Kelly Road to West Pine Hill Road:
The fabled lower section of Robinson Creek features no fewer than five Class II-III ledges through a series of two separate mini canyons. As such, this trip demands caution and care, and should be considered only by experienced paddlers with the right types of boats, gear and safety precautions. While not as bejeweled as the “upper” section of the creek and its exquisite rock outcrops, paddlers will still be treated to extraordinary colors and aesthetics. Downed trees should be expected and the portaging ain’t always so easy, but the payoff for such inconveniences is a rather exceptional and exhilarating whitewater experience.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: September 14, 2019
Skill Level: Expert
Class Difficulty: Class III
≈ 15′ per mile
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Neillsville (Black River): ht/ft: 9.5 | cfs: 6000
Gauge note: This gauge doesn’t correlate well to the creek. It does, however, give a good idea if there has been recent water in the Black River Falls area
East Fork of the Black River: ht/ft: 894.00 | cfs: 123
Gauge note: This is was the preferred gauge to correlate as it’s geographically closer than Neillsville and corresponds to a more comparable watershed. Days before our trip this gauge was damaged by high water-event storms, and, sadly, the upshot is “another one bites the dust.” The above reading (123 cfs) is the last reading of the gauge, which was a few days before our paddle, for the record. RIP, E. Fork gauge. The best way to determine Robinson’s “runnability” is to visually check the rocky drop on the downstream side of the Kelly Road bridge. If there’s enough water there to run without scraping or getting stuck, then the rest of the creek downstream should be good, too. But if it’s crazy high and foaming at the mouth, it’s probably prudent to skip this trip and wait until it comes down some.
Neillsville (Black River): ht/ft: 3.10 | cfs: 112
We recommend this level. This was the highest level we’ve paddled Robinson thus far, and it was pretty wild.
Kelly Road, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
GPS: 44.19358, -90.79659
W. Pine Hill Road
GPS: 44.20789, -90.8663
Time: Put in at 1:30p. Out at 6:00p.
Total Time: 4h 30m
Miles Paddled: 6.5
Time note: The factors causing a 6.4-mile trip to take 4.5 hours are varied, but essentially on account of 1) we did a lot of scouting at the various ledges, 2) we stopped to chat with two folks whose family shares the cabin at the base of Polly Falls after we ran it, and this chat was further extended by random rain that fell on us, 3) we took a separate celebration break at a pleasant sandbar midway through the trip (and before we would learn that there were additional – and even more challenging – whitewater ledges awaiting us downstream), and 4) the Paul Bunyan-esque portaging around said back-to-back ledges below Fall Hall Road is no joke (rappelling ropes and carabiners actually would’ve been handy), not to mention the into-the-woods-we-go portaging around the deadfall-strewn, soggy bottom underbrush of the last mile.
A great blue heron and a ninja beaver (heard but not seen).
A date with destiny and a fated itch scratched at long last, there are many metaphors befitting this trip – none, in all honesty, possessing a drop of hyperbole. I don’t think there’s a single trip or targeted section of river that has stirred so much curiosity and mutual anticipation for Barry or me than this lower section of Robinson Creek. For years now we’ve both felt an odd mix of exuberant enthusiasm for and a gut-plunged foreboding because of lower Robinson. That’s principally on account of Polly Falls, a notorious 6′ ledge three-quarters of a mile downstream from Kelly Road, the traditional take-out for the upper section and put-in for the lower section. We’ve known of Polly for as long as we’ve known of Robinson itself, and we’ve felt a respectful apprehension for it together with a paddling carpe diem of knowing we’d do it someday… because we needed to do it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say notorious, because the reverse hydraulic at the base of Polly once claimed two lives in a tale that is truly tragic. The whole thing was a horrible fluke: an accident on the part of the paddler who probably didn’t even know of Polly and wasn’t prepared for it (wrong boat, wrong gear, didn’t scout or have the skills needed to run such a drop in the first place), and then an awful snafu for the fire department trying to retrieve the body of the paddler. But it did happen, and when you know that not only one, but two individuals drowned at the same rapids on a body of water, it naturally leaves you with a chill somewhere between reservation and reverence.
