Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Summer That Never Was

After returning from California, I had a few weeks of family and work obligations through the 4th of July weekend and then a few weeks before I was supposed to head to the Alsek for 2.5 weeks of wilderness.  I returned from a great July 4th weekend of backpacking in the Catskills with my girlfriend to find that everyone back in the Southeast had been enjoying the best mid-summer flows in years.  Fortunately and quite surprisingly, frequent afternoon thundershowers maintained water levels enough that I was able to sneak out for some after work sessions on Tremont, the Little, and a quick trip over the mountains to the Raven Fork.

Mike Reber was able to get off early enough on Friday that we started our weekend off with another after work Raven Fork lap.  That place is so lush and beautiful in the summer.  Things went smooth and we were off the river just before dark and heading to Bryson to crash with my friend Raymond.  The morning came and we went to check Toxaway, a little too low.  On to Horsepasture, way too high.  Not sure what to do we weighed options for a minute before heading to Overflow.  It was 1 ft. when we got there which is lower than ideal but we were ready for some boating. 

There were a bunch of vehicles at the bottom but no boaters, so we just headed to the top.  We had a few interesting lines due to the low flows, but in general the day was working out great and it was a treat to be there when it was warm and the flowers were blooming.  We quickly arrived at Three Forks and I asked Mike if he wanted to check out Big Creek.  He knew nothing about it but is generally down for whatever so we went on a little getting lost in the woods and checking out waterfalls mission.  When we got back to Three Forks we weighed our options: it was getting late in the afternoon and we had no shuttle, but it was only 1/2 mile and we had already scouted it out.  The decision was made to just go for it, leaving shuttle to work itself out (at worst a 10 mile jog).
Mike letting Gravity take over.
Mike catching the first of quite a few bounces down Singley's Falls
My favorite part about Overflow is the mini gorges.  Mike finishes up the last one: Twilight.
We made pretty quick work of the hike, arriving sweaty and hot at the bottom of Thunderdome.  A huge tree prevented dropping in to the final tier, so we cooled off and geared up.  A funky pinch, a junky woody mess, a mini gorge, an off vert 20 fter and a great double drop brought us to the last slide into Three Forks.  To this point, the run had lived up to all the scouting expectations.  The last slide had looked like a nasty junk fest from our earlier river right scout.  From our mid-stream scout, things were looking better.  Center left driving right to avoid the shelf on the bottom left.  I committed, coming through the entrance exactly as imagined.  Unfortunately, I wavered slightly from my plan with a touch of hesitation, allowing myself to slip too far left with no right momentum.  It seemed to not be a big deal until the final reconnect turned my angle and momentum straight left into the shelf and a world of hurt.  See the last shot of Mike's video below - it was a lot worse than it looks.
Too bad the log was in the way.  It's still a powerful place.
Mike droppin' the biggest one on Big Creek
Mike cruising into a juicy little mini gorge
Mike grinding a huge boof.  This might be the best move in the whole Chattooga drainage?
The wood wasn't as nasty as it appears in this photo

Southeast in the Summertime 6-14-2013 from Michael Reber on Vimeo.

I was upright and my right ankle was numb from the pain.  I eddied out and hopped out of my boat.  The pain level was still high but I had no choice but to get my bulkhead back into alignment and keep going.  Mike came down a few minutes later, having narrowly avoided a similar line.  With no time to spare, I floated through Igor and caught the eddy above Marginal.  I hobbled down while Mike portaged my boat before going and portaging his own boat.  We rallied through to Pinball and Mike portaged my boat again.  At this point the swelling in my ankle was getting bad enough that my paddle had to be repurposed to a crutch.  Mike ran through Pinball and we were off stroking for the take out.  I had to stop a few times to let the pain subside, but we made it.  Fortunately upon arriving at the take out, we ran into Charles, who was a shuttler for Scott, who was completing the last lap of an Overflow vertical mile that day who not only agreed to help us with shuttle but also had some ice for my ballooning ankle.  Big thanks to those two for taking pity on me and helping in all ways possible.  I sat on the side of the road with the ankle iced and elevated as the rain misted down, just waiting for Mike's return.  Self-diagnosis at this point was a badly sprained ankle and I was hoping I could walk it off in time to make the Alsek trip in a week.

