BRINE LINE: Diamond in the Rough

The Diamond in the Rough:

Exploring the Brine Line of Great Falls of the Potomac

By: Bobby “The Dogg” Miller

(For laughs and context be sure to click on the embedded links. You won’t be disappointed.)

Far from most paddlers’ minds, and tucked away in a hidden slot canyon, the Brine Line appears at high water flows as a runnable line amidst the chaos of Great Falls, a true diamond in the rough! Although Great Falls is one of the most popular series of Class 5 drops on the East Coast, few paddlers venture out there when the water gets high, and for good reason. The Brine Line is not your typical line at Great Falls, it is much more serious. It features a tight line with some stout holes and multiple sieves formed by cracks in the cliff walls. For those with the skills to take on this challenge, the Brine Line provides a way to extend the range of runnable water levels, and gives something to look forward to when the levels get high. Hearing that the falls are not shut down when there is lots of water was music to my ears, and I felt a feeling of wonder and excitement at the prospect of running a new line. It was kind of like that time when I thought that the Golden Horseshoe had been driven out of business by hookup apps like Tinder, only to discover that they reopened with a new business model that included specials like Two For One Tuesdays and Fifty Percent Off Fridays! So when I found out the level was perfect, I made plans and headed out to check out the Brine on a brisk and windy spring day. Where there are stout drops, you can bet that the Dogg can be found, firing off SIK lines, getting video, and banging a pot with a wooden spoon all over social media! #LOL!#LMFAO!

Meeting up with me were two very experienced falls runners, Steve McKone and Geoff Calhoun. Geoff has run this section many times, so I was glad to have a paddler along with extensive knowledge of the run. He’s the best around, nothing’s gonna ever keep him down! On this day, I was testing out Dagger’s new innovative, reactive plastic that changes color with your mood. My Nomad started out as lime green to reflect my positive energy and anticipation! We boofed the dam and headed out into the main river. At this level, the main river feels very intimidating, with huge crashing waves abounding in the normal small approach rapids. The many rock islands that are normally scattered haphazardly lay hidden under a murky highway of brown water with exploding whitecaps. The less than clean Potomac water brought with it the distinct taste of hepatitis, common to the DC region. We made our way to Pummel, the first waterfall and the spot where the Brine Line ducks left into a separate channel. We hopped out to have a look and plan our line. By this point, my boat color had changed to blue to reflect my serious mood as we were getting ready to drop this stout!

To prepare my body to take on this endeavor, I decided that I needed an energy boost. I had recently purchased a special energy bar that was made from locally sourced, gluten free, organic, vegan-approved sesame seeds carefully crafted by the hands of free range artisans and guaranteed to give me the strength of 10 men. What? I don’t know what the hell I just said. I devoured this healthy treat with the ravenous nature of a starved Rottweiler and prepared for battle.

The first drop hits the island and fades to the left off a 15-20 foot drop. The landing hits a rock and creates a chaotic rooster tail that is followed quickly by an exploding pillow against the cliff wall. The water then feeds over a 4 foot pourover with a juicy hole and a mushroom boof to get over this. There is a small eddy to recollect in before the channel falls over a steep sloping drop into the Fox Hole, the sight of many backenders and a few anxious surfs! Geoff and Steve went first with me on the bank setting safety. They both came down smoothly, acing the drop and catching the small eddy above the Fox Hole. Steve got out with his rope and Geoff stayed in his boat while I walked up to fire up this minefield of mayhem!

