We’ve had our eyes on the rivers and lakes for weeks now. It’s been a long wait, but the rivers up here in northern Vermont are finally moving again! The last of the ice dams on the Winooski River have broken free and its time to paddle! With cold, high, fast moving water, large ice chunks and other debris floating in the river it’s not quite the season for beginner paddlers; but if you’ve got the right equipment and knowledge the fun can begin right now! We decided to paddle from the Bolton Dam to a river access point 4 miles down as our first paddle of the year. After bundling up and trudging through some snow banks to get to the river, we hopped on our Bic Ace-Tec Wing 12’6 boards. After almost 6 months of being land bound, our legs felt a bit wobbly and our arms felt as heavy as driftwood. Nonetheless, we paddled the four miles in less than an hour, weaving our way around icebergs, through waves, under bridges and away from rocks. With the river level at 3600 cfs, the current was pushy and there were a couple really awesome surf waves that hadn’t been there during our Winooski River trip in September when the river was at a mere 500 cfs.
We both stayed warm and mostly dry. I rocked a 20+ year old Immersion Research dry top, which keeps me warm but not necessarily dry anymore (luckily i didn’t go for a swim). On the bottom I had a new pair of Kokatat Hydrus 3L Tempest Dry Pants with Socks. This was their first descent and they were AWESOME! No, I didn’t swim, but i trudged through snow banks and waded knee deep in water and my feet were warm and dry the entire time This was definitely a new paddling experience for me! I’ll never go back!
JJ wore his new pair of NRS Men’s Freefall Dry Pants, which have rubber gaskets at the ankles so his feet didn’t stay dry and with the wind funneling up the river in our faces his neoprene booties didn’t work very well either. The wind seems to blow the warmth away from your feet while standing on your paddle board. But with a couple quick dunks in the river, his legs stayed warm and dry. On top he wore a splash top with no rubber gaskets on the wrists or neck. It definitely leaked, but there is no surprise there. His swims were short (5 seconds) so he stayed warm enough, but a dry top is the way to go if you want to get out there and paddle now. Paddling in April in Vermont can be rewarding, but can also be very dangerous if not well prepared. At the minimum you need a full body wetsuit, if not a dry suit or some combination. Make sure you are prepared to go for a long swim in the cold water. If you don’t have the proper equipment stop by your local outfitter for some help. We get our gear and advice at Umiak Outfitters in Stowe, Vermont. Half the staff has already been out paddling this year and the retail store is being flipped upside down to make way for this years newest toys!
Keep Calm and Paddle On!