Self portrait at the take out.  The boat healed itself a lot faster than I did.
I offered to run shuttle the next day if Mike wanted to stay in NC but he was tired and feeling bad for me, so we pressed home to Knoxville.  We made it back by midnight and I stayed at Mike's cause driving with a busted right ankle didn't seem smart.  We chilled and watched some movies the next day while icing and elevating my ankle.  The thing just continued to balloon.

I went to work on Monday and decided part way through the day that I should get an x-ray since the swelling was still increasing.  I went to the clinic at work and got my ankle x-rayed.  They didn't see anything definitive but they were nervous about ligaments and tendons and declared me unfit for work and sent me to an orthopedic right then and there.  The orthopedic was able to fit me in that afternoon and was about to say my x-rays looked okay when something subtle caught his eye and he declared that I had broken my Calcaneus (heel bone).  I was quickly put in a hard splint and signed up for a CT scan and follow up later in the week.  I was still holding on to hope for going to Alaska, thinking that maybe the x-ray was so subtle that the bone wasn't broken.

Fast forward to my follow up, and within a couple of minutes of walking through the CT scan it's clear that my Calcaneus is indeed fractured, although in an abnormal fashion.  The doctor wasn't sure whether or not I needed surgery so he referred me to a foot specialist.  What is clear is that I won't be starting to walk for at least another 6-8 weeks.  Crushed, I go home and cancel my flight to Alaska about 26 hours before I was set to leave, informing my family and friends they'll be doing the Alsek without me.

It feels like forever waiting until my visit with the foot specialist on the following Tuesday.  When I finally get there she examines my foot and looks at my CT scan with some degree of perplexion.  She identifies that I have sheared my sustentaculum tali off the inside of my Calcaneus.  She goes through a myriad of options outloud with me, ultimately deciding that I should wait and see how it heals, but qualifying that statement with the need to get some second opinions on my unusual break.  I go home and start researching my condition, and it sounds like if I want to walk without a limp and on uneven ground, I need the surgery.  I decide to give the doctor a few days to check with her sources before pressing things.

The next morning at 8am I get a call from the doctor's assistant letting me know that I need to have surgery.  About 2 minutes later I get a call from the surgery scheduler saying I'll be having a pre-op screening the next day and surgery the following day.  Given my research the night before, this is exactly what I was looking for (eventually walking properly is well worth a little pain and an extracted recovery), so I signed up.

One of these is not like the other.  And this is after 12 days of ice and elevation.  This also might win a nasty ass feet contest.
I'm first in line for Friday, requiring a 5:30 am drop off at the hospital.  I'm whisked away to my room, put in a gown, and taken to the anesthesia area.  They shave my foot and leg and insert an IV.  As they are setting up the local block on my leg, the Versed kicks in and my memory turns off.  I awaken back in the same room around 10:30 with some new hardware in my foot.  Quickly, my awareness grows and I realize that my local block has already worn off.  Fortunately, the pain isn't too bad.  I end up waiting about 1.5 hours for a discharge room to open before they take me out of the anesthesia area (pretty interesting watching people slowly come to).  In the discharge room they feed me water and crackers (requisites for leaving) and a Percocet after a little arguing that I don't need it.  The nurses definitely looked at me like I was crazy when I followed up trying to refuse the pain pill with telling my roommate we won't need to fill the prescription I was given.

I spend that afternoon and the next 3 days sitting on the couch with my foot elevated under a bag of ice constantly refilled from the cooler next to me.  I'm bored out of my mind but the pain isn't too bad (no where close to the shoulder surgery) and I don't have to eat my words about not needing the pain pills.  Overall, I'm pretty useless as every time I start hopping around on my crutches the blood pressure in my foot creeps up followed shortly by a throbbing pain.  It's a good reminder to lay back down, elevate, and throw the ice back on.
This is how I spent the majority of the first 3.5 days.
Now, 5 days out from surgery, the pain and swelling have come down quite a bit.  I've gone to work the last two days which is quite a bit less boring than sitting on the couch.  The worst is over, but I still have a long road ahead of me.  I should go from hard splint to boot and get the stitches removed in about 3 weeks, and be starting weight bearing in 6-8 weeks.  Then it should be another 4 weeks before I'm walking without a crutch, walker, or cane.  I've been told I'll be close to full speed in 4-5 months, but only time will tell.

