Monday, July 26, 2010

WOO! Weekend of Ocoee

Kevin going through double trouble rapid on the Ocoee RiverMy kayaking friend John posted an Ocoee trip on the Carolina Canoe Club's trip list for late July. The trip would only consist of John and I on Saturday and possibly additional people on Sunday. I had been able to get on the Ocoee three times during week of rivers and I wanted to become more familiar and comfortable with the river.

John and I carpooled since there wouldn't be a problem running shuttle on the Ocoee with just one vehicle. The highway runs along the river, so setting shuttle is easy. There are so many paddlers around, it is not difficult or dangerous to hitch a ride.

I picked up John after work on Friday and we were on our way. We arrived at Thunder Rock Campground around 11 pm. When we crossed the bridge over the Ocoee to the campground, we could see in the moonlight that the river was running! Since the flume for the hydro plant is broken and under repair, TVA is trying to draw down water from the lakes behind the dams.

The campground does not take reservations, so it's first come, first serve. Of course, every campsite was taken.

We went to Plan B. I had printed info on some hotels in Murphy such as Hampton and Holiday Inn Express. All of the hotels were full. This exercise did, however, make me glad to have changed cell phone plans to Verizon. John's AT&T phone did not get any reception around the Ocoee.

Now it was time for plan C, which was the Chilhowee Campground. This campground required us to go further down the highway and 7.3 miles up a mountain on a fire road (paved at least). However, it was a lot of switch back turns, which was rough to do in the dark after a long day. The road was paved, but not marked.

The campground has sections A through F. We didn't want A and B since there was no need to play extra for electrical hook ups, so we started at C. All of the sites were full. D, nothing. E, nothing. F, nothing until I came to the LAST site, which I almost went past.

I don't know what plan D would have been.

Friday night's camping wasn't bad since it had cooled down by the time we went to bed, plus it had been a long day. Saturday night, however, was rough because it was hot until about 3:00 am.

Don't Call it Slap Chop Rapid

Run Number One
When we got up Saturday morning, we discovered that John had left his food supplies at home. I offered to share mine since a Cliff bar wouldn't be enough for breakfast. We ended up going out for breakfast at a restaurant in McCaysville Georgia. I had a full spread: French toast, bacon, grits, fresh cantelope, coffee, hash browns.
Ocoee River
On the way to breakfast, we drove along the river. We could see it was really high, especially at tablesaw rapid. The Ocoee was rocking! Saturdays are scheduled upper and middle releases, so the middle usually has around 1500 cfs. We later discovered that the amount that day was closer to 2200 cfs. This was due to the fact that everything was open and releasing water.

But where WAS everyone? Kayakers aren't morning people, but the river was running all night and it was really high. There should be lots of people to take advantage of the unusually high release! What did they know that we didn't know?!

At the put in, John did see one kayaker take his small play boat, look at the water, then go back for a much bigger boat. At the put in we ran into Robert, another CCC member. He looked at my kayak, a Liquid Logic Lil Joe, and said "I'm glad *I* have a bigger boat". uh oh. The Lil Joe is a river runner, so it SHOULD be ok.

After unloading gear, I drove the car to the take out. I got a ride in the back of a pickup with other paddlers.

This was going to be my first time running the entrance rapid, with the added difficulty of a higher water flow. The water was so high, it was pouring onto the ramp you walk down from the top of the dam to the river. It looked even bigger when you were standing next to it versus scouting it from above. I was thinking of Beaker from the Muppets.

The good news was, there we NO rafts on the ramp to contend with. It made starting much easier since you could get in your boat, put on your spray skirt, and go into the current without dodging rafts. In fact, we saw relatively few rafts all day, which is unusual. We encountered a conga line of rafts only a couple of times all day.

John started first so that he could get high in the eddy and be in position in case I blew the ferry. I looked at the fast flow, swallowed hard, tried to be sure I had a good boat angle, then took off. I knew where I needed to be and I didn't mess around. You have to make a couple of ferries across the fast moving water and get to river left, or you could end up in a monster hole known as Grumpies. The water was very pushy so I didn't try to eddy out before Grumpies. When I headed down, John said to himself "Well, there he goes..."

John gave me kudos for leading most of the way down the river that day. There are only a couple of rapids that you need to scout, and we sneak those. The rest is read and run. You just don't follow the raft lines because they purposely go into the bigger holes.

I had six or seven combat rolls on the first run. John was very happy that I go to roll practice since I came up every time. The water was pushy and there were only the two of us most of the time, so a rescue would have been tricky. A long swim would be likely and you'd could lose gear. The eddies were also smaller and more squirly, so it made for a fast run.

