Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sometimes You ARE the Show

Indoor Camping
In late September I kayaked with a group of experienced paddlers from the Harrisburg Pennsylvania area. We were all staying at Lee's house in Asheville. Earlier in the year Lee moved from Harrisburg to Asheville. When Lee lived in Harrisburg, he was in the same paddling club as the guys who came down from Pennsylvania. The group from Pennsylvania consisted of John, Mark, Neil, and Vern. Vern was the only open boater in the group.

Lee's wife was concerned about the accommodations for so many guests. Lee assured her that boaters aren't fussy. They are happy for a dry place to sleep, to be able to walk down the hall to a bathroom, and having a place to hang up gear is a bonus.

I had planned to camp, but Lee invited me to stay at his place. I didn't want to impose, but I figured making it easier to organize in the morning made it less of an imposition (and cell phone coverage in the mountains can be sketchy). I had my sleeping bag, pad, pillows, and I camped in the media room. Sunday morning I really appreciated the indoor camping since it started pouring at 1 am and didn't stop until 7 am. I was happy to not have to deal with a wet tent and to break camp in the rain. It rained off and on all day Sunday. This was the same weather system that caused flooding in Georgia and North Carolina.

Saturday - French Broad Section 9.
Saturday we were going to run section 9 of the French Broad river all the way to Hot Springs. I had run section 9 once before in my play boat, a Jackson All Star. That run was fine, but the level was lower and we got off earlier at Stackhouse.

We dropped off the gear at the putin at Barnard. While waiting for the shuttle to be set, we noticed that there was someone with a SEA kayak on the river! I told the sea kayaker that he should join our group. We could watch out for him and I wanted to see the show. He declined since he was already with a couple of whitewater boaters.

Sea kayaker on the French Broad

Lee posted that we were running the French Broad, so we did pick up a few more people: Richard, Bob, and Judith.

We were going to Hot Springs, which includes a couple of bigger rapids: kayaker's ledge and a class IV: Frank Bell's rapid.

While we stopped for a lunch break, Judith asked me where I was from. I said "Apex". She replied "Do you go to school near there?" I smiled and said "You are too nice. I am MUCH older than you think I am.".

Nothing very exciting happened up to Stackhouse other than seeing an outward bound canoe pinned to a rock (and they didn't want advice/help to unpin it). Apparently pinball rapid can be difficult (go right of the pinball rock), but the higher water level must have made it easier than normal. This was my first time through the rapid because we took the sneak route on my first trip. We had some less experienced boaters in the group at the time.

We came to Kayaker's ledge and got out to scout it. Do we go to the right or to the left? Richard decided to try the right line. Richard had been sketchy all day with his boat control. He made it, but barely. Only his large boat kept him from being flipped and he bobbled quite a bit.

Kayaker's Ledge on the French Broad

We then watched John take the left line, which is a simple boof over the tongue of water. I went through the left side just fine. Lee said, however, that at a slightly higher water level, my tiny low volume boat wouldn't have made it over cleanly.

Then we came up to Frank Bell's rapid, a solid class IV. One guide book breathlessly claims that it is a class V, which is bunk. We got out to scout the rapid, which required walking through a lot of underbrush and walking along the railroad tracks that parallel the river. We decided to go through single file through the rapid and determined the running order. I was to follow Mark.

Mark went through the first part of the rapid and went into an eddy. I followed Mark into the eddy. Then Richard came in and the eddy was full. More people were getting ready to join us, so someone had to leave. Mark didn't leave, so off I went. I should have waited and followed Mark!

I found out later that Lee, who has a much bigger C1 kayak, had trouble getting through the big hole in the rapid. I was doomed!

I went right into the big hole, and then I put on a show. I immediately went end over end. Next I was rotated side to side (window shaded), holding onto the paddle the whole time (don't let go, you need that). People upstream could see my paddle coming up each time I was rotated, and they were all thinking "It sure sucks to be you". These would be great rodeo moves if they were planned and controlled. I rolled myself up, but was facing upstream and that's when I realized I was in the hole. I surfed the hole a few seconds while I tried to figure out where to go, then I was flipped again. I rolled up again, then I was window shaded a few more times. I had enough of that! I bailed out and then had a LONG swim under water through the rest of the rapid. The water was murky from the rain, so I couldn't see anything and I couldn't figure out where the surface was. I finally popped up, sputtering water. Lee was there and I grabbed the back of his boat. Everyone asked if I was ok, I sponged out the water from my boat (no drain plug in the Jackson) and I got back in. This was my first swim in the French Broad.