A huge thanks to my friends who have helped me out along the way so far.  I couldn't have done it without you and you have treated me far better than I deserve.  It's been rough going through this without my parents and brother for support (they're incommunicado on the Alsek and don't even know I had surgery), but between all of you and my extended family, I've been able to deal quite well.

Obviously I've done a lot of thinking about what happened.  The rapid was not above my head, and knowing what happened, I could probably run it 100 times in a row without smashing that shelf.  The missing ingredient was focus.  It was exactly the same case as when I dislocated my shoulder 3 years ago.  And it's not that I'm someone who takes paddling class V and the associated dangers lightly.  I just need to find a way to keep that same focus for every rapid, regardless of how innocuous it looks.

The other factor is that the bulkhead system I was using probably contributed to the extent of my injuries.  I was paddling a Pyranha Karnali (I love that boat) with a modified bulkhead as I find the stock one to be far too flexible (I mangle it paddling flatwater).  My modified system consisted of a set of old dagger aluminum rails attached to a U-channel with the Pyranha foot plate on the front (similar to an LL set up).  I only had 1 inch of foam on this plate, but the key mistake is that the U-channel was too high on the plate.  Therefore, upon impact my heel bent the bottom of the plate forward, violently hyperdorsiflexing my foot (bending the top of my foot towards my shin), which the doctors claim led to my Calcaneus fracture.  I hit hard enough that I was probably going to do damage regardless, but additional foam and the support channel in the right place likely would have prevented my heel from breaking.  Good thing I have plenty of time to do some bulkhead experimentation before the next time I paddle.

Safety first,


Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Spring That Never Ended

This year has been by far the best year for water in the Southeast since I arrived 5 years ago.  As we now approach August, there have been natural flow options from back in mid January nearly every day through to now.  In addition to generally high background levels, there have been quite a few days of so much water that you are searching for things that are low enough to run.  This led to some great days and some days of endless driving with very little kayaking.  Below are a handful of snaps and stories from along the way...

C. Paq heading into Asleep at a the Wheel.  And yes, he caught the eddy in the cave directly in front of him.
C. Paq soaring into the best boulder rapid on Allen Creek.
The whole drive down, we had been planning on hitting the Bear.  The level was a good high (24" if I recall correctly) and despite knowing that the best creek in the SE was running at an optimum flow, we chose to go exploring.  While close by, Allen Creek took forever to get to.  While not quite as quality as the Bear, Allen was a great trip and it was well worth missing out on the best to go check out another cool canyon.  Lots of good slides up to lead to low volume boulder drops and then high volume boulder gardens once the two tribs arrive.  Incidentally, there were 2 other groups at Allen that day, which probably marks the most people ever on the creek.

Ohman on the best rapid above the Chimney Tops trailhead.
Ohman on the great boogie between Decision and Dinosaur.
The West Prong of the Little Pigeon is the classic Knoxville class V run.  It has more action packed into 7 miles than pretty much anything else on the East Coast.  Nothing huge, just non-stop goodness with no portaging baring wood.  On this day, I was thinking we'd be taking a chill day at the Little so I brought the beater boat.  Mr. West Prong Howard Tidwell called us on the way up to let us know it was running.  Needless to say we went and my beater boat was a sinking ship before too long.  Good thing it was relatively warm and I was dumb enough to keep going.

My parents in a cool little cove off the Clear Fork.
My parents usually come to Knoxville every spring to do a little paddling and hiking.  This year was no exception, but high water made it difficult to find an appropriate destination.  We decided on doing White Oak Creek into the Clear Fork, which is some of the best class II around.  It was high (like 3000 on Clear Fork) and was really zooming although not too difficult.  We had a great time soaking in the plateau canyon before sneaking in a little hike at Honey Creek.  Great Day.

