Lower Red Mo Trip – Saturday, May 9 2015
By Tad Rimmey
On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, we set out from State College heading to the Red Moshannon creek. We were a small group of four paddlers, three in kayaks and the fourth in a canoe rigged with a center saddle and air bags. Our intentions were to run the lower section of the Red Mo since this was a section that we had not extensively explored. One of our party had chatted with Aaron Fleishman the day before after he ran the lower Red Mo. Aaron said that they ran it well at one foot gauge level at the Rt. 53 bridge but that they did have to negotiate some shallow rocky areas. We were confident that the level had not dropped significantly since Aaron made his run and we were excited to get on the river.
After picking up some supplies and refueling, we drove up to Karthaus on the scenic route, going through Unionville then up to Snow Show via Rt. 144. While the trip was a bit longer than using Rt. 80, we avoided all of the pesky truck traffic and enjoyed the panoramas of trees springing forth with their leaves and buds (even though they also were dumping pollen by the pounds). We arrived in Karthaus to meet the fourth member of the trip who also was the other shuttle driver. After arranging our gear and a brief stop at the Riverfront tavern, we drove to the take out near Miller’s landing to a friend’s camp who graciously allows us to park a truck from time to time.
We all piled into the other truck and drove to the put in at the Rt. 53 bridge. We were in the water around 1300 (1:00 pm to those who prefer 12-hour time) and on our way. Three of us were relatively experienced on this creek, but we had a beginner paddler who was a bit nervous, but she was bravely getting on the water.
The water was a bit low, but the current was brisk enough to push through most of the shallow spots and we did not have to get out to walk at any point on the trip. A couple of us did get out of our boats, but not in a planned manner. I decided to play around on a wave behind a boulder while I waited for the canoe to catch up. I apparently was distracted by a shiny object and leaned the wrong way and found myself upside down with one hand on the bottom. I quickly exited after getting a nice nose full of yummy creek water. Fortunately, the water was only about two feet deep and the current was not so strong that I could not gain my footing. I was able to hold on to my paddle and my boat and make my way to the bank. After dumping out my boat, we proceeded on our way.
Because the water was a bit on the low side, we were able to see some of the hazards that deeper water may hide, but would be potentially dangerous if a hapless paddler found themselves in the hazard. This undercut rock about half way down the lower section could be dangerous if someone got caught under it.
Another member of our party decided to swim after encountering an especially tricky small set of rapids about 2/3 of the way down the creek. I’m sure that someone has a name for this feature, but I think there are some complex currents here with waves coming at you from different angles. Taking the wrong line here will tip even experienced paddlers. Indeed, John, the very experienced canoe pilot told us that he swam at this very same spot about two weeks ago on his last trip down the lower section. Jodi hit this feature and flipped as a wave pushed the bright green XP10 over. She kept her wits about her and did not panic. The boat and paddle did get away from her but we were able to rescue all of the equipment relatively quickly. Jodi, being a strong and smart swimmer, got her feet in front of her and rode the current down to a calmer section where she could get on the bank and where we dumped out the boat. We all congratulated Jodi on not panicking and the fact that she had joined an elite group who have swam in the Red Mo. Everyone was fine and we got in our boats and pushed onwards.
Our trip continued without incident as we enjoyed the mild rapids and the game of maneuvering around many rocks as we made our way to the mouth of the creek at the confluence with the West Branch. We spied a young family of geese at one time and we were observed from above and on the water by many turkey buzzards. We stopped for some snacks and refreshments at the small stream coming down the mountain through a series of lovely falls into the West Branch before we made the gentle float to the takeout. We chatted with our gracious host near Millers Landing before we went to the Riverfront for some dinner and beverages.
The main thing learned today is that the Lower Red Mo is very runnable and fun at a gauge level of one foot at the Rt. 53 bridge. While paddlers have to watch for rocks and the occasional tricky rapid, the trip is very enjoyable and a change from the upper section with most of the section a level 1, with maybe a bit of a higher level of skill required for some of the sections of rapids. I highly recommend this section for those looking to run the Red Mo when the upper section is too low to float. With a good rain, the lower section would be even more fun.