Monday, July 11, 2011

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...

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