Rick's Scudders Falls Page

Hell's Canyon of the Snake

For all those who paddle at Scudders Falls or Lambertville on the Delaware you know that the summer of 1996 was fantastic for water levels. We had spring water levels through early August. I started keeping track of the CFS levels and what the waves were like in a paddling journal along with things I was learning. There are also references to the "rock level." For those who don't paddle there regularly, there is a rock on the river left eddy that sticks up next to the shoreline. Many people use this rock as a gauge for water level.

Here's the contents of my summer journal with indications of water level. You can also see the incredible rise in water level after Hurricane Bertha. Below you will see a table with Date, Time and Water Level in CFS from the Trenton Gauge, then my notes on paddling that day. When I get a chance, I'll add a basic map of Scudders. See you on the wave!


Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
4/22/96 1800 24100

Water coming over the entire dam structure. 1st wave is relative flat and broad, easy surf. Second Wave is steep, definite enders.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
5/2/96 1800 55400

Entire wave gone, water coming over the whole island, mill ledge gone, all islands under water with strainers, the river right ledge above the island has several large breaking waves, one beautiful glassy one, requires a lot of ferry up and over, although the wave is directly above "strainer island" there is some hesitation eddy below the ledge. On far river right near the Deli-Wave is a long angling ledge, smooth wave, hard to surf requires a major cut left and you still get swept off. Further over and up the slanting ledge there are a few surfable waves and one hole. Steep, possible enders, but there is a tree just to the right (facing upstream) and that is where you would get swept is caught in a side surf.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
5/5/96 1200 30350

Front wave mostly flooded out, very shallow and less than a foot deep. Water coming over the entire dam surface. Water coming around boulders to flood "walkway." Out in the center, there is water pouring over the river left island mound that normally forms a hesitation eddy mid river. This wave is green and steep. Beautiful surf. Tends to have a easy shoulder on the left facing upstream. To the right it sweeps over the island and is very steep and only a few inches deep. Stay center and left. Nice cutbacks. Nicknamed it "Slickrock." Further over at the other island mound above the trees is s nice flat green wave. All the way over there is water still coming over the V-ledge but just barely, it is more hydraulic than wave. But just below, the Deli-wave is perfect. Steep. Slide into it from the hesitation eddy behind the ledge. It has a low shoulder left which allows a resting surf. It gets steeper middle and very steep and shallow right. Stay center and left, Nice cut backs both low (slower) and high (quick if stern in the wave). Works the right shoulder a lot. The second wave just behind is also a good surf, steep and a little squirrelly.

Weather: 70 degrees and sunny. Water temp 50's. Light polypro top & bottom, dry top and bib (legs got a little wet). Perfect temp.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
5/11/96 1200 19850

Water just (1 inch) coming over the ledge and over the side wall of the chute. Water coming around boulders to flood "walkway." The top wave is broad and fairly flat, not very steep on the far side. Good for cut backs. No discernible notch. A good level for back surfing since it is so smooth and flat. The second wave is a good surf but no enders. Hard to hold since it is breaking on the right. The fourth wave has enders but very hard to get. The Deli-wave is fine. With so little water coming over the V-ledge it is all an eddy. Easy to slip into the Deli-wave. It is very steep and shallow on the right side, if you nose down you bottom out instantly. There is a hesitation eddy on the right side of the Deli-wave so you can climb up and enter from that side as well. The second wave behind the Deli-wave was also nice. Slickrock was there but missed it. Need to drop right down into it, too much on the shoulder and you blow out. The nice green wave above the island close to the PA side was the same thing.

Weather: 70 degrees and sunny. Water temp 50's. Light polypro top, dry top. Perfect temp.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
5/19/96 1300 18300

Water just (1 inch) coming over the ledge and over the side wall of the chute. Water coming around boulders to flood "walkway." The top wave is getting steeper. Good for cut backs. The notch is now forming. The second wave is a good surf but no enders. The Deli-wave is now very steep on the right with only an inch of water over the rocks. No water coming over the V-ledge it is all an eddy. Easy to slip into the Deli-wave. It is very steep and shallow on the right side, if you nose down you bottom out instantly. Slickrock was there but missed it. Need to drop right down into it, too much on the shoulder and you blow out. The nice green wave above the island close to the PA side was the same thing.