Before we got to the slice and dice rapid, John said we needed to modernize the name and call it "slap chop". John went through first and said later that he flipped and rolled. I came to the last part of the rapid and I'm sure I was airborne a bit before being flipped. I held on for a bit upside down for things to calm down, then rolled back up. The rapid must not want a new name.

I made the required ferry to avoid double suck, but I managed to get flipped in the sneak. I banged against the rocks, so I may have put more scratches on my helmet.

Below double suck it became a raft convention. Rafts were all over the place! They blocked the way we would normally go, so we ended up a little more river center. John went through a hole and said to himself "Oh, that wasn't good". I came into the hole, and it grabbed the back of my boat and wouldn't let me go. I paddled like mad, but it pulled me into the hole and flipped me. John could hear me saying "sh*t, sh*t, sh*t". The hole didn't keep me, so I rolled up and went on my way.

Next was Hell's Half Mile, where you normally dodge rocks and holes. There was a lot more water, so there were no rocks, just holes and even bigger holes. It was a fun, wild wet ride. I punched through quite a few holes and was stern squirted a couple of times.

We came up to tablesaw, and it was huge. It was a big water roller coaster where you went up on the huge waves. John said there was a displacement wave since it moved him several feet to the side.

Hell Hole was quite big, so I only clipped it. Below Hell Hole was a wave train of large waves, guiding you more to the center of the river and into a big hole in the center of the next rapid, powerhouse. I love wave trains, so I rode them too far. I ended up in the big hole, flipped, was chundered awhile, then was let go. I rolled and went on my way.

After doing the long flat water lake paddle at the end, we loaded up gear to do a second run. We stopped at Go Forth creek for lunch since it had shade.

Run Number Two
The water level did go down slightly for our second run. We again were lucky and didn't have to contend with rafts on the ramp at the start. I ran the entrance rapid, but this time I was a little too far out into the current. I made the ferry, but wasn't quite where I wanted to be.

In the second run, I only had two combat rolls. The second combat roll was the important one since it was in a clutch situation. I somehow managed to flip while entering the eddy above tablesaw. I didn't have my nose plugs on, so I got a full nasal flush. I KNEW I HAD to roll, so I blew first attempt because I rushed it. I rolled up on the second attempt and could see I was already in tablesaw, but not on the correct line! John apparently was yelling something like "Run it", but I never heard it. I got to the right where I needed to be and ran it fine. But it was an "oh sh*t" moment when I rolled up and realized where I was.

I decided not to ride the wave train this time above powerhouse, and got to the right. This kept me out of the big hole.

After loading up gear and changing into dry clothes, we headed to dinner in Murphy. We went to Brothers, which serves up everything from steaks to pork chops. Many paddlers shun it because they can't serve alcohol (Cherokee may be a dry county), but that's not a deal breaker for me. I'm more concerned about the food. I had one of the specials: a bacon wrapped fillet, baked potato, and lemon cake for dessert.

We made the trip back to the campground. The switch backs up the mountain are a lot easier in the daylight.

Did You Know That There's a Large Hole in the Center of Powerhouse Rapid?

Paul from Atlanta joined our intrepid group on Sunday. We wanted to get on the road as soon as we could, so we met at 9 am (ungodly early for many paddlers). He came with a play boat even though we told him how big the river was. He ended up having a few rolls and one swim for the day.
Ocoee RiverI made it through the big waves at double trouble with no problems. But I managed to flip and roll in a hole below the rapid.

John attempted a move called the Wautauga Move. He didn't have enough speed, so he flipped. He blew at least one, maybe two, roll attempts, then rolled up. I asked him if was adding a "swim" element to the move. He gave me a sour look, insulted that I would suggest that he would swim. Note: everyone swims at some point. It's just a matter of time. The better you get, the longer the time between swims. But it DOES happen eventually.

In tablesaw, the waves spun me around so I ran half the rapid backwards. John said I was showing off. I turned around before I hit the rock at the bottom of the rapid.

The eddy normally above diamond splitter wasn't really there, so I ran through diamond splitter. Paddlers weren't allowed to hang out below diamond splitter. The TVA was blasting and inserting bolts to stabilize the mountain near where the flume was damaged by a rock slide. They had nets up to try and stop rocks, but it wasn't a place you wanted to stay. I went though the next rapid and waited for John and Paul.

We had a running joke over the weekend, which was "Hey, did you know that there's a huge hole in the center of power house rapid"? Every time we drove past the rapid on the highway, we would say that. We told Paul about the hole. And of course, he went into that hole, flipped, and rolled. We warned you Paul!