C. Paq on the slide below the big one on Mill Creek in the Cohuttas.
It started off as an early day with good prospects.  We were putting onto our first creek in a deluge at 9 am.  The creek had risen an order of magnitude by the time we reached the first rapid.  While we were scouting it came up another foot and almost swept the boats away.  We hiked out and it was a sign of things to come.  Everything else on the plateau we checked was too high too, so we went down to the Cohuttas.  Mill Creek was running perfect and was a great break from what was otherwise a long day of driving.  We were still hungry so we went to Big Creek and Go Forth Creek, both too high. Then we went to Yellow Creek.  Perfect level but the wood we discovered in the falls had us hiking straight back up to the truck.  Oh well, sometimes it's just the way it goes.  At least we got to paddle something.

The Elusive Upper Snowbird Creek with good water.
Middle Falls on Upper Snowbird Creek.  John dropping, C. Paq gawking.
The day started off early, just like the previous weekend's day of driving.  Weary of the high water skunk, we headed to the Cheoah Headwaters area where things rarely get too high and come down fast.  We checked Upper Santeetlah first and it was high, if not too high.  Since it was still raining we decided to try to do Snowbird from the top.  After setting shuttle and getting changed it was 11:00 when we started hiking from Hooper Bald.  We got lost and did a short loop ending up back where we started.  We started down again at Noon, finding the put in after a few miles walk in the rain.  The flow was optimal and the whitewater was better than expected, and the run was a great adventure.  We finished with plenty of light left so C. Paq and I headed over to Santeetlah for a quick run.  The gate was closed so more hiking ensued.  The level was perfect and the creek was just great.  We finished at dark and did a little bashing through rhodo to find the road.  It was almost 9 pm when I started jogging shuttle.  It was a great full day of kayaking.

Well, that's it for photos and quick stories from another great Spring of paddling.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Drinking from the Fire Hose in California

Last year, I had been set on going to California for at least a week of kayaking.  Unfortunately, a weak snow pack and scheduling issues killed my plans and I missed out on a great Middle Kings trip.  This year despite the low snow pack, I was going to make it happen.  So despite the hearsay of no California season, I convinced my favorite boating partner and brother Tom that we were going.  In late April we decided that the snow pack looked nearly identical to the previous year, so I booked a plane ticket and Tom got off work for the second week in June.  All there was left to do was hope for the best.

As the trip approached, our group began to round out and then bloat as I recruited Knoxville up and comer Ben Warf and Tom recruited every class V kayaker in Colorado.  The week before the trip was a mess of logistics and arguing about water levels, as the things we had are eyes on (Middle Kings and Upper Cherry) were still too high and a heat wave followed by a cold snap were expected for our chosen week.  For better or for worse the Colorado contingent steered the group to heading straight for the Middle Kings upon arrival.

As usual, my flights out of the Southeast were delayed and I didn't arrive in Sacramento until midnight.  Ben picked me up, and the drive began, destination South Lakes trail head.  By the time we rolled into Bishop the dawn was just starting to wake and was in full affect by the time we reached the trail head.  The Colorado boys (minus a couple stragglers - JJ, Oliver, and Rolf) were all asleep so we grabbed a few hours of less than satisfying rest.  As the sun hit they decided they were taking off, but the stragglers and shuttle drivers still hadn't showed so we rested a little longer.  The shuttle drivers rolled in but the stragglers still hadn't.  At 10:30 we decided we better go if we wanted to make it to Leconte Canyon that day.  It turns out the stragglers showed up just after we left and the shuttle logistics all got sorted.

