First Descent: Savage River

The postcard from the dam keeper said the river was running 400cfs.

John Sweet had left that postcard while on a scouting trip of the river in December 1964. Long distance calls were expensive, and 130 miles lay between the dam and State College, so a postcard was the only reasonable option. And now over a year later it was paying off.

It came mid-week, saying the river was running 400cfs and would be running 600cfs the next day. John had scouted the river twice, both times when the river was low. He knew there was a road along the river, so it was accessible. And he had drawn the lines across the topo map; the drop of gradient marked in red. There was whitewater worth running below the dam, if only there was water.

Finally, it was Saturday. The distractions of class and work no longer stood in the way. He gathered Bill Bickham and Rick Rigg. A long drive down US-220 was all that stood between them and the next adventure.

Wildwater West Virginia says Joe Monahan made the first descent of the Savage in 1968.

Whether Bill and John were the first ones down in 1966 is hard to say. The paddling community was fragmented back then; small groups ran rivers together and only occasionally saw each other at slalom races. And the guidebooks were half-filled with runs nobody had even attempted yet. While John and Bill may have been first, Joe popularized the river. First, by bribing the dam keeper with cases of beer to arrange hour long releases, and later by organizing the first slalom race in 1968. Of the 26 people that signed up for that first race, only 5 finished the course.

*special thanks to Bill Bickham, John Sweet, and Jon Nelson for their help