On Thursday, July 5th, a group of us set out for a journey South to escape the local drought. We knew that we could catch the Cheoah River on dam release through the weekend and REALLY hoped to catch a run on the class V classic, Green River Narrows, at some point during our travels. The group included Jason Hilton, Jeff Macklin, John Rudland, Carl Schneider and Dave Haines
During our drive through West Virginia, we stopped for a hike along the Class 5+ Lower Meadow River. We hiked to the most infamous rapid on this section, “Coming Home Sweet Jesus.” With the extremely low water level, we were able to see just how dangerous this river can be … polluted with undercuts and sieves. We arrived at our destination and were able to do a little spelunking inside the cave at “Coming Home Sweet Jesus.” One look at this beast and it is clear why this rapid is so deadly and why it remains a walk for even the most hardened creek boaters.
Later that day, in Erwin, Tennessee, we met with the some friends from Washington D.C., Maggie Snowel and Scott Anderson. They joined us for our paddling adventures.
Scott and I headed down to North Carolina Thursday afternoon and met up with Jason Hilton and the Got-Boof crew near the Nolichucky. From there, we caravanned down to Asheville, TN, enjoyed late night sushi, observed helicopter landings and had a nice campfire. The Cheoah would be running Saturday and Sunday so we just needed some way to amuse ourselves on Friday.
We checked the Green River operations message and found it was scheduled at undesirable 60% release … we opted for plan B. Turns out you can definitely plan on Jason to come up with a good alternative. Jason suggested doing a park-n-huck at Triple Falls in DuPont State Forest.
It was a beautiful hot day, but the walk up to the falls was shady, draped in gorgeous flowering rhododendron. We walked up first to scout it out. After some inspection we determined the first and third drops to be unrunnable (at least with the limited amount of water there was). It just looked like boat abuse to me, certainly photo / video worthy though. Ultimately I decided my time would be better spent to hike up with my SLR rather than my boat. I had a blast just taking tons of great photos of the guys hucking off this 40-foot sliding drop. Everyone had mostly good lines. One backward run, but no carnage to speak of. It was just a fun time. Certainly a beautiful place as well.
After the huck fest at Triple Falls, we all headed into South Carolina to check out the Lower Whitewater River. There had been some discussion of it on Boatertalk in recent weeks and photos were posted of someone running some of the drops. After getting some beta, we decided it would be cool to check out and maybe huck some.
The run was described as consisting of three main drops. The first a set of teacups were of low consequence. The second, a 28-foot drop had serious piton potential on the bottom left. The third a series of slides ending in the final must-make eddy above the 300-foot Lower Whitewater Falls. I didn’t really see myself running much of this, maybe just the teacups, but it sounded like a fun thing to go look at.
The main piece of advice we got about heading out there was not to go after any rain … high emphasis on ANY. So what happens? Of course, it starts pouring as soon as we start heading that way. But since we’re almost there we decide to go ahead and check it out.
From the parking lot, it was a half-mile hike to the put in. We decided to go ahead and just hike in with our boats. We arrived at a bridge that crosses the creek and could see the first horizon line. The view was amazing! Probably one of the most incredible places I’d ever been. From the bridge to the base of the section we were considering, the run drops a good one hundred feet in just a short stretch. Yes, that “final” horizon line in the photo leads into a 300-foot deadly drop!
We paddled a short distance from the bridge to the top of the first drop, got out of our boats and started to make our way down to scout the drops. But the recent rain had made the bedrock incredibly slick. We found it downright impossible to walk down. Carl, in his excitement, had gotten ahead of everyone, slipped and fell into a giant pothole. Then got up and slid down again, closer to the big drop. He stood up, screaming at us to stay way. No matter, we were determined to take a closer look. So, we pulled out as many ropes as we had and linked them together to get down. We ended up sliding down the rock, holding on to the ropes for dear life.
The pothole that Carl had slipped into was next to the 28-foot drop and was the largest pothole I’ve ever seen. It was probably 20 feet tall and fifteen across with a deep pool inside.
Once we got to the bottom of the 28-foot drop it was difficult to see the line from the left side. Aided by a safety rope, Jason tried to get a look at the right side by walking along the top edge of the next drop. But after a few minutes of attempting to get over there, we decided it was way too dangerous and not really worth the risk. It was difficult enough just trying to walk around, let alone doing it with boats. So we chose to scrap the plan and just get out of there. Nonetheless, it had been worthwhile to get in there and see this amazing place.
Afterwards, we headed a couple miles upriver and checked out 500 ft tall Upper Whitewater Falls from the overlook. The water was coming down brown and we could tell the water level rose a good bit. We were happy with our decision to leave the Lower Whitewater Falls area, as it could easily have flashed on us. Still, it was a wonderful experience.
On Saturday, July 7th, with the Green STILL not running we departed for the Cheoah. The previous time we were here, release flow plus natural flow combined to make an exciting 1300-1400 cfs range. This time, natural flow was negligible with a 1000 cfs release. While still exciting at 1000 cfs, the “fun factor” was definitely diminished a bit. Unfortunately, early in our run we lost John Rudland to a shoulder dislocation. Dave Haines drove him to the hospital. We missed our 2 hospital bound comrades, but those that remained finished the run in good spirits. Dave and John met us later that afternoon for dinner.
After our first day on the Cheoah, we needed to find a place to camp. Dusk was setting in and we were running out of options. But low and behold, opportunity presents itself. Driving down the road near the Santeetlah Creek, we found the perfect spot. A nice big patch of grass next to what probably was a scenic overlook with great parking. Seemed unlikely that anyone would bother us and set up camp.
Previously, on the way to our “camp,” we noticed that Santeetlah Creek had some water it. The afternoon’s rains had brought the water level up to something boatable. After getting “one arm John’s” tent set up, we left him to guard our camp spot while we headed off for a quick dusk run on the Lower Santeetlah. It did not seem like the upper sections would have enough water, and we didn’t have enough daylight anyway. So, this quick class III run seemed like a good choice. We arrived at the put in to find a wedding taking place there. We set shuttle and put on quickly to avoid attracting too much attention.
The flow was low but definitely runable. There were a few spots we had to scrape over but overall it was a nice run. A few ledge drops, one low head dam and very pretty scenery.
That evening, given our stealth-ish “camp” location, we were not able to make a campfire. But what we received in return was an incredible star-filled view of the nights sky, leading to a friendly argument over … which star is the North Star, exactly?
On Sunday, July 8th, with the Green STIIILLLLL not releasing, we went for another lap on Cheoah at 850 cfs. At this low flow, the run is only good from Big Bear rapids down to the takeout.
After the Cheoah run, we decided to get a head start for our drive home. Late Sunday, we were in West Virginia, over half way home, when we heard the updated message from the Green, “On Monday, July 9th, the Tuxedo Power Plant will be releasing 1 unit at 100% from 7am to 1pm.” That would have been a perfect level and time, but we were now too far away.
On July 9th, our Monday destination was the Upper Yough in Maryland with it’s quality whitewater and reliable release … reliable when compared to the recent whimsical nature of the Green releases.
There is no place like home!