Things were going well on the hike early despite it being extremely hot.  Then, shortly after paddling across Long Lake I felt a twinge in my quad.  It had been years since I had cramped up but I knew it was coming.  I tried to drink as much water as I could to rehydrate, but by the time I was at the base of the switchbacks up Bishop Pass, I was laying on my back with legs spasming.  There was nothing else to do but fight through it.  JJ and the stragglers caught us at the top of the pass, and he threw some Cliff Bloks my way.  We stopped at the top of the pass to eat lunch and enjoy the epic views.  I was struggling bad and forced some food and a lot of water down despite having no appetite.  Apparently trying to hike a kayak over a 12000' pass with no sleep or altitude acclimatization is a bad idea.
Ben Warf Cruising Across Long Lake with Bishop Pass Waiting
Sean Over Bishop Pass and Heading Down into Dusy Basin
Ben and I were the last to leave the pass.  As we proceeded, he was struggling and I was starting to recover.  About 30 minutes down the pass I was feeling back to my normal self (thank for the Bloks JJ).  Soon, Ben started to get his second wind too and we were cruising across the magnificent Dusy Basin.  Soon, however, we caught up to Tom and Sean who had left over 2 hours in front of us and were not feeling great.  As we kept moving across the basin to the brink, the struggle just got worse for the boys.
Ben Taking in Leconte Canyon From the Brink
We took a nice long break to enjoy the huge rock walls igniting in the evening light before it was go time.  I was still enjoying my second wind, but the 2 Colorado boys were not, and I stayed back with them, along with Ben.  We were about half way down the brink with darkness approaching and stumbled into a nice campsite.  Sean and Tom were stumbling pretty badly at this point so I convinced them not to continue into the darkness.  Ben had blown through and finished the hike down to Leconte Canyon and the rest of the group.  I forced myself to eat a huge steak I had carried in but Sean and Tom could barely stomach anything.  Then we passed out.

The next morning we finished off the rest of the switchbacks down to the river.  The morning wasn't too bad, but overall it was the hardest hike in I had ever done.  It was beautiful, but I was glad to have it done with.

Half of the boys were already geared up when we made it to the river.  They decided they were gonna do the run in 4 days of paddling and the rest of us decided we were on the 5 day plan.  That was the last we saw of Brad, Jason, Oliver, Rolf, and Tyson.  So that was that, our group was down to Ben, JJ, Joel, Sean, Tom, and I.

After lazing around for a bit more we geared up and hit the river.  I was prepared for quite a bit of mank the first day, but after a short while we were through it and the quality really picked up.  Somewhere early on Joel sublexed his shoulder and made what must be one of the toughest decisions ever, he shouldered his boat right back to the trail head, where no shuttle vehicles were waiting since they had all been taken to the take out.  I still haven't asked him how the hike was or how he got home, but I know he made it.
The Author Taking in Leconte Canyon from the River (Photo TJ)
Ben Dropping into an Early One (Photo TJ)
Down to 5, we continued on as the quality increased.  We walked a couple but ran a whole lot of great whitewater in the most magnificent surroundings in the Sierra.  Money drop was the highlight of the day, and the high water made it downright rowdy.  JJ went first and was lucky to end up in one piece, barrel rolling off the right hand side.  I decided to run the meat of the lead in, getting a little lost and going deeper than anticipated.  Fortunately it came together out of the right eddy and I was able to send a huge boof and not get my deck wet on the final off vert plunge.  The stoke was high and the boys followed quickly pretty solid lines, although we had to patch Sean's lip up after he caught it with his paddle.  The rest of the day was a barrage of beautiful high water slides with huge holes.  We decided to camp high on left just above a little waterfall before the ledge gardens.
Sean Plunging into the Money
That night we all rested hard, waking ready for battle with some of the toughest on the Kings.  Unfortunately the water hadn't dropped, but there was nothing to do press on.  After the 12 footer at camp and a few hundred yards of fast class IV we were at the lead in to the ledge garden.  After a quick scout, Tom and I proceeded while the others started their portage.  We took a good look at the ledge garden and the following Werner Paddles drop.  Both looked huge and good, but the holes and consequences were just saying no, so the portaging amongst house side boulders began.  We put back in for the lead in to the huge slide.  What is normally class III was a class V scramble for an eddy, and the slide didn't look any better.  The diagonals that normally take a boater safely to the left were blowing through and the next two holes downstream had terminal tendencies.  We walked again, moral falling fast.

