|I think Adriene is excited about the day.|
For more than forty years it's been illegal to paddle the upper reaches of the Chattooga river (huge thanks AW!), and besides me, no one else in the group had ever paddled the upper sections before so it seemed like it would be irresponsible of me not to go along. Especially given the perfect levels (about 700 cfs at Burrel's Ford). As I was chatting with Adriene on the phone it became clear that she didn't really understand that paddling all 15 miles of the newly opened sections of river was going to be a challenge, not because of the hard rapids, but because of the miles, the portages, the hikes, and the rapids. After I said, "ok its going to be a long day." She said, "and if we get done quickly we can go do Overflow. Oh and we want to get an early start so we can get back and cook a nice curry dinner!"
At that point I decided I better brush up on my memories of the run and trails along the river, just in case. There are some good maps on the American Whitewater page that I started pouring over.
I packed extra water, Snickers bars, fleece, a headlamp, and a little vitamin i. I knew we would be ok because there is trail along 80% of the run so we could get out no matter how badly we got delayed, but, still... I have done this trip twice before and each time we got off the river in the dark and now that it's legal having to hike in two miles and out nearly a mile to actually be legal makes it that much harder. So I had a feeling we weren't going to be running Overflow or making a nice Curry for dinner.
Yes we went too far. AW says if you see the handrail you've gone too far. :) oops
It was a deceptively cold day. It was KAVU as hell out there but when we stepped out of the car at the put-in there was ice all over the parking area and it was 28 degrees. Fortunately we were going to be hiking for a bit to get warm. The two mile hike in along the Chattooga River Trail is fairly easy but it is uphill the first half and then along the ridge and down to the river the second half. We had a touch of confusion about exactly where to put-in and we didn't want to ruffle any private land owner feathers so we went a little further down than we had to. I later read the American Whitewater page for the upper section a little more closely and its pretty clear. I should have studied harder. I guess I could say that about college too, but I was too busy sneaking off to go paddling rather than getting to class all the time.
|First Falls, a nice little starter slide|
The first time I did this section, let's just say it was a little while ago, our group rolled up to the Burrel's Ford take-out of section 0 in Beaz's land yacht of a car, loaded down with gear for 5, there sitting in the parking lot was a ranger. He looked a little bored but perked up when he saw us drive in. He knew exactly why we were there and I actually knew the guy because at the time I was guiding on the Chattooga a bunch and saw him at the river often.
The conversation went like this:
"What are you guys up to?"
"Ummm going kayaking?"
"You know this section is illegal don't you?"
"Ummm yes. What happens if we get caught running it?"
"Its a $500 fine."
"$500 dollars per person or could we pay it all together?" I was trying to decide if that would be worth the risk.
The ranger smiled and said, "$500 a person", and turned away to talk with some other folks. We schemed in the car about what we were gonna do.
The ranger walked back over to us and said with a very deliberate tone. "If. I. catch. you. I am gonna fine you $500 dollars. You guys have a good day", and he walked away.
"THANKS", I said, trying to keep my excitement somewhat controlled. He had given us the green light without having to say it.
|Log Jam Portage|
|Slide in amongst the Log Jam|
The Upper sections of the Chattooga have a bit of an ominous feel when you first get out there. When we used to run them in the past it was unsettling because you were sneaking around and where we put in you paddled in on a tiny river/ creek, ducking through the rhodos all the way to the lip of the rapids. From the new put-in, the first thing you run into is a huge log jam that you have to portage over, down, and through to a seal launch amongst the logs and rocks. These sections just aren't "normal" in the southeast. We are used to our river runs being accesible, well manicured, even the portages on most of our runs are fairly easy but here on the upper you start with a fairly long hike into the Nantahala National Forest, portage through a log jam, the rapids have wood in them that is illegal to remove, and you know at any one time you might have to hike several miles to get to a road or phone. It gives it the feel of a remote run anywhere in the world not the well lapped routes of the Southeast.
|No Kayaks is a stupid name. Can't we come up with something else? How about Exit from Log Jam?|
|Dropping into the Alleyway.|
After you get through the initial worries of the hiking and portaging the log jam and immediately get into a couple of cool drops you settle down a little. The river is spectacularly beautiful. It is classic southeast creeking. If you are from the south you know it well: thick rhodo along the river, moss-covered boulders, and sweet, tight, whitewater. But all the time, in the back of your mind, you feel just a little uneasy. Logs, a few sieves, and the remoteness keep you on your toes. Though the rapids aren't difficult, some of the consequences are, and the potential for a long walk out in the dark and cold of winter remind you to keep moving downstream.
|The Waterfall in the Alleyway|
When I was a kid I went to a camp in Highlands N.C. at the very top of the Chattooga watershed. My brother and I worked for a decade there, at The Mountain. We hiked along most of the upper reaches of the river along the upper Chattooga, Overflow, Holcombe, Big Creek and many others. We paddled our first rapids on the West Fork and Section 2 and though I only lived at the river for a few years as a raft guide I still call this place home. I love the fact that the first times I paddled most any of the upper Chattooga drainages I didn't realize that I was floating through places that during the hot summer months as a kid, I swam under those waterfalls, and through the potholes. Now when I return to the Chattooga I get to touch Ellicott's rock, jump off of Singley's, and slide down Big Bend falls in a different way. It's good to be home again.
|My brother at the put-in for section 2 of the Chattoga (1980), just a couple miles from our take-out the other day.|
If you head over to do the Upper Chattooga:
1. The AW page has good instructions on how to get to the Put-In and Take-Outs of all the sections. Read them more carefully than I did.
2. The trails are not totally obvious, read the hiking directions on the AW pages.
3. Pay attention to Don't Go Left. You can go left but its stupid and a little sketchy. Going right looks horrible with the wood that is there right now but it is fine; go straight over the hump on the right side. You will probably spot the rapid if you look for a fairly innocuous drop maybe a half mile down from the Log Jam with fairly large wood coming in from the right that looks like it will make the right side scary to run.
4. Trails run along most of the river. Study them and you'll find your evac plans aren't too bad.
5. If you aren't comfortable running on beta from others scouting don't try to do the whole thing.
6. Section 1 is really nice, mostly scenic but there are some good rapids and there is wood involved. The last "Rock Gorge" is a really sweet section of whitewater.
7. The easiest hike out trail is a couple hundred yards down from Lick Log Creek. You can hike directly from the confluence of Lick Log Creek with the river but it's more difficult.
8. On January 19th it got too dark to paddle without a headlamp at 6:19 pm.
8. On January 19th it got too dark to paddle without a headlamp at 6:19 pm.
|Corey on the right side of Bull Pen Bridge rapid.|
|Yonton dropping into Super Corkscrew on Section 0|
|Snowy in Rock in the hole in the wall.|
|Adriene heading into one of the final drop, Harvey Wallbanger|
|6 hrs, 15 miles of paddling, 3 miles of hiking, an awesome day.|
Make sure to get out and do this somewhat unknown classic.