Monday, October 15, 2012

Hunting the White Elephant

There were so many times during this day that we could have turned back. But instead we pushed on, searching for that fleeting beauty so pure that it seems to escape whenever it's within grasp. Kirk and I had stayed patient, avoiding the temptation of the sure thing at dawn. We had stayed true to adventure, avoiding the sure good thing of the West Prong or Ramsey. We almost derailed due to last second hang ups at work, but finally we found ourselves rallying for Upper Santeetlah Creek, or as Kirk put it, hunting the white elephant. Chasing rumored perfection, given enough water to float our boats, open forest service gates, and a creek that can be chocked full of the huge hemlocks which line its lush banks.

There had been days before that we had thought about heading up there before, but twice bitten leaves a man timid, and Kirk had been bitten more than twice. Whether it was low water or closed gates, he had always been shut down, relegating a day full of opportunity back to the Tellico. Fortunately, enthusiasm is contagious, and despite his misgivings on the way ("we're going to check the Santeetlah level and paddle the Tellico... at least it won't be low"), we chugged through the thick fog that blanketed the skyway. At our turn, the first hurdle was delayed, but after several corners we found a forest service gate open. Then, we got our first glance of the river, which looked mighty low from way up high. It still did when we made it to the bridge. About an inch below the footer. Good thing after all the effort, we're not snobs. Besides, exploration always trumps the familiar.

With expectations as low as the water, we put on, hoping to experience the place without destroying our boats. As the boulders gave way to bedrock, we were pleasantly surprised. The creek was living up to the reputation, and the high quality shined through despite the low water. And for the most part the large hemlocks we saw were on the banks, and not in the creek. I must admit, I'm not always into micro creeks, but Upper Santeetlah is the best one I've ever paddled. It was golden.


All Photos JJ.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A turning point

I realized that I haven't put a post up on here in awhile.  Priorities change just as life itself changes, in the past year I have taken a step back in my paddling.  I don't think this change has come on purpose, it has just happened.  Don't get me wrong I have got to run tons of class 5 this year but "the itch" has not been there this year, while up in BC in august I yearned for that feeling of a few years ago and a bit of the I don't give a fuck attitude, but I couldn't muster it.
Growing up occurs at different stages in peoples lives, for me I think it came when I realized that there are other positives and negatives besides those that result from kayaking.  For me I started my nursing career this spring, it gives me loads of time off but I also have the stress of working all night long and having peoples loved ones in my hands, as well as having my own professional life in my hands.
The days of kayaking that were pure fun and when I wasn't worried were fewer this year than ever before, and the days in other aspects of my life where I had pure fun and worried about little were greater than ever before.  Is this just a balancing of my life or am I shifting away from a sport that has defined my life for the past 5 years?
Maybe it is my true realization that I could die doing this, I have tried to rationalize my risk taking in kayaking by saying something along the lines of "I could get hit by a car tomorrow and die".  Over the past few months this year the paddling community has lost many lives, it seems like a never ending horror story to go with the amazing feeling that kayaking brings us.  I don't think I am afraid of dying but I am afraid of leaving my loved ones behind, what would it do to my parents? brother? girlfriend?  My view of death is very black and white, your alive then you're not.  In my opinion all we become is a chunk of cold organic matter that will be recycled into the earth, and I'm ok with that.
I hope that my fire for kayaking hasn't left my but rather took a hiatus this year.  I am in the process of trying to plan how I will re-kindle that fire next season, weight lifting, cadio, more planned adventures, goals.  I hope that next year will change my perception of my paddling ability, lifestyle and get back to the reason I started: for the fun of it.

Enough of my ramblings, here are some of my favorite shots of the year:
Tyson Titensor in BC

Tyson again

Rolf Kelly on the dean in BC

Sunset hiking into BC

Scott dent on bull lkae

Me on the north fork of the little wind, followed shortly by a scary experience

Sunset on the NFLW

Rio Brazo


Maybe my favorite trip of the year: the main salmon.  Six days with four of my best friends

Thursday, April 12, 2012

High Times in the High Country

It's been a long time since I had a really successful 3 day weekend of boating in the southeast, but Easter weekend 2012 really delivered. After some pop up thundershowers got some local runs like Tremont and and Little going during the week, a slightly heavier round of storms rolled in Thursday Night, setting the stage for a great weekend. Waking up, it appeared that most of the crucial areas had been missed by the rain, with the exception of the high country. So off we went, bound for the Laurel Fork of the Doe.

Upon arrival we confirmed a nice medium level (9" on THE Tony Robinson gauge), so on up to Dennis Cove. I had been once before at lower levels and the medium water felt great, but made the super blind rapids even more difficult to boat scout. Fortunately the wood situation was in good shape. After bombing some great drops in what might be the southeast's most intimate gorge, we made it Darwin's Hole, the scoutable but only marginally portageable and protectable crux of the run. I know some folks who've had near deaths in this hole, so it warrants some serious caution. Safety from the top is marginal for the first boater (your buddy can keep you from drowning but can't get you out of the water), and slightly better for everyone else if the first boater gets out on the left and walks back upstream along the base of the cliff to an appropriate location. Fortunately, we made it through without incident. Just watch the nub on the right that the lead in throws into, and deliver yourself to safety with a well timed boof.