After that experience, I'd rate it a SEVEN (as in crank it up to 11)!

The rest of the trip uneventful, even at "surprise rapid" near the take out. Many rivers have a last rapid before the take out that can be a "surprise", especially if you are tired.

On the way home we had to stop at a grocery store for coffee (no one in Lee's house drinks coffee!!) and flowers for Lee's wife. Lee's wife is from the Ukraine, and in the Ukraine all house guests are expected to bring flowers as a hostess gift. You also have to be careful about the type and number of flowers. For example, an even number of roses represents death. I went with some cut flowers, which had carnations and other flowers. Lee assured me that it was a safe option.

Sunday - Upper Green
Sunday morning we had a hard time figuring out where to go. Lee wouldn't be joining us since his knees were bothering him. The Ocoee was running since it's dam released, but it's a three hour drive from Lee's house (I think more like 2 - 2 1/2). That would also make me have a 6 hour drive back home. The Chattooga was running, but it was getting to a scary high level and was rising. I had only been on the Chattooga once at a low level, so I couldn't be a guide. We settled on going to the upper Green, which was close to Lee's house and Lee would help set shuttle. Lee claimed it was a class I/II with some class III drops. I would go home after that and the other guys could run something else in the afternoon.

Sunday I brought my bigger kayak, the Liquid Logic Lil Joe. It has more volume, making it more stable. I didn't want to put on another big show.

It rained all day, but that was fine. Rain is only a problem when you are loading gear and want to get into dry clothes.

On the Green, I went into a silly hole with the wrong boat angle, and got flipped. I was upside down in shallow water and was banged up on the rocky bottom. I couldn't get in a good roll setup position and it looked like more rapids were coming up, so I bailed. I was able to get on top of my boat and still had my paddle. I pushed the boat towards the shore, but got it hung up on a tree. Mark put a line on the boat and helped me turn it over, put over his boat, and move it up and down to get the water out. This is why you put air bags in the boat, to keep the water out. Mark asked if I had air bags. If I said no, I think he would have unclipped me and let me deal with the water myself.

Two swims in one weekend, a new record for me. My last swim was back in April.

We came to the first big drop and got out to scout it. I liked a line on the right side. There was a line on the left, but it looked more difficult and the consequences for screwing up looked worse. John tried the left line. He hit a rock (which dented his boat), he was flipped, and had to roll back up. We all decided to go RIGHT. I ran it perfectly and Vern was able to get a video of my run (posted at the bottom of this blog entry). I was happy that I was able to properly read the water and figure out a good line to take.

The second big drop came later, but we almost didn't stop in time. John got out and worked his way through the brush so that he could get a good look. He said that there was a nice line down the center. However, when I went, I was too far to the right of the correct line. I was flipped in the middle of the rapid, but rolled back up and was on my way. I told everyone that I wanted to prove that I had a combat roll.

While on the river we saw several beautiful waterfalls that emptied into the Green. The Green itself is gorgeous. It's a narrow river with lots of trees and no development along it since much of it is in game lands. On my way from the putin after the run, I saw a line of wild turkeys going across the road. They stopped in front of my car to shake the rain off.

We crossed under the I-26 bridge which is way, way, WAY above the river and started looking for the take out. We were to look for a tree with plastic ribbons tied to it on river left. You don't want to go too far, or you end up in the Green Narrows. The Green narrows has class IV - V rapids and two rapids rated at V+. After a couple of false stops, we found the takeout. Then we discovered that it's a 6/10 of a mile carry up an eroded trail, then becomes a logging road, to the vehicles. LEE! We trudged up the hill and Lee was waiting for us. What, no refreshments in the shuttle?!

I changed into dry clothes, got my car, loaded up gear, and headed back home. I was home in time for dinner.

Click here for more pictures.

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