Monday, July 11, 2011

Week of Rivers 2011 - Part II

Joyce Kilmer Memorial ForestWednesday July 6 - A Walk in the Woods
After four consecutive days in the kayak, it was time to take a break. I decided to go to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which is one of the last remaining old growth forests in eastern U.S.

When I arrived at the forest, I was concerned. A large number of the big old trees where sheared off. The stumps had shredded shards of wood on them, so it looked like the trees were twisted off. It looked like a tornado or strong downdraft had brought down a lot of the trees. When I went further into the forest, I finally got into the giant tulip poplar trees. The poplars are up to 100 feet tall and have huge trunks.
Rhododendron Flowers
The hike was nice since you cross a stream and the Rhododendrons were in bloom. It was hot and steamy like a greenhouse however.

I had a picnic lunch and then went for a scenic drive through the mountains.

Before heading back to the campground, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up food for dinner. I was going to cook up the meat in tube form I brought with me and I needed side items.

I kicked back in my lounge camp chair and read for awhile. It was a perfect way to relax and recharge the batteries.

Thursday - Don't Be Expecting Gas Money
On Thursday Rick and Larry were leading a group of first timers on the Ocoee. Usually the "kinder gentler" trip for first timers has people put in below the entrance rapid (to skip Grumpies) and all of the sneaks are taken. I offered to help since I've been on the river many times.

At the morning meeting we determined where and when the group would meet at the campground. To minimize the number of shuttle vehicles, Mark (another kayaker) and I rode with Gilley and David, both open boaters.

We all met at the middle Ocoee put in and saw that the group was FAR too large. Anything larger that seven or eight is hard to manage. We broke into two groups. Several people went with Fast Fred, who is know for doing several Ocoee laps a day like Rick. Fast Fred's group consisted of people who had run the Ocoee before. The other group consisted of the first timers, trip leaders, and safety boaters. Even after the group split, the first timer group had twelve people (or perhaps eleven). This is where we made a mistake. The shuttle drivers and passengers ended up in different groups, and the groups weren't going to finish anywhere near the same time.

The first timers carried their boats down to the put in below Grumpies while Rick, Mark, John, and I went to the main put in. We would meet up with the rest of the group on the river.

Below Grumpies the group merged and we were off.

We took a slightly different line at Gonzo Shoals than I normally take, but it was an easier line.

At Broken Nose, we also took an alternate to the normal sneak line. The normal sneak is actually not that easy. It's easily class III boogie water where you have to dodge holes and rocks and keep working to river left. The line we took was much more river left and it required everyone to go single file down a small drop. This avoided much of the harder stuff and you didn't have to work to get to river left.

When we were getting close to Double Suck, I told Rick that I would prefer to take the boof line and NOT the sneak. He agreed to do that, but only after we shepherded all of the other people through the sneak first. We both hung back to sweep.

Rick headed towards Double Suck. Rick was too far left. He's not going to be close to the boof rock. What are you doing Rick?! Should I follow him or go to where I know the boof line is? The water is pushy and there isn't a lot of time to mull it over. The second hole is very, very bad and you don't want to get in it since it will work you over. Ok, I'll follow Rick. He knows every line on this river. We sailed right through Double Suck, narrowly missing the two holes and narrowly averting disaster. Later Rick said "There's a green line of water right next to the holes. Who knew!".

After Go Forth Creek, Larry had me lead the group for awhile. I was to stop before Table Saw.

We gathered in an eddy above Table Saw and we explained how to run it. Table Saw looks scary, but it's really a big water roller coaster. It's import to not flip in the first wave/hole, stay loose, and keep the paddle in the water. I ran the rapid, then continued on through Diamond Splitter.

I eddied out and then noticed that a kayak was stuck on rocks above Diamond Splitter. It was Terry's, one of our first timers. Apparently she swam in Table Saw. The boat was not in a spot that you could easily get to. John paddled up to the boat and tried to get it off the rocks. It wouldn't budge, but he could turn it a bit. That was enough for the current to pop it loose a couple of minutes later.