Ben Warf Blasting through Darwin's. It's nastier than it looks and getting out to take this photo was exciting.

After some more great boxed in rapids and a few slightly more open slides, we made it to Laurel Falls. I thought it looked good the last time, but the water and daylight wasn't there. This time there was more water (although more would be better) and plenty of daylight, so I gave it a good look. Mike Patterson fired off the middle line to start the stoke. I was feeling the right line and gave it a a go. A slight piton on the first drop followed by some crucial bracing through the second drop saw me under control rolling off the 35-40 ft. final step. Unfortunately, I didn't took my paddle and ate it right between my upper lip and nose, resulting in a bloody nose and split lip, but luckily no broken nose or knocked out teeth. Lucky! Chris Vella followed up with a nice line off the center as well. Below is a video Chris threw together.

JJ Boofing into the Trees (Photo: Brandon Stephens).

And Rolling over the Final Tier (Photo: BS).

Vella a long way up on the Middle Line at Laurel Falls (Photo: BS).

Laurel Falls from Chris Vella on Vimeo.

Wanting more action, I headed to the Elk with Mary Anne and Alex who had decided to sit out the Laurel Fork. It was slightly lower than the last time I was there, but still a good low (1.7 on THE Tony Robinson gauge). Last time we did the short put in, but having no 4x4, we headed to the top. Big Falls was not remotely tempting with low water and still bleeding face, so on we went to some flatwater and a few great rapids before reentering familiar territory. Some great slides, a little portaging, and a few waterfalls followed before we were paddling out in the twilight. Twisting Falls Gorge is definitely an intense place.

AZ at an early slide on the Elk.

Mary Anne on the same from Above.

After a great night of camping under a full moon, we knew exactly what the rest of the weekend entailed: Watuaga. And at a great level. And with a race Saturday. It was a fantastic two days on what might be the best class IV in the southeast (Cain/Chick is pretty good too). The race started in usual fashion: an hour late with a clusterfuck of a mass start under the bridge. Fortunately I got the holeshot and was out in front from the beginning. I got passed by 5 longboats but didn't see another shortboat after about 1 minute in. It was nice to boof the finish line falls in a mass start race without anyone in sight behind me. We went for one more lap that afternoon, having the river to ourselves.

Sunday was a little lower on the water, but just as good. I'll let the photos do the talking, as I took lots of them.

Lead in to Hydro: an Utterly Classic Rapid.

It also finishes with a nice sticky ledge hole.

Smokin' Steve starting things off right. The locals LOVED that pink boat!

And finishing strong.

AZ getting Western in there.

Picking our way down to Edge of the World.

The great finish to Heavy Water.

Which can also be Boofed.

Knuckles is much nastier than this photo would lead you to believe.

Steve and the meat of Diana's Ledge.

Almost to the quintessential Watuaga stroke.

There it is!

Hoping this won't be the last of a great spring of boating...


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hometown Class IV Weekend with some Kick Yer Dog on Top

After having a great beginning to the winter season, things really slowed down here in the southeast. February was not exactly stellar in terms of rainfall, which made life easy on me, as I was nursing a dislocated rib suffered off the river in the end of January. Fortunately, once March hit, the rain came gushing back and we were once again chasing water all over. After some local midweek boating, we managed a full weekend of the super convenient Horsepasture Big Creek double followed up by a day on the not-so-classic Guest River. The Guest was fun as we had good water (lil' over 2'), but that is one of the most jumbled river beds I've ever seen.

Joe Keck firing into Vortex on Cain Creek in late January. Paddling with a Dislocated Rib was Painful.

Chas Lemley cleaning up on Corner Pocket.

The Carnival that caught up to our small group on the Horsepasture.

Now to the true point of this, paddling all the classic Knoxville class IV in a weekend. I cleaned up at work early on Friday and headed for the park for Tremont, the class IV version of the West Prong. As it was warm and we had plenty of time, I decided to hike up Lynn Camp and give Kick Yer Dog Falls a go (KYD is not class IV, but is a great way to start a low water Tremont run). It was good to be up there with the right amount of water (Tremont around 1m is about perfect) and some witnesses, and it went smooth as butter. After banging back down to the Tremont put in, we bombed down some steep Smokies class IV. As always, despite it's diminutive size, stop sign delivered one of the best boofs around. Despite serious rain rolling in and a lack of motivation from the crew, I headed over to the headwaters of the Little and hike up Elkmont section for a solo session. Despite getting hung up in traffic heading back from Cades Cove, I was able to knock out a run in just under an hour including the hike. It was sweet hiking up in the heavy mist while watching the river rise from the recent squall. This run is just pure class IV bliss. Not super hard, but just incredibly clean and aesthetic.