That said, we’ve seen this video of paddlers running Polly Falls (which, again, is more of a steep ledge than a veritable waterfall), so it’s not like we didn’t know what we’d be getting ourselves into or that this were some enigmatic state of mind cryptically intimated in a sorceress’s fortune. And we’d talked to anyone we could who’d lend us an ear and school us on the specific intricacies of running Polly (e.g., it comes suddenly, after a left bend following a straightaway, with a cabin on the left bank, and it’s safest to run it river-right, just avoid the middle, etc.). So, we were as mentally prepared as possible. Together with being in crossover kayaks and having the right gear (well, one of us – Barry, of course; genius that I (Timothy) am, I forgot to pack my spray skirt), it was simply a matter of time to finally paddle and document the wild and wily lower section of Mrs. Robinson. Timing weather and water levels for an out-of-town weekend trip is complex enough. Add to that individual schedules and conflicts, work/life balances, car problems and other sundry unexpectancies, it’s taken years for Barry and me to align life itself with running this trip. But it had to be that way, for there is no one else I could have paddled this debut trip with other than Barry. That probably sounds sentimental – and perhaps it is – but it’s just true. This trip was a must-do destiny for us both, and for us both to do together.
And while I’m at it, there’s this super-boring, self-absorbed addendum. While I’ve visited Robinson several times throughout the years, my first ever paddle on it was two years ago, on my 40th birthday, on the “upper” section of Robinson, the traditional one from Old County Road I to Kelly Road. That experience further fueled my intense curiosity about “lower” Robinson. A number of unrelated things, both good and bad, have happened between May of 2017 and September 2019. And then there was one very notable thing that didn’t happen, exactly this time one year ago: I didn’t move to Minneapolis, which had been the plan. That was a big plot twist in my life that took me by surprise – actually, took me like a ragdoll in a pitbull’s jowls and shook me loose of everything inside. Paddling this long anticipated trip, lower Robinson and all its magnificent rapids, was exactly what I needed to re-calibrate and ensconce myself to Wisconsin.
The Black River Falls area, always good for what ails ya!
There are two places to put in at the Kelly Road bridge, both on river-right. The upstream option has better access and, better still, allows one to run the Class II ledge below the bridge. Considering that this section of Robinson is highlighted by running such drops, we take it for granted that paddlers doing this trip will put in on the upstream side of the bridge. But, for whatever reason, one could skip that first ledge by launching on the downstream side of the bridge, where it’s weedier and less developed, but still plenty doable.
It’s best to scout the ledge at Kelly Road before running it, as we’ve done it twice now but at different locations. In 2017 we ran it center-left, and it was great. But this time around the safest, smoothest line was on the right. Varying water levels likely determine where it’s most practical to run the ledge here. It’s not a difficult drop by any means, but of course you do want to pay attention and give it the respect it deserves.
Below the ledge you’ll first see the remnants of an old mill atop the left bank. The scene is fleeting, as the current is swift and there’s simply so much else for the eye to take in, but it’s still interesting and notable. The first of a couple sandstone outcrops appears shortly below, comparable to the those found in greater abundance upstream, one on the right followed by another, on the left, a hundred yards downstream. The latter outcrop is a 40′ cliff and is one of the most impressive, least bashful such outcrops we’ve ever seen anywhere on Robinson. Just beyond it, and once more on the right, is an attractive outcrop that runs like a long mural. The current leading up to and along it is strong, featuring solid Class I+ rapids and standing waves – at least at this trip’s water levels – so there’s a bit more “distraction” going on here. I got a lap full of water, since my cockpit was uncovered. Together with the insanely aesthetic towering pine trees crowning both banks and the overall wild feeling of the landscape, given the absence of any development (up to this point), this immediate beginning to the trip is absolutely wild and wonderful.
