Saturday, December 22, 2012

Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide

Have a kayak but nowhere to go? With the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide, no whitewater enthusiast in the northeastern United States should be without a place to go.

The book covers rivers from New York and throughout New England, offering river runs in almost every area of each state. From the Hudson River Gorge in New York, to the Vermont’s Black River and Maine’s Kennebec, all the high points are hit and so are plenty of other in-between runs that you may or may not already be familiar with.

What do you find in the book? 

Part One of the guide is an introduction to northeastern whitewater providing information on river running in general and providing a broken down look at the river descriptions that follow in the next section. This is helpful for less experienced rafters, or those of us who haven’t generally used a guidebook to plan out our trips. Each characteristic that is reviewed in the river descriptions (difficult, trip distance, average gradient, etc.) are pulled out in Section One and reviewed so that readers have a general understanding of how and why rivers were reviewed the way they were in Section Two.

The second part of Part One talks about paddling safety. This is a major concern with some of these rivers – northeastern whitewater might not be as famous as say the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, but there’s plenty of difficult and highly technical runs out there that can challenge even the best paddlers. Plus accidents can happen anywhere – even in a smoothly flowing stream – so it’s always better to be careful. Information on water temperature, flotation devices, helmets, river scouting and river hazards are included here. I’d suggest that everyone reads this section before planning out trips – because we always need a safety refresher.

Part Two of the guide delves into the river descriptions. It starts out with a quick (much quicker than Part One’s discussion) guide to interpreting the river information, a discussion of wild and scenic rivers, a quick review of paddling on dam-controlled rivers and ways to maintain that access, location maps and keys for each state or area and finally Part Two dives into the river descriptions.

I won’t bore you with a list of all the rivers that are covered, but as an example, here are some of the highlights from the various states:

New York
Esopus Creek
Hudson River/Indian River
Moose River
Sacandaga River

Ammonoosuc River
Androscoggin River
Black River
Connecticut River
Dead River
Ellis River
Kennebec River
Mad River
Penobscot River
Saco River
Swift River

Chickley River
Choasset River
Cold River
Deerfield River
Farmington River
Millers River
Housatonic River
Quaboag River
Westfield River

And that’s probably only about a third of the rivers that are covered in the Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide.

Each river’s introductory description includes:

-The distance of the river run (the river itself is longer, this is the distance of the run that is covered in the description)
-The shuttle length (in miles driving) that is needed to have cars at both the put-in and take-out points along the river
-The average drop in feet per mile of the river over the run
-The maximum drop in feet per mile on the run
-The difficulty of the run – in the whitewater classification system (class I through V with higher numbers being more difficult)
-The scenery around the river
-The last time the river was field checked for the guide
-The type of water to expect due to runoff on the river
-A look at when the river is too low, low, medium, high and too high in regards to the measured height of the river at a selected gauge and where that gauge is
-Where to find out information on the water level of the river

Beyond this quick introduction (which is the 1st thing you will run across on each river’s description) you are given a two to three page written description of the run on the river, starting with a general description of the run. This is followed by information on the put-in point, and then a play-by-play guide to the river until you reach the take-out point. Information on large rapids, river constrictions, hazards, drops and landmarks are given to make your trip down the river easier and to allow you to plan ahead for your trip. Locations where you should scout the river ahead before running (getting out of your boat and walking along shore to check out the river) are called out, as is information on the take-out point and how the river changes its characteristics in different levels of water flow (a river that is easy at low flow might be extremely difficult in very high water).

With each river description and guide, you are also given a simple map of the run that provides basic information on the river – including the location of difficult rapids and the put-in and take-out points. These maps are good enough for planning, but you should get more detailed maps for the actual trips.

After the descriptions, a short glossary is included, as is the author’s biography and some information about the Appalachian Mountain Club. There is no index or guide to further reading in the book.


I can’t say I’ve run every river in this book – but I have used it several times to plan trips and the information is both easy to access and easy to use. The descriptions are generally accurate, but as with anything in nature – rivers are continually changing – so precise descriptions of the river will quickly go out of date. The basic information is what is helpful – you get an idea of what to expect and what you need to do for a multitude of different rivers.

I wouldn’t suggest that this be the only guide to these rivers you get – if you are considering running any of them – the Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide provides a good starting point. Once you’ve picked where you want to go and have a general idea of what you are going to do, search out more recent and more detailed information on the river – which should be fairly easy – as the descriptions include information to find out the latest details on the river.

I would have liked an index – especially considering this is a guidebook. However the table of contents is quite thorough and if you can think of a river name, or a location, with some flipping back and forth, you should be able to find what you are looking for.

Final Thoughts 

The Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide is a great general guide to all of the whitewater opportunities in the northeastern United States. You’ll finish the book with a better understanding of the opportunities available and you’ll be able to plan the outlines of your whitewater trips. The book won’t however provide all the details you need for the toughest of the rivers and it is always best to further study your destination (through more up-to-date resources) before you jump in the boat.

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