Paul took us back to the put in and we were on our way by 1:00. Should we stop for lunch, or have a snack and go to the popular Chinese buffet in Asheville? Herbs BBQ was on the way, but were they open on Sunday? We came to Herbs, and not only were they open, they were jam packed. We were hungry, so we stopped. Herbs is listed in Our State Magazine as THE place to eat in Cherokee county. When we got the menus, the Sunday special included: THREE main course entrees, three sides, AND dessert. This was WAY too much food. I looked around and could see many of the regulars may have had the special too many times.

Vice Sqd?! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!

We drove through rain almost continuously from Asheville to Winston Salem, sometimes in downpours. There were many accidents, so traffic was bumper to bumper most of the way. We still managed somehow to make decent time.

While sitting in the bump and grind, I noticed some really stupid vanity plates. A mini van had "vice sqd"? WTF (or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. All weekend John was using military call signs for letters in acronyms)? "We're L8", again on a mini van. Well, so are WE!

I had a great time on the Ocoee. Since I was comfortable running it at a high level, the normal releases shouldn't be a big deal.

Click here for additional photos. I didn't take very may photos since I was busy most of the time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Week of Rivers 2010 - Days 7 - 9

Fog over Nantahala RiverThe Nantahala - It's so Cute

At the 8:30 club meeting on Friday, we were introduced to Aidan and Mary, who were from New Zealand (Mary is originally from Florida, so she has an American accent). They were going to be he Jackson Kayak reps for New Zealand. They were in the US for a few weeks and were traveling around the east coast. Before coming to week of rivers, they went to the Jackson factory to pick up a couple of kayaks. They had small play boats since they had to fit inside the rental car.

My plan was to run the Nantahala on Friday. From 6 to 8 pm Friday evening, there would be a big sale at the NOC store and it was only open to Carolina Canoe Club members. All core paddling gear was at least 20% off. I wasn't going to miss it.

Aidan and Mary decided to join the Nantahala trip. I had room for two more kayaks and people, so they would ride with me. The trip was led by Bob, who has a teen age son Bob who would be in the group (the Bobs). There were at least 12 people in the group, which consisted of open boaters and kayakers.

We got to the put in, and I realized that we didn't get river passes for Aidan and Mary. I explained to them that the Nantahala is the only river in the area where you have to pay for a pass. If a ranger stopped them, they needed to act innocent (and Aidan would need to use his Kiwi accent). I just assumed that by July, everyone would already HAVE a Nantahala pass. When we stopped for lunch at Ferebee Park
, park rangers came by checking passes. I have never seen rangers check! While the rangers were talking to Bob Sr., I signaled to Aidan and Mary that we needed to leave NOW. We were able to discreetly get in our boats and head out.

When we getting ready to start at the put in, it took awhile to herd the cats. I quickly saw that this trip could end up being a fuster cluck. Bob Jr. had a habit of cutting you off and not paying attention to other people. One of the open boaters T boned me, and yelled "watch out" only a second before hitting me. And when you have a large group, people that want to play boat (like Aidan and Mary), would get very little time to do that.

I talked to Bob Sr., and said we would peel off from the group and to not worry about us. That was a great decision since I could show Aidan and Mary many of the play spots on the river. The Nanty is a read and run class II-III river, but it is still good to know where you can make some fun moves and where the play waves are located. The only rapid we got out to scout was Nantahala Falls, but even that may not have been necessary since Aidan and Mary are very skilled boaters.
Aidan play boating on the Nantahala
I did run the falls without being flipped, but as is usual for me, I didn't get quite close enough to the top hole and ended up in part of the bottom hole. My bow came up a bit, but I could paddle through it.

The rest of the group we were in had passed us, so I assumed that I would have to find my own way to get back to my car at the put in. You can usually get a ride, but it gets more difficult later in the day. When we realized how late it was getting, we started moving quickly down the river. Luckily we caught up with the big group, so I could use their shuttle. Whew.

Six of us needed to load into Ruth's Lexus SUV. Three people were crammed into the back seat and they had to sit on a plastic camp table cloth to keep water off of the leather seats (which is why I always have a lot of clean towels in my car). I had to share the front seat with Bob Sr. AND three canoe paddles, which prompted the following:
  • Me: Is that a paddle or are you happy to see me?
  • Bob: I am NOT happy to see you.
I only had half a seat to sit on, so I had to put my left arm behind the driver's seat:
  • Me: I'm not getting fresh.
  • From the back in unison: We are WAY beyond being fresh.
While we were heading up to get the cars at the put in, the skies opened up and it poured. Bob dead pans "I'm glad we didn't bother getting into our DRY clothes". I said "Oh, I see you have a dry sense of humor". This elicited a groan from everyone and I expected to be let out for punning.

