State 12 of 50: Massachusetts: Deerfield River

Dam release paddle with good friends on gray day
Date Paddled: 10/1/16
Nearest City: Charlemont
Put-In: Zoar Gap picnic area
Take-Out: The Great Outdoors Outfitter, Charlemont
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: 6
Shuttle: two cars, easy hitchhiking if needed
Weather: overcast
Difficulty: quickwater, class I and II
Cfs: 820

In a case of frustration with time and place, Peter and I, and our good friends Christian and Jen, ended up on the Deerfield River later than we had hoped. We had our sights set on the upper Deerfield from Fife Dam to the Zoar Gap picnic area, but, for reasons unknown, the “gods of the water” i.e. Brookfield Hydro, decided to curtail their commitment to 800 cfs for 5 hours on Saturday to a mere 3 hours. This effectively left us high and dry on the upper portion, but still in the game for the lower. The upper portion has more and jazzier rapids and somewhat nicer views, but the lower is commendable.
This river is a favorite with paddlers who come from far and wide, as flows here are regulated making water flows reliable when other rivers are low and desolate. Upper parts of the Deerfield are generally more challenging, with the class III – V Zoar Gap being the biggest rapid. Here the river narrows down to a chute through a boulder-strewn area.


Our day was misty and overcast with temperatures in the low 60’s. We put in at the picnic area near Zoar Gap.   A bit frazzled with all the hurry, we soon settled in.dscn3396We enjoyed some nice class I and II rapids, interspersed with quickwater and very occasional flat water. The mist was magical and mysterious with fall colors just beginning to shine. The Deerfield runs through this sparely populated part of the northern Berkshires after traversing a number of state forests on its western side and the vast Green Mountains of Vermont to the north.   Bear, fisher, and porcupines freely inhabit the surrounding area – the true beginning of the northern forest. dscn3392One of the benefits of less rapids is that we had more time to fish, talk, watch the mist, and relax.dscn3418

dscn3391The Deerfield, and the nearby Mohawk Trail State Park, are both very special places.  Being born a gypsy at heart, I find it very strange that I’m always sad to leave this beautiful place. It seems like home in a way that I still don’t understand, even after 10 years of making pilgrimages. I suspect that hiking on The Mohawk Trail, used by Native peoples for eons, may have something to do with it. The Trail along the ridge line has been compressed over time, so that it is inches below the surrounding forest. During a bear tracking class, we learned of something quite similar with bear. In their case, it’s a ceremonial trail that involves placing their feet in the same spots as their ancestors. Scientists don’t understand the reasons for this behavior, but perhaps like us, the connections that are made over time and place work themselves into the very soil and soul.dscn3416

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