Woodford to Highway 11:
The last stretch of the Pecatonica’s East Branch, before it merges with the mainstream between South Wayne and Browntown, offers some truly pleasant moments (modest rock outcrops, tall bluffs and some riffles) but it’s a tad too monotonous to want to repeat.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: May 2, 2015
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Blanchardville: ht/ft: 4.45 | cfs: 150
Blanchardville: ht/ft: 5.00 | cfs: -999999
Water levels are almost always reliable.
Time: Put in at 1:25p. Out at 6:00p.
Total Time: 4h 35m
Miles Paddled: 12.5
Osprey, three owls, woodchuck, muskrat, wood ducks and, of course, ticks.
This marks the final episode of the East Branch of the Pecatonica River series for me, an avocation I accidentally adopted in November 2013. It’s a great stream with several outstanding sections that inspire awe and a desire to return. This final segment was the one I was most apprehensive about, having read once that locals refer to the miles just downstream from Woodford as “suicide run.”
Sure enough, there was an ugly logjam within eyesight from the put-in but it was easily negotiated. We didn’t have to portage once, which was a welcome surprise, though we did have to duck, bend, saw, snip and crudely ride over a handful of minor obstructions. I, however, was eager to explore this stretch after seeing the topographical map indicating many bluffs. They are there but none were particularly breathtaking. This trip could be a real delight if it were 4-5 miles shorter but that’s not realistic as there’s only one bridge between the put-in and take-out and the banks are crazy steep (like, you’d-need-rappelling-ropes-steep).
One note: Part of the reason this trip took longer than usual is we often played Frisbee with these two particular paddling companions – they are disc golf fanatics. While I, myself, routinely forfeit the right even to hold a Frisbee much less throw one (unless it’s to my dog who’s only ever too excited to fetch after whatever tree or bush or neighbor’s yard my inept aim inadvertently sends the damn thing).
Also, we took a break to forage morels along one steep bank studded with dead elms (we found none but I did “harvest” three ticks off my leg after standing in grass for as long as it took to take a leak). That and towards the end, a wicked wind just kicked our butts and the resulting effect was one of feeling like we were paddling upstream.
What we liked:
Absent the occasional huge farm, there’s virtually no development on this trip until the final couple miles. It’s not wild by any means, but it is wonderfully secluded. There are umpteen vignettes of crumbling rocks embedded in the banks, water-leaning oak trees, intimate tall banks and a number of sweeping bluffs. These are just some of the key characteristics of why we love paddling in the Driftless Area so much!
And somewhere around the 9-mile mark we were treated with a totally random run of delightful riffles for about 150 yards. If only more of this trip had that kind of peppy water, it would have made up for the monotony. The take-out, while hard to find from the road, is outstanding and quite scenic being located just downstream from the gigantic truss bridge that spans both the Pecatonica River as well as a tributary stream.
What we didn’t like:
The put-in is kind of a makeshift boat launch. Essentially, it’s a muddy slope. There are also some obstructions in the first two miles. None of us had to get out, despite one of my friends still recovering from prostate surgery only six weeks earlier and the other who was debut-paddling his new kayak (and is still new to kayaking in general). We had to negotiate around and under some minor nuisances and when failing that, boorish riding over partially submerged logs. But after that it was smooth sailing, except for the final couples miles when we were whipped and whelped by an unforgiving wind. There’s just something unnatural about paddling downstream yet still going backwards. And rivers have no right forming whitecaps, I’m sorry, that’s what lakes and oceans are for.
The other criticism simply is that this trip went on too long to hold on to our attention or initial attraction. I don’t dislike 12-mile trips (or longer) so long as there’s variance to the landscape or river features. This trip became redundant and monotonous after awhile. While the tallest bluffs were indeed quite impressive in scope and sweep, there were no dramatic moments to write home about. In short, pretty, yes, but a lot of work and a long drive for just “pretty” (not to sound vain here but there are just better looking rock formations and whatnot nearby without having to drive down to the Illinois border).
Lastly, I’m a big fan of confluences – aren’t we all? There’s something charming about the seemingly endless nexus of interconnected streams. Maybe it’s just a spectacularly grander model of our own arteries and veins… Furthermore, there’s something especially notable when an auxiliary branch of a stream finally meets its main trunk (sorry to mix metaphors). But the moment here was rather nondescript because the east branch of the Pecatonica and the Pecatonica itself are essentially the same width. So what should have been a momentous occasion was completely anticlimactic but this is, I realize, a pretty petty concern.
If we did this trip again:
I don’t think I will. I’d sooner revisit the Hollandale to Blanchardville and Blanchardville to Argyle segments of the East Peck. They’re more interesting and closer to home. But I am glad I did this final leg of the east branch. The journey is now complete.
Pecatonica River East Branch I: Highway 78 to Argyle
Pecatonica River East Branch II: Hollandale to Blanchardville
Pecatonica River East Branch III: Highway HK to Hollandale
Pecatonica River East Branch IV: Argyle to Blackhawk Memorial County Park
Camp: Pecatonica River Trails Park
Good People: Friends of the Pecatonica River
Map: Pecatonica River
Wikipedia: Pecatonica River