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The Great Outdoors: Otter Creek Falls

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Posted on October 5, 2011 | Blog Category:
By Christian Woodard



Editor's note: Please don't try this at home.

This week, another installment of paddling in our backyard: Otter Creek Falls.

Whenever we slide into the water behind the restaurant there are a few patrons who shout off the porch.

“Do you know there’s a waterfall down there?” they say, gesticulating wildly.

“What?” I say. “Really? A waterfall? How tall?”

These people often leave their steaming dinner plates to witness our final witless moments, and are subtly disappointed when no one leaves in an ambulance. Otter Creek Falls is one of the easiest waterfalls in Vermont. Despite its height (18’), the aspiring hucker or huckette need only to know how to roll and paddle forward.

That said, paddling whitewater is inherently risky business, and I’m not encouraging anyone to engage in this inane and endangering sport. Don’t try to paddle off of Otter Creek Falls (or any waterfall, for that matter) without an experienced friend to show you the line. Even the most straightforward drops have potentially fatal consequences.

If you’re an experienced paddler, Otter Creek Falls is a waterfall playground. You can paddle off of it at almost any flow, from summer drought to spring melt. There are a variety of lines, including boofing, freewheeling, and plugging. If you’re not familiar with these terms, you probably shouldn’t be dropping the falls.

For the uninitiated:

Boof: To land flat off of a drop. Don’t check urban dictionary for the other definitions…

Plug: To fall vertically into the pool below a drop.

Freewheel: To make a full 180 degree vertical rotation in the air.

(photo Patrick Rogers)

If you are a capable whitewater kayaker and do want to paddle the falls, park in the municipal parking lot in Frog Hollow. Walk your boat up the hill, across Main Street (without shattering any shop windows) and down Bakery Lane past Jackson’s on the River. Put in behind the dumpster and paddle downstream.

You’re aiming for the river right side of the falls, where the water is deepest. Paddle through the right arch of the Otter Creek Bridge and line up for the falls. After the 18’ drop, there’s a surprisingly sticky ledge hydraulic which you need to point straight into.

Assuming that everything went okay, paddle back to your car for an (Otter Creek) beer or hike up for another lap.  

For safety on the falls, it’s best if everyone carries a throwrope. You need a PFD, helmet, and a specialized whitewater kayak. If you get hurt paddling off the falls in a recreational kayak, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There are several truly dangerous things to watch out for on the falls. The river left side is shallow. Don’t go there. Just behind the river right bridge abutment, there’s a side channel that falls into a cave behind the falls. DO NOT go there. Sometimes (including the present time), there are trees pinned in the falls themselves. Don’t paddle if you’re worried about the trees. At the bottom of the falls, the big eddy on the right sometimes fills with wood.

But, if you scout carefully first, are confident in your skills, and have a solid safety plan, the falls can be a lot of fun. If you’re thinking about paddling them, but don’t know if you’re ready or need someone to go with, email me christianw@addisonindependent.com.

All photos by Douglas Brooks unless otherwise stated. 

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