by Ken Cooper
April 19, 1998
Pinch and Glade Creeks
Tom Snead, Bill Matlin, Ken Cooper
A lot of people I know, myself included, when younger, armed with a new drivers license and the parentÂs car would spend hours exploring back roads close to home. Sometimes we would get completely lost and find ourselves in a new corner of the county we never knew existed. Eventually our network of roads began to connect and then lead us again to a new adventure, further and further from home. Being able to discover something new, and feeling like youÂre the first person to ever experience it is one of the things I miss from childhood.
Paddlers tend to do this same thing with small creeks. When IÂm exploring a run for the first time it reminds me of my adolescent days driving aimlessly with inseparable friends, expanding our boundaries. Sometimes, while paddling, a tributary will catch my eye. I begin to imagine hiking up a couple of miles to explore what is just out of site. Most of these are just way too small to ever consider boating. But occasionally you stumble on to one that has possibilities. You just canÂt stop thinking about what surprises it may contain. You may even purchase topo maps and begin pouring over them during the coldest winter nights.
When I first began paddling Glade Creek several winters ago, just this type of stream caught my eye. Even though Glade was the most challenging thing I had paddled at that time, a tributary about half way down caught my eye. I began to think about the 160Â per mile section of creek I had just paddled through just upstream. I began to think about the multitude of 10Â drops that still had my heart pumping. I began to think there must be some of the same type whitewater on that little tributary, of which I could only glimpse about 100Â upstream from the mouth.
Glade Creek has become one of my favorite runs and every time I run it, I find myself glancing up Pinch Creek as I float by. Pinch Creek separates upper and lower glade and enters from river right at the midpoint of the run. A year and a half ago, I couldnÂt fight the urge to buy the topo map and at least see on paper where it went. The map indicated a paved road crossed the creek about 4 miles up from its mouth and that the first several miles dropped at an easy rate. The final mile, which dropped 200Â according to the map, is what caught my attention and promised to provide excitement and exploration. I asked around but no one I could find had ever boated it. I only heard that a group had paddled it in duckies about 10 or 15 years ago but no one I knew could give me any solid information about it. Last January, I talked my wife Evie into going on a hike with me. Of course to me hiking means scouting creeks. We headed to the mouth of Pinch and managed to make it a couple of miles upstream before the banks became too steep to hike. It was difficult to see everything Pinch Creek had to offer due to the steep banks and thick Rhododendron. We were able, however, to see a couple of 10Â falls and numerous slides which only served to further wet my appetite. While I was driving home from a run on Meadow Creek earlier this winter, I pulled out my topo maps and went in search of the put in. I found it just as it was getting dark so I couldnÂt look at much but I did talk to a local farmer who told me he had never seen anyone around there before with kayaks. He began to warn me about the falls on it. I explained that IÂd seem them on my earlier hike and thatÂs exactly why I was anxious to paddle it. After describing the two falls IÂd seen, he said I had missed the third and largest falls. At least twice a tall as the ones IÂd scouted, probably 20Â to 25Â high. Now I was really psyched!
Recently, a weekend of rain began to bring up the level of creeks around Beckley. The trees were beginning to get small green buds and sprout thirsty leaves, a bad sign to see if you are obsessed with running creeks. I knew if I would catch Pinch Creek this year, this would be my last chance. Tom Snead, Bill Matlin and I drove to the mouth of Glade. The level did not look to be unusually high but running moderately. This did not look real promising for Pinch but we all agreed to go look at it. If it looked too low, we would just back track and run lower Glade. We arrived at the headwaters of Pinch Creek but really could not tell much from it. It was only about 10Â wide and looked like a drainage ditch flowing through a cow pasture. How were we supposed to tell how it might look downstream from this? We decided to put on and try it, for better or worse. Bill was the first in his boat and waited just downstream while Tom and I fidgeted around with gear and finally launched. Bill took off right in front of us and soon the little stream was covered with thick, overhanging brush. Tom and I fought our way through this for several hundred yards and when we came out the other side, Bill was nowhere in sight ahead of us. Since there was no way we could have passed him on a 10Â wide ditch, we knew he had gotten way ahead of us somehow. We took off, trying to catch up. After we paddled hard for about 1 mile and carried 2 trees, we started to wonder if we could have passed him. But no way, we thought. How could you pass somebody on a 10Â wide stream and not see them. We began to drift slowly and watch behind us as well as in front wondering what could have happened to Bill. We reasoned if he was in front, heÂd wait at the first falls. If we were in front, weÂd wait at the first falls. Finally we heard a whistle blowing behind us and soon Bill came into view around a bend. He explained heÂd taken a smaller channel at the beginning while we were paddling in the underbrush and ended up stuck inside a refrigerator! He did not hear us pass him and he was also paddling along not knowing if he was in front of or behind us. We decided not to question him too much about how you actually get stuck inside a refrigerator!
