Lower Tilton River

Class III-IV, 25fpm, 1300cfs

October 25, 2001

Jason, Ben, Josh

Author: Jason Hummel

Ben rides some fun waves near the end of the Canyon. There are many rapids like this on the Lower Tilton.

Photographer: Jason Hummel


Oftentimes I believe that we have a lot of adventures because we seem obligated to push the limits. Kayaking has become synonymous with adventure since the very beginning. Our inexperience led to situations that often resulted in painful lessons, both physical and mental. I have been forced to start a fire more than once to stem off hypothermia, gotten lost, gotten locked behind gates, almost sent to jail, forgotten keys, watched my boat disappear around the corner while Iím standing on a rock in a canyon by myself trying to think of options when there is only one -- to swim. We also learned that the power of water can inspire and humble you, rudely tearing down our greater sense of invincibility. We have become more intelligent and patient. Without the early lessons on the Tilton we would be less prepared to set out on new and more challenging adventures.

I grew up on the Tilton River and never knew that there was a canyon downstream with some first-class paddling. Now as a kayaker all I can do is drool. It begins with an easy warm up involving some Class II and III and to cap it off there is a beautiful paddle across Mayfield Lake. The main course involves several straightforward Class IV drops, most of which are pool drops. What better river to learn Class IV on?

Outside the rain was coming down and the gauges were coming back to life after a long hiatus. Josh and Ben had been running the Green and I didnít want to do that and neither did they. The Tilton seemed like a good substitute. As usual we stopped at my Old Manís place near Morton and got ready. It was late morning by the time we were on the river.

We had been down the Tilton a half dozen times at various levels but had never bothered to take any photos. This time we were going to take our time and photograph each major rapid. On the Tilton this is an easy affair. Other creeks, we have found, arenít as forgiving. Almost every rapid can be portaged on the Tilton if one so desires. Before any of us could roll, we swam. Lower flows were more forgiving as long as we bit it near the end of each drop. We have swam every rapid, multiple times for some. Our first three trips down this section came in Spring 2001. The flows were 400, 800 and 500cfs respectively. We often wondered why there weren't any other paddlers. This trip at 1300cfs helped us realize what they mean by recommended flow. The upper section is a pain and the drops become more difficult at lower flows. I imagine that the upper section is a blast and the drops become most difficult at higher flows. I've witnessed some pretty nasty floods on the Tilton so I have no desire to test my imagination. Anyway, I suggest you stick to the recommended 800-3000cfs.

When you see the walls straighten and the horizon line drop you have come to the first major rapid. Pull out on the right.


Josh about to get chowed near the bottom of the first rapid.


Somewhere around here there is a massive logjam that we paddle around on the right. It isnít at all dangerous, but man is it big! I would say at least 15 to 20 feet high. I recall some of the floods that came down the Tilton when I was younger. We lost a few acres of land to a creek that you can step across in the summer. Water is power.

Another creek enters from river right along with more play spots.

Soon there is another horizon like the first, a quick one right into a pool. After that there are numerous surf waves and play holes. We always spend some time trying to teach ourselves how to playboat. Our focus has been on creek boating, but playing is a good way to burn time and have some fun. Believe me, if you saw us trying to playboat you would be highly entertained. We would get a "A" for effort, if nothing else. Then again, we are still learning. Remember it has only been 10 months since we started.


Josh avoiding the meat of the second rapid.


The next rapid consists of two sections. We get out on the right to scout both of them. The photo below is of the second section. Here, on a much earlier trip, is where Ben made his first and second successful rolls in action. He wiped out above and below. We were so happy and all of us yelled like mad. Ben eddied out with the biggest grin. We were all jealous and he knew it.


Is it lunchtime already? Jason gets eaten at the bottom of the third major rapid.


The fourth rapid (Leap of Faith?) is also a two-stage though much more difficult than the last rapid. Scout and/or portage on the left. We run the first part right center and the next one far right. Left is ok, but more difficult. There is a big boulder river center near the end of the rapid. Left is a winding slot between boulders and the right a short corner against a wall. Both are pretty intimidating at flows below 800cfs. I imagine that a gigantic hole forms in the center at flows above 3000cfs. Again, I'll leave this to my imagination.

