What an amazing trip! All 135 miles!!!! This river presented many pleasant surprises- great riverbank camping, very little trash and industrial areas, generous river angels, kind and helpful Lock Masters (all veterans!), courteous recreational boaters, fishermen, and towboat captains.
Day 1- Colfax, WV- Rivesville, WV (13miles)
We began our journey from my family Camp, Glenburnie, on the Tygart Valley River, 7 miles South of the source of the "Mon" - we were packed up and ready to go by 0900 on calm waters and under partly cloudy, humid skies.
We averaged 2.5mph with light tailwinds, enjoying blue heron, Canadian geese, and ducks. There were few boaters with very few obstacles, allowing us to reach the West Fork River confluence (RM- 128) and on to Palatine Park for a break- shoulder rolls, leg stretches, lunch at 1200. Lovely view of my hometown, Fairmont- home of the pepperoni roll and the first Father's Day celebration.
We encountered high winds with an approaching storm, making it impossible to control our boats. White caps appeared and headwinds made it difficult to paddle. We donned our rain gear and hung out in our boats under a large tree for this passing shower, which cooled us off nicely. The river became calm and peaceful- we paddled beyond Rivesville and began searching for a riverbank. We found a spacious riverbank with several trees and a soft area for Michelle's tent. Dan made an amazing fire. Peaceful except for gunshots nearby- target practice which thankfully lasted on an hour or so!
Day 2- Rivesville, WV- below Hildebrand Dam, WV (14miles)
We were packed up and on the river by 0745. We knew it would be a scorcher today- supposed to be record-breaking heat all week. What better place to be than on the River!! We reached Opekiska Lock and Dam by 1030 and were prepared for a long, >600 yard portage (this dam and the following have limited hours of operation, usually open only for special events such as Bass tournaments. ) We wanted to get around it before high noon. We packed up Michelle's boat heavily with most of our gear, as Dan's boat drifted off shore and was heading straight for the Dam! Dan, like an olympic swimmer, dove in and retrieved it with lots of time to spare!
Michelle and I pushed and pulled the heavy load along the S. Monongahela bike trail, stopping to catch our breath on several occasions. I returned slowly back with the portage wheels; Dan and I packed up both boats(my small vintage We-no-nah 13ft canoe fit perfectly inside Dan's 16ft We-no-nah Prospector) and remaining gear and made the second trip around the Dam. After 2 hours, we put-in via a rarely used path. It felt great to be back on the water! It was 1230, with the second closed Lock & Dam- Hildebrand only 7 miles away, so we made a group decision to tackle it today and get it over with! It was supposedly only a 200 yard portage, but their was nowhere to put-in. We portaged approximately 1000 yards searching for a safe bank to re-enter. We ended up creating our own path with the machete', lowering the boats with rope down a steep, overgrown embankment, to the river's rocky edge. I scouted a fishing bank across the river with a rock firepit, tons of beer cans, makeshift wooden tables, and broken camping chairs while Dan returned to Michelle for the second load. I packed up and paddled my canoe and unloaded at the trashed site. We had plenty of daylight left, so trash pickup was a priority before setting up Camp.
Difficult to sleep- so hot and humid. I sat outside of my hammock and wrote in my journal. Around midnight, I heard voices and cardoors closing and saw lanterns and flashlights approaching from the railroad tracks. I met the group halfway and explained our mission. They were a pleasant family who were midnight fishing for big cat and agreed to fish elsewhere. I finally drifted off to sleep.
