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The Great Outdoors: Otter Creek Gorge

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Posted on October 16, 2011 | Blog Category:
By Christian Woodard



Welcome back to another installment of “Otter Creek is the Best Creek,” a serial tour of paddling on our backyard stream. This week, it’s the Otter Creek Gorge, a class II-III section of whitewater between Belden Falls and Huntington Falls.

Last night, Andrew Stein, who usually covers the Bristol Beat, agreed to accompany me an assignment in Middlebury. Namely, to go paddling and write a blog post about it. We also hoped to get some photos, but we forgot the camera and it was getting dark out, so you’ll have to take our word that it was gorgeous. The evening light brought out the fall colors, and when we took off the river, a nearly-full moon was rising over the Greens. We saw herons and kingfishers, and some airy potholes and miniature arches in marble and limestone.

We put in at Belden Falls, which is at the end of the dirt road across from River Road on Route 7. The first class II rapid went by quickly, and we were at the head of the surging Otter Creek Gorge. The gorge (class III) is a straight shot through limestone walls, carved by the swirling currents into strange caves and dimples. It’s an exciting ride in a canoe or kayak, though the water spits you quickly out at the bottom, so there’s not enough time to truly appreciate the geology.

The foot of the gorge is a wide pool ringed with tall white pines. There aren’t any roads nearby, though we could hear a train crossing the New Haven trestle. One more class II rapid waits around the corner, followed by almost a mile of flatwater down to the one lane bridge on Morgan Horse Farm / Pearson Rd. If paddle quickly, you can run this stretch in half an hour. With scouting and a little leisure, it could be a really pleasant afternoon. There’s a great spot to have lunch after the gorge on river left.

To paddle this stretch you need to set shuttle. I tried to paddle back upstream the other day, and you can’t do it. To set shuttle, drive north on Route 7 from the Belden Falls Rd. Pass both ends of the Dog Team Rd, then turn left on Campground Rd. Turn left again at the T on Pearson Rd. and park on the left before crossing Otter Creek.

The same disclaimers apply to this as to any stretch of whitewater paddling. Wear a lifejacket, and in this case, a helmet if you think you might swim. Just because people tube this with coolers in the summer doesn’t mean that it’s safe, especially at higher water. When the river is over 4000 cfs, the Otter Creek Gorge is a violent rapid, up to class IV in difficulty. In winter months, the gorge is narrow enough to collect ice bridges and sieves. The portage is difficult, and it’s not an easy place to walk, especially in the winter (unfortunately, experience speaking here). Good levels to run the gorge in a canoe range from 500 to 2000 cfs.  This link will take you to a real time gage: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?04282500

Even at this time of year, a swim in cool water can be dangerous. If you’re paddling whitewater, consider wearing a wetsuit or drysuit, and bring extra layers in a drybag. Always scout before paddling, and stay safe. As usual, if you’re interested in paddling here, but want more information or advice, send me an email at christianw@addisonindependent.com.

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