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.