hiking and biking trails, scenic areas such as the Basin, Flume, Cannon Mtn Arial Tramway. Rock climbing on Cannon Mountain. There are several outdoor shops in Lincoln. Outback Kayak located at the Mill marketplace on route 112 has paddling equipment.
|Upper Pemi Region|
|Map by Mark Lacroix|
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Upper Put In|
|0.1||Alternate (opposite) side put-in|
|0.2||Typical River Character|
|0.3||First Major Drop||IV|
|0.5||Second Major Drop||IV|
|0.7||Third Major Drop||IV|
|1.1||Fourth Major Drop||IV+|
|1.5||Fifth Major Drop||IV|
|2.0||Sixth Major Drop||III+|
|2.2||Seventh Major Drop||IV|
|2.5||Eighth Major Drop||IV|
|3.0||Lincoln Woods Put-in||N/A|
|5.1||Upper Loon Rapid||IV|
|5.4||Loon Mtn. Rapid||IV|
|7.4||South Mountain Rapid||IV|
The put-in at Lincoln Woods parking area is the most common access point. Put on under the suspension bridge.
Update: Post-Hurricane Irene this is a different rapid. The upper section is easier; at the bottom the left is more technical and pushy. [Prior description: At the bridge to Loon Mountain ski area, the river drops over the most difficult rapid on the Pemi. This rapid has changed over the past several years, a flood in 1994 undermined the bridge abutments. The bridge abutments were repaired and the riverbed was filled with blasted rock just downstream of the abutments. This changed the rapid considerably leaving no good channel to run until the river scoured out a couple of channels over the past few years. The far left channel is easiest; it starts just past the bridge and is mostly a clean stair step drop onto the head of a rock island that splits the river. At this point you can maneuver to river right and complete the drop through a myriad of sharp pinning boulders that require lots of maneuvering or you can stay in the river left channel at higher water levels for an easier run. The right channel at the top of the rapid is more difficult because of the precise lines required to run it successfully. The usual route threads a pushy course along the left side of the channel bouncing thru some big waves. At higher water you can also thread your way down a narrow chute towards the right side of the channel. Scout this rapid carefully before you run.]
The river drops over the rubble left over from a dilapidated dam. There only seem to be boulders and some concrete in this drop but be aware that there could be rebar or spikes. Holes and pinning rocks are the greatest hazard here. Post-Hurricane Irene Update: This rapid is now more technical and difficult, especially at the bottom.
Once you view the USGS gauging building on your right, take out on river left on a gravel beach and scout the next drop. The rapid funnels through a cut in the log cribbing of an old delapitated dam then slides over a smooth ledge with two river wide hydraulics. At low water the upper hydraulic is worse, while at high water the lower one is. These hydraulics can hold boats and boaters for sometime and most people choose to walk around this rapid. There is a sneak route on the far left and another just to the left of the holes. The far left requires a paddler to scrape over ledge halfway down if the water is medium or lower. The usual route would be to run the tightrope just left of the holes and right of the shallow ledge. You can easily get off line here and end up in one of the holes.