After about 1 Â½ miles of paddling flat, moving water from the put in, the creek left civilization behind. For another mile or so, Pinch moved through continuous class II shoals through remote West Virginia scenery full of laurel and pine trees. Small streams kept adding small amounts of volume and soon it was beginning to look like a real creek. Around every bend, weÂd check for a horizon line that would indicate the 25Â falls the farmer had told me about. This was starting to feel like one of those weekend afternoon drives on an unknown country road from my youth! Soon a horizon line came into view which I recognized as one of the 10Â falls Evie and I had seen on our scouting trip. I mean hiking trip! This was an easy run on the left side. Below the first falls Pinch began picking up some speed. There were a couple more easy slides and soon the second 10Â falls I had found on our hike. Another easy boof in the center into a 3Â or 4Â deep pool. This was a very wide falls and we could paddle back upstream through the falls into the ÂroomÂ behind it. Once behind the falls you could paddle from one side of the creek to the other.
Below the second falls, the creek began to drop even more quickly. We encountered several blind drops that required a couple of scouts. There was nothing exceedingly difficult but we could tell we were into the 200Â per mile section. Since this was the final mile, and IÂd already seen this from the bank, I began to relax a little and figured that the farmer had been pulling my leg about the 25Â falls. This disappointed me a little but I also felt a little relieved. The run became a series of long slide type rapids that donÂt require a lot of finesse, kind of like sleigh riding and watching for downed trees. I found myself out in front of Bill and Tom, and as I came around a bend in the creek I was looking at nothing but horizon line and tree tops. Wow, I thought this must be the 25 footer he was talking about! My adrenaline pumped as I passed up the far upstream eddy and headed for one I spotted about 30Â upstream from the horizon line. The water became shallow and picked up speed above the lip of the falls. I took a couple of strokes forward to drive into the last chance eddy. I was anxious to get out and look at what challenge lay ahead. As my bow crossed the eddy line, my heart sank as I realized this eddy was poorly formed and shallow. I was not about to get stopped in this puny thing! Oh God I thought, as my boat skidded through the little eddy, not even beginning to slow down. For a second, I tried to pull my skirt and scramble out, hoping I could gain some footing on the shale bottom. No good, the Mountain Surf skirt was not going to come off quickly. I turned the boat downstream and realized I was about 15Â from the lip and at least 20Â above where I was about to land. I tucked my thighs back under the braces and pressed my feet hard against the bulkhead. I stared hard at the lip hoping to find some clue about where I was about to be launched. Nothing. As the nose of my boat moved out into thin air, I got one good boof stroke in, dropped about 6Â landing hard on a sloping reef and gently slid another 15Â or 20Â down to the bottom of the drop. Whew! Soon, Bill appeared, scrambling down the bank and peering over the edge to see if there were survivors. He was relieved to see me laughing and getting ready to take pictures of them running it. This turned out to be a very straight forward, 25Â high sloping falls. Bill talked Tom into running it without scouting so he could get the same rush I got running it blind!
We ran several more slides before reaching the mouth. At one slide, The water funneled down and flowed along a cliff on river left. The top of the slide had two trees hanging over it and the bottom careened off a pillowed rock and veered hard to the right. Tom and I agreed crashing through the trees at that speed looked painful and we were mature enough to walk it. Bill on the other hand, apparently had something to prove! Tom and I stood on the bank laughing as he parted the branches with his face, spun 90 degrees, flipped at the pillow and skidded down the last part of the drop on his helmet. We called that one right! All in all Pinch Creek delivered on itÂs promise of adventure. Of the approximately 4 miles we paddled, only about 1 Â½ miles provided any appreciable whitewater excitement. Even though, most of this creek offers beautiful scenery comparable to upper Glade Creek. Most of the rapids are slides. Some of these end in 3Â Â 4Â ledges which keep the water dripping off your eyebrows. The two 10Â falls are shear drops and very straight forward. Our run was made at fairly low water but another 6Â of water could provide an exciting, downhill, luge run.
We continued down lower Glade to our takeout vehicle at the mouth. After being on Pinch, this felt like paddling on New River. The water was rising on Glade and provided a quick, lively run to the bottom. It was nice paddling with Bill and Tom on this run. Bill will be moving to Oregon in a week for a job change and this will probably be one of our last runs together in WV. Tom had not been real active paddling during the last year and this was sort of a reunion weekend. Regardless, while we were leap-frogging our way down Pinch Creek, it seemed like one of those carefree weekend days of my youth.
Â©1996-2003 West Virginia Wildwater Association
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