Adam Herzog in flight
(photo: Trip Kinney)
Next time you drive between East Middlebury and Ripton, take a peek over the guardrail. Route 125 follows the rim of the Middlebury River, home of Addison County’s deepest and steepest gorge. The South Branch of the Middlebury River gathers motivation in the flatlands around Breadloaf before dropping through a precipitous jumble of boulder and bedrock down to the Champlain Valley floor.
Over a three mile section the river drops nearly 1000 ft, creating one of Vermont’s most committing whitewater runs. It’s a local test-piece, and intermediate kayakers can often be heard discussing when they’ll be ready. Though the majority of the river is only class IV, halfway down it enters a steeply overhung gorge with four difficult rapids. Kayakers – a visceral and obscene lot - call this pinch “The Birth Canal.”
the author in the Birth Canal
(photo: Morgan Boyles)
Not only is the Birth Canal home to some of Vermont’s harder whitewater, it is difficult to escape if anything goes wrong. A friend once dislocated his shoulder in the gorge, and we couldn’t get him up to the road for four hours. An experienced kayaker died in the Birth Canal ten years ago, and there are countless stories of terrifying swims, injuries, and near drowning in its depths. Over the five years that I’ve been paddling the river, I’ve contributed a few of my own stories to the anthology.
A rare flat section in the gorge.
But, this afternoon, I had the Middlebury lined up for lunch break. With the last of the snow melting and half an inch of rain at Breadloaf overnight, the gorge was running at a perfect level. I met Adam Herzog at noon, who’d been there all morning and already taken two runs.
We bounced down the river, discussing our planned lines on the largest drop, called Fallopian. The rapid is the first in the Birth Canal, and the most difficult to run cleanly. It drops twelve feet through a bedrock notch into an undercut room, and has been the site of several dangerous swims.
I ran first, flubbing over the waterfall and resurfacing in the room. Adam was close behind, and also went deep, popping up next to me. After a flurry of paddle strokes we escaped the eddy and headed into the next set of rapids. We scrambled through the final rapid in the Birth Canal, dubbed Rebirth, and smiled as the tight walls receded and the gradient slackened.
Morgan staying warm before Rebirth
In less than an hour, we were at the Rt. 125 bridge. I changed back into dry clothes, gave Adam a ride to his car, and headed back to work.
Living and working in Middlebury is a gift from God.
If this looks like fun, it is. But it’s not fun unless you have experience and a guide to take you down. If you’re interested in whitewater kayaking, let me know, and we can start out on some easier stuff. I’m christianw at Addison independent dot com.