These are the moments the Dogg lives for, so I lined up my boat with the island and drove across the curler. I dropped cleanly over the falls and blasted through the exploding water at the bottom. I was feeling good about my line when suddenly my bow turned to the side and I hit the breaking wave in front of the wall at a strange angle. This flipped me immediately, but I went with it, rolling quickly. I was up against the wall with little room to use my paddle and I flipped back over. With the next drop fast approaching, I rolled again as I went over the pourover ledge. I landed in the hole at the bottom and was immediately pulled in for a sidesurf. This was not in the plan! I had prepared for a successful run and things had gone horribly awry! Well, everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth, and Great Falls was on the verge of delivering a haymaker! The wheels were coming off the bus! The building was on fire! I was stuck in the hole between the cliff wall on the left and a protruding piece of rock that created the pourover. To make things more grim, I had the notorious Fox Hole just downstream with the outflow feeding out into the main flow of the Potomac above Horseshoe Falls! The realization of what a dire situation I was in made me feel horror-struck! I was gripped so tight that you could have stuck a piece of coal up my butt and it would have come back out as a diamond! I was facing the island where Geoff and Steve were positioned for safety. I paddled forward, trying to get around the rock that blocked my exit. I ground my hull against the rock, trying to move out of the sidesurf. I was able to get my bow to start to turn downstream so I immediately lined up an upstream stroke and popped an off angle backender! I could feel that I was free of the hole and moving downstream, only a slightly comforting feeling with the Fox Hole looming. I rolled and straightened up with just enough time to take a couple strokes as I went over the ledge and punched through the Fox Hole. I eddied left, happy that I was, for the time being, out of trouble, but thoroughly disappointed with my run. Well, there would be plenty of time later to contemplate that on the Tree of Woe, but I still had Horseshoe Falls to contend with! I noticed that my boat color had changed to grey to reflect my disappointment and apprehension. To calm my nerves, I got out on the rocks and took out my Cool-Down Kit. I blew bubbles, stared at a water bottle full of glitter, and spun my Fidget Spinner. The momentum of the spinner provided a pleasing sensory experience and soon I was ready to paddle again.

The next move involved either heading into the main flow and over a small boily drop, or sneaking left over 3 foot pourover. Either way, you wanted to end up in an eddy on the left, to set up for Horsheshoe Falls. Geoff and Steve went out into main flow, but Steve flipped and ended up having to run the left side of Horseshoe Falls, where some huge holes develop! Thankfully, he was able to keep speed and punch through, and waited for us in the eddy below. I decided that the lower volume pourover boof was looking pretty good at this point, so I went left and boofed into the eddy. The eddy is chaotic with the river roaring by like an out of control freight train about to fly off the tracks.

The eddyline was violently jostling up and down like an enraged bull. This maelstrom created a nearly impossible eddy fence to cross! Geoff pealed out charging hard and made the ferry out to the middle. I paddled hard to shoot across the eddy fence but caught a weird surge that killed some of my speed. At this point, I was out in the flow and I knew that I had reached the point of no return! There was absolutely no way to get back into the eddy! I was feeling like a solitary pine tree in the middle of an avalanche! I had to make that ferry! I kept digging in hard and spotted a breaking wave that gave me a glimmer of hope. I hit the break and used it to propel myself across the flow and onto the line! Just when you thought that Great Falls was going to reach up and pull the Dogg down to the nether, I stuck the necessary move! DAGGER!!! Mr. Momentum had switched his address and I had the advantage! Let me turn that down and crank this up! WHAT!?! WHAT!?! I cruised over the middle of Horseshoe Falls and into the massive breaking wave at the bottom. I hit the green tongue in the center and cruised through all the exploding water and onward through the gigantic runout waves that continued around the bend through the bottom of O Deck. I threw my fist up in celebration at what is an incredible section of rapids! My boat was bright red from the feeling of euphoria I was experiencing! I hadn’t felt a high this good since I ate Popeye’s chicken in Martinsburg, WV!

Soon, Steve and Geoff joined me in the gradually calming water at the start of Mather Gorge. We crossed the outflow of the Fishladder and were all smiles as we paddled across the pool at Sandy Beach. We were stoked at having run such an awesome section of Great Falls. The sheer power of the river through here is awe-inspiring and I am glad to join the ranks of those that test the Falls at higher flows. I definitely think this is the most challenging section of the Falls, worthy of the utmost respect, and can’t wait to go back to take on these waters again.

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