And then comes the sound of rushing water – the first of several, eventually – only a quarter-mile downstream from the put-in. Because we didn’t know precisely where Polly Falls lied and because we were playing it safe, we got out to scout this beckoning ledge. Turns out, it isn’t Polly Falls, but rather a totally unexpected preliminary ledge located in a setting that’s unique and beautiful in its own right. Not unlike Polly, the creek first makes a gentle bend to the left, but then, unlike Polly, abruptly pivots to the right before the drop, downstream of which it bends sharply to the left again. Ergo, the ledge is a little squirrely. After scouting it, we determined that the best line was far to the right (like Polly). The left looked exciting and inviting, too, with a kind of staircase cascade effect bumpity-bumpity-bump, but it looked too shallow to get away with without getting hung up on the rocks. By contrast, the right side had more of a gradual/diagonal slide to it, about 3′ tall in all – not necessarily a tongue in the classic whitewater sense, but neither a precipitous lip to ride roughshod over as would be the case at Polly and beyond. Anyway, at the base of this ledge is a wide backwater pool that makes for a pleasant pause to soak in the view. For those keeping score at home, that’s two substantive ledges in the first quarter-mile of this trip.
(Curiously, perched on a tree branch from the right bank, above the ledge itself, is a handsome wooden sign with the following engraving: “Creek Boy Cove.” Can’t help from wondering about the back story there… We sure felt like creek boys.)
Things are pretty chill for the next half-mile – call it a proverbial calm before the “storm.” As mentioned earlier, but well worth repeating (given its reputation), Polly Falls is preceded by a long straightaway, about a third of a mile, and then a sharp left bend, after which there’s about 180′ of straightaway leading to the ledge. There are a couple things worth mentioning here about Polly, all of them conflicting and seemingly self-contradictory. On the one hand, it’s not really that difficult – provided that you run it river-right. On the other hand, two people have lost their lives here, caught in the backroller/reverse hydraulic at the base of Polly (presumably in the middle), and that needs to be respected. Furthermore, scouting Polly is a little tricky, as there’s hardly anywhere to get out before the ledge. And you do need to scout it before running; you just do. You will of course hear the rushing water first, then see the horizon line. So, here’s what we advise, heading into it:
Once the creek bends to the left, after the longish straightaway, get over to the right bank and keep close to it. You’ll pass a conspicuous cabin on the left, and just after that are two spots along the right bank to safely get out and anchor your boat in order to take a look-see at Polly. The first spot is just an open area, probably from where folks have trampled here to scout or portage Polly. The second – and I know this will sound dodgy, but trust me here – is an exposed tree root that provides for a perfect and secure handle to grab onto. Both are only 20-30′ away from the edge. In the event that you can’t find either, or anywhere to get out before the edge, then please do as follows: take a deep breath, keep cool, tell yourself that you got this (up to and including telling yourself that you got this – cause you do!), keep yourself relaxed and limber (think willow tree, not sturdy oak), and then run it head on, full bore, preferably boofing the edge. Even if you end up dumping at the bottom, you ought to be far enough away from any hazardous current. Again – and I can’t stress this enough – as long as you run it on the right. The middle is just too dangerous, and the left is typically too shallow.
Right below Polly is a sandy beach on the left where you can temporarily relax, celebrate, yell a loud Yawp!, take your skirt off (if you’re sensible and wore one), open a drink, light a cigarette, etc. Or change your underwear! For our trip, we had company – spectators, to be precise – who were on the beach with front row seats to see us fools trying our luck. And lucky we were! Well, I was, considering that I ran Polly without a spray skirt (yes, I had about 20 gallons of water inside the boat afterward, but incredibly I kept upright.) Barry, by contrast, ran Polly like a pro (polypro?) and made it look like the easiest feat destiny ever saw. It was a thing of beauty. I don’t know if there’s any particular trick to running Polly. Just try to be relaxed and limber, lean back a little, and boof at the lip if you can. Remember to use your hips and keep your knees locked in, too. Because, like they say in those commercials for monster truck rallies, you pay for the whole seat… but you’ll only need the ledge!
Flanking both banks of Polly are sandstone rock outcrops, about 8′ tall. The one on the right continues past the falls and rises a good 12′ with a kind of terraced fissure, almost like a cave with shrubby greenery shooting off of its upper level – and this further capped with towering pines above it. Truly an impressive sight.
