People
familiar with the Toccoa River know it has two sections, an upper
section from Deep Hole to Dial Road or Sandy Bottom and a lower
section from Dial Road or Sandy Bottom to Party Rock (a/k/a Takeout
Rock or just Aska Road). Some have ventured a short distance past
Party Rock to run the rapids that can be seen from the usual takeout.

Not
many, however, have paddled far past Party Rock, with good reason.
The water soon flattens and stills as the river is subsumed into Lake
Blue Ridge, and a pleasant whitewater paddle becomes a tedious
flatwater slog. Most of the time.

In
mid-winter, though, the TVA draws down the lake by up to 20 feet.
That allows part of the section downstream of Party Rock to be more
like its natural state with rock gardens, drops and whitewater.

Professor
Rob” Butera, whose in-laws live at least part-time right near the
river, has run the section below Party Rock several times, including
a trip with Shari Heinz, Ira Ferguson and me at the very end of 2006.
Rob has also put a good bit of information about the section below
Party Rock – including put-in and takeout information, on the AW
website at www.american whitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/4320.

As
Rob suggests on the website, we started by leaving the vehicles at
the intersection of Shallowford Road and Old Dial Road and walking
the easy half mile or so to Sandy Bottom. Some ambitious members of
the group carried their boats the half mile while those of us who are
lazier dropped out boats at Sandy Bottom and did the walk with empty
hands. Being really lazy, I stayed at Sandy Bottom to guard the boats
and avoided walking at all.

The
section from Sandy Bottom to Party Rock is well known to paddlers, so
I won’t comment much on it. The water level was low, but not so low
as to be really scrapy, the temperature was about 50 and we had
intermittent drizzle and light rain. There was one bit of bad news on
this section: the breakfast place across Aska Road from the steel
bridge is closed, replaced by a new convenience store/pizza place
next door.

None
of us had a camera with us, but a couple of very nice women from
Mississippi vacationing in the area took some pictures of us at Party
Rock. Shari, running the rapid for the first time in her 15 foot
canoe, got a little too far left and had a chilly swim, but the rest
of us managed to stay upright. The picture is of Shari’s canoe just
beginning to tip.

Just
below Party Rock, Aska Road curves away from the river. The right
bank, apparently National Forest property, remains wooded while the
left bank remains a succession of large new homes, many with the
requisite “No Trespassing” signs, replacing older small ones
along Flat Creek Road.

Much
of the section consists of pleasant, mildly technical rock gardens.
Rob has named the most significant rapid BFH, after the fairly new
residence on river left. (Big is for big, H is for house, and you can
fill in your own adjective for the F.) We ran BFH near the left bank,
right in front of the H. It consisted of a double drop of about 3
feet each followed by a very nice wave train.

After
BFH, the river turns right and enters the area normally subsumed by
the lake. Long, sloping banks on each side consist of dark mud
interspersed with very light rocks of all sizes. They look like
pieces of Styrofoam broken off from docks, but Ira and Rob said they
were impure quartz. The effect is kind of eerie. Rob captured it when
he said it was like something from a post-apocalypse movie.

The
trip ended just before Tilly Bend, where the river makes a nearly
hairpin turn to the left. The takeout is “marked” by a large bed
area of usually-submerged rocks on the right bank. The first houses
on river right are easily visible just downstream from the takeout.

The
walk back to the vehicles, while not terribly long or steep, was the
most challenging part of the day. It started with carrying the boats
about 150 feet up the slippery mud slope from the water to an ATV
trail. The trail is about .4 mile long and ended right at the parked
vehicles. The ATV trail is strewn with pine straw that, except for a
few rocks and muddy areas, allows the option of dragging boats rather
than carrying them.

One
advantage of this section is that it allows a reasonable one-vehicle
self shuttle. An easy half mile road walk and a challenging but
doable .4 mile takeout hike is rewarded with a paddle of 6.5-7 miles,
a pleasant river and good scenery on a section few ever paddle.

One
other note for future reference: Rob has learned the TVA plans to
draw down the lake by 85 feet in 2009 for maintenance work on Blue
Ridge Dam. That’s got to be bad news for the people who paid a
fortune to live on Lake Blue Ridge, but could provide a
one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Toccoa paddlers.

by
Rick Bellows

From
“The Eddy Line”, February 2007