Once the boulder gardens picked up, Ben and Sean hit the trail.  JJ, Tom and I boated down to the top of the waterfall gorge.  It was one of the most beautiful, tempting, and terrifying pieces of whitewater I'd ever seen.  Every drop had at least one pocket that could swim you and they were all flushing straight into the next.  The kicker was the waterfall had become completely crucial anything but the purest of lines would lead to a first d of the awful boxed in drop just downstream.  It started raining and we started walking.

We kept going, eating lunch above Raw Dawg Falls in a grove of huge trees.  Huge bear scat was everywhere.  I almost stepped on a Rattlesnake.  We were defeated.

After a good scout of the Vallecito-esque Gorge (I know you Californians love it when your whitewater gets compared to Colorado), we decided to leave our boats and camp at the bottom, hopeful for the stoke of lower water and empty boats in the morning.

Our great camp was so nice that a bear even decided to wander in and check us out in the morning.  Fortunately, it had also served to rejuvenate us from the despair of the previous day.  The sun was shining and the stoke had returned to high.  After some high quality warm up, we committed to the gorge.  One quick portage around a sieve and some great boofs and we were at the exit with spirits soaring.  It's amazing how it can turn around in an instant.

We ate lunch in Simpson Meadow, basking in the sunshine, before making our way down to Tehipite.  The boulder gardens were great with the extra water.  The Big Bad Beaver looked much better than I had imagined, but it was still easy to walk on by.  After what ended up being a pretty long day, we arrived a Tehipite, settling in early in preparation for big next day in the bottom nine.

Our predicted early start didn't pan out.  Tom was feeling nauseous so we took our time getting ready.  Despite still feeling like he was going to vomit, he finally decided it was time to put on a little after 10.  It gradually built as we left Tehipite.  At some point it was on and it didn't let up.  We ran a lot of great whitewater and walked quite a bit too.  We all had good lines and bad lines as we battled downstream.  As long as the focus remains, it's one of the best days of paddling anywhere.  After about 7 miles our collective concentration and energy was waning, so we camped at a nice spot on the right just below a big slide into a hole backed up by a huge undercut on the left, relaxing and fishing as a scrawny bear came down to visit.
Tom in a Nice Bottom 9 Rapid
The Crew Chilling above an Unusually Flat Section
The next morning, it was immediately back into the action.  I ran a slot backwards in the second drop of the day, breaking my back band and requiring a 20 minute repair break.  We had a swim shortly thereafter but we cleaned it up well considering the possibilities thanks to a little luck.  After a much longer morning than expected, we reached the confluence.  The bottom 9 is a fantastic stretch of whitewater, as long as you stay present in the moment.

After a quick lunch above the start of the Garlic Falls rapids, we were set to finish this one off.  Most of the crew was beat down and portaged and picked their way down, but for those who still have the fire, this section is most excellent.  The big launch into the fluff at Cassidy Falls is one of the best moves of the whole trip, and the rest isn't bad either.  After Garlic Falls and Rough Creek Falls the rapids start to taper off, and the mad dash through the paddle out was on.  Going from the spires of Bishop Pass to the dust at the end of the road in the Valley leaves one with a serious sense of accomplishment.

While a trip down the Middle Fork of the Kings often marks the end of a California season, we had thoughts of adding a Cherry on top.  After a few phone calls on the way back into Fresno, we had confirmation that Upper Cherry would be somewhere between medium and low and certainly not too low.  Sean and JJ had other obligations, but Ben, Tom, and I had 3 more days to make it happen.  While a rest day would have been nice, water levels and plane tickets dictated that we would be hiking in the following day.  So, after a big meal and a night in the sketchiest Motel 6 around, we were headed off to Groveland.

A slow start and a long packing session had us heading up the Kibbie Ridge Trail just before 1.  Somehow we had convinced ourselves that after the Kings hike, the Cherry hike in would be easy.  It's easier, but 10.5 miles with a kayak on your back is brutal anyway you slice it.  Again, Ben charged ahead while I stayed back with Tom.  He hadn't been feeling well the whole trip and this hike was no exception.  Still he sucked it up and made it happen.  We rolled into lord meadow just after dark, crashing directly into our sleeping bags.

