Pemigewasset - 1) Upper Pemi

Pemigewasset, New Hampshire, US


1) Upper Pemi (Profile Lake–Franconia Notch)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 2.9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 200 fpm

Butch in the Basin

Butch in the Basin
Photo of Butch Mixon by Mark Lacroix taken 04/20/02 @ 5.6' Woodstock

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Upper Pemi as a function of Pemi Woodstock and East Branch
virtual-219831 320 - 1500 cfs V 00h48m ~ 50 cfs (too low)
usgs-01075000 4.50 - 9.00 ft V 00h46m 3.08 ft (too low)

River Description

Source: Greg and Sue Hanlon's Steep Creeks of New England, which has more info on this run. Text used with permission.

Directions: Park in The Basin parking area, from I-93 South in Franconia Notch State Park; put in on the North side of the lot.
To takeout: take I-93 South to Exit 1. Follow Rte. 3 South toward Lincoln. The takeout is behind the Indian Head Hotel / Resort on the left. They'll usually allow you to park in the hotel parking lot, but be courteous; we don't want to lose this privilege.
To retrieve a car from the putin, you'll need to drive North on I-93 to Exit 2 (Cannon Mtn. Tramway Exit). Bang an Interstate U-Turn and head South back to The Basin Exit.

The first known descent of the Upper Pemi was April 26, 1992, by Bob Potter, Gary Weiner, Greg Hanlon, and Steve Hyndman. The first run of the North Pole occurred several years later.0


Flow Info:

River-left abutment footing platform on the downstream side of the covered bridge below Flume Brook, behind the State Park visitors' center. Two inches below the platform is minimum; two inches above and a foot above are medium and high, respectively.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-05-03 20:33:56

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Map of the Upper Pemi regionPutin Photo
0.1The Basin5.1Waterfall Photo
0.2Baby FlumeIV+Photo
0.3The North Pole5.1Portage Hazard
0.3Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am5.1Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo
0.3Sieve in Wam Bam, Thank You Ma'amVHazard
0.4CL:4-5 Boulder GardensVPhoto
0.5CL: 3-4 Boulder GardensIVPhoto

Rapid Descriptions

Map of the Upper Pemi region

Upper Pemi region

Upper Pemi region
Photo by Mark Lacroix @ 1.6 bridge gauge

The Basin (Class 5.1, Mile 0.1)


Photo taken 04/16/10

Falls into a beautiful Dark Basin  which is actually a large pot hole.

There is currently a large log wedged in here that may be hidden at medium or higher flows, please portage this until the hazard is gone.

Baby Flume (Class IV+, Mile 0.2)

Baby Flume

Baby Flume
Photo taken 04/16/10 @ low runnable level

Narrow Slide though a stronger hole. Get ready to be thrown for a hard brace.


The North Pole (Class 5.1, Mile 0.3)

Once you pass under the Rt 93 bridge quickly be on the look out for a significant horizon line within a gap in the boulders signalling the need to get out of the river to scout and more likely portage (on right). The North Pole is frequently portaged due to significant sieve action.

Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am (Class 5.1, Mile 0.3)

Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am

Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am
Photo taken 04/11/10 @ low runnable level

Spectacular Rapid! The highlight of the run.

"Wham" is the Sieve drop directly upstream of the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge.

"Bam" is the bad hole created by water slamming the Left wall creating bad recirculation into the hole...especially bad at lower flows...deceptively so.

"Thank You Ma'am" is the last beautiful falls dumping into a large calm pool.

All but the most bold of boaters will portage the ugly "Wham" sieve. Portaging on River Right affords a spicy seal launch just above "Bam" while others portage directly behind the River Left sieve via a crack with a sketchy walk on the edge of the sieve. Apparently some boaters regularly fire up the narrow hard to hit sieve line at low water but a screw up seems very likely fatal. The Left portage permits a better entry into "Bam", where as the river right seal launch has you on "Bam" in all of 2 seconds. (Note: Close up Sieve pic in AW Gallery)

Even more conservatively you can climb down directly off the river right seal launching boulder with great care. The down climb is difficult and easy to fall but you will be able to cross a pool, and  climbing over one more boulder. Now you will be downstream of "Bam" and in a calm spot to put in to run the final waterfall.