I got my car and headed back to NOC. We loaded up gear in the rain, which of course stopped when we had everything loaded. We finally changed into dry clothes.

We were all very hungry, but didn't want to go far since the NOC sale would be starting soon. We went to the River's End restaurant for dinner and had pizza and beer. I introduced Aidan to Fat Tire and Highland's Oatmeal Porter and Gaelic Ale. Highlands is a local brewery in Asheville, and all of their beers are great. Aidan discovered that there actually ARE good beers in America! Aidan and Mary paid for dinner as a thank you for me being a river guide and for shuttling them around.

The sale at the NOC was a huge success. The place was swarming with CCC members and things were flying off of the shelves. I bought a new spray skirt since my current one leaks a bit. You want the skirt to be as tight as possible in order to be water proof and they do stretch over time. I got a small waist size, so I can't gain weight.

Middle Ocoee - Super Sized Hell Hole
Broken Nose Rapid, Ocoee RiverOn Saturday the upper and middle Ocoee were releasing water, so the middle would have even more water. I convinced Aidan and Mary that they HAD to run the Ocoee to experience some big water. Our friend Rick would be in our group, and he runs the middle Ocoee several times in a single day. Rick was a great guide since he was able to give great advice to Aidan and Mary. We had several flips and rolls in the group, but no one swam.

I was very happy being in my larger river runner kayak, a Liquid Logic Lil Joe. It saved my bacon numerous times since I could punch through a lot of the holes and waves.

The waves in Table Saw were MUCH larger. A wave towards the end essentially flung me into the eddy on the left.

Hell Hole was huge. I was flipped and rolled, but by the time I rolled back up, I was already in the next rapid: power house. The waves there were also huge, so I flipped and rolled again. At least I was to the right and avoided the largest holes.

We parked the take out vehicles along the highway to avoid having to do over a half mile of flat water kayaking in the lake that forms after the power house rapid. We were parked on a narrow shoulder, the river down below (I had visions of the CR-V tumbling into the river). We appreciated missing the flat water, but loading gear along a busy two lane highway was a bit tricky.

When you drive back to the campground from the Ocoee, you drive through the Nantahala gorge and along the Nantahala river. After running the much larger Ocoee, Aidan looked at the Nantahala and proclaimed "The Nantahala is so cute". Aidan and Mary had big smiles on their faces all day, so they were very glad that they had the opportunity to run the Ocoee.

Mandolin Orange
The Carolina Canoe Club arranged for Mandolin Orange to perform Saturday night. Mandolin Orange is a folk duo from Carrboro North Carolina and they are incredible. Mandolin Orange normally performs at music festivals and in concert halls, so it was amazing that they came to our intimate setting under the club's tent (with no microphones, which they loved). They performed at week of rivers the previous year and were thrilled to come back. Just like the previous year, they performed many new songs for the first time. They are in the process of recording a new CD. It was funny to hear how excited they were to now have a mini van to tour around in. Saturday night after the concert would be the first time they were going to try sleeping in it.

The club couldn't afford to pay them very much, so we passed a basket around. I put in $10 and also bought their current CD.

Heading Out
Saturday night I loaded up all of the gear I could so that I could get on the road quickly the next morning. Since we were back to the campground late in the afternoon on Saturday, I was able to get most of the gear dry. That would make for a much more pleasant drive home!

I set my alarm for 5:15 am, which was actually
before the butt crack of dawn. I packed up the remaining gear and took down the tent in the dark, shaking off as much of the mountain dew I could. I was quiet, but didn't stress too much about it since some yahoos were making a racket well past 2 am (and "quiet " time is 10:00 pm).

On my way out of the campground, I saw that Ian was also packing up. He waved as I went by.

I made good time, and was greeted at home by Janyne and our two dogs Hannah and Emma. The funny thing is, Hannah, a 15 year old lab, knew I was home long before our 8 year old Golden Emma did.

It was a wonderful week of paddling and getting together with paddling friends. I met/exceeded all of my goals which included:
  • Become comfortable with the middle Ocoee. Since I ran it three times, I now know the important sneaks and the lines through most of the rapids.
  • Run Nantahala Falls and not get flipped in the bottom hole. I never get close enough to the top hole, which had given me a beat down in the past. So I end up in the bottom hole and flip.