Weather: 90 degrees and sunny. Water temp 60's. Light polypro top, paddle jacket. Perfect temp.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
6/24/96 1500 8,220

Front wave buries on the left. A good pile developing on the right donuts possible. Slide in almost straight to just to the left of the pile. Let the bow ease over and place a low brace into the base of the wave. Press on it to slow you down from carving out. As the bow begins to be pushed downstream, push hard on the low brace into a backstroke to drop back down in. Once backwards, wait until the stern starts to be pulled downstream to repeat the maneuver on the other side. Also a good level for enders on the first wave. Slide in straight and let it ease over (might try a low brace pry to push you in). Try not to get on left low brace for support as this pulls you out of ender. Second wave has a good surf, not hard to stay in since fairly flat but requires quick cuts. No ender possibility. NOTE: The rock has about 7 inches showing at this level.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
6/28/96 1800 6,197

Wave is starting to flatten out. Pile is dropping down more into the trough. Got a lot of great 360's and a number of 180's that turned into back surfs. Am getting better at back surfing both carving and ruddering. With the 360 tried different maneuvers, one dropping in low and almost parallel and slipping right then jamming the low brace down low. This worked sometimes. Also tried hitting it higher on the pile with more angle and as soon as I hit the pile put in a low brace with pressure to "side surf" for an instant. I was able to stabilize for a number of seconds using this move. Once stabilized, I was able to do 180 or 360 without having to push too hard on the right low brace. Be careful, repeated use of this move (especially if levering too hard) can put a strain on the right shoulder. Also got several good pop-ups at this level. One tremendous one that was totally vertical, lifted up high and pirouette down.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/4/96 1700 ?? around 8-9,000

Went to Lambertville first. The water was 1 inch shy over going over the dam on the PA side. This meant that it was 8 inches above the upstream lip of the dam. This level was too kicking for me. Got into the first wave twice. It was steep on the left and lots of leaning back and carving to keep from burying. In the middle there was a sweet spot. The wave next to the rock below the upper ledge was nice, squirrelly. Getting up to the first ledge was a bitch. Lots of flow and almost no eddies. Too much work. Went and surfed the hole. It was cake at that level.

Then went to Scuds. Almost no one there. Good level. The rock had about 6 inches showing. The left side of the front wave was grabbing the bow, and the wave seemed to pulse so that the bow would be pulled in and then spit out. The 360 wasn't happening. I got a number of 180's and a few good back surfs coming off a 180, but the wave on the right seemed too steep, by the time I got into a 180, was backwards, and had started to spin again, I was too high on the wave to drop back in. The wave was also pulsing. At time there was a big pile which was good for 180's, at other time the pile receded, the wave got steeper, and the notch really curled over on itself. This was perfect ender territory. Slide across and keep the bow pretty straight, just a touch of cut to the right. As you slide over push out on the left rudder (nor low brace or you pull yourself back and out). Then get ready to stand. Must have gotten 20+ with 5 or so great ones including a few pirouettes.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/10/96 1800 7,160

Scuds still at a decent Level. The front wave is still pulsing so I was able to get a number of enders. Hard to always get the timing and the angle right. I got one tremendous one that got me totally vertically and moved me back through the second wave. Got a number of 180's and a few back surfs off 180's. Only 2 360's. Petronio was getting a number of 180 spins and then straightening out to drop back in to a rear ender. I think that I need to start leaning back earlier.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/14/96 1000 29400

At this level the front wave is almost flat as is the second wave. The fifth wave has a funny quick edge to edge surf. Most of the action is in the middle. Went out to the Deli-Wave. It was a great level. There was some water coming over the diagonal ledge but the eddy was still completely there. Entry was easy. Nice cut backs on the left side. Still gets very steep on the right so I didn't venture over there. With a low volume stern, should be able to cut through the right side as well. The second wave behind the Deli wave was a little squirrelly, bow tends to bury. There was breaking pillow on the right that gave a little side surf. Didn't do much with the second wave because I felt like I would be working my shoulder too much. On the way back I hit Slickrock, stayed on it briefly. The key is to aim for the center, not the shoulder in order to stay on. Came back out and road it for 20 minutes of cut backs!

Hurricane Bertha

Below is the collected gauge readings from the Army Corp of Engineers Server over a 24 hour period. Note the incredible change from increase in flow from 6600 at 1200 hrs on July 13 to 18160 CFS 1 hour later! I wish I had been on the wave at 11:00 AM to watch it rise.

RTS Ver: 98 Prog:DSSMAT LW:14JUL96 12:16:13 Tag:T2785 Prec:0
Start: 13JUL1996 at 1100 hours; End: 14JUL1996 at 1100 hours; Number: 25
Units: FEET Type: INST-VAL

13JUL1996, 1100; 6600.
13JUL1996, 1200; 18160.
13JUL1996, 1300; 19170.
13JUL1996, 1400; 19935.
13JUL1996, 1500; 19850.
13JUL1996, 1600; 19850.
13JUL1996, 1700; 20700.
13JUL1996, 1800; 20700.
13JUL1996, 1900; 20700.
13JUL1996, 2000; 20700.
13JUL1996, 2100; 20700.
13JUL1996, 2200; 20700.
13JUL1996, 2300; 20700.
13JUL1996, 2400; 20700.
14JUL1996, 0100; 21550.
14JUL1996, 0200; 21550.
14JUL1996, 0300; 21550.
14JUL1996, 0400; 24950.
14JUL1996, 0500; 25800.
14JUL1996, 0600; 25800.
14JUL1996, 0700; 26650.
14JUL1996, 0800; 29400.
14JUL1996, 0900; 29400.
14JUL1996, 1000; 29400.
14JUL1996, 1100; 29400.

