Potomac, North Branch, Maryland, US/West Virginia, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||50 fpm|
|Max Gradient||50 fpm|
|NORTH BRANCH POTOMAC RIVER AT KITZMILLER, MD|
|usgs-01595500||3.70 - 7.00 ft||III-IV||01h48m||2.78 ft (too low)|
This is a nice bigwater run while it's running. Lotsa holes and waves to have fun with. When it's high, a fun run is to begin with the Stony River. Like a slightly tougher version of the Middle Fork / Tygart run, this combines a technical creek with a bigwater river. Fun fun fun!
A put-in downstream of Gormania, WV on river left at Steyer, MD will shorten the distance paddled
by 2 1/2 miles.
From Jonathan Mayhew 2004-08-26 23:50:00
This stretch, a 15-mile long class 3-4 wilderness run, is one of the best advanced runs in the area. The North Branch provides the paddler with an excellent "big water" playground as well as a place to practice advanced river running skills. This run has very few eddies or pools, making it feel like one single rapid at times. Paddlers with marginal rolling or self-rescue skills should not attempt this run due to the risk of flush drowning. However, for those possessing the confidence and ability to handle non-stop, western-style flush whitewater, this run is easily one of the best stretches of intermediate water in the region.
The best putin is at Steyer, MD, a short distance downstream from Gormania. From Steyer the run begins with a half mile of continuous class 2 shoal rapids, continually growing in size until reaching the first class 3 ledge, a broken-out 3 foot drop with a nice roostertail and squirrely wavetrain below.
At this point, the run picks up to class 3. The paddler should begin looking for the second island that splits the river into two channels. At levels of 5.5 feet and above, the paddler should go to the left of this island, which leads into a 5-foot horseshoe ledge called Corkscrew. This class-4 ledge should be run in the center with righthand angle. From here the river continues to drop over uniform 2-4-foot ledges for several miles to the mouth of the Stony, providing hundreds (literally) of excellent play spots.
Below the mouth of the Stony, the run picks up speed and changes character, becoming less technical and more powerful as the run rockets through huge waves and holes. When the river bends to the right and the railroad crosses the river, be prepared for 3 large class 4 ledges. The first ledge, Rattlesnake, is the most difficult of these ledges. It is marked by a distinct horizon line and drops a total of 6-7 feet. Paddlers should drop in center left, heading left of a large roostertail and working further left to avoid a large pourover, Lady Kenmore at the base of the ledge. Above 5 feet, a sneak opens up on extreme river right, and above 7 feet, a terminal keeper hydraulic develops at the base of the ledge.
A short distance downstream is the second ledge, a steep 8 foot drop down the center of a distinct horizon line. This drop, while being the largest on the river, is actually the easiest- just paddle down the center and bust through the large wave train at the bottom.
A few class-3 rapids lead into the approach for the third, most technical, ledge. At lower levels, the best line is on the extreme river left along the bank. This line consists of a 5-foot boof into a right-hand turn to avoid an undercut rock in the runout. At levels over 5.5 feet, several lines open up in the center and right side of the ledge. In addition, the pourovers in the ledge's lead-in become very sticky, forming terminal keepers at 7 feet and above.
For the next 6-7 miles, the run flows along at a furious pace through wide-open class-3-4 rapids, blasting through numerous holes and wave trains. Keep an eye out for a deceptive ledge near the top of this stretch; a series of waves and smaller holes lures the unsuspecting paddler out into the middle of the river only to drop into two huge offset pourovers. When you reach a set of irregular, abandoned bridge pillars crossing the river (one of them looks like a pillar from Stonehenge), be sure to run the rapid on the extreme left along the bank--this rapid consists of a pillowed right-hand turn dropping over a 6 foot ledge. The other chutes over this class-4 ledge contain strainers and rebar, so make sure you run the correct channel. Not long after, the second of two large, distinct rock cliffs appears on the lefthand side of the river over a pool; this cliff can be recognized by the manmade masonry wall built into the top-center of the cliff.
Below this pool lies Maytag, a powerful class 4 rapid that is the toughest one on the run. This rapid is very deceptive, appearing to be just a straightforward wave train down the right-hand side of the river. However, this wavetrain drops through two ledges before plunging into a massive hole which is more than capable of trashing an unlucky paddler. The proper line involves staying to the left of the waves, negotiating the ledges and sneaking the large hole on the far left of the channel. From here, one can catch a large eddy on the right to watch the carnage and set up for the rest of the rapid.
Below this eddy, the rapid drops through 2 more powerful ledge holes before dumping into a wavetrain with a hidden hole. At moderate levels, this rapid compares favorably in size with Pure Screaming Hell on the Lower Gauley, with large trashy holes and 6-8-foot breaking waves. The best line is to continue down the left, avoiding the ledge holes, then line up in the center of the river to avoid a nasty hidden hole on the left of the wave runout. For the expert playdog, this rapid has the best bang for your buck, providing several bigwater play features that rival playspots on the New River Gorge. From here to the takeout, the run slowly winds down, becoming channelized class 3 as it passes by the town of Shallmar. Take out here, or another mile downstream in Kitzmiller.
SHUTTLE: Some people choose to put in at the bridge in Gormania, but putting in at Steyer, 2 miles downstream along river left (go across the bridge from WV, turn right, then turn right onto Steyer-Gorman road) cuts out some flatwater. Put in at the bus turnaround where the road veers left away from the river. Takeout at the bridge in Kitzmiller, or, if school is out, take out at the school about a half mile upstream on river left--park in the bus turnaround just past the school if you are driving upstream. While in town, it helps to be discreet; while the town locals don't necessarily mind paddlers, some of the surrounding inhabitants have been known to hassle boaters in the past. Don't leave anything in direct sight in your car at either the putin or takeout.