Roaring Branch

River of the month #52

author: Pat Reilly
date: September 2002

Gunpowder Falls, Rattling Creek, Tumbling Run, Roaring Branch – These are all real examples of local creek names. You’ve just got to love a stream with a word like “falls”, “rattling”, “tumbling” or “roaring” in its name. Sort of lets you know what to expect – namely whitewater! And Lycoming County’s Roaring Branch lives up to its name.

When we paddled Roaring Branch during a May 2002 trip, it was actually the consolation prize. Kris Wolpert and myself had chased heavy precipitation north of Williamsport looking to boat Rock Run. But bridge construction prevented us from accessing Rock Run’s watershed. So we headed over to nearby Roaring Branch. Roaring Branch is one of two similar sized forks of Lycoming Creek that form its headwaters. Rock Run enters Lycoming Creek a few miles downstream from Roaring Branch. Rock Run is getting a reputation among creek boaters as the creek to hit when the rains really let loose in north central Pa. It features a series of waterfalls, some of which are runable.

Roaring Branch is clearly overshadowed by it’s sister creek, Rock Run, which is a shame, since Roaring Branch is also an exceptional run, especially for Pennsylvania, not known as a creekin’ state. My overwhelming memory of Roaring Branch is of diagonal ledges, lots of ‘em, and my overriding thought that day was, ‘I can’t believe this is Pennsylvania’. I’ve never seen anything in Pa. that has a streambed quite like Roaring Branch.

We put in at the bridge just up from the confluence with Brion Run. The level was actually inadequate at the bridge but there was enough water after the confluence where Brion Run doubles the volume. This makes for about 5 and a half miles of creek with an overall gradient of 85 feet per mile. Keep in mind that this is a very small creek; too small to make it into Ed Gertler’s ‘Keystone Canoeing’. So 85 feet per mile is not all that steep.

Most of the time you’re bopping along over a cobble bottom trout stream with mild gradient. Until you come to a ledge. Virtually all the rapids on this creek are comprised of ledges. And most of the ledges run diagonally across the creek with some even running parallel with the creek bed! This makes for interesting rapids. And it usually presents the paddler with multiple routes, not normal for a creek this small. Most ledges are in the 3 to 5 foot range and usually end in a pool or quiet water. A few spots with multiple ledges form rapids that drop 10 to 15 feet. Cool!

The shuttle road parallels the creek but you wouldn’t know it. The road is high above you during the middle of the trip where things really get ‘gorged up’. The scenery gets downright stunning as the gorge walls narrow to form a 25-foot wide canyon at one point. With thick ferns hanging from the cliff walls and wild azalea blooming among the hemlocks at the top of the gorge it reminded me somewhat of the lush Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

Additional impressive rock formations come into view after the little ‘slot’ canyon as the rapids continue in earnest. This section has a mile that drops 125 feet. Now we’re creekin’! I remember boofing over a 5-foot ledge, making a hard right hand turn and running between parallel ledges before swishing down through a pair of really tight chutes and blasting through a big pillow of white foam. Wow! Are we still in Pa.?

This segment reminded me a bit of an extra-steep Muddy Creek, but without the characteristic schist. I know not what kind of rock forms Roaring Branch’s ledges but it’s not particularly abrasive and it’s definitely not schist that leaves those sparkling little flecks in your boat. Someday I’ll learn some geology. You just can’t help but get interested in rock if you paddle whitewater. Kris must have been thinking along the same lines as he referred to this section as Muddy Creek on steroids.

However you refer to it, Roaring Branch is one special creek. But how do you catch it up? Well, look for at least 1.5 inches of rain in the creek’s basin, more if in summer. And get there quickly. Roaring Branch has a watershed of only about 25 square miles. We took off work and ran up on a Tuesday after a cold front had stalled along Interstate 80 and caused hard rain for 2 days. I would estimate that the watershed received at least 2 inches within those 2 days. Lycoming Creek was running at 6.2 feet at the USGS gauge near Trout Run. The level on Roaring Branch was minimal but you probably want a minimal level for the first time. I would hate to see the hydraulics generated by some of those ledges if the creek was really thumping!

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2002 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.