Monday, March 10, 2008

A Creek, A Freeze, and A Misplaced River

At the end of last week the rains were kind enough to come in and do their thing so that the rivers would finally rise up a bit. Snow followed the rains to make the scenery beautiful but putting on wet gear a bit more difficult. We paddled three different rivers and all were a completely unique experience...

Big Creek

Big Creek is a tributary of the Pigeon that I have been wanting to paddle for quite some time. On the drive from Asheville into TN the snow really started to come down. By the time I got to the put-in there was just enough sticking to the trees to make for a spectacular view.

Big Creek sign:

Big Creek Locals:
Trees on the way to the put-in:
The ground was pretty soft and Ryan quickly realized that front wheel drive minivans may be great kayaking vehicles they are not the best in the mud.
Ryan getting stuck -

Finally using my truck for something other than just boat transportation -

Big Creek has a casual two mile hike to the top that lets you see the river on the walk. The river bears a strong resemblance to several runs on the South Island of New Zealand. Continuous boulder gardens with a few well defined drops.

Midnight hole is the largest vertical drop on the run and is a great boof. The pool below the drop is also probably the only pool on the entire river.
Ryan -
Tim -
Myself -

Shortly below Midnight hole is Action Alley - a stretch of 4 great drops and several ledges. Unfortunately we didn't take any photos. Next time I'll be sure to take a little more time and get some pictures.
At the end of the day we all planned on hitting the Cheoh for a 1700 cfs run the next morning. Tim and I headed over to check out the Nanty Cascades and camp nearby and Ryan headed back to Knoxville with the plan being to meet in the AM at the Cheoh takeout.

The Cascades are 3 drops on the Nantahala above the normally rafted section. I've never been there when they were running decently and when we drove up Saturday there looked to be just enough flow but the light was dropping fast and neither us was eager to jump back into wet gear. We also checked out Whiteoak Falls which flows in just above the cascades.

Sunday AM - Defrosting and the Cascades
As the temperature dropped that night to about 21 deg F I was snug in my tent but my wet gear outside was quickly turning into frozen gear (Tim chose to sleep in his wife's car with his gear inside - good for gear but stinky car not so good for wife). When I awoke most everything was frozen solid.

Frozen sprayskirt (neoprene should not do this):

One of my elbow pads had frozen in the puddle that was in the bow of my boat and we had to use the exhaust heat from my truck to defrost it. I had to soak my shoes in the river and then rush them back into the heat of the truck to get them pliable enough to get over my feet.
When we finally de-iced everything the Cascades were still running and we both took our first trip down.

Below are some pics from the three drops.

Horns of God:

Big Kahuna - Probably the most fun of the three. It has a great lead in slide to the main drop.
Tim in the slide:

And the main drop:

Chinese Feet -

Tim in the top drop:

Me in the second drop:

After finally warming up we headed back into cell service. We phoned Ryan who quickly informed us that the Cheoh had risen from 1700 cfs to 3000 cfs!

North Fork of the Payette's Eastern Cousin
On a normal day the Cheoh is a great class IV run that is a step harder for most people than the Ocoee. It has a continous western style feel to it similar to rivers like the Payette or Lochsa. The Cheoh had been a mostly dewatered riverbed until only recently thanks to the efforts of AmericanWhiteWater to secure scheduled releases. AW has also done large amount of work to clean out the trees that grew in the dewatered riverbed and the river has seen a lot of boater traffic ever since.

On this day we were the only 3 boaters there and the river was running at twice the volume any of us had ever paddled it! The entire stretch of river looked to be one very long rapid. Swimming here would be a bad idea which would result in boat and paddler quickly being swept very far downstream.

While Tim and I were running the Cascades, Ryan put on and solo'd a short section from the main waterfall down to the lake. He described it as the biggest thing he'd ever paddled. After setting shuttle all three of us put in below O'Henry's which would give us about 7 miles of full on excitement.

Once on the river we all quickly came to the same conclusion that this was going to be an interesting ride. The normal lines had all dissappeared and lines that looked from the road to be mostly straight through the middle became hole dodging zig zags when on the river.
Scouting 'God's Dam' which we all wisely snuck on the left:

The holes that normally snag a few boaters during the usual releases were absolutely huge at 3000cfs. I found a big one in 'Takeout' but after a few combat rolls managed to surf my way out to the shoulder of the hole. Tim did the same in 'Land of Holes' by digging 15 feet to the shoulder. Both rides were due to trying to make big left to right ferries to avoid holes and just not quite making it.

The river mellowed out for a little bit until the small bridge that marks the start of the lower section. From here down it was one long rapid. We knew that at the end of this was 'Bear Creek Falls' and the runout below which was the section Ryan had run earlier. There was one huge river wide hole in this section to note that luckily all of us managed to punch on the right.
The lead-in to Bear Creek Falls:

Bear Creek Falls usually has two main lines - a straight 8' drop on the left and a twisting tongue down the right. All three of us chose the right line as was much easier to line up. Below the tongue were two holes we planned to miss/punch and then we would have to paddle hard left for the 'west prong line' as the middle line after the falls looked pretty beefy.

Bear Creek Falls with the right tongue at the bottom of the photo:
Ryan paddled out first and then myself and finally Tim. I managed to punch the two holes and paddled like mad for the left. The West Prong Line was big fun waves & holes but after I eddied out at the bottom I saw Ryan's boat upside down making good speed downstream. Tim and I quickly paddled back to the river right to get out on the road and look for Ryan. Fortunately he found us right away. He told us that the first of the two holes had stood him up vertically on his stern and the second flipped him over. He remembers being dragged over rocks before bailing out and swimming hard for the river right bank. His boat ended up well down stream and some helpful passerby's pulled it out for him.

The runout below Bear Creek:

Tim and I continued down threw the remaining rapids which had slightly more defined lines until we happily reached the lake. In the end we paddled the 7 miles in just under an hour and a half. It was exhilarating and exhausting and something I will have no problem waiting a while before attempting again.
All in all it was fantastic weekend.