your paddlesports destination

Patapsco River in Maryland

Trip Overview

North Branch Patapsco & Main Stem, 7/9/05

OC1 Brian Sill, CWDH, Mike McCrea

Two dawn trips that is, dawn on the Gunpowder last weekend, dawn on the Patapsco on Saturday. And, even more unusual, two consecutive trips on which the favorite cautionary shout "Tom's in!" was not heard.

The non-utterance of that phrase led to discussion about how best to vocalize that Tom isn't swimming. What is the opposite of "Tom's in!"? We considered "Tom's out", but that seemed too much akin to a revelation of sexual preference, and probably more than we need to know. Not that there's anything wrong with that

This e-mail from CWDH saw my alarm set for 3:40am on Saturday morning.

Subject: Rains replenish what Duckheads should menace. Last time I paddled the stretch of the Patapsco River running from the North Branch at Marriottsville Road to the main branches pool at Hollifield, back on May 1, this gage was reading at about 180 c.f.s./1.95 feet depth:
The gage resides above the Liberty Dam, but I'd think that even with May and June's rain-parched days the reservoir is sittin' heavy, and that their should be ample North Branch flow release to take us into the Main Branch, where it should be a quick and fairly unencumbered flow to Hollifield.
Anyone care to meet me at the Marriottsville Rd.put-in at 5 AM tomorrow?

CWDH's alarm was set for an equally early hour; unfortunately his wake up device consists of a Dollar Store wristwatch, which produced too feeble a meep-meep-meep to rouse his sibilant slumber at the designated pre-dawn hour.

After waiting around at the take out for an hour, wondering if I was in fact at the correct riverside location, or was the trip perhaps actually tomorrow, or was this Tom's way of finally paying me back for all those humiliative trip reports featuring inexplicable capsizes, noggin-knocking tarp pole collapses, bank-tumbling responses to Paul Anka lyrics and other moments of memorable Duckhead debauchery, Tom finally arrived only an hour late.

Quickly crossloading Tom's canoe we drove upriver to meet Brian at the Marriotsville Rd bridge over the North Branch of the Patapsco. Brian, familiar with Tom's timeliness, had finished reading the morning paper, completed the crossword puzzle and was working on the jumble.

A look at the river revealed that Tom was correct in his prediction the rains from Tropical Storm Cindy had replenished Liberty reservoir. The Cedarhurst gauge above the reservoir had gone from 1.5' to 7.5' on Thursday and that surge of water was now cresting the dam, sending the North branch up into the trees as the warm surface water fogged in the cool dawn air. Schweet.

I'll leave Tom's photo essay to tell the visual tale of the morning's run; suffice it to say that I'd never been on the North branch before and loved it small, tight and twisty, with scattered whitewater sections, standing waves, ledge pourovers, and tricky maneuverings. Lovely, and over too soon.

Those too-few miles of the North branch deposited us at the confluence with the South branch and the river widened and slowed, although a few small bits of foam and froth were still to be run.

Passing below the Woodstock Rd bridge I was smitten with melancholy; this section I had run before with friends Dave, Anita and Paul, back in the days before they were traded to the Silent Otters for perpetual spring river guide services and a paddler to be named later. Auld Lang Syne, and we couldn't help but stop for a muckleup and raise our IPAs to absent friends - Topher too.

We passed the few remaining miles slowly, stopping to investigate the Tom Thumb railroad bridge and press up a few side streams, arriving at the Daniels Rd Hollofield dam at Duckhead speed 8.7 miles in 4+ hours.

A backshuttle stop at the Woodstock Inn biker bar (one day too early for the Burnout Pit contest), some pub grub, Guinness on tap, and barstool tales of she-done-him-wrong rounded out the day nicely.

It wasn't quite the best day ever ("Tom's out"), but it was sure close. Thanks Tommy. Thanks B.


None at either the put in or take out. There is a friendly biker bar (the Woodstock Inn) adjacent to the Rte 125 bridge.




Maryland Rt 125 (Old Court Rd/Woodstock Rd) cross the Patapsco at the mid-point of this trip. Beyond that the put in and shuttle route merits buying a map or a copy of Ed Gertler's paddling guidebook Maryland and Delaware Canoe trails.


Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails.

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip