Due to
the nature of the flow over the rocks on the left, the portage was
also hazardous (rocks and a hole). I decided that the main line was
easy to hit, and that even a flip would likely be beyond the
hydraulic. Our suspicions were confined when two tubers ran the main
line without even trying to hit it 🙂 We all decided to run it.


The
high flow made all the drops continuous, so after the first drop at
Party Rock you were immediately facing water pillowing on that giant
boulder on river right. At mundane levels this is easy to avoid, but
not today. I ran first and tried to show them the line. I aced the
first drop, but being in a playboat was trapped in the jet flow below
the drop in a partial stern squirt, sort of splatted the big rock,
and eddied out behind. I’m sure I said I did it on purpose 🙂 The
other boats, being much bigger, had no trouble – all hit the line,
and all glanced the downstream boulder.

The rapids below Party
Rock were a blast – lots of wave and ledge crashing. I wish there
were more eddies to play – the stream velocity made it pretty hard to
catch any wave on the fly. Big Freaking House rapid was the biggest.
Clay got tossed going over the rock (not usually a pourer) that
defines the top drop on river left, and in an amazing show of
whitewater sit-on-top skill, actually climbed back into his boat and
kept on paddling.

Then we hit the “winter section” –
the part of the river submerged in the summer. Instead of the fun
sloping ledges I was expecting, there were sizable waves and
significant flow, more like the Nantahala than the the Toccoa. The
rapids (all class II) continued and continued.

We then got to
the section where the flat water begins at normal winter lake levels.
The class II ledges and pourovers continued. The water kept on
moving, but the rapids subsided briefly as we approached Tilly Bend.
Tilly Bend is where I often take out in the winter, and it also marks
the highest point upriver that the powerboats usually travel when
water skiing in the summer. I have long suspect that the depth change
here might be significant, based on “powerboat folklore.”
You can tell you are there since the Forest Service land ends on
river right, and houses with boat docks on river right appear around
the corner.

I was pleasantly surprised when we rounded the
corner at Tilly Bend.

The next 1500-2000′ of river was a 5+
minute wave train! Huge evenly spaced standing waves, some as tall as
five feet. Most were glassy smooth – very few even crested. I have
never paddled a wave train that long on any river. Having this wave
train in front of lake houses with dry boat docks made it even more
surreal. If you have ever paddled the Potomac in Maryland, it
reminded me of the Little Falls section above Little Falls rapid,
only bigger.

At this point the other 3 boaters were way ahead
of me. I didn’t do any playing, though I noted that the latter end of
the wave train had flat and sometimes recirculating water in the flow
outside of the wave train, so access for play is possible.

I
was so excited and laughing that I forgot to eddy out and take a
picture. Nobody will ever believe this.

We then paddled in
moving water for about 5 minutes and did the 180 turn to paddle up
Persimmon Creek. Instead of a creek to paddle up, we had a 10 minute
slog through the muddy lake bed to our cars. If you do this run,
dress for ankle deep mud!

All in all, an interesting day. The
river was meaty, and at this level Party Rock and Big Freaking House
rapids easily met the textbook definition of class III – the
continual flow between features greatly increased the
difficulty.

And it sure wasn’t 600 cfs like I thought.

When
I got to the takeout, I checked the levels during the day, and found
that my hunch was correct – it was NOT 600 cfs. The gauge level after
we got on?

8/21/2010 7pm (ET) 1,626
8/21/2010 5pm (ET)
1,695
8/21/2010 3pm (ET) 1,411
8/21/2010 1pm (ET) 907

We
put on at 1:45pm and got off at 4:30pm. So rather than the 600 cfs I
thought we were paddling, it was likely 1200+ cfs while we were on
the river. When I was driving back at 6pm I stopped at Party Rock (we
had ran it around 3pm). The Party Rock rapid had totally changed to
what it is typically like in flood stage (main line is flat water,
rocks become pourovers, “little Nanty” section below
becomes a series of holes).

The wave trains at Tilly Bend were
quite interesting. Obviously, the extremely high flow played a role.
I don’t know if some aspect of the bottom profile of the river there
(it is channeled in the mud at normal 200 cfs flows and I suspect
that the lake depth changes significantly there), and/or the fact
that these wave are located where the the whitewater meets the
flatwater also matter.

As the lake recedes and the Toccoa
drops back to “normal” levels (as I write this, it is back
down to <400 cfs a day later), I am really curious what this
stretch will look like. You can hike to the start of this section
(Tilly Bend) in about 15 minutes from a trail that starts at the
corner of Shallowford Bridge Rd and Dial Rd. There are 3 trails –
take the one that heads the “most downhill” and followings
the gully towards that stretch of river. I will definitely hike down
there during my next visit to Blue Ridge about a month from now to
check it out!

Overall, it was definitely one of my most
surreal river experiences ever.

For those that want to paddle
this section, at a likely much more “normal” level, I am
leading a GCA trip from Sandy Bottom to the Lake on Sunday Oct 24.
The takeout will entirely depend on what the channel in the lake is
like by that time.

Click here for Photos: 2 shots of the Persimmon Creek
takeout, one before the trip, one after. Lots of
mud!

By Robert Butera
August 21, 2010