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Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania

Trip Overview

Susquehanna River upper Conowingo Pool

Susy-Q Island Tour

June 30, 2007

8.35 miles

OC1 Clarion, Liz, c2g, Mike (Explorer Solo, Independence, Osprey, Malecite Solo)

With Clarion and Liz headed down Duckhead way to pick up a surf kayak an afternoon delight was planned for the nearby Gunpowder. Alas, the dam release was cut back earlier in the week from an agreeable 1.8 to a too-low 1.4 and a Cold Cabin launch to tour the islands of the upper Conowingo Pool was selected as the alternate.

Even this alternate had alternates; a test of the newly installed Spirit Sail utility thwarts was an add on option, especially if the predicted 10-15 MPH winds from the northwest made the long open fetch at the put in chop challenged. Were that the case a downwind sail from Cold Cabin to Broad Creek was the alternate alternate.

Arriving at Cold Cabin we were pleased to find ideal conditions, light breezes and little current, and the decision to partake the usual island tour was the obvious choice. Liz evinced some trepidation about paddling the initial open waters and motor boat wakes but was quickly confident in the Indy.

Confident and comfortable; equipped with a double blade, seat back, Therma-rest pad and foot brace, her anxiety dissipated into somnambulant style stroking as she assumed the standard Duckhead paddling position that is only slightly more energetic than napping. I think Liz has found her solo style.

Upriver in the slack current and still air we headed for a shade break at the mouth of Muddy Creek, pausing to investigate the ruins of the old stone lock and aqueduct, then pressed on past the reviled Fish Commission access and up into the amazing natural stoneworks and whirl holes between Upper Bear and Peavine Islands.

A leg stretching pause on the west side of Upper Bear saw Clarion test paddling the Osprey. Heeled over, carving turns, looking adept, adroit and accomplished. Impressed I took a few 35mm photos of this display of paddling prowess and turned to capture Liz in profile.

Turned and photographed Liz just in time to hear the shutter click and Clarion go KERPLOOSH. Damn my timing. Camera in hand, focused and ready and I missed again. That better be a damn good photo of Liz.

Clarions forensic explanation for this impromptu exit would have made John Winters proud in its use technical terminology of hull perimaters and performance attributes leading to the Ospreys bottoms-up terminal stability.
(Hint - for those of you who want to keep count thats River 1, Clarion 0)

Continuing the tour we made the easy attainment past Crow Island and joined the downriver current east of Upper Bear. Down the Lancaster County side of the river, past Lower Bear and into my favorite shady grotto on the tip of Big Chestnut for another shade break.

Exiting the grotto we rejoined the current, crossed back over to the York County side and paddled up Muddy Creek towards the last small rapid. The steep mountain laurel and hemlock studded hillside and cool, clear waters invited an invigorating creek swim, and, beaching my canoe I floated in the pool below the last rapid as Clarion and c2g demonstrated their surfing prowess at the base of the rapid.

Anticipating the potential need for a yardsale gear retriever I stayed in the water til my fingers pickled. Deciding that my services are gear retriever would not be need I was toweling off when I glanced upstream to see Clarion performing an awkward bench press with the Explorer Solo, emptying a boatload of water.

Unaccustomed to the weight of good Vermont-made Royalex Clarion soon discovered that this weightlifting maneuver should be accompanied by a spotter, as the 70+ pounds of the Explorer scored take down points and easily pinned him prone. For several seconds all I could see was the inverted Explorer on a bankside rock, with Clarions arms and legs waggling helplessly from beneath the gunwales.
(River 2, Clarion 0)

Feeling emboldened, or at least recognizing that the embarrassment bar had been radically lowered, c2g paddled and portaged the Osprey above the rapid for a whitewater demonstration. With the top of the rapid hidden from my vantage point on river right the color commentary was provided by Liz.

Here he comes
Waiting a few seconds I inquired Is he still upright?
Yes he is replied Liz. Followed a split second later by Oh, wait, no hes not
(River 1, c2g 0)

Observing c2gs line Clarion deemed this wee rapid a mere doddle and borrowed the Osprey to show how its done. Apparently its done identically to c2gs method, with the canoe upside down.
(River 3, Clarion 0)

As we scurried about collecting floating gear another canoe approached the drop from above. Two clueless newbies in a Coleman barge. This should be good.

Bing - they pinball off a rock at the top and spin backwards. Bang they collide with another rock, dip a gunwale, miraculously recover and fortuitously spin back bow downstream. Bash they sideswipe another rock and spin stern downstream once again. Bonk they hit another rock and stop cold in mid rapid.

Stuck on a rock in mid rapid and facing upstream their solution was to stand up in the canoe, change places and wiggle the hull off the stopper rock. Popping free they careened through the bottom of the rapid using the time honored technique of wide-eyed gunwale grabbing, bobbing into the runout pool upright and unsaturated, with gear intact.

Thus inspired, or perhaps chagrined at having been bested by a Coleman, Clarion portaged the Osprey upriver to have at it again.

This second attempt produced a feeling of riparian dvu, as it appeared to observers identical in every way to his first attempt.
(River 4, Clarion 0)

Declaring that he was now satisfied with this in-depth field test of the Ospreys maneuverability and secondary stability Clarion noted that dusk was approaching and, after recovering floating gear for the 5th time today, we turned to float down the placid waters of the creek bottom.

Liz, doing a bit of mental swim-math and calculating the margins of spousal safety, offered to tow Clarion down the creek

Clarion declined this generous offer and, paddling lead, I heard the increasingly familiar KERPLOOSH! And also the familiar resigned intonation from Liz Wait up, hes in again. To which she added, unnecessarily I thought, Maybe I dont want to be tied to his boat.
(River 5, Clarion 0)

The remainder of the paddle out was uneventful, or at least inclusively upright, and the days totals remained c2g 1, Clarion 5, Mike 0, Liz 0.

Texas Instruments makes it one swim every 1.391666 miles. I believe thats a Duckhead record.

See Liz, whadda tell ya, nothing to worry about. And Clarion, just food for thought, you can pick up one of those Colemans for less than $300 at Dicks.

Photos of the day:






From Pennsylvania Rte 74 north, Turn east onto Paper Mill Rd (just north of the Rte 74 bridge over Muddy Creek).

Take Paper Mill Rd back down across Muddy Creek and back up the hill to Cold Cabin Rd and turn left.

Follow Cold Cabin Rd. to boat ramp/take out at the small park at the bottom of the hill.


USGS Topo: "Holtwood, PA"

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

Locations on this Trip