Accelerator is a fun rapid towards the end of the run. It really does accelerate you. A lot of people like to run it backwards. The person in front of me was going backwards, I was going forwards. I was talking and wasn't paying attention and was flipped. Not a problem since it was easy to roll back up there.

We got to the take out and carried the gear to the cars. Now where is Fast Fred's group?! Gilley left the passenger door on his pickup unlocked, which really annoyed me since my WALLET was in my short's pocket. However, it also meant that we could change into our dry clothes.

It was getting close to 3:30 and the water would be shut off at 4:00. Rick, Larry, and John took off so that Rick could get another solo run in (he can do a full lap in 45 minutes, so he had barely enough time to ride the bubble of water).

Mark and I sat in the hot sun along the side of the road waiting for Gilley and David to show up. Terry and Tom were also waiting, but they were in a different vehicle. Their car was locked, so they were stuck in their wet gear.

A half hour goes by. Allen then shows up and says that we can load our gear into his truck and he'll take us to the top. Here's where the next shuttle mistake was made. Terry and Tom also loaded gear and rode up with us. As we drove up the highway, we saw Fast Fred's group STILL on the river and Rick had nearly caught up to the on his second lap.

We get to the put in and met up with Larry and John. Now what do we do? Terry and Tom by this point were cold and tired of being in their wet gear. Even though we could spot them money for dinner, they wouldn't want to go to a restaurant dressed in stinky kayak gear. The logical thing for Tom and Terry to do would be to meet back up with their driver. I asked John if he could drive them back to the take out, which he did.

After dropping off Tom and Terry, John picked Mark, two guys from Texas and I up at the put in. Our gear would get back to the campground in Allen's truck. Mark said "Gilley better not be expecting any gas money." I kept saying "I should have driven..."

We went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Copperhill. I wanted BBQ at Herb's but was out voted. When we came out of the restaurant, it started to rain really hard. Unfortunately, the rain was very localized, so it didn't help rivers like the Tellico.

We got back to the campground and I claimed my gear from Allen's truck.

Friday - A Grim Situation and the Auto Flip Feature in Rooster Tail
On Friday we decided to head out the Nolichucky again. The level was similar to what it was the previous Saturday or perhaps slightly higher. We wanted to leave before 8:30 am to keep the group small and because it's a long drive.

Larry drove and John, Allen, and I rode with Larry. Casey met us at Uncle Johnny's. Uncle Johnny's is a hostel for Appalachian trail hikers and kayakers and you can hire shuttle drivers at Uncle Johnny's.

Our driver introduced himself as "Grim". He had hiked the entire Applachian Trail, so we assumed that this was his trail name. Grim said that he was from Savannah, but really liked Erwin Tennessee and decided to stay awhile.

On our way to the put in, Grim started his tour guide spiel: "During your entire journey on the Nolichucky, you will be in the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. The Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests did not allow alcohol or illicit drugs. If you have alcohol or illicit drugs, give them to me for disposal because I am a recreational substance disposal expert."

When we got close to the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he says "Tennessee doesn't have a sense of humor. However, North Carolina does." When we crossed into North Carolina, we saw the 55 MPH speed limit sign. "We call this the double nickels of death.". If you even go above 35 mph, you would fly off of the twisting mountain road!

We went though all of the big rapids at the start of the run just fine: Entrance, On the Rocks, Jaws, and Quarter Mile. I still portaged around the entrance to Quarter Mile. Why have a bad day?

We came up to Rooster Tail, the last big rapid on the river. Rooster Tail has a curler wave, and if you are too far right, it WILL flip you. John calls this the "auto flip" feature. Larry goes first and sets up to take video of us running the rapid.

Of course, I go too far right and flipped. I was banged upside down for awhile, but I was waiting a bit for things to calm down before rolling. Now! I blew the roll. I knew another big drop was coming, so I bailed out of the boat. I managed to shove the boat into an eddy, then I swam into an eddy. John asked if I knew what I did. I said "Yes, I was too far right". Later Allen tells me: "Thanks for going that way. I was thinking of doing the same thing and you showed what would happen."