The creek then flows straight as an arrow for more than a quarter-mile away from the enclosed mini-gorge setting to a more boggy, fens-like one. As it does so, the landscape basically changes before your eyes – the steep, wooded banks receding and flattening; the rocky bottom becoming lush sand. The creek itself not only slows down considerably as the gradient scales way back, but it ditches its straightaways for a couple miles of side-winding meanders. (Interestingly, the upper trip on Robinson makes this exact same costume change before and after the cranberry bog dam.) There’s sand everywhere here, where it’s not predominantly boggy, including a couple choice beaches to relax on.
Despite the twisting zigzags, the stretch here – essentially between Polly Falls and Fall Hall Road – is supremely pleasant and offers casual sauntering. In addition to the near-pristine landscape and its dazzling color palette (lush sand, towering pines, copper-colored water), there’s a quaint suspension footbridge seemingly in the middle of nowhere along with the feeling of paddling through a (mostly) undeveloped landscape, one with a distinctly “up north” feel to it.
The first road bridge of this trip comes into view, marking Highway 27 and nearly four miles since the put-in. Our trip was preceded by other paddlers – two grownups and four kids probably ranging 8-11 years old – much to our surprise, delight and relief. Surprise, because Really? How many people actually paddle lower Robinson? Delight because we thought it was pretty awesome that these kids were doing something like this so young, while it took Barry and me until our forties to do so! And Relief, because, hell, if children were going down Polly, then we’d be fine! (Turns out the kids all portaged around Polly, but we didn’t know that until afterward, when we happened upon their little flotilla between Polly and Highway 27 and we all talked shop a spell.) Anyway, they all took out at Highway 27, or at least so we surmised; the kids were huddled under the bridge, and all the boats and gear had been pulled up towards the road. We don’t really recommend taking-out there, for two reasons: Highway 27 has a fair amount of fast moving vehicles going up and down it on a pretty continual basis, so it makes for a sketchy location for loading/unloading; and one of the most exhilarating sections – on Robinson or anywhere in this neck of the woods – lies only half a mile downstream. But, if you want to skip the exhilarating stuff and do just the three ledges from Kelly Road to Highway 27, then you certainly could opt for this access point.
From Highway 27 to the next bridge, at Fall Hall Road, a distance of only half a mile, Robinson slowly shape-shifts from its open landscape of soggy bogs and fens to an enclosed cathedral of majestic pines; the banks subtly but definitively getting steeper, the current quietly getting swifter. As I write this, Halloween is only a week away, so perhaps I have werewolves on my mind. Or perhaps my mind is cast back to when Barry first put upper Robinson on the map – and saw an actual wolf at the end of his trip. Either way, Robinson does revert to a wilder nature as you approach Fall Hall Road, becoming downright gnarly and snarling in a 600′-long stretch just downstream from the bridge, where the creek positively plummets through another mini-gorge.
The scene is beguiling. At first the whole setting is utterly reminiscent of how this trip began: steep, sandy banks carpeted with ferns, towering pine trees above, totally shady (in the literal sense, given the mini-gorge). You’ll even see a spartan cabin or two here and there. Then a glorious rock outcrop cliff appears seemingly out of nowhere, on the left. As if taking a playbook page out of Polly Falls, this one also is terraced with shrubby greenery. Just downstream you’ll see an improbably located fenced-in metal truss land bridge. But before your mind has the luxury of wondering much about it, the roar of another drop occupies one’s attention – together with another formidable horizon line.
Before our trip began – before I had even rendezvoused with Barry at the put-in – he had already arrived, made acquaintances with that other paddling posse, and chatted about what we’d regarded as a little known (and potentially dangerous, right?) section of Robinson. One of the guys mentioned a dam somewhere past Polly that was an “easy portage.” But that was it; in other words, it was all about Polly. I found this detail fascinating and foreign all at once. As I mentioned above, we’ve been a bit obsessed with this trip, but had never heard of an alleged dam. How could we not know of such a thing? Regardless, it wasn’t until we got out to scout the rapids that I remembered reading somewhere (online? in print?) that a mini-canyon with Class III’s lied in this segment of Robinson. It’s funny how the brain works like this, how little details like that suddenly emerge from the dewy fog of obscurity.