Week of Rivers 2010 - Days 4 - 6

Mountain Biking in Tsali
After three days of paddling, I took an "off" day by mountain biking in the Tsali recreation area. Tsali is regularly cited as having some of the best mountain biking trails in the east. This is a bit controversial though since some people think they are overrated.

The Tsali trails can be used as bridal trails or for cycling. There is a schedule that identifies which trails can be used for cycling on each day.

Since it was Tuesday, I rode the Mouse Branch Loop and the Thompson Loop trails, a total of 14 miles and quite a bit of climbing. I worked my way up to the Mouse Branch Overlook, which gives you a view of Fontana Lake and Smoky Mountains National Park.
Mountain bike in Tsali at the Mouse Branch overlookView of Smoky Mountains and Fontana Lake from Tsali
The reward for all of the climbing was several miles of screaming downhill riding at the end.
Tsali elevation chart
I headed back to camp to shower and have lunch.

After lunch, I headed over to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I hung out by Nantahala Falls to watch the carnage. I enjoyed watching kayaks and rafts approach the falls and predict which ones wouldn't make it. On woman in a kayak came along and she look shaky "Oh, THIS is gonna be good". Sure enough, she went right into the top hole in the falls, flipped, didn't even try to roll, and went swimming. There are people stationed at the falls, so several ropes were thrown out for her.

Later a two person inflatable raft, a ducky, came along. Usually you can't mess up in a ducky. Well, these two people went into the top hole sideways and got stuck. They were riding the hole for a couple of minutes. The woman on the ducky seemed more concerned about their cooler than getting out of the hole. I yelled out "PADDLE!". They eventually managed to get out without flipping.

Later, a NOC instructor and a kayaking student came along. They stopped in truck stop eddy above the falls and stayed there for a LONG time. The student kept talking, talking, talking to the instructor, hanging onto the rocks the whole time. He looked shaky, so I figured there would be a flip. Finally the kayaking student peels out and is not on the right line and goes right into the bottom hole. However, he was in a large kayak and punched right through.

The Dirty Bird and Boiling Cauldrons of Goodness
Wednesday's plan was to paddle the upper Pigeon. The Pigeon is the "dirty bird" since there is a paper mill upstream in Canton, which affects air and water quality. It's still a fun section to run since it has lots of play spots and a few class III rapids. It's also a very easy shuttle to set up since it runs right along I-40. It's a short run, so it's often nice to do multiple laps.

My friend John's car broke down the previous Friday and his car was still in the shop. He needed to get a rental car since he had to go back to Raleigh to teach a class (he had a Tuesday/Friday class, which made it hard to be at week of rivers). The rental car had to be returned to the Asheville airport Wednesday afternoon. John paddled with us on the Ocoee on Monday, so we took his kayak back to the campground with us Monday night. On Wednesday I loaded his kayak on my car, drove to the Asheville airport, picked up John, and we headed to the Pigeon.

I was not able to find a group at the campground that was planning to go to the Pigeon Saturday, so it was just John and I. At the put in I was able to arrange for a ride from the take out to the put in with counselors from a summer camp for girls in Brevard. This was a three week kayaking summer camp for girls, and this was the advanced group.

We essentially had the river to ourselves. There were very few rafts and very few kayakers. It's much more crowded on weekends. This allowed us to do whatever we wanted and not be rushed.

I paid to park my car at USA Raft, which allows you to use their showers. We planned to go out to eat in Asheville and really wanted to get the Pigeon funk off.

John had not heard from the auto shop and hoped that his car would be ready. When we got to the shop, they said they didn't call since they knew we would be on the river. The car was not done, but would be done the next day. John really, really wanted to run the Ocoee again, so we arranged for an after hours pick up on Thursday (it's a good 2.5 hour drive from the Ocoee to Asheville).

It was over 95 degrees outside, which is very hot for Asheville. This was still better than Raleigh, which hit 102. Janyne said it was "hotter than the surface of the sun".

We then headed into Asheville to eat at Salsas, a Mexican/Caribbean restaurant. We started with Jalapeno poppers, which were incredible and very, very hot. I washed it down with a very spicy bloody Mary ("Do you want your Bloody Mary Spicy?" "yes, of course"). We were both sweating like crazy.

My main course was a chicken/mushroom molcajeta. This was chicken, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc. in a spicy, boiling chile/coconut broth. The whole thing is in a lava rock bowl, which we called a "boiling cauldron of goodness". John bought my dinner as a thank you for shuttling him and his gear all over the region.

Middle Ocoee - Unintentionally Running Double Suck
Thursday we headed back to the middle Ocoee. It was a scheduled release, so there would be more water than on Monday.

