Back from the Black

We’re back from the Black River Festival. Was a phenomenal time, was just able to get a few photos, videos, and update from the weekend up under Adventures. Feel free to drop any questions my way! I’m currently trying to get old posts formatted into a readable format. The redesign definitely did a number on them. More updates to come from the past regarding an AT trip, some NH backpacking, and the a few history articles I’m working on. Take it easy all!

Kennebec Gorge – The Forks, ME

The Kennebec Gorge. They say it’s a pretty big deal. And it is, and so much more. On big release days, 8,000 CFS flows from Indian Pond, dammed by Harris Station, creating some of the biggest waves and some of the fastest water you can find in the Northeast. Is it the most difficult and technical river you’ve ever pushed your class V wits on? Probably not. Is it one of the most fun you’ve been on in an afternoon? Most definitely.

Located in western Maine in a sleepy area known as The Forks, it’s a nice secluded area. Odds are you’ll see a moose either on the road or while you’re hiking. The first thing you’ll notice though is the staggering amount of rafting companies you’ll pass. Camping, cabins, hot tubs, and parties are generally the signs of the summer release schedule. And you might just notice the amazing amount of rafting companies that are entrenched in the area. It’s a pretty great community, and I implore you to stop at Marshall’s for a tall, tasty, and cold PBR pounder.

damEnough about the merits of the town though. The dam above is where the good stuff gets pumped out. Additionally, it’s also home to one of the most amazing projects that has ever been devised (and supposedly paid for by Homeland Security) to move rafters and boaters to the river.

put inBehold the magic of the largest recreational stairway to the bottom of a gorge in the Northeast. It’s a pretty amazing marvel, and if you’ve ever been rafting here, you know that it’s a gift from heaven when there’s 50 other rafts trying to get down the stairs…. so…. incredibly…. slowly. But with a kayak, man, you can skip the whole line and get down there faster than Mark Sanchez and can eat a hotdog on the sidelines. Generally the release will be anywhere from 4500 CFS to 8000 CFS during releases in the summer. Generally the best place to glean that information is the rafting companies, such as New England Outdoor Center.

The first memorable rapid you’ll come to is dubbed “Big Mama and the Three Sisters”. Big Mama is a monsterous wave, the site of many kayaks becoming UFO’s from the amount of air they get (har har). Following that is a slightly smaller wave train, the Three Sisters. It’s really one of the best hits on the river, so make sure you enjoy it. Important to note is that there is a pretty dangerous spot, Goodbye Hole, on river right shortly after, so make sure you slowly make it left. There’s more than enough time to make the move, but it’s still one of the two spots in the gorge you’d like to miss. No photo for this lady, no good spots to get out. You’re just gonna have to imagine it.

z-waveAfter you head through what’s dubbed as “The Alleyway”, a nice constriction of the gorge that offers up some big waves and pulsing waters, you’ll get to Z-turn (right). This is basically the only play on the river, so enjoy it while you’re there. It’s a great place to stretch, catch the wave, do some front surfing, and take in the scenery. There’s a really great view of a little creek right across.

Just a note though: It seems to get a whole lot better as the release gets higher. The lowest I’ve ran it (and that the photo is taken at) is 4500 CFS. While it’s still fun, it’s difficult to stay on the wave and really doesn’t offer much in the way of dynamic fun. Still a great time however.

After your little break at Z-turn, you’ll run into the best hit on the river: Magic Falls and Maytag. Magic falls is the usual line, a straight shot into a river left foam pile that spit you out upside down more often than not. If you’re feeling good, go for the hero eddy immediately after on river left. If you get the opportunity, hop out and get a good view of the whole rapid. It offers up some nice scenery.

magicMagic falls (Foamy wave pile in the bottom left)

magic 2

It’s really a great hit. The videos of Craig and I hitting it (not too smoothly I might add) give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like at 4500 CFS. I advise everyone to make sure they hop out and hike it once or twice. It’s really worth it. This rapid is also the site of the other major hole that you would prefer not to go into. Maytag, located slightly downriver in the middle, is just a nasty keeper hole until you get up to 8000 CFS. Not really advisable to try to hero this unless there’s a lot of water and you’ve taken a look at it. You can almost make it out in the middle of the photo below:

maytagDead center you can make out Maytag. If you’re running Magic, it’s pretty tough to get anywhere near it, so it’s not too big of a worry. Definitely worth getting out of your boat to take a look at. As was said, at the 8000 CFS release it’s runnable and probably super fun to punch through.

belowmaytagAnd Magic pretty much marks the end of the run. When the water is running fast, the whole thing can be over in the blink of an eye. Which means you’ll definitely want to run it again. And again. And maybe again. Three runs in the four hour release window is very doable. Look how fun it looks on the left. Craig is peeling out in a sweet little wave train. wouldn’t you want to do that again?

But sadly, you do need to get out of your boat, and you’ll come to a nice and steep stairway at Carry Brook on river left that has a parking lot for the shuttle. All in all, make sure that you get to experience the Kennebec once. Better yet, go for a weekend for a Dead River release AND a Kennebec release. You won’t be disappointed.


A big thanks to the (very concerned) shuttle bunny Mackenzie. She’s a DOLL. Craig is looking a little backed up though.