A Tionesta Creek ‘swim’

Robert Stanger Contributing writer

Warren area residents are fortunate to live in a region where avenues for outdoor recreation are so readily at hand and certainly go well beyond the traditional outdoor pursuits of hunting and fishing.

The region is also lucky to have an organization that helps the public to enjoy its local gifts of nature four seasons of the year.

I’m referring, of course, to the Allegheny Outdoor Club, which is into hiking, cycling, cross country skiing, and trips on the Allegheny River and other waterways. I have not noted the existence of a comparable organization in any of the other locales where I have lived.

My participation in the club’s activities has been limited by being just a cabin owner on the river and thus just a sporadic seasonal resident. And now, I find that age also limits my participation in the club’s often strenuous outings.

Of all the club events in which I have taken part, I have probably enjoyed the river trips the most … but with the caveat that there have been three that were marked by unusual circumstances, to say the least.

I have already written about two of them and therefore will just give a brief synopsis of what happened on those outings, and then get to the third, which was probably the quirkiest of them all.

The first one that I will cover briefly was on a Memorial Day and the trip involved was from Tidioute to Tionesta, some 13 miles.

Our canoe trip started badly as my wife, Judith, and I were ticketed by two state river patrolmen as the life preserver I had taken along was illegal. Judith had a regulation one, but I just had a buoyant seat cushion.

(Some days later we paid the fine at the Tionesta Courthouse.)

Then we ran into such a strong headwind that I had to drop Judith off at a cottage community on the river’s west bank and use oars from the canoe’s rowing seat to complete the trip down to Tionesta. (I had been prescient in taking the oars along.)

The others in the outing group, stronger paddlers in the lighter craft that included kayaks, had forged ahead.

But I had a difficult time locating where I had dropped Judith off, as the cottage area looked different from the road to its rear than it did from the river. Judith has long recalled her interminable wait on the bank of the river amid the spring chorus of mating toads.

I finally found her when she went out to the road looking for me.

The second strange river trip was from the Kinzua Dam to Point Park in Warren.

I couldn’t find my car keys in my kayak at the park at the end of the trip but was able (with some help) to get into my car at the dam where I stowed a spare set of keys.

I discovered weeks later when I flipped my kayak off its low supports at our cabin that the car keys had apparently bounced up from the floor of a rear kayak compartment when going through the United Refining rapids and had apparently hung up on a cable leading to the kayak’s rudder. I found the keys on the compartment’s floor after they dislodged from the cable when I flipped the kayak off its supports.

But the oddest mishap that ever happened to me on a water passage occurred during an AOC outing on Tionesta Creek from Sheffield to a takeout point about 13 miles to the south.

The club must schedule this outing in April when the weather has warmed up some but with the creek remaining high enough due to runoff from rain and snowmelt for small craft to run the stream.

I had lagged a little behind the others in the group, enjoying the swift run on the stream’s clean blueish-green waters. The stream’s sinuous course poses little trouble for kayakers, but canoe travel can be a little more problematic.

On this AOC trip, there are always a good number of trout fishermen along the banks of the steam with whom to exchange greetings.

The reason this one trip down the stream from Sheffield stayed has so long in my memory is due to what happened when the strong current pushed my kayak against the edge of a thick stand of brush along the shore.

Lingering in that stand of brush about a foot above the water’s level was a stout forked limb with its fork pointed upstream.

The lower section of the fork swept along the aft deck of my kayak and inserted itself in the loop below the carrying handle. This stopped my kayak dead at the edge of the brushy area as the water rushed past.

This was a relatively minor problem for me since although the water was quite cold, it was a warm day, and I had companions within hauling distance.

But had this freak occurrence taken place on a frigid day to a lone kayaker in, say, a wilderness location, the situation could have been a dire one.

After assessing my plight, I decided that my only solution was to climb out onto the kayak’s rear deck and break free the portion of the limb that had stopped the kayak’s progress downstream. But when I did this, the kayak turned onto its side and dumped me into the cold rushing water.

But I held on to the side of the kayak and managed to haul it up onto a gravel bar in the middle of the stream.

By this time, my AOC companions, who had stopped for a break a short distance downstream, were beginning to wonder where I was.

One of them, John Shinaberger, (who had been canoeing down the stream with his wife, Pat) walked upstream along the bank of the creek and found me out on the gravel bar attempting to change into the dry clothing I had stored in the kayak’s rear compartment.

John waded out to me and helped me empty the kayak of water and to resume my trip down the creek. He then walked back downstream to where his wife and the others waited.

When I rejoined the group, I tried to explain just why I had been stranded upstream, and how I had solved the problem.

But given the quizzical expressions that I recall encountering, I’m not sure that all of them quite understood my explanation. (How that forked limb caught my kayak does sound like a very tall tale.)

Some in the group probably thought that I had just strayed into a stand of thick brush along the shore and had overturned.

After we reached the takeout point and had loaded our craft onto the vehicles left there, I was asked if I was going to join the group for a meal at a nearby restaurant. I declined. The Tionesta Creek “swim” had left me too chilled.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.


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