There are several nice seal launches in this area. I had Josh push me off of one (he didnít quite push hard enough so I hit the wall with my stern) in the middle of Leap of Faith. Ben was a little late taking the photo and so all you can see is the shadow of my boat underneath the water. Afterwards I had a hard time crossing the current (I rolled) so I was forced to go left of center. In the photo you can see me getting pushed up onto the boulder. Yea, it was fun yet I was angry that I missed my line though happy that I made it through.


Submerged seal launch. The upper part of Leap of Faith can be seen in the background. The waves are much bigger than they look.


Jason gets pancaked on the lower part of Leap of Faith.


The next canyon is really nice with waterfalls cascading down on either side. The river becomes quite beautiful here although you must keep an eye out for logs because portaging is impossible in spots. Next comes the one rapid that you canít portage. Ben left his throw rope here on our first trip down but that's another story. We often aim for the center of the biggest hole near the end. You can make this part easy or hard. I like to run it left and go directly into the hole. It usually spits you out depending on the size of your boat and the size of your lungs. You can also run it right and avoid the hole. Scout from the right bank and climb to an outcrop to see down the canyon. When it is sunny the view is worth it. Ben went second and I took a photo of him from that outcrop. Right beyond the sight of the photo the grade levels out once again. There is a nice waterfall on the left and a few seal launches. This is a great spot to stop for lunch and enjoy the sun if there happens to be any.


Ben running left on one of the few rapids that you can't portage. A red arrow points to the hole that we like to punish ourselves in.

Photographer: Jason Hummel


Next there is a log that the river pours over. You can run it anywhere. We usually go right of center because it makes the drop more fun although I would avoid the right side at higher flows. The first time we ran it we never even saw it. Josh was in front and just disappeared. The next rapid has some funky reversals at lower flows. We all got worked here during our first few trips but it was a joke during this trip. This is the rapid shown in the first photo.

Afterwards there is a drop (Boof?) that we have been running left, but used to run dead center. Recently a log was seen stuck in the center below the drop. It seems that there is now a log stuck in the center above the drop. None of us really liked that particular route anyway because a submerged rock created a rather nasty hole. We have all been eaten and sucked under this drop. On the right shore there is a large undercut. Above there on the same side is a good place to pull out and scout. The right and left sides are relatively easy assuming there is no wood. If you run it center be prepared to boof and have someone on the right shore with a rope just in case.


Boof? Josh just ran this drop left of the boulder. There is a nasty hole in the center caused by a submerged rock between Josh and the Boulder. We've all run it center (and swam) at lower flows. Avoid the center with the threat of wood.


Jason running left of the Boof boulder.


There is one more drop that is longer than the rest. Right after the Boof drop you will see the river bend left. There is a huge pool above it. It's best to get out on the left to look at the rapid. Ben ran a small part of it before he got out and took a photo. Josh and I continued down the center. There are some fun waves at the bottom. I stopped and surfed one of them. This rapid is plain scary at lower flows. We had always scraped down on the right to avoid the numerous pinning potentials that require at least 800cfs to cover. Higher flows made this rapid easier.


Josh begins the last major rapid.


After that rapid there are a few spots to practice endos or whatever they are doing these days. Ben even managed a few tricks in his creek boat. Once we were down at the lake we practiced our forward rolls. Ben managed a couple. Josh and I got ticked with our attempts so we went to shore and drained our boats. After playing they got a little water in them, but by that time it was getting dark and we had to get to the car and back home. Remember, the park closes at dusk.


Josh practicing his sideways surf. What will they think of next?


Endo? Squirt? I forget what they're called.


The Tilton is an entertaining creek. The lake takes 30 minutes to paddle and the first few miles are slow but the rest is well worth it. Josh and Ben recently linked the North Fork Tilton and the Lower Tilton together. If you are in for a long day that trip is definitely worth it. Just make sure you know how to roll before you do the North Fork.