Unlike at Polly, getting out here to scout the rapids is essentially easy and straightforward. But like Polly, you’ll do so via the right bank, by the truss bridge. Another sudden remembrance I had was that at one point in time, or still presently, there was/is some Christian camp strewed around these here parts. Turns out, that’s still a thing – which explains the scattered cabins nearby, the elaborate footbridge, and, oh yeah, the otherwise totally random and isolated basketball court slowly being swallowed by the surrounding forest that we saw while scouting. Curious goings-on indeed on Robinson Creek (cranberry dams, big ledges, fatal accidents, Christian kids shooting hoops in the piney glades…)
This trip report is already long enough without elaborating on and on about this second mini-canyon section. But there are a couple matters we feel compelled to share and stress, now that we’ve done it – especially since there’s just hardly any substantive intel out there about it. (Again, it’s all about Polly, which in retrospect seems counterintuitive and even a bit exaggerated, as this second section of rapids was as challenging, if not more so.)
All in all, there are three ledges in the span of roughly 600′, going from easy, to pretty straightforward, to all bets are off. The easy one is upstream from the truss bridge, a little ledge of about 2′, which I ran center-left. This leads immediately to the “pretty straightforward” ledge, a drop of about 4′, which I ran more towards the left, as there was a curler wave at the base of the drop on the right that looked a little too sinister for my taste. Between the second and third ledges is a distance of about 75 yards. The left bank here is accessible to get out and scout the third drop and/or portage it. By contrast, the right bank is prohibitively steep and inaccessible (more on that below under “didn’t like”). Whereas all the big rapids up to this point have been ledges – meaning a sharply defined lip, practically a right angle (think of a stair) – this last one has more of a diagonal slide to it. Usually, that makes for a more gradual rapids with a clearly defined tongue to line up with and glide down. Not here. I don’t know what’s going on at this last big rapid, but there’s splashy water coming from all sorts of squirrely directions – especially in the middle, where the streambed seems to have caved in, with the effect of fast, powerful water falling into it. And maybe that’s exactly how the rapids are eroding the submerged bedrock. Whatever it is, it’s a hell of a pocket to paddle through.
And why I chose to run it right down the middle, as opposed to the less intimidating left or right sides, I don’t really know. I was in a good head space, I guess. Unusually confident and determined. Sometimes, when it’s a full count with runners in scoring position, a pitcher throws a fastball right down the middle. And sometimes, a handoff is made to the running back who charges right through the pile. It doesn’t always work out, but man is it beautiful when it does! I’m not actually saying my run was beautiful – hell, I doubt it was even clean. But it was wild and great fun, and I kept upright. This last drop is the hardest to guess a measurement, since it’s more gradual than precipitous. But it’s likely 8′ at least, from the beginning of the top to the foamy base at the bottom. And if it weren’t for borrowing Barry’s spray skirt, I’d never have been able to do it at all.
Below this, riffles and light rapids will continue for another third of a mile, where the creek flows in straightaways. Then it will bend to the left, signaling the beginning of the end. It’ll be another mile and change until the take-out, but it’ll feel longer on account of the meandering and numerous obstacles to dodge (mainly fallen trees and strainers). As before, below Polly, the landscape changes again to a more open and flatter space, with lots of scrubby shrubs still hemmed in by tall pines. The luscious sands reappear as well. Speaking of which, there are three such occasions when the creek will bend to the left around remarkably steep sandbanks, 30-40′ high in some places, with a look and feel more reminiscent of Halls or Morrison Creek. But such is Lady Robinson.
After delicately threading your way through what feels like one tangle after another of snaggy tree limbs – or getting in and out of your boat to portage them (though the portages are unforgiving) – eventually you’ll pass a large handsome cabin on the right bank with an attractive backyard, one of only a few seen on this whole trip. One little meander later the bridge at W. Pine Hill Road comes into view, meaning it’s time to roll the credits. The take-out here is easy and simple, on the downstream side of the bridge, river-left. It’s sandy, not muddy, and only a very short schlep (and none too steep) to the road. No nasty signs about No Trespassing or Private Property, and plenty of room to park a vehicle on the roadside. It’s a great way to end an incredible trip.
