Sixteen years ago I hopped into a convertible with a few other raft guides for a day trip to a river a few hours north of the Gauley. The location was the magical Upper Youghiogheny. The slots were plentiful and tight, and while playing follow the leader we rounded countless blind corners interspaced with a myriad of fun ledges. Years later, I now refer to this section as a staple class 4 kayak run… that has drawn me back year after year.
So the question is, why? After paddling all over the globe and tons of extremely difficult sections, why do I, and why should you, continue to flock to the Upper Youghiogheny?
Let’s start with the location. Our take out is in Friendsville, Maryland, almost reason enough right there. Friendsville is home to pizza rolls, Maui sweet onion potato chips, and fancy Yuengling beer. It used to be home to one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, The Riverside Hotel. Agnes, the proprietor of the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant, concocted the best vegetarian food I could conceive. It was simple, they only served vegetarian soup and salad (Casey Tango had to twist my arm to try this place the first time (I was complaining,“But there’s no meat!”)). After the first bite I was a believer. Hearty soups, hot-from-the-oven blue corn muffins, edible flowers on the salad (that were picked out of the backyard garden while you were paddling on the river), Tandy Cake with home-churned ice cream for dessert. (Please Agnes come back and make us delicious food again! (the Riverside Hotel changed ownership in 2015, and again in 2017. No food now, almost a reason not to go…)).
Camping is free-ish and only ten minutes from the put-in. The dense forest of the campground reminds me of the woods from the Blair Witch movie. Over the years there have been some pretty epic parties that have occurred in these Blair Witch woods. Huge bonfires, tons of fireworks, friends from all over the world. Heck, there was the one year when some riggers showed up and constructed a 100 foot rope swing attached to the tippy tops of the surrounding trees.
During my first years to the Youghiogheny there always seemed to be a rumor in the air. The reservoir was too high, it was too low, the release was late, the flows were going to be HIGH, not enough water, were we in front of, or behind, the bubble? National Falls is on fire?! I don’t know why but the rumors always made me laugh and we almost always were perfectly on the bubble with an average flow.
On water the river seems to be very reciprocal. If you’re willing to put the effort in you can run some truly hard lines. It’s like the river almost wants you to play. There are hanging eddies everywhere, slots that shouldn’t go (Sid’s Squiggle, Time Warp, left left at Tommy’s), and a couple of communal stops to enjoy some bag wine with the river community (Wait Rock and National Falls).
So, what brings you back to the Yough year after year after year… and if you haven’t checked this place out, why not??
Words by Chris Baer