Sieve in Wam Bam, Thank You Ma'am (Class V, Mile 0.3)


View of sieve from upstream approach.

There is a Dangerous Sieve located in Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am, the marquee rapid directly beneath the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge. An expert kayaker was pinned and lost his life here in September 2012.

The sieve is not readily apparent from on-shore scouting. In the photo at left the longer red line points to the sieve while the shorter yellow line shows the usual route down the rapid.

As of mid-2017 the sieve is still very much in play despite reports to the contrary. Specifically, it's on river left underneath the giant boulder that forms the left shore and alongside the tight 3-4' tall chute that forms the first drop of the rapid. Be careful—it's easier to mistake a second sieve/rock pile on river right as the hazard; but much more difficult to see the fatal sieve on river left. It's definitely there only a few feet to the left of the usual line.

This is a major hazard. Please note that there is a climbing rope attached to the rocks directly underneath the bridge on river right that aids a portage around the top two stages of the drop.

View of sieve from covered bridge.
The second photo at left shows the view from the covered bridge with the longer red line pointing to the sieve with the shorter yellow line the normal route down.


CL:4-5 Boulder Gardens (Class V, Mile 0.4)

Simone in the Rock Gardens

Simone in the Rock Gardens
Photo taken 04/10/10

After Wham Bam are Fun Steep boulder gardens. Difficulty of drops vary widely but it is not too out of control. Many boaters will read and run on the fly but keep a good eye out for wood.


CL: 3-4 Boulder Gardens (Class IV, Mile 0.5)

Rock Garden Fun Steeps

Rock Garden Fun Steeps
Photo taken 04/10/10 @ low runnable level

After the second covered bridge starts a mile or so of class 3-4 boulder gardens which ramp down towards the end.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 18 2017 (549 days ago)
Alden BirdDetails
WARNING: In the fall of 2012, an expert kayaker drowned in a deadly sieve on the Upper Pemi. As of
the spring of 2017, that sieve is still very much in play. The sieve is located in Wham, Bam, Thank
You, Ma'am: the marquee rapid directly beneath the Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge. Specifically, the
sieve is located on river *left* underneath the giant boulder that forms the left shore, right
alongside the tight chute (3-4' tall) that forms the top drop of the rapid. Be careful -- it's easy
to see the sieve / rock pile on river *right* at this drop, but much harder to see the fatal sieve
on river *left*. But it's definitely there. This is a major hazard. Please note that there is a
climbing rope attached to the rocks directly underneath the bridge on river right that aids a
portage around the top two stages of the drop.
October 4 2010 (2967 days ago)
Wayne GmanDetails
AS OF THE 10-1-2010 High Water Event: A very experienced boaters reported that Main Sieve hazard
known to some as Wham in the Wham-Bam-Thankyou-mame rapid.....IS NOW GONE or so changed to greatly
reduce the hazard.
April 26 2008 (3858 days ago)
Jeff SharpeDetails
It is possible to portage the sieve in Wham Bam (Sentinel Bridge Rapid) through a crack in the rock
on river left directly above the sieve. The portage is probably not as easy as river right, but it
avoids having to make the sketchy seal launch back into the river if you portage river right. To
execute the "crack in the rock" portage on river left, catch an eddy above the obvious horizon line
just upstream of the covered bridge that contains the nasty sieve on the left. You'll have to
portage a bit down the left bank until you are basically looking down into the sieve. Basically the
large rock that creates the sieve also has a dry crack about 10 feet above river level. You can
pass boats through this crack and then re-enter the river just downstream of the sieve. The footing
is good, but obviously watch your step, because if you slip making the portage you will fall
directly into the sieve. Apparently there are some people who actually run this rapid top to
bottom, but a missed line looks almost certainly fatal. Be safe!

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