We awoke to several crews of paddlers getting ready for the day.  We ended up teaming up with Evan and Wes before heading down for the put in slide and into Disneyland.  It quickly became apparent that the water was lower than Tom and my first time down, but it was still enough to have some fun.  With the low flows, we made good time down the moonscape to the entrance gorge to Cherry Bomb.  We had a little pow wow and convinced the first timers that it was low enough that we should press into Cherry Bomb without a scouting hike.
TJ with a beautiful line at the Put In Slide
The Author Applying a Little More than the Desired Boof (Photo: TJ)
The lead in gorge was relatively uneventful, although one of the drops get sketchy at low water, and we quickly found ourselves at the portage down to Cherry Bomb Falls.  As we approached the falls it became evident it wasn't going tot be a quick trip through the gorge, as a huge group had just started their runs.  Not wanting to disturb their flow, we spectated while they slowly dropped in.  I won't go into too much detail, but they nearly had a huge debacle right in front of us.  Most of them had good lines but one got potholed and swam.  His boat got beat in the weir hole until someone was able to get a rope on it.  Then when they were pulling it free they lost control of it and it floated downstream.  In the process, another boat got kicked in the water and things were getting exciting.  Fortunately, things stabilized there and the water was low enough that recovery from that point was relatively uneventful.
A Nice Line From the Group In Front
The Clean Up from the Mess in Process
Having enough of the spectating, we dropped in with 5 solid lines.  After a quick regroup to make sure everyone knew the lines, we routed the rest of the gorge as the first group finished cleaning up their mess.  Coming out of the confines, we bid Evan and Wes good day before routing down the Jedi Slide and Teacups.  Too much fun, so we hiked back up for another quick lap before continuing down to Double Pothole where we enjoyed a great camp under the stars.
Wes About to Take Flight in the Cherry Bomb Gorge

The Scary but Oh So Smooth Cali Groove Tube (Photo: TJ)
TJ Droppin' Perfect 20 while Ben Watches from the Cave
The Author Leading the Charge Off Double Pothole (Photo: Ben Warf)
Double Pothole Under the Stars
Needing to get moving to catch my flight, we were at it early and into the Waterfall Alley.  Even with low flows it's perfect.  Feeling the stoke, I decided to give Kiwi a good look and liked what I saw.  The cave looked quite a bit less threatening at low water, but fortunately I didn't have to find out as the perfect reconnect on the right sent me sailing downstream.  The seal launch at Dead Bear didn't look appealing so I portaged over the sieves and down to the bottom.  From there on out, the run was fun but quite abusive in spots as the low water didn't fill the boulders quite so well.  As we approached the lake, Upper Cherry made its final stand in the Nozzle Gorge.  Just like the the last time, the Nozzle stomped me, although at least this time I was upright and forward before getting back endered into a nice little pocket beat down.  A few more drops and we walked around the log jam to the lake for our flat water workout, followed by our final bit of California kayak carrying in the blazing sun.  Fortunately, there was a nice German kayaker who took pity on us and drove our shuttle and gave us a beer when we really needed one.  Thanks!
The Author Starting Day 2 in the Waterfall Alley (Photo: TJ)
Coming in Hot to Kiwi in a Pocket (Photo: TJ)
And Exiting Just as Planned (Photo: TJ)
And then all that was left was a quick drive to the Sacramento Airport, where a red eye flight to get me home in time for work Monday morning awaited.  And that was it, as much California adventure kayaking as I'd ever want to try to squeeze into 1 week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Southeastern Overnighters

While the Southeastern US may not be known for overnight kayak opportunities, there are certainly quite a few that are great as practice for their big brothers in the Western US and are absolutely worthy of exploring in there own right.  Over the past year I've been fortunate enough to dabble heavily in the available options.  Starting last September, I've been able to overnight the Gauley River, Raven Fork, Clear Creek, Obed River, Daddy's Creek, and Chattooga River.