We had two Ocoee first timers in our group, a father and son who were also from Apex! It turns out they live in the neighborhood right next to mine, but I have never seen them at roll practice.

Again we put in just below Grumpies. Getting around Grumpies isn't supposed to be difficult, but if you don't do it correctly, you will have a very bad day. There was a lot of raft traffic to deal with, the rapid isn't all that interesting, and we had first timers, so skipping it was the best option.

We were going to sneak around Double Suck again. Double Suck has an evil hole at the bottom, a hole we videoed someone getting a beat down in on Monday. The sneak isn't difficult, but you have to ferry to river center and go to the left of the big rock in the river. To the right of the rock is Double Suck.

I was behind Dan, the dad in the father/son team. He got stuck on rocks while ferrying to the sneak. Do I try to go above him or below him? The water was pushing pretty hard, so there wasn't much time to decide. I went for below. Very. Bad. Call.

As our friend and Ocoee addict Rick pointed out later, there really isn't an eddy by the big rock. I was pushed right into Double Suck. To make matters worse, no one else had gotten through the rapid yet, so if I swam, it could be a long swim and no one was around to gather up gear.

I was committed. I didn't know the correct line. My "plan" was to point straight downstream and punch the holes.

I made it though the first hole. Then I was in the evil hole. I was halfway through, then lost ALL momentum. The hole had my stern and was pulling me back into the hole. My bow was lifted out of the water. I paddled like mad and made it out. I eddied out below the rapid and I was the only one there. John then comes through the sneak and says "HOW did you get here?" I pointed to Double Suck and said "Through there".

We came to Double Trouble and John set up his video camera again. I came into the rapid and saw how ugly the big haystack waves were. I skirted them to the right. In the video, John added chicken clucking sounds when I did that. However, it was good that I was still in my boat. Robert came next, was flipped, blew his roll, and was swimming. He had his boat and was getting into an eddy, but his paddle was being swept away. I chased after it and got it before it disappeared down the next rapid.
kayaker on the Ocoee riverI had a very successful day on the river. I did not have a single flip all day even with running Double Suck. On the way back to Asheville, I stopped in the white water center's gift shop to buy an Ocoee T-shirt.

I drove John and all of his gear back to the auto shop in Asheville. His car was ready, so he loaded it up and headed back to Durham so that he could teach his Friday class.

Click here for video taken on the trip. I am at :15 and 2:03. The 2:03 segment is me running Table Saw. Note that I almost eat it at the top of the rapid.

Click here for more photos.

Week of Rivers 2010 - Days 1 - 3

Bayless Boof Rapid, Upper Green RiverEvery year the Carolina Canoe Club organizes Week of Rivers (WOR) for the week that includes the July 4th holiday. People come from as far away as Texas and Iowa to paddle the various rivers in the region. This year there was even a couple from New Zealand. Week of rivers is a great opportunity to try new rivers and to meet new paddling friends.

Since I was there all week, I will post several entries.

Help from the Ladies

I left home late in the day on Friday. It's a solid five hour drive to the Smoky Mountain Meadows campground and I wanted to have some light left to set up camp.

Since I was going to be camping for a week, the thought of sleeping on a Thermarest wasn't very appealing. At Target I saw an Eddie Bauer queen sized air mattress that came in it's own bag AND has a battery powered pump built it. I must have it! Janyne said it would be good to have if I injure myself again at week of rivers. Of course, it won't fit in my small two person tent. So we also got a Big Agnes four person tent. It is large enough to hold the mattress and all of my gear plus I can stand up in it.

When I was driving near Sylva North Carolina (close to the campground), it started to rain. Rain was really needed since it had been so dry, but it's not fun to set up camp in the rain.

I arrived at the campground and paid for a spot in the field for the week. Tent camping in the field was only $7 a night.
Camp site at Smoky Mountain Meadows campground
It hadn't started raining yet, but the dark clouds were coming. I quickly moved into the field.

I passed a campsite and recognized Wendy, whom I had paddled with back in April. She waved as I pulled in. I quickly tossed out the tent and started setting it up.

Much to my surprise, Wendy and three of her lady friends (Jeorgia, Nicky, Amy) came over to help set up the tent! We had the rain fly on just as the first drops of rain started to fall. It turns out Wendy had the same exact tent, so they knew how to set it up already.

Janyne had baked butterscotch blondies and pound cake for me to share. After I had everything unloaded, I went over to Wendy's campsite and the baked goods were well received.

