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Week of Rivers 2010
July 2010
by Robert Langley

 This year thirteen paddlers from the Houston Canoe Club joined several hundred paddlers from around the country for the Carolina Canoe Club’s Week of Rivers.  This year’s HCC contingent included first timers at Week of Rivers: Nancy Christian, Dutch Becker, Tracy Caldwell, Frasier and Janice Backer and Bill and Ruth Grimes.  They were joined by Week of Rivers veterans: Mazy Leung, Frank Ohrt, Robert, Robert Jr. and Peter Langley. As a whole the group paddled over 330 miles on 9 different rivers. They paddled the Tuckasegee, Nantahala Hiwasee, Cheoah, Pigeon, Green, Ocoee, French Broad, and the Chattooga (do you hear banjo music?)

If you have never been, Week of Rivers is the premier paddling event put on by the Carolina Canoe Club.  Around the 4th of July paddlers from around the country gather at Misty Mountain Camp Grounds near Bryson City, NC.  Every morning at 8:30 the horn sounds and paddlers gather for the news of the day. After news and water levels are announced trips for the day begin to form.  The meeting breaks up and a multitude of paddlers head off in many directions.  This goes on from Saturday morning until Sunday of the following week, nine days of paddling in all.  The group is dynamic with individuals coming and going throughout the week.

My boys and I showed up late Friday morning, set up camp and then headed off for a local play spot innocently know as Devil’s Dip.  The boys, now in their 20’s, had an agenda and the Tuckasegee (Class II) and Nantahala (Class II –III) were not on it.  Saturday morning we met up with Kathy and Kevin (from San Antonio) and Jon and Doug (from Pennsylvania) for a little warm up on the Pigeon (Class II-III+)  The Pigeon, nicknamed the “dirty bird”, is a credit to the environmental movement.  In the 90’s it was so polluted from the paper mill that you risked mutation to paddle it.  I would not drink the water or even eat fish out of it today but it is much improved and is now a popular paddling and rafting river.  Three class three rapids make for an interesting ride. Lost Guide, Double Reactionary and Accelerator will keep you on your toes.

   Kathy at Lost Guide

 Robert on the Upper Green
Sunday was the 4th of July so we elected to take the path less traveled.  The upper Green is a beautiful little class II river with a III – IV surprise.  When we got on the river it was reminiscent of the San Marcos, a narrow, quiet and secluded river well shaded by overhanging trees.  After paddling for about 15minutes we came to Bayless Boof.  It is always somewhat subjective when determining what’s a III and what’s a IV, but I think all agreed that Bayless Boof is a IV.  Some rapids are about maneuvers; this one is about your starting line and then it is all about gravity.  To add insult to injury       there is a rock just underwater to the right of your line.  If you miss your line you may recontour the front of your boat.

 Jon at Bayless Boof     Kathy at Bayless Boof   Rob at Bayless Boof

The next couple of miles are easy but continuous class II until you get to Pinball.  This is another one of those runs where gravity plays a big part although you do have the opportunity to influence your descent after you enter the rapids.  As long as you run a clean line you hit the bottom hole at about half the speed of light, punching it is not a problem.  If your line is a little off you get to find out why they call it Pinball.  At the end of this delightful run you get to find out why you have not seen anyone all day.  The takeout is the second class IV (a 3.4 mile hike up hill).  The only thing worst than the takeout is not making the takeout.  The next section downstream is known as the Green Narrows (350ft of drop in 1 mile.)  We saw a couple of paddlers preparing to run this section.  Their gear looked more like something for an NFL game than a weekend paddle.

On Monday it was time to stop fluffing off so it was off to the Ocoee.  I am told that the Ocoee “is just class III” but I never thought class III could get so big.  As one of the most popular rafting rivers in Appalachia, the Ocoee offers almost continuous class II – III water with some wave trains bordering on class IV.  Somehow it just seems like you should never get airborne on a class III.  The Ocoee is also a coming of age river.  When you can paddle the Ocoee you have graduated from novice to intermediate paddler.  All in all it was a great time.  The boys played everything on the river and I did not die.

 Peter Plays the Ocoee  Rob plays the Ocoee
The Ocoee does not run on Tuesday so it was time to try something else.  We decided that we wanted to paddle section 3.5 of the Chattooga so we went off to the morning meeting with a plan to get on a 3.5 trip.  When the morning meeting was over we were disappointed to find that the two trips being lead down section 3.5 were full.  But as luck would have it we were not alone.  The most bizarre thing about our trip down section 3.5 was the makeup of the team.  We started out as group of 7 that did not make it into one of the other groups:

Peter, Rob and Myself
Dan and Patrick (Patrick being about 15 but a pretty solid paddler)
Dan and Seth, two twenty something guys who were both OK. Seth had been down section 3.5 before but he offered little guidance.

When we got to the 76 bridge over the Chattooga we picked up a stray, Kirk.  He had been waiting around hoping to meet a group he could run section 4 with but he ended up going with us.  The boys were convinced he was a serial killer.  He was on vacation with his family but had left them at a cabin.  He had paddled in Pennsylvania but had to rent all of his equipment and he wanted to paddle section 4 but he portaged all of the class IVs.

We could never decide who the true trip leader was.  My GPS got us to the 76 bridge over the Chattooga but I did not have any good data on the put in or takeout.  Dan and Seth got us to the takeout and after going by the NOC outpost Kirk knew all of the turns on the dirt road to get to the put in. (I guess it is a good place to dump bodies.)
Rob and Peter did most of the river scouting and for the most part kept us out of trouble.

The trip was pretty uneventful until we got to Bull Sluice.  The water level was too low to run the boof on river left of Decapitation Rock so the only line was on river right between Decapitation Rock and the keeper hole.  Everybody but Rob and Dan the younger ran pretty good lines although I think Peter and I were the only ones that did not flip.  Dan the younger flipped above the big drop but made a good recovery with a panic combat roll and went over OK.  Rob scared the hell out of me. 

He went too far river left and slid down between the rock face and Decapitation Rock in a classic vertical pin.  Peter and I were standing on river right taking pictures.  Before we could do anything Rob cart wheeled his boat sideways and into the froth pushing off of Decapitation Rock.  He flipped in the froth and hand rolled back up and then picked up his paddle like he had planned it.  All I can figure is that the paddle went under Decapitation Rock.  (Rumor has it that when the locals get tipsy enough they will swim under Decapitation Rock.  Rumor also has it that the catfish downsteam of Bull Sluice eat well.)

 Robert at Bull Sluice
Downstream of the Bull and the 71 bridge the river narrows and the rapids become a little more difficult.  The only real interesting part was when we got to Woodall Shoals Hole.  Overall on that day the rapids was good class three but the hole has killed better than a dozen paddlers so it commands more respect than that.  The sneak on river right was pretty bony but Seth, Dan and Patrick took that route.  Rob and Peter skirted river right of the hole. (There was a good 18 inches for a margin of error.)  Dan the older and I portaged because we were already scouting on river left and there just was not much point in ferrying over to bounce down a bunch of rock.  The takeout for 3.5 is just downsteam of the rapids and by then I was ready.

On Wednesday I was ready for a rest so the boys consented to paddling section 9 of the French Broad.  The French Broad is another river where you need to know your sections. Section 8 is a beginner/novice run.  Section 9 ends with a class V rapids.  Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, the water level was too low to make it down to the class V so I enjoyed padding my play boat that day.  It is also the only day I paddled with another Houston Canoe Club member other than my boys.  Nancy braved this section of the river for the first time.

The next two days it was back to the Ocoee.  Somehow after three times it was not as terrifying as it used to be.  By Saturday morning I was not sure I could move.  The boys wanted to play at the surfing wave on the Nantahala at NOC.  So we headed over there after a leisurely breakfast.  The boys played until it got too crowded and I went and ran the falls a couple of times to improve my record.  (After 8 days of paddling III-IV water the falls are a piece of cake.)  When the crowds became oppressive we headed over to the devils dip for one last paddle before packing up.

 Frank at Corkscrew
 Frank at Corkscrew 2

Frank’s Story.
There were thirteen HCC paddlers at Week of Rivers but there is so much going on I only saw most of them at the morning meeting.  I never actually paddled on the same trip with Frank but I did run into him on the Ocoee one day.  After paddling the Ocoee Frank was ready for something just a little bit more.  More in this case was Section 4 of the Chattooga.  There are a lot of trips that go out after the morning meeting but none were going to section 4 that day.  Leading a blind trip down section 4 just is not a good idea.

If you have ever seen Deliverance, this is where it was filmed.  This part of the Chattooga is just not a river that takes prisoners.  Shortly after Frank returned to his campsite a group of hardcore paddlers came and got him and off they went to section 4. (Some trips form at the morning meeting and some are reserved for the gnarly.)  I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.  Week of Rivers is just a great place.

Although we all went our separate ways, every HCC member I talked to had a great time and wants to go back.  This was my third trip and I will definitely be going back.

A few acknowledgements are appropriate at this time:
I cannot thank the local paddlers enough for leading the many trips.
The proprietors at the campground were outstanding.  They made us feel right at home.
The good people at NOC put on a number of clinics, mostly for free, throughout the week.  On Friday they put on a big sale for all the CCC members.  When you are ready to take your paddling to the next level, you can do a lot worst than a clinic at NOC.

 Campground  Home Sweet Home

Thanks to everyone that led a trip or had a part in putting on the event.