Later Allen swims in an odd place. I thought he did it to make me feel better.

We got to the take out and Larry's truck was waiting for us. We got into dry clothes, loaded up gear, and headed towards Asheville. In Asheville, we stopped at Asiana Grand for dinner. Asiana Grand is a large Chinese buffet frequented by kayakers.

Saturday - The Clown Car and the Drive Home
I planned to drive home Saturday after I got off of the river. I had already packed up everything before the 8:30 a.m. meeting. I couldn't quite decide where I wanted to go. John kept pushing for a couple of creek runs that were allegedly running, but I wasn't up for something new and possibly above my skill level. If I went to the Ocoee, it's an hour drive in the wrong direction, making it a six hour drive home. If I ran the Nantahala, I would have a five hour drive and I would have time to stop at the NOC store. I looked at the group planning to go to the Ocoee. "Hmm...I don't know ANY of those people". Matt and Linda were going down the Nantahala, but planned to take their time play boating. I had to make a decision or I wasn't going to be going anywhere. Nantahala it is. I brought my dry top, so I was set for the cold water.

Matt wanted to have ALL of the cars at the bottom. I liked this idea since it meant I could leave when I wanted to. However, this made the shuttle more complicated since I would have to hitch a ride to the put in. I brought cash with me in case hitching didn't work and I needed to pay to ride an NOC raft bus.

Now where should I stand to get a ride? Do I need to show some leg? I walked along the road and saw another hitch hiker. After about ten minutes, a Honda Odyssey mini van pulls up. We all got in. We had nine people and three kayaks stuffed into that thing. It was a clown car, but I appreciated the ride.

As promised, Matt and Linda played on just about every feature on the river. That was fine since I learned a couple more play spots. Matt is an instructor, so he got into instructor mode a couple of times. He had me practice eddying and to get the maximum number of eddies in one section of the river.

We came to the falls. I eddied out in truck stop eddy, then took off. I wasn't close enough to the top hole, so I was going into the bottom hole. I didn't turn quite fast enough, so I was on my side for several seconds. I was able to right to boat back up by doing a hip snap, which caused cheers from other boaters. My core exercises paid off!

I was parked after the slalom course, so I ran the slalom gates that were set up.

I got off of the river and loaded up the gear. I had a car load of wet camping and paddling gear that had been in the hot sun all day. Whew!

I called Janyne to let her know I would be home at a decent time (I was off the river at 3:30 pm and it is a five hour drive) and I headed onto the highway. The view of the Smoky Mountains was spectacular while I was driving towards Asheville.

I had a great time at Week of Rivers and have wonderful memories. I'm looking forward to Week of Rivers 2012!

Week of Rivers 2011 - Part I

Smoky Mountain Meadows CampgroundCreek Side Campsite - Score!
Week of Rivers is an annual event for Carolina Canoe Club members. The club takes over the Smoky Mountain Meadows campground in Bryson City North Carolina, which becomes the base of operations for the event. Every morning at 8:30 a.m. the club meets and river trips are organized. If you don't get with a group at the meeting, you are stuck at the campground (there are also "private" trips that aren't announced, but you have to be invited).

I usually camp in the open field. You don't need a reservation and it's cheap ($7/day). A Facebook and paddling friend Wendy posted on Facebook that some of her frie
nds were not going to make it and was looking for people to share her shaded, creek side campsite with her and Amy. I quickly replied "yes!", and it was a great decision. When I arrived Friday evening, they already had my parking pass ready. Wendy already had a pop up tent over the picnic table, and Wendy and Amy helped set up my tent. For Week of Rivers I use a larger tent, which I only use a couple of times a year. It's easy to set up (color coded!), but I appreciated the help. The pop up tent over the picnic table was great since it rained several times during the week, so items under the tent were dry. Wendy also provided hangers to hang up gear to dry from the tent. The babbling brook next to the site was also nice. All of this made the site worth the extra cost.