Dalton was camping next to me had seen how the ladies came out to help. "Dang, you had that up in under five minutes." I think he was jealous. Other people who had small single person tents were also jealous of my "pimped out" pad. Janyne suggested that we pimp it out even more next year by adding a cool recliner from REI.

The Morning Routine

The routine was the same every morning:
  • Make coffee with my Jet Boil and its French Press attachment
  • Have breakfast
  • Gather up gear
  • Pack a lunch
  • Add ice to the cooler if necessary
  • Attend the 8:30 meeting
The 8:30 meeting is where you find out what rivers are running and what trips will be announced. A lot of times there are also unannounced private trips. If you don't find a group to join or start your own, you will be left at the campground.

Is that Screaming Left Turn Ahead?!

On Saturday I was asked to join a private trip to run the Chattooga section 3.5 (parts of section 3 and 4). This was quite an honor since this group consisted of very skilled paddlers including the club's president. Our group consisted of eleven people.

The Chattooga is designated as a wild and scenic river. Because of this, no paved roads can be within a quarter mile of the river. The put in and take out require at least a quarter mile schlep. It is a beautiful river since there is no development. The water is clear and you can see to the bottom. On our run we saw an Osprey that had a fish in its talons, and the fish was still wiggling.

Most of us had been on this section before, but it would have been nice to know which rapids were coming up. We were in the middle of the Screaming Left Turn rapid before I realized where we were. Oh, THAT is the rock a canoe was wrapped around last year. I need to run a river several times before I memorize the landmarks and rapids.

Linda on Chattooga

We came to Bull Sluice and got out to scout it. This rapid is featured in the movie "Deliverance". A couple of people in the group looked at it and decided to carry their boats around it. However, I wanted to run it. I wanted to run the boof line on the left rather than the evil looking double drop down and around decapitation rock. I came into the eddy, lined myself up, and went over the pour over of the left. I made a perfect landing at the bottom. Yee ha!

A little later we came to what looked like an innocuous hole. However, I managed to go into it sideways. It flipped me over, then it made me go vertical. My bow was sticking out of the water, but I was completely under water. I was then spun around several times, doing a pretty pirouette. Then I was upside down in the hole, rolled up, then went on my way. It looked like planned rodeo moves, but it was an "unintendo".

We came to the last rapid of the day, Woodall Shoals. The middle of the rapid has a class 6 hole, but you can't see it from the top. We stayed FAR to the right and bounced over the rocks. One lady in our group who had never been on the river looked up and said "WOW, THAT is an ugly hole!". From then on we had to pick our way around rocks and holes to reach the bottom of the rapid.

We then had our 1/4 mile carry uphill to the take out cars. Once at the take out vehicles, I offered butterscotch blondies, which were a hit.

After loading up gear, we headed to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Paddlers go to Mexican restaurants a lot. I suppose it's because it's cheap, fast and they usually sell beer.

On our way back to the campground, the police had a check point set up. I only had diet Coke with dinner since I was driving and because the beer selection was poor. Mexican beer? Budweiser? Blech! The license/registration were all current and we were wearing seat belts, so we were quickly waved through.

Nothing But Air

Sunday I joined a group that would paddle the Upper Green River. We had ten people in our group, including several open boaters.

The upper Green is a class I-II with a couple of class III drops. The river goes through a beautiful gorge than has waterfalls that flow into it. You do need to know where the take out is located because if you miss it, you are in the gorge, which has class V rapids.

The water is dam released for a hydroelectric plant, and on Sunday was only running from 7 am to 12 pm. We had to get the group moving. Lee was leading the group since he knew the river and has a key to the take out parking lot. The take out is private property and you have to pay $60/year to have a key. Lee reminded us NUMEROUS times that we needed to get moving early. The irony is that we waited for him at the meeting point for over 30 minutes.

My friend John was with us. John's car broke down on his way up to week of rivers Friday evening. When this happened, John called Lee since Lee lives in Asheville. John was able to stay at Lee's house and they dropped off John's car at a recommended auto shop. However, this meant John had to run the Pigeon on Saturday and NOT the Chattooga, which is what he really wanted to run.

The road to the put in is a hard left turn from the highway. I said it was a "screaming left turn". John gave me a sour look and said "Was THAT a Chattooga reference?!" "uh, not on purpose..."

We set off down the river. When we came to the first big drop, Bayless Boof, we got out to scout it. You go down river left down a chute, then boof off the rock, but you must have a left angle since there is a big rock to the right. But the chute wants to point you to the right.

John was set up below the rapid with his HD video camera. It was my turn. I went way too far to the left and got caught up on rocks. I freed myself and went into the chute and off of the pour over. I went flying into the air, landed in the water below, and hit the rock since there was a loud "CLUNK". I then did an air stroke (nothing but air), which flipped me. I then rolled up.