What we liked:
Like any good sequel, one wants a mix of continuity and newness – a sense of overlap/recap together with surprising plot twists and unexpected turns. Ultimately, the success of a sequel is demonstrating that it can stand on its own – being a part of that which came first but equally apart from it as well. This complex balance is beautifully displayed on Robinson Creek’s lower section. We do delight in beginning a new section of river where a previous trip left off (or vice versa) – in this case, Kelly Road as the put-in to our previous trips’ take-out. While that’s purely logistical and circumstantial – Robinson is a small creek with a small watershed with only a small handful of bridges crossing it – this lower trip truly is like a version 2.0 of the upper trip. Not only is it about as long a trip, mileage-wise, but it uncannily recapitulates sequential elements of the upper section: both begin in a narrow mini-canyon with occasional sandstone outcrops and whose rocky streambeds feature riffles and light rapids, then take a leisurely saunter through an open landscape full of lush sand and shrubs, but then revert to enclosed mini-canyons again with wave trains and ledges. And all of it, everything, lined by towering pines whose cumulative effect is simply breathtaking.
But, whoo boy, those ledges on lower Robinson! Perhaps 3.0 is a better metaphor. I don’t want to put too fine a point on them, because, by and by, there’s just so much more in these 6-ish miles than five individual ledges. But the flip side (so to speak) would be absurd as well, to mention them only casually or with self-effacing happenstance. For us, in our small world, dropping Polly was a big deal. (Sounds like a drug, doesn’t it – dropping Polly? It kind of was, frankly.) But to be objective about this, true whitewater paddlers would be only so impressed with Polly and the other ledges. They’re a draw, to be sure – especially given the intimacy of the surroundings – but there are bigger, badder drops and waves elsewhere (including nearby on the Black River below the Hatfield dam). For us “lightwater” paddlers, however, lower Robinson is just about as good as it gets.
But, as is often the case in life – beyond paddling even – there’s just so much more than Polly Falls, on which admittedly we were (and others are) fixated. There’s the dynamic landscape itself alternating between enclosed mini canyons with steep gradients and rock outcrops and then open, big-sky surrounded by bogs and meadows and lush tree greenery. And then there’s the even more raucous back-to-back ledges beneath Fall Hall Road, which totally took us by surprise. It’s funny and a little peculiar that these successive ledges get as little attention as they do. In all honesty, we found them more beautiful and thrilling than Polly. Maybe that’s just us. And maybe it’s because we’d been preoccupied by Polly this and Polly that, while totally wowed by the sudden wonder below Fall Hall.
Also, we’d be remiss if we presented or extolled this trip solely on account of its whitewater attributes. The slower, sandy sections are absolutely gorgeous and engaging. And even though the final mile on this trip can be a hassle of deadfall to contend with, the steep, towering sandbanks found in this section are sublime.
Finally, considerable thanks goes to the great work volunteers (aka river angels) do to keep the creek open for paddling and trout fishing. Chainsaw maintenance is necessary and vigilant, and none of this would be possible – or passable – without the work that volunteers do. Please consider contributing to the Robinson Creek Preservation Association, whether that’s financial or sweat equity.
What we didn’t like:
For me, this trip was a dream come true, so there’s a lot of personal stuff getting in the way of being impartial. But, it wasn’t a perfect trip – if there even is such a thing. That’s why we’re giving this a 4-star rating, not a 5.
For all the pomp and circumstance concerning Polly Falls, it’s a little tricky (and unnerving) to get out to scout the drop. Because we were so mindful of it, and playing it safe, we got out way too prematurely – a good fifty yards upstream than was necessary – meaning much more stomping about thick woods along the steep banks than we had to. Lesson learned, and hence why I want to stress the two spots on the right closer to the edge that are more practical to get out and scout.
Still though, how one feasibly portages around Polly is a riddle we couldn’t figure out. Apparently, those kids did it, and maybe others too. But there’s just no good way to do so. For starters, which is to say a non-starter, all of the left bank is private property. And the right bank is wooded and very steep. This is true later on in the trip, below Fall Hall Road and the three successive ledges, as Barry would learn and painfully demonstrate as he decided to skip the Fall Hall drops and portage around them.