Saturday July 2, Nolichucky
Nolichucky RiverThe Nolichucky is a natural flow river that goes through a beautiful, undeveloped gorge in the Pisgah and Cherokee national forests. The run starts in North Carolina and ends in Tennessee. The river was at 795 cfs, which is a very nice novice level. At higher flows the Nolichucky is a class III-IV river, but at 795 it is more like a class II-III river. We joked that the rapid named "Jaws" was more like "Piranha". We wanted to head to the Nolichucky since it's best to hit natural flow rivers during Week of Rivers if they are available.

Matt and his wife Linda were leading a private trip that I was invited to join. I always enjoy paddling with Matt and Linda so I join their trips whenever I can.

While I was quickly gathering up gear and preparing my lunch, my friend Stefan showed up with another friend John. Apparently Stefan asked for me and John knew where I was camping. We were leaving in a few minutes so I needed to hustle.

I asked Stefan if he could go on a long day trip (the Noli is more than two hours from the campground and it's a long run). He was camping with his wife and daughter and I didn't want him to get in trouble for getting in late. Stefan said that he could go, so I quickly took him over to Matt. I asked Matt if he could add one more person. Matt said no since we would need another shuttle vehicle.

I told Stefan to quickly follow me to another group that was going on the Nolichucky (everyone was leaving in a few minutes), and that group included John. I went up to Kathy, who was also in the second group and one of the drivers. "Can you take one more person?" Kathy at first thought that I wanted Stefan to ride with them and then join my group at the river, a logistical nightmare. "No, no, Kathy. Can you take him and have him be a part of your group?". Kathy replied, "Oh, sure".

I rode with Karen, who drives a Honda Fit (Janyne also has a Fit). It was funny seeing a big open boat and a kayak on top of a Fit. It worked and we got great mileage.

The shuttle for the Nolichucky is really long. Most people pay $20 for a driver to drive their car back to the take out. It turns out that Matt doesn't like other people driving his car, so we set up our own shuttle. This turned out to be a pain at the end of the day since it added an additional hour to retrieve the cars at the put in. We also didn't take out at the Nolichucky Gorge campground since the owner charges $3 a head to use the take out. We had to paddle further downstream.

It was a drama free day on the river. There were no flips or swims in the group. I was very happy to have a clean run down the Nolichucky. On my previous trip I had an ugly swim through most of Quarter Mile rapid. I did portage around the entrance to Quarter Mile since that bad swim was still fresh in my memory.

Murphy's ledge is at the of Quarter Mile rapid. At the low water level, it was disconcerting since it was a drop of several feet over ledge. Sarah went first over the ledge and then guided people where to go. She raised her arms and all you could see were her hands. It turned out to be an easy boof over the ledge.

When we got off the river, we changed into dry clothes. The drivers then went off to retrieve the cars at the put in. While we were waiting, we saw Stefan's group drive by. doh!

We got on the road and had dinner at a restaurant in West Asheville called the Universal Joint. It got its name from the fact that the restaurant used to be an auto repair shop. The restaurant had a great selection of local micro brews and a varied menu. It has a lot of nice vegetarian and non vegetarian options. I went for the ribeye sandwich.

I asked Karen if $10 would be sufficient for gas. She said that I didn't need to give her gas money if I drove from Asheville back to the campground. She wanted to sleep. Deal!

We were getting low on gas, so I planned to stop in Dillsboro. The gas stations in the mountains close EARLY (10 pm). It was ten minutes after 10, and the gas station in Dillsboro was closed. Of course the low fuel light came on. I had to drive into Sylva to find an open gas station (turns out some of the station keep the pumps on and you can use a credit card, but it's hard to tell when all the lights are off).

It was a long but great day. We didn't roll into the campground until 11 p.m.

Sunday, Upper Green. My that Diesel is Heavy!
Wendy asked my if I would like to join her, her cousin Ben and his fiance Sarah, Diane, Scott, and Jamila on a trip to the Upper Green. The upper Green is a beautiful class II-III run, so I joined the group.

