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The Queechee Gorge: a caustic trip to eastern Vermont

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Posted on October 27, 2011 | Blog Category:
By Christian Woodard



Disclaimer: This description is for a river that is NOT Otter Creek. It's not even in Addison County, or the Champlain Basin, for that matter. It's on the other side of the mountains. However, its source is only about 15 miles from Otter Creek, and no matter how close Woodstock is to Massachusetts, it's still Vermont.  

The Ottauqueechee (known in ancient times as the "Water Queechee"), is a relatively low-gradient stream, flowing 40 miles from Killington to the Connecticut River through shallow cobble beds punctuated by a series of dams. For the most part, it’s a pleasant float in a canoe.

But, in the town of Queechee, the river plunges into Vermont’s deepest gorge. At 165 feet, it’s a mere nick by standards of the American West. But, we’re not in the west, and hundreds of people with out-of-state plates stop every day to peer into its depths.

From the bridge, the river is difficult to judge. It looks very narrow, constricted even. Sections of it are completely white, with no discernable water features. Despite this intimidating first glimpse, daredevils were running the Queechee Gorge for fun by the 1970’s.

And, once you get into the gorge, the rapids are straightforward. There is only one difficult drop, called Well Enough, directly below the Route 4 Bridge. This is a 6 foot drop where the entire volume of the river (around 1000 cfs when we were there) funnels through a 4 foot crack, folding off the left wall before dropping into a large breaking wave.

My friend Ben ran the entire gorge (leaving Well Enough alone) in a 11 ft canoe while wearing canvas and flannel. He also carried said canoe the entire length of the run. If you think you’re hard core, talk to Ben.

And if you think you’re hard core enough to paddle the gorge, here are the salient details. The run is .7 miles long, and you have to walk the entire thing. Park on the west side of the Route 4 Bridge and walk the trail up to Dewey Mills Dam (some friends from Dartmouth ran this drop last spring). Scramble down the angled rocks on river right and put in.

Nick Gottlieb on Dewey Mills

(photo: Brian Seitz)

There are several class II-III rapids leading up to Well Enough, which is immediately downstream of the bridge. Portage on the right across the flat rocks. If the river is high enough to cover these rocks and you’re not a confident boater, paddle somewhere else. A couple more easy rapids (with at least one good surf wave) lead out to a sharp left turn, where you take out.

From the takeout on river left, you walk back up to your car, nodding cordially to the amazed tourists. 

Irene really did a number on the gorge. Everything is covered in mud sixty feet up the gorge walls. According to the park ranger at the top, this mud is "caustic." A gigantic fin of rock that used to sit in the middle of Dewey Mills is gone, and there are landslides down the whole length of the run. I'm looking forward to getting back there with a camera. Here's a teaser pic of high water in the gorge:

Dewey Mills after Irene. Believe it or not, this is the same drop as the photo above

(photo: Nick Gottlieb)

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