Friday, January 4, 2008

Taking Out '07 With A Bang

Since I started nursing school in August '07, I have been on a pretty short leash in regard to paddling. Thank goodness NC is such a great place to live if you're a kayaker, because I haven't been able to travel more than about two hours to paddle in a while due to the amount of schoolwork I've had. That's why there are breaks.Judging from the looks of the radar, the last week of 2007 looked to be the type of week southeastern boaters have longed for all year. Though it wasn't a week of rain, several inches of precipitation fell between December 28th and 30th, allowing an opportunity to chase the rain a final time before the new year. For me, this time would be a little different than the other (few) rain events of 2007. This time I could travel a little further.

I had made plans to spend New Year's with my girlfriend, Alexis and her family in Chattanooga. I was fired up about getting to spend some time with her but in the back of my head, I kind of wanted to stick around in NC until the storms got here and put water in the rivers. I ended up packing up my car and getting a couple of late runs on the Nantahala Cascades as they rose to a good level on my way to Chattanooga Friday afternoon. No pictures from that trip, as I was a bit rushed but needed a quick fix anyway. I arrived in Chattanooga around 7:30p.m., headed to dinner, then went out with Alexis and a couple of her friends to a bluegrass show at Mtn. Opry on Lookout Mtn.

After a good night's rest, I spoke with Clay Wright and Terry Smith about paddling. Terry and I met Clay at Suck Creek for a morning run. The water was low but I hadn't ever paddled Suck so I enjoyed myself anyway. For those who have never done it, Suck is a steep, low volume, boulder creek. It reminds me of the Lower Cullasaja by the number of sharp or badly placed rocks and undercut, seived-out, and continuous nature. The only real difference I noticed is that Suck doesn't seem to have as many medium-sized vertical drops as the Cullasaja, and that most of the rapids feel similar to boogie water or the smaller named rapids on the Green. Our original plan was to make a lap then possibly make another, depending how the first one went. However, the creek was pretty low and gave up some good hits in several spots, and we spent a good chunk of time helping a fellow boater recover his badly pinned boat, so at the takeout we decided to load up and head down to Alabama to paddle the Suicide Section of the Little River.

Once in Alabama, we wasted no time in re-checking the level and getting ready to put on. Clay and I decided to drop in early and run Little River Falls instead of hiking down to the river. I don't know about Clay, but my excuse is that I'm lazy! ;-) Though Terry is an awesome boater who has run the falls many times before, he decided to sit out this day and take photos of our lines.

Eying the clapper in the landing - turned out to be nice and soft!

Drysuits are a must for winter boating!

The Little ended up being 9.5" at the bridge. I had never run the Suicide Section before and apparently this is kind of a high level, so I wasn't very sure of what to expect. I was thinking I needed to expect making tough moves in pushy water with boils, curlers, and some big holes, but I wasn't positive. The falls looked good, at least. Clay and I looked hard at the center 30' line, but a shelf lurks in the landing, and neither of us could really tell if the curtain was making it far enough past the shelf to be a safe bet. The thought of a femur-snapping hit made me shift my focus to scouting the far left line off a 10'er landing on a clapper, immediately into a rolling 20'er. The landing of the 10'er looked nice and soft with this much water, as did the landing of the second drop. As Clay and I scouted a crowd grew. The looks on kids faces when they realized what we were intending to do was priceless. Clay and I both found soft landings off the clapper rock and a sweet tuck into a short freefall off the second drop. Good stuff!

Photos by Terry Smith, courtesy of Clay Wright

Heading down into the gorge, I was met with everything I expected and more. Coming from the bump-and-grind run we had earlier in the day on Suck Creek, the power of the Little made me stand up and take notice. This day was like my first run on the Gauley - I was in a big gorge, on a big river, with house-sized rocks creating great rapids, only it was better because the drops were bigger. With each rapid, I felt more and more like I was being flushed downstream by the power of the river but it was great. Terry, Clay, and I ran the meat of every rapid and found big waves, seams, some chunky holes, and some ferries with consequences for blown moves but we reached the takeout all too soon.

Though short, the ¼ mile hike up the hill to the parking lot is painful because of the steep grade but it was well worth it. As I hiked I couldn’t help but grin to think about checking off two more awesome runs in the same day. I love paddling rivers I’ve never done before and to get on two different runs that are as good as these were is great. Thanks to Terry and Clay for showing me down both rivers and for taking photos! Until next time, pray for rain!

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