Later we came to the next big drop, pinball rapid. I discovered why it is called pinball rapid. When I went, I hit the pinball rock, which bounced me against other rocks, then flipped me over. I was banged against the bottom of the river several times (there are many rocks down there) before I rolled up. Unfortunately, my upper left arm was sore after I came up and it bugged me all week. All of this is on video other than the roll at the very end.

Click here for video John took. I am at 1:07 and 3:52.

We reached the end of the run and then faced the .6 mile carry to the take out cars. I zoomed up first since I wanted to get it over with. After I had all my gear up, I went down a couple of times to help other people in the group. We had several open boaters (white water canoes) in the group, and it's a lot easier for two people to carry up a canoe.

That night a caterer came with BBQ. There was only one guy running it, so we stood in line for awhile. The BBQ was worth the wait and we ran him out of food. He was coming another day during week of rivers and would bring more food and help.

Comedy Canoe Club - Middle Ocoee Run Number One

Monday we got a group to go to the Middle Ocoee. We decided to put in below the initial rapid Grumpies. This would help us avoid a lot of raft traffic at the start, plus the lines changed after a rock slide earlier in the year. Cathy and Kevin were leading the trip and promised a "vegetarian" run, which means we wouldn't have any meat. We would run the sneaks around the uglier rapids like Broken Nose and Double Suck. It also turned out that the water level was a little lower than a normal release for the middle Ocoee.
Diamond Splitter rapid on the OcoeeWhen we came to Broken Nose, our group got a little too close together. We had a mixed group of open boaters and kayakers, which can be a problem. Open boats are much bigger and move faster, so they can run you down.

We got bunched up and Cathy was stuck on the rocks. I yelled out "Which WAY do I go?!" I didn't really get an answer, so I found my own way, most of which I did backwards.

Broken nose is identified by a couple of large rocks in the river. The sneak is to stay to the left of the rocks and the rapid (and holes) is to the right.

We came to Double Suck, which has an evil hole you want to avoid. You know you are getting close to Double Suck when you first see the water flume for the hydro plant HIGH above the left bank of the river. There is a large rock in the center of the river with plaques on it. The rock contains an endangered plant and the plaques are warnings to stay OFF the rocks.

Most of us did the sneak, which is to stay to the left of the large rock. However, one person that joined our group on the river wanted to run it. He wasn't on the right line and went into the hole. He got a major beat down. He was window shaded, banged on the bottom of the river, and when he tried to roll, he was window shaded even faster. He bailed out of his boat and we had to rescue him and his gear. We were all thinking "whew, I'm glad that wasn't me".

Hell's Half mile is a long section of class III boogie water where you have to avoid rocks and avoid or punch holes. I flipped and rolled once in that rapid.

We came to Double Trouble, which is a pair of large hay stack waves. They have curlers on top that want to flip you over. John went first and setup up his video camera. Bret came first, and he's in a kayak. He hit the top wave and surfed the wave for nearly a minute. He could have been there all day,but had to clear out when the rest of our group came down the river. In the next group, all but one of the open boaters flipped and swam. Robert in a kayak was flipped and rolled. I was last and ran a perfect line. The video is funny, so we called ourselves the "comedy canoe club".

We came up to Table Saw. The last time I ran Table Saw, I was flipped at the top and ran the entire rapid upside down and rolled up at the bottom. This time I ran it perfectly. There are lots of large waves with reactionary waves that want to flip you. You also have to deal with several large holes.

I eddied out at the bottom and was watching other people run the rapid. I was in the open and easily seen. A raft came into the eddy really fast and slammed me into the rocks. I stayed upright by did get out a few choice words. I wrote my name on my helmet with a Sharpie, which came in handy. The raft guide said "sorry about that Kevin".

The last rapid on the river is Power House. It has lots of rocks and munchy holes in the center and left, so you want to stay right. A raft got in my way, so I ended up going more in the center. I had to fight my way through the rocks and holes, but I made it. Later that night at dinner (MEXICAN AGAIN!), I told Bret that I was in the center. He said, "Oh, you don't want to be THERE." I replied, "Yeah, I know".

Click here for video taken on the Ocoee, which includes all of the carnage at Double Trouble. I am at 2:13 and 3:09.

Later that night my friend Ian showed up for week of rivers. It was a perfectly clear, star filled night. Since there is less light pollution, you could see MANY more stars in the sky. We sat back and had a couple of malted beverages.

Click here for more pictures.