Trouble is, the portaging is damn awful. There’s no clear place to do so, making it a trailblazing experience. And while that might sound benign, here, because the environment is a small gorge, the banks are very steep and trees and brush are ubiquitous. Unfortunately (misfortunately?), the skeg of his kayak snapped off during the bushwhacking (-yaking?), making the last couple miles less steady (to say nothing of having the cost/headache of buying a new skeg and then installing it).
It’s for this reason, on top of the total impracticality, that we assert that doing this lower section of Robinson commits you to paddling all the ledges, without portaging them. I don’t think we’ve ever said that before, but neither have we experienced such a formidable terrain. Usually, there’s some place to opt out of running a rapids, but not on this trip. Here, if you wanna do it, you gotta do it all.
Also, for the record, while Barry was doing his ironman portage, I ran that third rapid. I knew he was having a hell of a time with things, so there was no way I was going to bother him with capturing the images of running that last – and most challenging – drop. First and foremost, we’re paddling for the sheer love of paddling. And companionship. Then comes the mindfulness of documenting the experience to share with others (it’s not a paying gig, after all). Would it have made for a cool photo, dropping the third ledge? Sure. Does it really matter in the long run? Hardly.
Lastly, the final mile of the trip just doesn’t do the rest of it justice. To be fair, we paddled this trip relatively late in season and after recent storms as well. So, it’s entirely possible that the river angels hadn’t been out there recently to clear up some of the scraggly deadfall. Keeping Robinson clear in general, any section of it, is an ongoing labor of love. In this final mile, I stubbornly persevered through the strainers. Not the wisest decision, but I personally regard portaging – and this is entirely irrational, mind you – as a kind of capitulation that I try to avoid at all costs. Admittedly, it’s silly. But in this case it might have been the better option, as Barry had a hell of a time navigating strainers with a skeg-less boat and therefore wading through mud, muck, who-knows-what weeds?
On a personal score, when we got out to scout Polly, I took at least a dozen photos of the falls, the banks, the places to get out, etc. We agreed that Barry would run Polly first so that I could take his picture doing the drop from behind, and then he’d be able to take my picture going down, looking up. Great plan, except that the moment Barry was in blissful free-fall – a gorgeous image I still see in my mind’s eye, more than a month later – his boat and body as one suspended in the sky hovering above the churning lip of fateful Polly Falls – yes, at that very moment, as I pressed the button to take the picture, the camera barked back “battery exhausted.” Boof da! I mean, come on! Seriously? The battery couldn’t have died in any of the dozen images beforehand? The damn tree branches indicating “take out here”? The cabin on the opposite side? The woman on the beach with her plastic solo cup cocktail? Or the “for posterity” picture of Barry getting inside his boat, spray skirt stretched on, moments before the epic drop? Nope. Just the moment of the epic drop itself. Damn it!
If we did this trip again:
First off, we sure as hell will do this trip again! And by golly, it won’t take so many years next time either! But here are some things that we’d take into consideration next time, for the sake of your consideration doing this perhaps for the first time.
1: I won’t forget to pack my spray skirt!
2: I’ll put brand new batteries in the camera beforehand.
3: Ain’t nobody portaging next time around.
4: I’ll pack along the sawzall and loppers (aka “Cindy loppers”) to make the final mile less of a shitshow.
The fifth thing we’d do differently deserves special attention, and it’s this: we’d paddle this trip earlier in the day in order to avoid the late-afternoon sun-glare effect. Honestly, it got blinding in that last hour of the trip. Sure, the day began with intermittent sprinkles, and then rain, so neither of us thought to have sunglasses. That would’ve helped, but still. This is a westward trip after all.
In conclusion, this trip was a combination of Mrs. Robinson and Robinson Crusoe, Creek Boy Cove and coo-coo-cachoo. It was sexy and adventurous, a little daring, a little bit disastrous, and a whole hidden world of wonder. It meant the world to me to do at long last, and it was something I direly needed to do.
Robinson Creek I: Old Country Road I to Kelly Road
Article: Paddling Robinson Creek
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
General: Paddling the Black River Brochure
General: Robinson Creek Pines
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Miles Paddled Video: