Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tis the Season

Creeking season has arrived in the Southeast. Many years, there's a lull between the warm predictability of damn release season and the frenetic variety of creeking season. Fortunately this year they overlapped with the first good fall rain arriving before the final Tallulah release weekend. And, while the damn releases are great runs, the repetition just makes one yurn even that much more for some honest adventure.

It's the gorge that makes Tallulah Special (Photo: JJ)

The Amphitheater from Above (Photo: JJ)

And with short days and no shortage of water, the cup of adventure is easily filled and often overflows. The past few weeks have featured great quick runs of Hike Up Elkmont and Island Creek with darkness looming as well as a failed attempt at Sam's Creek (I never thought I'd see it too high, but it was a fun hike burdened by carrying a 40 lb piece of Tupperware) and a near epic on Wildcat Creek (We finished but it was too high, too full of wood, and too dark and a smarter man would and did hike back out).

Which brings us to this morning. Tight work schedules forced a quick mission and with extremely high water from a few days of rain we decided to give Bruce Creek a quick look at dawn. Even with all the rain, I fully expected Bruce to be too low. How does a creek with a 1.5 sq. mi. drainage hold when it hasn't rained a drop in the previous 12 hours. Still, it's less than 40 minutes from the house, so it was worth a look.

I arrived late, as usual, and ran up the flooded trail to have a look at the main event, a clean but stacked set of waterfalls going about 12', 16', 22', and 8'. Note that these waterfalls are not a geological wonder, but rather a gift from TDOT, who decided to blast clean lips and nice pools when rerouting Bruce Creek to make room for I-75's climb up Cumberland Mountain. Before I even got a good look I knew we were on from Ohman's excited whooping (folks don't whoop for nothing before sunrise). The level looked good. Maybe a little low but the lips were clean and pools aerated. After all, how much water do clean waterfalls require?

So back down the trail we go, quickly gearing up and returning. After a little discussion of the small tree we'd be boofing through on the biggest drop, we decide holding a right stroke should block the tree away from face contact, so I head up to drop in. A quick warm up and 4 boof strokes later and I'm at the bottom, having avoided potential tree to face contact and loving life. Now Ohman heads up and is quickly loving life too with 4 boofs and no tree action. The rest of the creek back to the car was a little scrapey except for the 12fter above the culvert (we didn't have time to mess with the culvert, but it looked good). After a quick departure, I rally to work on time with one hell of a way to wake up behind me.

A Boof I've been Thinking of for Years (Photo: Ohman)

Ohman had never heard of Bruce 12 hours earlier (Photo: JJ)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dog Days to Another Missed Green Race

After Quebec, things really wound down around K-town as the dog days of summer kicked in. We had a few good days here and there (Juicy Crooked Fork, Thunderhead into Tremont), but in general it was Ocoee and mountain biking time. I even had some time to sneak a few good hiking trips in there.

Acadia National Park from Schoodic Mountain.

The Smokies have some great creeks.

This unpaddled one has plenty of bedrock.

Smokin' Steve Rappin' through an Impressive Place.

Since I hadn't paddled with my brother in forever, I decided to kick off September with a quick hitter to Colorado. The 4 day trip yielded Gore, the Black Canton of the Gunnison, and Bailey before I had to hop right back on the plane. A few notes from the trip:

- Gore rocks and makes me wish the Pigeon Dries would run again.
- Whether or not you run the super gnar, the Black is good for the soul.
- The portaging and hike out of the black are much more enjoyable with fully functioning lower appendages.
- Coloradans carnie as much as southeasterners do on predictable damn releases close to town.
- While gear dries much faster out west, the gate area in the Denver airport is still suboptimal for rapid drying operations.

Trying to Avoid having my Balls Crushed (Photo: TJ)

Gettin' my stomp on before gettin' my portage on (Photo: TJ).

Rolf droppin' into next gen, which was sick above 1000, although it's sick under 1000 as well (Photo: TJ).

TJ styling the move that led to my torn MCL in 2009 (Photo: I don't know)

When I returned home it became evident that the dry southeast I has left had since been saturated. Unfortunately levels receded quickly as the parched earth soaked it up like a sponge, but CPac and I were able to sneak in an after work West Prong as flows dropped out. It was even better that both the upper and lower were portage free other than major wood residing in big tree. The rest of September on in to October continued to deliver with runs on the Blackwater, Gauley, Green, Gragg Prong, Wilson, Russell Fork, and Tellico (never even took the camera though).

Unfortunately the last Sunday in October I tweaked (tore some scar tissue?) in my surgically repaired left shoulder in Boof. I was still able to complete the run and another race pace run, but come Monday the pain and swelling kicked up. After a week of going easy on my shoulder rehab work, I got to test it the day before the race on an after work low water Lilly to Nemo run. The results were not promising and after waffling for too long I made the smart decision to miss my third straight green race with an injury. Demoralized by the decision and not being much of a spectator, I decided to push myself in a different way: by hiking from Sugarlands to snowy Mt. Leconte (about 22 miles round trip with 5200 ft. of gain). The views were spectacular from Myrtle Point and my only advice is wear good shoes or your feet will hate you.

Looking down into some of the best creeking on the east coast.

Gotta love those Smoky Mountain Vistas.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quebec Day 8 - Adirondack Classics on the Way Home

From the Rouge, we made a quick drive south into the northern Adirondacks, poaching a nights sleep near the Racquette shuttle road on some county forest land. The plan for the day was to hit the Racquette release early before heading down for a low water scrape down the Moose, which was running due to a power plant problem. I'll spare the details as these runs are well known but suffice it to say it was good to be back at the old stomping grounds. These runs are still great fun and the Racquette still makes me nervous in a few spots. One thing to note is that the entrance to Colton has changed and the runout of the boof was a little faster than I remember. We all had a great day in the Adirondack sunshine with all the Southerners getting to see two of the New York classics for the first time. From the Moose it was only a short 15 hour drive back to Knoxville and the daily grind.

Overall it was great trip. Water levels worked out pretty well and we were able to get a lot done. The runs we did were mostly top notch and the only complaint was the terrible bugs. I think the only thing we missed out on was the Malbaie, which was too high almost the whole time we were there.

The Fellas after a Nice Wake Up Call at Colton Falls (Photo: Jeff Moore).

JJ Flying Down the Right to Left Line at Fowlersville Falls (Photo: JM).

Tony Enjoying My Favorite Spot on the Moose River (Photo: JM).

JJ Routing Down the Only Low Water Line at Shurform (Photo: JM).

Stomping at My Old Stomping Grounds (Photo: JM).

AZ can Stomp Some Crystal as Well (Photo: JM).

Since We're Dorks, We Took a Team Photo. Notice the Contrast Between Bare Back and Drysuit (Photo: JM).

Big Thanks to Jeff Moore and Alex Zendel for all their photos. I reduced image size for faster loading, so if you're interested in additional and full res photos, check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffgmoore/collections/72157627049572633/.

Quebec Day 7 - Riviere Rouge

The goal for Friday was to make ground back towards the states and do a little boating on the way at the Rouge River, which was running a little over 80 cms about an hour north of the NY border. After lots of driving from the Mattawin area, we made it to the Rouge in the early afternoon, paying to park at a little campground on river left where the Rouge meets the St. Lawrence. We headed upstream and found a rafting outfit where former guide Smokeless Steve schmoozed it up and got us a put in and a little beta.

After some continuous class II-III we reached the first rapid, Elizabeth's. We all grabbed a quick surf up top before dropping through a powerful but flushy hole, good stuff. A little more boogie water and the rapids were picking up to good big water class III-IV which was super fun and not very threatening. We rounded a corner and things steepened a bit. Some us stayed in a river left eddy while others scouted from river right. After getting a few signals, we surfed some nice waves (note to self: this is a great playboat run) before spinning and dropping into some pushy curlers as the river bounced off the right bank. After the left turn, thing went back downstream for a great big water hole punch. It was powerful and fluffy, but super fun and not too threatening. A little more class III with a nice wave or two brought us to the seven sisters.

Supposedly this stuff is good from 20-50 cms, but we all took a quick look anyways. 1 and 2 were big time, with life threatening holes but a definite line. 3 looked to be a great big water falls, but 4 into 5 looked to be the real terror (although it's probably survivable if you're into russian roulette style jedi-plugs). It didn't take long for the tales to be tucked and the portage to commence. We found a nice seal launch under the new highway bridge and headed down to check out the final sister. This one was top notch: a big chute into a powerful hole that wasn't too sticky. Just a great way to finish up a chill big water day. A couple hundred yards of moving water and we were walking up the hill at the campground to the truck.

Surprise, surprise. The Rouge also exceeded expectations and was a great big water day. It's not quite as classic as the Tewksberry, perhaps only due to the portage at the sisters, but the play was super fun even in creek boats and I wish I had been to this one long ago as it' not far from Western NY and runs all summer. One more note, when leaving the Rouge buy your beer in Quebec as you'll have a tough time finding any in Ontario.

Smokeless Steve at the First Nice Hole Bash of the Rouge (Photo: Jeff Moore).

After Some Nice Big Water Boogie You Come to this Beaut (Photo: JM).

Mr. Zendel Getting In Up to His Head in the Finish to the Previous Rapid (Photo: JM).

I Don't Think Anyone was Looking Too Seriously, But You Could (Photo: JM).

It Probably Does Suck Birds Out of the Sky (Photo: JM).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quebec Day 6 - Riviere Mattawin

After getting done with the Cachee there was quite a bit of discussion of where to head to next. The Malbaie was the one run that we all wanted to do that we hadn't hit yet, but it was a long drive out in the wrong direction for us and was really high as well. We talked some other options and finally settled on the Mattawin. The guide book mentioned some big rapids and it sounded like the 50 cms we were supposed to have would be okay. Instead of braving the bugs in the Jacque-Cartier Parc, we headed back down the hill to try to camp at one of the Tewksberry raft companies. We never found the company and poached a bug free night at the put in instead.

We woke fairly early and got packed up (in fact it was really early relatively) and hit the road for the long drive to the Mattawin. We made pretty poor time and were crossing the Batascin into the Reserve Faunique Mattawin around noon. We found out we had to pay a fee to both cross the bridge and enter the parc (Looking back, the Tewksberry is the only fee free Quebec river we did). After hammering a good dirt road for a while, we broke left down towards the take out for the upper. The road wasn't terrible but it was slow going and long and we finally found a trail that led to the river in about ¼ mile (I think the road hit the river about 1 mile from where we parked). As we got organized, it became quite obvious, the mosquitoes were brutal. We quickly donned the rain jackets and head nets to avoid choking from mosquito inhalation and were headed for the put in quickly.

After driving back out to the main road and heading upstream for a ways, we eventually started paralleling the river. We ended up putting in a few km downstream of the guidebook recommendation as it looked like that's where the decent rapids started. We geared up in slightly less mosquitoes than the take out and paddled across the first lake with head nets over helmets. We quickly bombed a few high volume ledges before another pool and a nice constricted lead in rapid. Around the next corner, we all quickly grabbed a fairly walled out eddy above a frothing horizon line. A quick scout revealed a massive hole that looked likely to beat you until long after the lights went out. There looked to be a fairly bold sneak down the left or a partial portage on the right to just below the nasty hole. We couldn't really get a good look at either option until we did a wading scout at the base of the river right cliff to see that the partial portage went. We all seal launched into the surging mess behind the hole before being shoved around the corner and spit out the bottom. Just downstream another big water rapid laced with fierce, although not terminal, holes. No one was feeling up the meat, but Brandon and I snuck the entrance to get to the great finish. What awaited us as we left the road was not what we were looking for, a lake. This was probably the largest natural lake I've ever paddled across (although I've never done the Magpie) and after about 45 minutes of cranking we reached the other end.

Upon a quick scout, our fears were confirmed, another massive rapid with ugly looking ledge holes. I was the only one feeling up to the first few tiers, which went smoother than anticipated but still had big time beat down potential. We worked our way down a few more tiers until we had to portage the nastiest 2 ft drop I've ever seen. It was pretty much a natural low head dam with about 50 ft of backwash, totally runnable but don't even think about bobbling it. A little more flat water brought us to another ledge with yet another man eating hole, but a decent little sneak down the left. After some more flatwater and some more moderate rapids we reached a pretty impressive feature: the whole river slid down a wide low angle 100 yard long slide. We all took slightly different lines and the big curlers at the bottom of the main chute were great fun.

At the bottom of the slide, this river's main theme continued, more flatwater. At this point, the sun was starting to go down and there was nothing to do but put our heads down and crank. Soon we were came to yet another large horizon line, which ended up being a 30ft relatively clean ledge, without a massive hole at the bottom. I quickly lined up a vert to reconnect line on the right which went super smooth. I was really surprised when Alex and Jeff followed me, as they aren't usually in to this kind of rapid, but they had smooth lines as well. In the waning light we paddled a little flat water, all secretly hoping the river would have no more big drops and suddenly turn to continuous class III. Well, we didn't get it, but we did get some long sections of class II to speed the process. About 30 minutes later, we came to a spot that the road came down to the river but unfortunately it wasn't our spot. Knowing we were close, we cranked out another 15 minutes before finding the trail up to the truck, where the mosquitoes were certainly waiting for us.

This was probably the only river of the trip that didn't exceed expectations, mainly due to the staggering amount of flatwater (not moving at all). I'm pretty sure the Alden never ran this before writing the guidebook or there would have been some mention. That said, there were a handful of super fun rapids, although less water would make them more user friendly, and the run had a seriously out there feel, but that came with a long confusing shuttle (make sure you have a good topo map). It's one I'm glad I've done, but won't be in a hurry to go back to.

The Hole That Nearly Ate All of Us (Photo: Jeff Moore).

Brandon Launching Just Downstream (Photo: JM).

JJ in the Mellow Set of a Long Series of Ledge Holes (Photo: JM).

Half Way Down the Big Slide (Photo: JM).

Crashing Through Some Curlers at the Bottom (Photo: JM)

Tony Taking the Lower Volume Side of the Slide (Photo: JM).

Waning Light Below the Big Falls (Photo: JM).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quebec Day 5 - Taureau et Cachee

This was the day I had been waiting for all trip. The Taureau had been one of my main motivations in coming to Quebec, and it was coming together. With the rain earlier in the week, it was higher than we had hoped as none of us had done it before. Unfortunately, that meant that only Brandon and I would be going the next morning, but it meant we had one essential for a Taureau trip, a shuttle driver. We woke early and ate a quick breakfast before hopping in the truck with Steve and heading out of the park for the epic shuttle (big thanks Steve). A long time later, we were along the upper Jacque-Cartier, pretty sure we were at the put in, but unsure where the gauge rock was. After some searching and comparing to photos, we found the spot and eventually concluded that the rock of interest was about 6” under water. A little more than we were hoping for, but not enough to have us thinking about backing out.

Again, we quickly geared up due to the savage black flies and mosquitoes and by 9 am we were cranking flatwater with head nets on to weather the swarms. Soon, the river started to pick up until we were bombing splashy class IV, forcing the head nets to come off. About 1 minute later we launched off a riverwide ledge above the first real rapid, double drop, confirmed by the remain of a wire bridge overhead. When we hopped out to scout, a pile of broken paddles greeted us, casting a bit of an ominous tone. A quick scout revealed a juicy lead in to a great boof followed by more juiciness. Shortly downstream we reached the first triple drop, consisting of a scarey planing boof followed by a juicy boof onto a nice slide. A theme for the day was building that would carry on for quite a while, nice juicy boofs everywhere.

We continued through more great rapids until portaging the waterfall slot, which didn't look at all appealing. Eventually we reached La Luniere confuence, bringing in a lot of extra water. The section below here had great scenery, with lots of big cliff walls. We kept making good time, knowing that we had most of the big stuff still to go. Another wire bridge signaled the sieve rapid, and while the sieve itself didn't look bad, it was shooting up a monster rooster tail and featured a terrible looking hole just downstream. After a quick lunch, we both portaged quickly, launching into the steepest and rowdiest part of the run. A huge big water slide shot us directly into a long class IV runout. Then hump and pump, a great s-turn into a rowdy hole. Next was logjam, which took us about 30 minute to get a good look at the bottom. It's amazing how close together the trees grow up there. Then razor rock, which features an extremely aesthetic drive away from the right cliff wall, which harbors a couple nasty holes, before continuing left for the final drop through a big hole. After that, things relatively chilled out, although we did nearly bomb into a disgusting ledge hole, until reaching the finale, Coming Home Muhammad. At this point the sky opened up and we took a look at Muhammad. This rapid looked huge and great, but the sneak looked worse the main line, which was big time with the extra flow, so we tucked our tales between our legs and hit the small portage trail. Below here things continued with plenty of great class IV as the river mellowed toward the confluence of the Jacque-Cartier Nord-Ouest and Nord-Est. From here out things moved quickly and the scenery was incredible with huge walls emerging everywhere. We pulled into camp 3 a little before 3:30 followed shortly thereafter by our shuttle driver Jeff, who decided to pick us up while everyone else repeated the Tewksberry (big thanks Jeff). Sorry no Taureau photos, we didn't even bring a camera.

People like to compare the Taureau to the Linville Gorge in North Carolina, and it's a pretty fair comparison. The lengths are similar and they are certainly the two most impressive gorges in Eastern North America. Linville has a lot more scarey rapids than the Taureau and probably more hard rapids overall (but I'm more comfy on big water than sievey stuff), as most of the in between on the Taureau is fun class IV. The other nice thing is most of the hard rapids on the Taureau occur just after wire bridges. The Taureau is definitely more committing, with a huge shuttle and no trails anywhere in the meat of the run (I imagine losing a boat would ensure at least a night spent in the woods), while Linville has many trails in and out as well as a trail along the river. Regardless, they are both two of the most classic runs in Eastern North America.

After driving out of the park, we met the Tewkberry crowd for some dinner. On the way out of the park, we had noted that the Cachee was brown and much higher than the last few days. After we enhaled some burgers, we decided to head back and take a quick look at the Cachee again. It had come up some more while we were at dinner, but still looked pretty low. Ah what the hell, I'll probably never be here again when it' running and the slides looked covered up enough.

After a quick gearing up in the twilight, Tony, Alex, and I headed down behind the guard shack to the put in. After some quick boulder mank and a few small slides we came to the big drop. After some brief scouting Alex and I both committed, finding it friendly despite the thin coverage. Another boof and a nice boulder drop and we were back into some fierce boulder mank, with more wood now. We just kept charging downhill despite the bumpiness until we hit the final slides above the take out bridge. Below here was a little more boulder garbage in the encroaching darkness before we hit the take out. Despite the extreme low flow, the bedrock sections of the creek were still high quality and super fun. I'd guess this run has a small window between when the boulder rapids fill in and when things get rowdy, although it probably gets rowdy in a good way.

Alex Blasting Through an Early Cachee Slide (Photo: Jeff Moore)

JJ Landing the Big One (Photo: JM)

JJ Boofing the Drop Below the Big One (Photo: JM)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quebec Day 4 - Tewkesbury et St. Catherine

After all the driving of the last few days, we decided to take an easy day and check out the Tewkesbury section of the Jacque-Cartier. We were yet again slow to motivate despite continual prodding from the 6 legged inhabitants of our campsite. After making the 30 minute drive down to the Tewkesbury area, we got some info from the local raft guides on where to put in and take out (both at raft company set ups) and checked the gauge (about 0.5 ft., nice medium). We waited in the sunshine while the short shuttle was being run, delighted with the lack of bugs attacking us.

We hopped on, without much expectations as the river slowly got going. Soon enough we were bombing into the first big water rapid along an angled wall on the right. It was great, big waves, big curlers, and big holes. Things continued this way for a while with several nice long rapids before getting to meatgrinder, the largest rapid on the run. It wasn't really any more difficult than the others, just longer with less direct routes. A few more big water rapids, including several with some nice little gorge walls, and things were opening up and flattening out on the way to the takeout. Again, I'd have to say the Tewkesbury really exceeded expectations, and although short, was pretty classic for being nestled about 30 minutes from Quebec City.

Smokeless Steve Oping not to Drop in for a Ride at the Top of a Long One (Photo: Jeff Moore)

And Steve Finishing the Same (Photo: JM)

The Fellas Chillin' Under some Nice Little Walls (Photo: JM)

Despite the late start, we still had plenty of time, so we decided to head down and check out the St. Catherine section of the Jacque-Cartier. We should have continued downstream on the Tewkesbury take out road, but our maps were incomplete so we headed back to the main highway and through some Quebec City suburbs before arriving at the St. Catherine section. After driving along the river running shuttle, we weren't expecting much as things looked wide and lake like.

Upon putting in at a little pull out on river left, about 3 miles upstream of the bridge, things were definitely lake like for awhile before reaching the first rapid. Just as the guidebook mentioned, when we got to the second drop there were islands and lots of choices. We started right, decided it looked scrapey and headed back to the left for some great big water curler moves. From the bottom, we saw a nice slide in a channel just to our right and wasted no time walking back up for a run. We then paddled over to the right channel and picked off a nice little boof at the end. After exploring all the channels, we booked it across the short lake to the next set. The right was supposedly the Bluet, a big time rapid named for a small tasty berry, so we checked out the left to find another high quality, steep rapid with few holes thrown before rounding to the right and crashing through more wave and holes. Good stuff. We were running out of light, so we didn't get to explore any of the right channel, although from downstream it appeared the lines ranged from a nice 10' waterfall to terminal hole bashing. Although nowhere near the classic the Tewkebury is, St. Catherine was an afternoon well spent. We grabbed some great pizza at Paquettes within a half mile of the take out before heading back to camp at the Sautauriski confluence.

Tony on the Slightly Scrapey Slide at the First Island Rapid (Photo: JM)

Tony Boofing the River Right Channel that we Walked Back Up (Photo: JM)

Alex Styling a Line that was In Between the Meat and the Sneak (Photo: JM)

The Bluet, Wish we had Time to Explore (Photo: JM)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quebec Day 3 - La Riviere Sautauriski

After more waffling and water level debates (part of the fun of going somewhere all the gauges are unfamiliar and descriptions are often in French), we decided on the Sautauriski, which was supposed to be low but runnable (good considering this is usually a late spring run). We paid more admissions fees (a theme is emerging) to get into the Parc Jacques-Cartier and set shuttle just upstream from where Sautauriski confluences into the main Jacques-Cartier. The river looked pretty low but passable in the dechannelized section upstream from the takeout, so we figured we'd be okay. Shuttle entailed leaving and reentering the Parc in a less developed area, where we drove to the blockade of the dirt road at the bridge across the Sautauriski.

As soon as we got out, we were massacred by black flies and mosquitoes, necessitating a less than leisurely rate of gearing up. The river started nicely with an easy narrow bedrock rapid right under the bridge before spreading out for a good distance of easy boulder rapids which could have used some additional flow. Soon enough we made the portage, getting out to take a look. The 1st and 3rd drops were good but the 2nd was too low to be enticing (although it may not be enticing at any levels). Fortunately eddies and seal launches were available to avoid the 2nd drop; however too much time was taken scouting and portaging, and the mosquitoes and black flies were again onto us. We took off from the bugs as soon as possible and soon found ourselves routing through many nice class IV boulder rapids. Unfortunately, they ended sooner than we would have liked, but at least the scenery was top notch for the paddle out.

While not nearly the classic the Neilson was, the Sautauriski delivered a nice mellow day in a beautiful canyon, and I'm sure it would get better with increased flows.

Trying to Boof the First Drop of the Portage (Photo: Jeff Moore)

Finishing Off the Third Drop of the Portage After Seal Launching the Second (Photo: JM)

Tony Boofing a Nice One Below the Portage (Photo: JM)

Boofing Downstream in the Nice Class IV Section (Photo: JM)

See, Jeff Does More than just Take Photos (Photo: Alex Zendel)

Not Chicken Pox, Just the Price for Scouting Too Long (Photo: AZ)

Mmm... Camp in Quebec (Photo: AZ)