The Dangerous Potomac River

Consider this post a public service announcement.

Usually it’s pretty peaceful in the Potomac Gorge – sure, you can hear some airplanes and depending on where you are, maybe traffic on the Beltway, or a boat on the water or equipment running on the other side – but usually it’s just the birds and fellow hikers.


This past Saturday, Steve and I hit Billy Goat B early in the morning, and by 9:30 or so the quiet was being interrupted by a US Park Police helicopter flying low over the river.

One or two passes, and I assume it’s training.  But this was continual.  When we reached the Old Anglers Inn boat ramp, we saw local search and rescue vehicles (trucks, boat trailers), bags of gear, and one uniformed man.  So I asked.  And sure enough, the first drowning of the year had happened.  Assumed drowning, that is: they were looking for the body.  The other swimmer had made it to shore.


Many access points in the Gorge are posted with warnings about the river; it doesn’t always look like much, but it is a wild river and the unusual geology of the region leads to unusual hydrology, with deceptive currents that kill about six unwary people a year.

Did you know that the Potomac Gorge is a world-class kayaking area?  Many fine athletes train there.  I don’t think they’re the ones who die. It’s the casual users who wade in for a quick swim who get swept away.

Please don’t be one of them.

My condolences to the family of the drowned man.  May he rest in peace.

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