Note: This level came up after Hurricane Bertha. On 7/13 TK and I ran Stony Brook at the highest level ever. Carter Road to Hun. The culvert at Carter was underwater and the bottom of the 92 on the bridge was just covered. The word was that Tohickon was running at 3 feet on 7/13 and 2 feet on 7/14.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/17/96 1800 29400

Front wave and second wave nearly gone. Slickrock excellent. Not as steep, broader. Great for cut backs. Flatter on the left for hanging out. Gets steeper on the right but not problematic. Deli-wave also broader and flatter on left, cuts slow and easy, right is still steep and shallow. The second wave at Deli-wave is steep on the left and irregular. On the right it is breaking in the center and then gets deeper further right. There is a little sid surf on the pile, could be a spin or ender.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/20/96 1800 16200

Rock underwater. The front wave is nice and smooth. Deep enough for cutbacks but no foam at the notch just a curl. An easy surf. Got lots of cut backs quick in the notch by staying up high. The second wave is also nice, not so pushy. This would be a great level for back surfing, only I couldn't get on. Went out to Slickrock, the water was just pouring over and I couldn't stay on. The front of the wave is steep at this level. Went over to the Deli-Wave. The water is just barely coming over the ledge. The Deli-wave no has a big hesitation eddy on the right side facing upstream. Like the wave is now split off from the main flow. It is flat and choppy on the left and very steep on the right. Not that much to do. The second wave is now steeper and has a real curler/hole that is formed didn't do much there.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
7/28/96 1500 14800 - 14100

Nice level. The front wave is fully formed and not too steep. A notch but no real curling pillow or pile. Fine for cutbacks. Got to do double cuts right in the notch and stayed right there, high on the wave. The second wave is OK. The 4th wave had good enders. Got about 10, a few stellar ones. The best entry is from the river left eddy. There is a small diagonal wave flowing into the main wave. Surf across this and as the bow drops into the wave, straighten out and let the nose bury. A gentle lean forward seems to be better than a forced lean which only buries the boat.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
8/1/96 1800 11400

About an inch of the rock showing. Front wave good for cutbacks. Steep enough that you bury even on the left. Second wave OK. Further down all are a little washed out. Need to get quicker cuts on the first wave. I feel like my blade while ruddering is too far behind me. I need to raise my top hand and push the rear hand forward so the blade is right at my hip for faster rudders.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
8/3/96 1700 ? guess 8-9,000

About an 6 inches of the rock showing. Front wave good for cutbacks. Steep enough that you bury even on the left. Second wave OK. Further down all are a little washed out. I was able to get over and do a series of cuts right in the notch, hanging up high on the wave. Several times I was also able to semi-side surf and just stay on the notch plume. One thing I noticed was that in sliding across on the low angled bow surf over to the right side that I have a left rudder in. Just as I start to get over I was "pressuring" the rudder, not really pushing, but weighting it. This slowed me down and straightened me out to allow a very quick cut back left. I got 2 good enders by surfing on the notch and then leaning forward. It seems that if I try to "push" it, I just get buried. A more delicate touch, "falling" into it seems to give the bow enough time to sink and then be pushed downstream. The other scenario gets too much volume too deep too fast. The water over on the PA side is no longer coming over the ledge. The Deli-wave is gone but over to the left (river right) of the Deli-wave there is a new wave. It is about 15 feet wide diagonal sweeping off to the left. It is steep on the left with a pile on the left. It works as a sort of diagonal side surf. Also I found a wave out in the center on the left of the hesitation eddy behind Slickrock (river right). It is very narrow and flat but I had a nice surf on it for 10 minutes.

Date Time Flow Rate - CFS
8/4/96 1700 10,380

Went to Lambertville. The water was just trickling over the PA side. Almost no eddies anywhere. Dropped into the first wave and rode it for 10 minutes. Then went off to side surf. Came back out from the PA dam and got on the first wave only to get blown off. The water at this level is pushy and I realize where muscle comes in at least even, with technique in big water. I got over to the other side and managed a ferry up to the top eddy to try to get out onto the wave (a guy in a squirt boat was there). I needed to surf over in the trough and them hammer above the rock in order to get to the eddy next to the main jet. I blew off each time getting more and more whipped. On my second big attempt I was below the surf and got immediately swept sideways and over into a long wave-hole and flipped. For one split second I though about coming out and then felt the boat stabilize and rolled up. I suddenly realized that I was in the hole. I stayed relaxed, realizing that with that flow it couldn't be a keeper and slowly high-brace/pulled my way down to an end which then kicked my bow out. I though there might be a back end coming, but I continue to pull myself out. I left after on more eddy climb cause I knew that I was too beat to do anything but thrash. A good lesson on pushy water and the need for strength. Also gives me something to aspire to.

Copyright 1996, all rights reserved, Rick Curtis

This page is maintained by Rick Curtis Director, Outdoor Action Program. Rcurtis@princeton.edu