* SO MUCH, SO CLOSE: Around Washington, we enjoy the good fortune in which the extraordinary is right around the corner. A perfect example is Great Falls, an icon of whitewater paddling. Recently I got the chance to run the Spout, on the Virginia side of the falls, for the first time. The Spout is a thick cataract of water that drops over a wide ledge and pounds into a rock-strewn backwash more than 20 feet below. It is a challenge, to put it mildly. I made the mandatory ferry above the lip, hurtled out and splash-landed in one piece. It was a great thrill, the best so far on whitewater, but the condition of my friend's boat, which cracked and split upon landing, was a reminder of what we were fooling with.

Anyway, chances are if you drop off a lot of waterfalls you're constantly replacing your equipment. A good, low-cost way to do so is at one of the kayak swaps at the Kayak Station at 1041 South Edgewood St. in Arlington. The next one starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and 10 percent of the proceeds are earmarked for the Potomac Conservancy, which puts much effort into protecting the splendor of the Potomac River, without which life in Washington would be hard to imagine. For more information and to volunteer for the swap, contact Jen Schill at schill@potomac.org. Also, the Potomac Conservancy is looking for volunteers to pitch in on Saturday, which happens to be National Public Lands Day. You'll help root out non-native plants and collect trash along Lockhouse 8 on the C&O Canal in Cabin John. Contact Bryan Seipp at seipp@potomac.org.

* WALKING THE EDGE: The Blue Ridge Section of the American Alpine Club will gather for its monthly meeting on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Rhodeside Grill, 1836 Wilson Blvd., in Arlington. The featured speaker will be Phil Boyer, who has climbed in Ecuador, France and Pakistan, among other places. His slide show will focus on trips up Cotopaxi (19,348 feet) and Chimborazo (20,703 feet) in Ecuador. The event is free and open to non-members. For more information, contact Simon Carr (aac_brs@hotmail.com) or Mark Kochte (kochte@stsci.edu). The club's Web site is http://brs.alpineclub.org. . . .

Earth Treks' "Climbers' Rendezvous" continue on Mondays at 6 p.m. at its gyms in Columbia and Timonium, Md. This is the place to find a belay partner and get word on new gear and techniques. For details, visit www.earthtreksclimbing.com.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is looking for volunteers for its trail work day on Oct. 9 at the popular climbing area of Seneca Rocks, W. Va. Free camp sites will be provided at Seneca Shadows Campground. Non-members welcome but be sure to contact Bill Wright at 571-272-1361 beforehand to reserve a spot.

-- John Mullen

mullenj@washpost.com