Trucking the Youghiogheny
Swallow Falls is the initial rapid on the Top Yough. This spectacular spot needs no description. You can see it all from excellent vantage spots in the park.
The vast majority of boaters who carefully examine the 18-foot Swallow Falls will elect to put in on river left just below this drop to enjoy the tamer pleasures of the steep creek whitewater that follows.
A few hundred yards below is seven-foot-high Swallowtail Falls, which is normally run on the right. It develops a nasty hydraulic at some levels and should be scouted. Carry on the left if needed. Just downstream to the left look up at 70-foot Muddy Falls, Maryland's highest.
Good, technical whitewater continues from the falls almost without a letup for the first mile or so. Easily the most notorious rapid on this section is Suckhole (Class V) located about 45 minutes (or one and a half miles) into the trip. This rapid can be recognized by the high boulder at midriver with a nasty-looking sieve of timber and trash in the pulsating gap between it and another boulder to its right.
An exciting (and true) tale is told of the hapless paddler who went for a swim above Suckhole only to find himself trapped under the debris in this nasty little spot. The story has a happy ending, but it would be a hair-raising swim under the Suckhole rocks and strainers.
To avoid this ugly mess, scout Suckhole from river left and then come down midstream over a series of holes, rocks, and waves that try to push you to the left. Work right against this tendency as you approach the high boulder. You'll find a rock on the left bank just before you reach the high boulder in midstream, a small hole just to the right of this rock, and a good eddy just beyond the rock.
You may want to stop in this eddy, but don't drive so close to the rock on the left that you drop in the hole next to it and get disoriented. At lower levels, there's also an eddy on the right of the river not far above the aforementioned trashy sieve.
On the other hand, you could continue without stopping in either eddy, going left of the high boulder in midstream and staying in the center of the chute. Continuing on this route, you descend over steep boulder-studded ledges with holes and waves, including a sizable hole at the bottom (Suckhole).
These waves and holes (especially the bottom one) should be punched hard. A sharp rock divides the channel just above the bottom hydraulic. If you go to the right of this rock, you won't have to punch the large bottom hole. The rapid can be carried easily via an old railroad bed on the right.
If you make it smoothly through Suckhole, it's unlikely that you'll have problems with the remaining whitewater. Take out on river right just below the power plant or for the flatwater trip continue on and take out at the boater's take-out on river right above Sang Run Bridge.Most of the Top Yough rapids can be scouted from the boat. Suckhole is the exception. Those unfamiliar with the approach to Suckhole would be wise to step out and take a good look. Rescue ropes can be set up at various spots where foul-ups might occur. Keep in mind that the nearest hospital emergency room is in Cumberland, more than an hour away by road from the take-out. If you want to carry, there's an old railroad bed on the right.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication