After
three to four days of continuous rain in the Southeast, most major
streams in the North Georgia and Alabama area were at or approaching
flood stage. Perfect conditions for some steep creeking! On this
wonderful day my paddling buds and I decided to try Bear Creek in
Alabama (no, not the one in PLUNGE!) for the first time. Bear Creek
is the creek which joins Little River directly upstream from the
Chair Lifts. It is a two mile run with an overall gradient of 320
ft.

Our
crew included Joel Hunt, Marvin “Bilbo” Mayo, Ray
McCormick, Joe Elkins, and myself in a kayak, and Dan Hunt in open
solo canoe. On our way to the put-in we pulled over to observe the
lemming-like migration of hair boaters to the one-mile, 300 ft.
gradient of Johnny’s Creek. This is a serious class 4-5+ run and we
weren’t even considering running it, not this day.

When
we finally got to the Bear Creek put-in we found it to be on the low
side but definitely runnable. Our designated probe unit, “Mad
Marvin” took the lead and off we went. We quickly found
ourselves in the most magnificent canyon imaginable. Vertical
sandstone cliffs 250 ft. high formed the stream banks with waterfalls
cascading down almost every bend in the creek. The rapids were
continuous class 2 and 3 with an occasional easy class 4. Eddy
hopping and boat scouting was the order of the day. The nature of
the rapids changed as the creek cut its way through the sandstone
strata and into shale. The shale riverbed formed long, smooth slides
littered with sandstone boulders. The depth of the canyon also
jumped dramatically where the creek started cutting through the
shale. Typically the cut bank (outside bend) on this portion of the
creek would be severely undercut.

At
one point on this portion of the creek, Joe flipped at the top of a
steep 10-12 ft. slide, hit his face hard and bailed. At the bottom
of the slide was a big undercut boulder about the size of a van, with
most of the creek slamming straight into it. A slot 3-4 ft. wide
between the boulder and the left bank (a sheer cliff) led to a short
pool. Joe’s paddle disappeared into the undercut. Joe managed to
self rescue about 15 ft. above the boulder on a tiny ledge on the
left bank.

I
scrambled up the right bank and tossed Joe a rope to pendulum him
across to safety. Joe was shaken up by this incident and wanted off
the creek. Unfortunately for him, the only way out was downstream.
We gave Joe a breakdown paddle and continued downstream.

Joe
portaged the next four or five rapids, but eventually came to a long
section of rapids with cliffs forming both banks. After extensive
coaxing, pep talks, obscenities, and threats, I finally got Joe to
follow me down the rapids. He survived, and eventually we reached
the confluence with Little River. Joe decided to walk out at the
Chair Lift trail, muttering something about preserving his dental
work.

Little
River was running at around 3000 cfs, which was a big change of pace
from tiny Bear Creek — BIG water! We wore ourselves out surfing
big waves and holes (at times unintentionally) the rest of the day.
Ray, who had been having an excellent day, got trashed in several big
holes, wowing us at one point when he cartwheeled his T-Canyon in a
huge hole.

Bottleneck
was downright scary and we all decided to portage. The high water
boof boulder was completely gone and the normal route looked
unsurvivable. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful except
when Dan dropped sideways over a rapid called Gonad Grabber, which
endered his canoe and resulted in an epic swim. We finally got him
and his canoe to the bank and continued on to the Mouth Park, where
we congratulated one-another on the great day of paddling we had just
experienced.

by Neal
Hunt
March 2, 1997.