My 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.
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.
I 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.