There is no grander journey than pushing off from shore in a boat on a one-way trip to wherever the current carries you!
On July 14, intrepid explorers from throughout the region did just that. Launching our kayaks and canoes from the King's Creek access along the South Fork of the New River, we began a four day journey down the currents of the New. With the guides paddling the canoes full of gear, the kids were free to explore the river at their own pace. After navigating our first class II rapid we made our way to the forks of the New where the North and South branches meet. With the flow of the river a bit stronger we made quick work of getting to Alleghany Access where we pitched camp for the next two nights.
We began the second day with fly casting lessons in the field beside camp and took the new found skills to the water where the kids casted poppers towards smallmouth bass to no avail. The group then gathered in the water for some freshwater snorkeling up the river. After lunch and some ultimate frisbee we went on a mushroom foray along the trail and came back with a sack full of chanterelles! With the recent rain and heat we found a seeming endless variety of mushrooms along the path including a number of boletus, old man of the woods, chicken of the woods, and cinnabar chanterelles. Taking a break from the trail the kids searched for salamanders in an adjacent creek and watched a northern water snake eat a large minnow with the tail flapping as it went down.
While the chanterelles simmered on the stove, we launched the kayaks for a skills challenge in the deep hole by Big Rock. With a tennis ball as the "bomb" we played "battleship" on the open seas. Boats crisscrossed the river in a furry until the lone survivor was left. After returning to camp and wolfing dinner we alternated between ultimate frisbee and dives into the river. Oreo smores came out for dessert and when night set in we strapped on headlamps and went on an owl prowl in the pines. Needless to say, everyone slept like rocks the second night.
Anxious to hit the river the crew packed up their gear with efficiency the third day and off we went down the river. After crossing into Virginia the paddlers navigated boulder fields and islands with ease. With their new found confidence they left our mule, Vincent, in their wake! The big challenge of the day came with the portage around Field's Dam where the crew worked together to overcome knee high mud, steep banks and rocks to get all of the gear and boats around the dam safely.
Downriver we took a short break to marvel at the massive nest made by bald eagles at the head of an island. After some games and a snack, the raft of kayaks made their way with ease to our second camping destination: a series of secluded islands on river bank left. The kayaks shot through a secret passage gated by an overhanging tree and beached on the sands of an island that was all ours. The group studied some butterflies, strung up a laundry line, pitched camp and gathered rocks for a fire circle. After we got all settled, we headed up the creek cut donning snorkeling masks. They found many of the usual suspects, but as we arrived at the main channel up popped Jack with the exclamation that he had found a hellbender! Everyone looked at him skeptically but didn't openly question the assertion because he was clearly carrying something... and sure enough it was a baby hellbender! Initial excitement turned to awe as everyone clamored to get a look. We placed it in the photarium for clear views of its beady eyes, long claws and flattened tail.
Later that night, around the campfire, the pirates of the island had a vote to name the island they had staked as theirs. The results came in with consensus for Hell's Isle, short for Hellbender's Island. The group explored Hell's Isle up and down, finding a massive four trunked sycamore tree and rock outcrops that protected the camp area from floods.
The last day brought the final camp break down and a slow paddle on a burning hot day that included lots of swimming and a challenging Class II rapids at the end. We finished the expedition with a dip in the "pool" before exiting the river at Cox's Chapel low water bridge and returning to society.