Four years ago, Catharine Hull started whitewater kayaking in order to spend time with her then-boyfriend. Since then, she’s married and fallen in love with a new sport. As a kayaker, she has progressed from a Class 1 paddler to a competitive Class 5 kayaker and now she takes her boat (or more precisely, one of her many boats) out on the water year round.
Name: Catherine Hull
Family: Husband, Ben Schott
Occupation: Registered nurse
Primary sport: Whitewater kayaking
I understand your first date involved white water.
I was living in Canada at the time and our first date was a two-person rafting trip on the Moose River in Upstate New York. Half-way down we flipped the raft and I broke my thumb but didn’t realize it. I went back to work the next morning as a nurse and during my shift I had to catch a baby bare-handed with a broken thumb.
Did that turn you off of Ben or kayaking?
For some reason I kept dating Ben and kept returning to whitewater. Two years later we did that same river in a tandem kayak. We had a sloppy run and eventually made it to the top of one of the last drops of the section; a 15-foot waterfall called Agers Falls. As we were sitting there staring at the horizon line, I turned around from the front of the boat to look at Ben and told him I was nervous. He looked at me with a very serious expression and said he was too, which scared me since he’s a solid Class 5 boater. It turns out his nerves were from an entirely different source. We nailed the line on the falls and landed it to a crowd of cheering people, followed by Ben getting down on one knee and proposing. That was followed by an exuberant “yes” from me, and an awkward attempt at a kiss in full-face helmets.
What are your favorite whitewater kayaking venues in Vermont?
Number one has to be the New Haven Ledges. It’s a really accessible section of quality Class 4 whitewater. It’s continuous and it has waterfalls and boulder gardens. It’s easy to get to so it’s something you can do before or after work. I learned to kayak on the Mad River in Moretown. It has decent whitewater and tends to hold water pretty well. It’s mostly Class 3. Vermont is actually pretty amazing because of all the mountains. In addition to the big rivers, the spring runoff opens up all these little micro-creeks. I got on the Sterling Brook along the Mountain Road in Stowe for the first time last year. Another one is Patterson Brook in Granville. Some of those creeks flash up and run for only two or three hours.
How do you find out when the rivers are running?
I belong to the Vermont Paddlers Club which has a message board and a Facebook page where people share information. One of our members, Ryan McCall, has been working with American Whitewater to help us get notified of dam releases. A lot of dams are going up for relicensing and many have a recreational component. Although fishing is part of that, letting kayakers know about releases is another way for them to meet their obligation. It’s a pretty informal process but Ryan gets notified of releases and then he notifies the club. Last year, Green River had a few good releases thanks to the snowmelt. The Missisquoi in Sheldon Springs is another one. The West River in southern Vermont has a big release once a year – usually on the same weekend in September – and there’s a festival at that time. The West River often has other releases but that’s the big one.
What if you’re new to the sport?
The Vermont Paddlers Club is also a great way to get introduced to the sport. They have beginners’ clinics and they run all levels of trips from Class 1 to Class 5. They have an annual trip to West Virginia for ten days in the spring. Pretty much every weekend there is some sort of trip or activity.
What do you do in winter?
I ski a little bit and I switch over to running and try to enjoy my down time. We don’t put away the kayaks, though. We kayak year round. There are some rivers like the Winnipesaukee which are always open. There are some ice shelves but you work around them. Closer to home we kayak at Chase Mills in Winooski. That stays open pretty much all winter. Sometimes when we’re done we have to jump in the river to thaw out our life vests so we can take them off.
Tell us about your job.
I work 12-hour night shifts at the University of Vermont Medical Center doing labor and delivery. It’s a wonderful job and it’s a sport person’s dream schedule. It’s daylight when I get off from work so I can get out and enjoy the day. The problem is that whitewater kayaking is a sport where you need other people and most kayakers have day jobs. I’ve found that I’m the person who gets called when other kayakers have a random day off.
What has been your most challenging kayak trip?
The one that was most challenging emotionally and mentally was a trip I did with my husband for my 30th birthday. We went to a remote river in Nova Scotia that he had done but I hadn’t. We went from Cape Breton Islands to the ocean. It took us two days so we had all our gear in our boats. It was challenging because there’s a section in the middle that has an entrance waterfall that’s 20 feet and an exit waterfall and in between there are sheer walls on either side. Once you go in, you’re committed. There were also some boulder gardens and technical rapids. The remoteness was also a challenge. The only other way out is a four-day hike. Since we did the entire section, not just the rapids, there were sections where we had to drag our boats and got eaten by mosquitoes. Since we were camping it became an interesting experience in packing. We had to cram a lot in but also think about the balance. We didn’t take much. We slept in hammocks and ate gorp and beef jerky.
VS: Do you have other boats or just whitewater kayaks?
CH: We have a canoe that we don’t use very often and a few inflatable kayaks for friends. We have a pile of about 14 whitewater kayaks. There are different types. We have some play boats that are five to six feet long for places like the Lachine Rapids in the St. Lawrence River. They have big waves that you can surf on and some kayakers can also do tricks and spins. You need big volume for that. Vermont rivers are pretty shallow so you might land on rocks if you did tricks. We also have the longer, more traditional boats.
VS: Why do you enjoy it so much?
CH: The adrenaline is kind of wonderful. When you’re on the river it’s all consuming; partially from the adrenaline and partially because it’s such a busy sport. It’s a real escape. It’s also a sport that you can’t do on your own so you build relationships with people from all walks of life.