We were supposed to meet Ben and Sarah at exit 59 on I-26 9:45 "ish". Lee Thonus was also organizing a trip on the Upper Green and was going to have a shuttle already set. The take out requires you to have a key since it is on private property. Lee had a key, so it would be good to have him help set shuttle. We also had to hurry since the normal release is only from 10 to 12.
Kevin running Bayless Boof on the Upper Green
Ben and Sarah showed up a little before 10. We then headed out on I-26 towards Spartanburg since Diane thought Lee said that we were meeting at exit 63. I called up Lee to let him know we were en route and to confirm the exit number. "Lee, to confirm, what exit are we meeting you?" "53, but we'll wait for you at the off ramp on 54" "crap! We're heading the WRONG WAY". Of course the next exit wasn't until 67, and THAT was another four lane divided highway. We had to go several more miles before we could turn around and Ben had to follow us. The incredible thing is, Lee waited for us the entire time! The convoy merged and we headed to the put in.

We put on and entered the gorge. The Upper Green is a beautiful gorge and several waterfalls flow into the river. The rhododendrons were in bloom.

We came to the first big rapid, Bayless Boof. We all got out to scout it. It looks scary, but it's an easy slide down the rock, which launches you into the air and you land in a pool at the bottom. The rock wants to turn to the right when you launch, so you have to have some weight on your left butt cheek. If you go to the right, you may hit a submerged rock below. One person did that a year ago and smashed in the front of his boat, which was a Diesel similar to mine.

I came down the rock slide, went into the air a bit, then landed in the pool below. What a great ride! Lee had gone first and was taking photos.

We all came up on the second big rapid, Pinball. Lee gave us long involved instructions. Pinball is a double drop. You go over the first drop and have to avoid a rock, then you turn to make the second drop. It's hard to see exactly what line people take because they disappear when they go over the first drop.

I ran the rapid fine even though I didn't think I was quite on the right line. Woo hoo! That's when I noticed the carnage. Scott's kayak was upside and stuck on rocks in the river. Doug, an open boater, was swimming. Apparently the instructions needed to be simplified.

After Pinball, Lee led several of us on a short hike up a creek. We then came to a beautiful waterfall.

We then reached the take out and now it was time for the dreaded 2/3 mile carry up to the parking lot. The first 1/3 is a steep goat trail, then the rest is a jeep road. Rather than mull about the schlepp, I sprinted up the trail with my gear. I made it to the top and broke out my lunch. It took several minutes for the next person to trudge up the hill.

After everyone was back to the take out with their vehicles, we discussed where to go for lunch (second lunch or dinner for me). Ben mentioned the horrors he saw at the interstate exit: Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, McDonalds, etc. Wendy mentioned that there is a nice sandwich shop in Saluda, but she wasn't sure if it was open Sunday. We'd give that a try.

We came into Saluda, but the sandwich shop was closed. However, a really nice restaurant was open. Saluda is a cute old railroad town (Saluda has the steepest standard gauge railroad in the U.S.) with a lot of restaurants and shops. The shops featured art from local artisans such as hand blown glass.

After our early dinner, we headed back to the campground.

Monday - Chattooga section 3.5 1.48 feet - Lightening and Thunder, Oh My!
Monday we got a group together to run section 3.5 of the Chattooga. The group included: Larry, John, Steve, Allen, Jamila, Conrad, and myself.

The Chattooga is a designated wild and scenic river and parts of the movie Deliverance were shot on the river. Because it is a wild and scenic river, there's a quarter mile carry to the put in and from the take out. That's still better than the Upper Green!
Chattooga River
It started out as a beautiful day on the river. Then it started to rain very hard, then there was lightening and thunder. We stayed on the river close to shore. The rain then stopped for awhile.

We all got out to scout Bull Sluice. There are two main lines: the double drop on the right and the boof line to the left. The rapid is intimidating, but the left line is actually not difficult.

John had my video camera and was going to shoot us running the rapid. Then the deluge started up again and there was more lightening and thunder. We went for cover and waited it out for awhile. Allen used his kayak as shelter.

We all then ran the boof line fine. Larry got out and took the camera to shoot John running the rapid.

After Bull Sluice we kept kept running into the same group of kayakers. Many of the boaters didn't seem to be in control of their boats. They would come through our group, then would stop so they never moved ahead. Conrad referred to them as the "monkey troop". If you're going to play through, play through!