The main event of KYD on Lynn Camp (Photo: Mark Newton).

The next day, local Knoxville runs were the only things going, so we decided on a relatively obscure one: Abrams Creek out of Cades Cove. The shuttle on this thing is a beast, and we clusterfucked it at every opportunity. We were supposed to meet at the takeout at 9:30 and didn't put on until 12:45. Fortunately, Brandon's wife Carrie was awesome and drove shuttle for us so we didn't have to retrieve a vehicle from the zoo that is Cades Cove. While Abrams may not be a total classic, it has great scenery, a good class IV section, and the best waterfall close to Knoxville. And, despite the recent Tornado damage, there was only 1 wood portage in the whole 10 miles.

The Ultra Classic Abrams Falls (Photo: Jeff Moore).

It's super soft so boofs like this are just fine (Photo: JM).

After finishing Abrams, I talked Caleb into some Kick Yer Dog and we were headed back up to Tremont. After coercing a shuttle, we geared up and were joined by Kentucky's own Clay Warren. Again, we all had great lines at KYD before heading downstream for an aerobic workout on the way back to the institute. Tremont just goes so much better once you get that non-stop rhythm going.

Caleb finishing off the KYD lead in, which starts above where you can see in this photo.

The sluicy main event. Shortly after this moment the white out sets in.

JJ launching the touchy part of the lead in (Photo: Clay Warren).

This hole is terrible if this thing is high, but not too bad on this day.

Clay finishing his first KYD run.

The next day, the other side of Knoxville got the rain and we were off to the plateau. Most of the usual suspects were out on the Obed overnighter, so while there was discussion of Little Hurricane, we stuck with the Obed standard fare. It didn't look like Island got any rain, so we dropped a truck at Nemo and headed up for the classic Little Clear to Clear to Obed run. LCC was running a solid 2.75 (some might call this more than solid) and we were able to make it through with only a little action at triple drop. After finishing the sweet boof at Oh Yeah, it was on to Clear Creek canyon at 4000, which is great class IV big water, followed by the Obed. I was in my Molan and there was definitely some great surf to be had. When we got to Nemo, Kemper informed us that Island was still 1 ft (we didn't even check in the morning cause I was convinced it wasn't going), so we hit up 2 laps on this sliding classic. It's hard to beat bare backing Island with good water, watching the bedrock through the pristine water as you slide away the miles. Finally since we had to run back to LCC to get a truck, Casey and I put on at a more pedestrian 2.1 so he could get his redemption at triple drop. Note, Novacaine has gotten significantly nastier now that the wood pile blocking the undercut/tree combo is gone. All in all a great day running around to all the Obed classics, to round out a weekend of great class IV. There you have it, the best class IV runs within an hour of the house (minus Crooked Fork, which we got on Monday) jammed into 1 weekend.

Compound Fracture on Island Creek. Out of character for Island and one of very few photos from a day that was too good to stop (Photo: Kemper Begley).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Winter Update... It's been good

This winter has been the warmest and wettest since I moved to the Southeast, a distinction that has led to some excellent kayaking. To top that off, my shoulder has finally come around to where I've been able to visit some old friends I haven't seen in years like Linville, Raven, and the Bear. I haven't been at my most diligent when it comes to getting good photos during this stretch, but I've snapped a few decent ones. If you've made it this far, I'll spare you any further drivel.

The classic cave falls of the Linville Gorge.

The Tony styling one of the nasty spots at low water (The hole in front of him feeds under the rock to his right). This might be my favorite spot on the river.

On an aside, how are other creeks of similar difficulty so much more popular than the Linville? About a month ago I did a Raven-Linville weekend with low medium flows on both. There were 40 people at Raven and 2 of us at Linville. Not that I'm complaining, I'll take all the solitude I can get in the most spectacular paddling location the east coast has to offer.

Low water Daddy's is great way to spend a sunny day.

It even has some river level cliffs.

We spent New Year's Eve on the side of this gorgeous creek in the Balsam's.

And did some more obscure hiking in the Smokies. Unrun Glory Boof?

I had run the last 3 miles of Bee but had no idea how beautiful the upper Gorge is.

Knoxville crew in a geologically unique plateau canyon. Non-horizontal bedding?

Bee gets down to business at Squeeze Play.

And continues with great rapids for a good while. Kirk about to bash a good hole.

Joe Keck getting a feel for what the Raven Fork is all about.

My little Bro blasting through the top of Razorback. He was in town for 5 days and we managed to do Daddy's, Tellico, West Prong, Raven, Bear, and Crooked Fork. His Go Bro Video is linked below.

Yeah, it's that good.

Tom's Go Bro Video from the trip. We had great levels: WP at 1.8, Raven at 10, and Bear at 20.

South East Quicky from Tom Janney on Vimeo.

Let's hope the good times just keep rolling...