As everyone knows, the Gauley is classic.  I'm fortunate enough that my Dad has been rowing a raft down the river at least once a year since before I was born.  I'm also fortunate enough that he agrees to put up with me and my kayaker friends as tag alongs in exchange for helping with rigging and breaking down rafts.  This results in a night in the lap of luxury on the side of a beautiful river with better food and drink than I ever get at home.  While the 26 miles from the damn to Swiss can easily be paddled in a single day, there's still plenty to be offered for a two day trip.  Despite the less than ideal camping (rafting companies own most of the nicer camping spots) and less than full on wilderness (logging roads in the canyon are frequented by locals on ATVs), the Gauley as an overnight offers a great opportunity to experience the river in a new way.

I won't say too much about the Raven Fork overnight trip here other than it's the best class V overnighter in the Southeast.  This is also the most true overnighter.  It could be done in a day but it would be a long day and the water levels work out better if it drops for the second day.  The logistics are a little difficult as you need high water, good weather, and an open straight fork road.  The upper section is rarely paddled and is some of the best class IV wilderness paddling around.  The campground at Enloe Creek is one of my favorite official campgrounds anywhere.  The lower section is the best class V creek on the east coast.  It's all tucked in one of the most remote areas of the southeast.  It's as good as it gets.
Ben Warf killing it on Caveman on a non-overnight trip through the lower Raven Fork Gorge.
The upper section of Clear Creek between Clark Range and Barnett Bridge is somewhere between a float trip and a whitewater run, but the scenery and over all experience make up for the lack of exciting rapids.  Great camping in rock houses and a cool hike to a nice 50 ft. waterfall round out the experience.  For class II-III paddlers wanting an overnight wilderness paddling experience, this is where it's at.  I don't think I'd do this run every year, but the overall experience is good enough that I'll go back again.

Kirk Eddlemon enjoying the serenity of Upper Clear Creek.
Sometimes the scenery is big too.

The comforts of rock house camping.
Four Mile Creek Falls is just a nice little bushwhack away.
One of a few spots where the family canoe is not the vessel of choice.  Still, it works.
The Obed River from Potter's Ford to Nemo might be the longest stretch of bridgeless whitewater in the Southeast.  While there are a few rough access points in between (hiking or 4 wheelers), a full twenty miles of canyon, protected by Catoosa WMA and the Obed WSR, await you between the two bridges.  While the whitewater in the upper is not classic, it's enough to keep you entertained between the cliffs.  The second day, below the Daddy's creek confluence, passes through the main Obed canyon and its classic class III rapids.  This is the best overnight trip in the Obed system, and probably all of Tennessee.

Mark Newton drives into the awkward pinch at Billy Goat Bluff.
This photo tries to make it intense.
Glamor shots at camp.  Look at that body...
Classic whitewater in the main Obed Canyon.
Daddy's Creek from Antioch Bridge to Devil's Breakfast Table is a classic Tennessee class III+ run; however, add in the extra 12 miles through the Obed Canyon and you've got a great 18 mile day or short overnight trip.  This year we chose to do it as a quick overnighter, putting on at 6 pm and taking off by 8:30 am the next morning so we didn't miss any work.  The whitewater is fantastic in both the Daddy's Creek and Obed Canyons, as is the great plateau scenery.  While not really a true overnighter (the run can be done in 3-4 hours with good water), the camping is great under the main Obed wall and there's no reason to rush through this place. 
Daddy's Creek Canyon is classic.  Even when it's low.
Camping in the Obed Canyon does not suck.
The Chattooga River from Earl's Ford to Lake Tugaloo was the first overnighter I did after moving to the Southeast.  Alongside great scenery and camping, this river just has soul.  Section III is a nice adjustment to loaded boats and the Narrows is magical.  Section IV has great camping (right below seven foot if you've got a small group) and a great finish with five falls.  This river also runs when little else is going in the summer time, which means great weather.  All in all, it's a classic.

Full moon camping on the Chattooga is where it's at.
That's it folks.  Just a few ideas on where to go to find some overnight whitewater enjoyment.