Day 3- Hildebrand Dam, WV- Point Marion, PA (18miles)
Very little sleep last night, despite being tired from 2 long portages. We were on the river by 0830, planning on meeting Ann Devine-King, her husband Gary, and Mary Wimmer, both Sierra Club outings leaders who I was anxious to meet. Mary is the founder of the Morgantown Area Paddlers (MAP) and is an avid paddler. ETA 1130 at Morgantown riverfront park where they kindly hosted a lunch! This boosted Michelle's spirits as well as knowing we were paddling through our first operational lock in just a few short hours. We quietly paddled for approximately an hour when we came upon 2 kayakers paddling upriver. It was Mary! and her friend, Betsy who joined us in our paddle to Morgantown- they took out after an hour of paddling, but planned on meeting us for lunch! It was an exciting day of paddling- great River Angels, amazing lunch of subs, chips, fresh fruit, guacamole, iced coffee, tea, and pop and getting through 2 Locks to Point Marion. Jason, prior Navy, Motown Lockmaster was a fine young man who we enjoyed getting to know. We managed to lock through the Point Marion Dam just before a Southbound barge approached. It would have been a long wait where we would have had to make camp in a heavy thunderstorm. Luckily we had our hammocks and tents up and huge fire started before the storm hit! We were just below the Dam on an awesome rock beach. Lots of recreational boaters today.
Day 4- Point Marion, PA- Chuck's Landing, PA (14miles)
This section of the Mon was perhaps my favorite. Point Marion is a quaint river town with a Dollar General- yippee!! Here the Cheat River joins the Mon. Michelle trudged through the muddy bank to buy a bag of ice to keep our cold cuts, cheese, and pop cold. A quiet, remote area with amazing flowers and old abandoned brick warehouses. We paddled past Greensboro (population 200!), a historic pottery town- 1781, Mingo Native- American settlement. Captain's Watch B&B overlooked the River- famous Farmer's Market on Saturdays. I will be sure to make a stop there next time. Maybe a section paddle with a comfortable night at the Captain's Watch! Chuck's Landing was non-existent, but we found another nice beach to camp and swim and wash our hair before another raging storm appeared- gusts of severe winds- I was waiting for hail or a wind tunnel to appear. We held on to our tarps until it passed. Crazy wind!!! Once again, we had our Camp set up just in time.
Day 5- Chuck's Landing, PA- Brownsville, PA (19miles)
Difficult night's sleep. Trees turned out to be too flexible for my hammock, but too much rain and wind to get out and readjust! The bale of hay used for my "step up" into my hammock became my support, preventing my from sagging to the wet ground. Today we plan on stopping in Fredericktown for Michelle to resupply- she like cold cuts and cheeses. She packs up and is the first on the River ahead of me. I find my mind drifts and relaxes both on and off the River- I enjoy slowly setting up and breaking down my gear. I savored my coffee and hard-boiled eggs (I miss my chickens...) She set a quick pace- we agreed to meet at Rice's Landing to regroup. I provided a large colored map to Michelle which allowed her to navigate and plan our trip for the day. Hot, hot, hot. Dan was found several times in and out of the middle of the River, cooling off in the refreshing water. We have received many amazed comments by people we have encountered....though paddling 135 miles seems minor compared to the 2,300 miles on the Mississippi River. Michelle should be proud of herself. One boater asked, " Are you doing this for fun???" He must not get it. Two fishermen exclaimed, " We have never seen canoes come out of the Lock before!" We paddled into 10-mile creek where we were offered free bags of ice by the owner of Engle's Marina and Boats. He directed us to the Save-A-Lot and Dollar General store further into the cove. It had a convenient dock where we tied off and off we went shopping. Unfortunately, all of the meat, cheese, and refrigerated items were pulled off of the shelves, as they were without power from the storm we camped in the night before! Kathy, a fellow shopper, introduced herself and offered to drive us to the local butcher shop, famous for its fried chicken and fresh meats. Michelle accepted the offer, somewhat hesitantly, but we reassured her that Kathy appeared to be simply another kind River Angel! Dan and I waited with the boats. She returned. Pictures and thanks. Back to paddling 1/2 mile, returning to the River. We locked-thru Maxwell Dam, controlled by a Marine, Travis whom I spoke to the week before. He remembered me. Great conversation about his tours in Fallujah and Afghanistan. I know he still suffers- I can feel it and see it even behind his dark sunglasses. The river narrowed below the dam- beautiful, meandering section. The winds were cooler. Skies becoming overcast. We stopped and ate below the dam, agreeing to take advantage of the clear skies by paddling later in the day. We paddled to West Brownsville where we luckily found a riverbank to camp before we entered the historic town. We were concerned of not finding a campsite with the many barges and private residences known to be in Brownsville. We will be making California tomorrow, with a college campus. We didn't make smores, despite Michelle buying all of the ingredients. We were tired and all a bit dehydrated. Michelle wasn't feeling well. Need to take more rest/stretch stops. Red skies at dusk. Bats are out keeping the bugs at bay. Sun has set. Few minutes of reading and I drift off to sleep. I thank Him for another safe day of paddling.