Larry is an instructor and taught everyone how to eddy hop when creeking. We did this in the rapid named Screaming Left Turn. When creeking, you go one at a time down a rapid and communicate to the person behind you what eddy to go to next, many of which may only hold one or two boats.

We got to the end and it was time for the quarter mile carry. I again picked up my gear and rapidly went up the trail to get it over with.

We all then went to a pizza restaurant near the river called Humble Pie. The owner was trying to close the restaurant for the Fourth of July holiday. He still let us come in and said "I have three large pizza doughs left and salad, which should feed you." We all discussed the available standard pizzas, and we agreed on what to get. Everyone except Allen that is. Allen just went and ordered what he wanted for one of the pizzas. Everyone looked at each other and went "WTF?" It all worked out since Allen's topping choices weren't too scary and we were hungry. He seemed surprised that people were eating "his" pizza.

Later that night Amy broke out glow sticks and we had a rave at the campground. One partier fell into the creek (not me). I was getting too loud for our neighbors, so we received complaints. I blame the top shelf tequila Wendy broke out. Everyone was surprised to see me tooling around the campground early the next day.

Tuesday - Pigeon Gorge and lower Pigeon
Tuesday I joined a group going to the Pigeon, aka "The Dirty Bird". We had John, Jamila, Allen, Rick, Steve, Kathy and Kathy's husband Kevin. The Pigeon gorge is a short run, so we were going to also do the lower Pigeon. The lower Pigeon is class I-II, but has some fun play spots (and long stretches of flat water).

We weren't sure what the release would be. The normal release is 1200 cfs, but on the previous Saturday it was 2200 cfs. The extra water caused a lot of carnage. When we arrived at the put in, we saw that it was a normal release.

We then had another shuttle mishap. The first problem was that Allen nearly ran out of gas and we had to stop. Kathy pointed out that one of the shuttle rules is that you gas up the night before.

The next problem dealt with how to go to the take out. Should we take River Road to the take out or I-40? Kevin said "I-40. I remember River Road being full of pot holes" This was a BAD plan. As soon as we got onto I-40, we immediately hit construction. The road narrowed down to one lane and there was a lot of traffic. Luckily we stopped for gas BEFORE hitting the traffic. I have never gone that way to the take out and didn't know what exit to take. Of course the group got separated trying to merge. At the end of the run, we took River Road. It had hardly any pot holes.

We got to the put in and we took off. The run was drama free until we got to Lost Guide. John was leading Jamila through the rapids since it was her first time on the Pigeon. He eddied out, but didn't expect Jamila to also go into the eddy. Jamila flushed out of the eddy and went backwards into the hole at the bottom of the rapid. I had already run Lost Guide and was watching. I thought to myself "TURN AROUND" since you could predict the outcome. Jamila flipped in the hole, but immediately rolled back up. Later that night Jamila apologized for all of the "carnage" she experienced. Rick and I both looked at her and said "WHAT carnage? You were never out of your boat."

When we got to the lower Pigeon, we played on a lot of the ledges. I was surfing my Diesel and Steve yells out "HEY, what you doing playing?!" On the Chattooga Steve play boated a lot and I only surfed a couple of times.

Rick then decided to make the run more "interesting" by using hand paddles. He got stuck surfing on a ledge and flipped. One of the ledges is sticky, and I've been flipped on it before. He tried rolling three times and failed. I went over and bumped my bow on his boat so that he knew that could use it to flip himself up. He was not happy since he didn't "ask" for a rescue and I got in his way. He ended up swimming. One of his hand paddles came loose, but we were able to retrieve it. Steve watched the whole thing and said we would have done the same thing.

We got to the take out and went separate ways. John had to go back to Raleigh to teach a class. Allen and Steve took off back to the campground. Kathy, Kevin, Rick, Jamila, and I went to dinner at Lulu's in Sylva. At Lulu's we ran into a lot of kayakers we knew like Barb and Len.

Part II of the blog will be in a subsequent posting...