Taking a Run Down Cabin John Creek

Most of us know Cabin John Creek from the great views on the trail that runs from the playground at the one-lane bridge to Seven Locks Rd. by Cypress Grove Lane. It’s  about a half-hour hike. Though there are serious ascents, descents, and some  stretches of rocky ankle-twisting opportunity, looking at “our” creek is pure joy.

Most of the time it’s a peaceful spring-fed stream–always flowing, sometimes flat, and much of the time presenting views of gentle cascades over low rocks and ledges. One guy who’s been walking the trail and looking at the creek for over forty years is my 76th St. neighbor, Walt Dence. Walt told me that for decades he’s wanted to experience our creek valley from the perspective of the river. That would mean either
wading the whole thing or paddling it in a boat.

Walt Dence is an electronics engineer, who has been a long-time flat-water canoer. He taught canoeing at a camp for two years in the 1950s. In 2010, Walt and his son, Ross, took their first paddle on the Potomac, participating in the annual Cabin John canoe trip. They have been paddling regularly since 2013 and took some white-water lessons a couple years ago. Now Ross, who lives in Washington, D.C., brings the grandkids out and they all canoe together.

Walt’s has been waiting for the right conditions to run Cabin John Creek from where it goes under River Road, down through Cabin John to the C&O Canal. The water level must be higher than ordinary summertime flow, but less than a flood. It turns out that our stretch of Cabin John Creek is a highly rated white-water canoeing  destination–who’d have guessed! With its many twists and turns, flats, drops, and shallows, our stretch is about 3 miles.

On the water, it takes about an hour. For Walt to enjoy the run with his son, everything had to come together on a weekend. At 75 years old, he finally got his chance. The last week of July saw a lot of rain — in some areas, torrential. Walt  checked the paint-marked boulder at the edge of the creek by River Rd. The water level was just right–about one-and-a-half feet above the summer norm.

As the rain subsided in the late morning on July 29, Walt, Ross, and Ross’s friend Aaron Otte, put in by River Rd. Ross was in his solo white-water canoe, and he had a GoPro video camera. “Once you are down on the water, you are in nature,” said Walt. “You don’t even hear the noise from the cars whizzing by on River Road.” The trip ended at the canal about an hour later with the men only having to walk their boats once or twice. Walt’s dream had become reality. Walt observed, “After staring down at the rapids in rain storms for decades, finally getting into the water was amazing. “The view of the valley from the creek is just beautiful.”

By Peter Vogt

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