Nemacolin Castle- famous during the French & Indian War 1789 and the first cast iron metal arch bridge built in 1839 were Brownsville highlights.
Day 6- West Brownsville- Charleroi (17 miles)
On the water by 0810. Enjoyed paddling through scenic Brownsville. Beautiful old homes. We paddled 5 miles to California where Michelle and I scouted the small, dying town. The University keeps it alive. We found a gas station for ice, Subway for lunch and dinner that night, and DQ for a much-needed soft dipped ice cream cone!! A long, hot paddle today. Charleroi was industrial and dirty. We scavenged for 70 feet of tie-off rope required to lock through the remaining Dams- they do not supply rope and do not have float-pins to use when being dropped inside the lock. We campled below the dam around a bend. Another raging fire despite the heat. We all are aware that the next few days will be unpredictable as we approach Pittsburgh.
Day 7- Charleroi to Elizabeth (18miles)
Rain expected today. Up early to pack our gear before it gets wet. On the water by 0800. Water is glass. Grey skies. Black clouds. The smell of coal and industry. Huge cranes lowering its loud, clanking jaws- grabbing large amounts of coal and dumping them on rusted barges. And just beyond, a deer standing alone- her habitat overtaken. And the irony of gorgeous flowering bushes amidst the black, bellowing towers.
The rain, wind, and choppy waters slowed our paddling. Michelle and I stopped under a bridge for relief and ate an early lunch. At this point, Michelle admits to not enjoying camping and how eager she is to get off the River. I wish it would flow forever. I can understand. We have not showered for a week, though we did have fun washing our hair in the River last night. The town of Montgomery was easily accessible with Main Street running parallel to the River. We did not stop. Impressive Aquatorium stadium- no music or entertainment today. Montgomery is also the home of Joe Montana. We took several breaks today, but still managed to make great time. 1530 made it to Elizabeth Lock and Dam. A barge was locking through but they put us through without a wait in the smaller, "vault" lock. We were disappointed with the so-called Riverfront park- more like a mud bank with a smelly sewer nearby. We stopped at the Elizabeth Boat Club where 2 drinking members recommended paddling on where we would find fishing banks to camp overnight. We found a decent spot behind several dry-docked barges- a perfect bank was created with my machete' for Michelle's tent and several trees for hammocks. Mild drizzle. Nice fire. Our last night on the River. Mixed emotions.
Very little sleep- a working towboat and crew parked all night in front of us (must be mandatory crew rest), 10 yards from our canoes! The smell of diesel fuel, the sound of its generator/engines, and the sight of its bright spot lights made it difficult to rest. I wished they would move on to allow us to get out in the morning. They departed at 0330. Time to finally sleep.
Day 8- Elizabeth-Pittsburgh (20 miles!)
My hands are swollen and stiff. Not from paddling, but rather from dehydrated, store-bought chili mac!! (I should have dehydrated my own!)We are on the River early. Michelle paddling quickly and excited that this is our last day. She looks lovely and refreshed- no one would guess she has been living on river banks for the past week!
We approached McKeesport where the Youghiogheny River joins the Mon and enjoyed passing the local entertainment of Pittsburgh- Kennywood Amusement Park and Sandstone Water Park, though our take-out at South-side Riverfront Park was still hours away.
We paddled among recreational boaters, rounding every bend in hopes of seeing downtown Pittsburgh.
After 20 miles it is finally picture time!!! Take-out at the city boat ramp. Ed was there within the hour. Loaded up and back to Glenburnie!
I will definitely paddle the Mon again. Maybe a Fall trip with the changing leaves only adding to the River's magic!
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