The Chattooga is a beautiful but deadly place. Over 30 people have died here since 1970. The advice below is based on their experiences.
• Go with someone who is familiar with the river.
• Don’t try to paddle rapids beyond your skill level. Most Chattooga rapids can be carried easily.
• Wear a PFD. Wear a helmet below Earl’s Ford, or if you paddle a decked boat.
• Dress warmly. Cold impairs coordination and judgment, contributing to accidents.
• Don’t inner tube below Earl’s Ford.
• Don’t try to stand up in swift water. Crevices and potholes can trap your foot or leg. Float on your back, feet up and downstream. If you are floating toward danger, swim hard to get out of the current. Let your equipment go if staying with it will endanger you.
• Set throw ropes and safety boats to prevent swimmers from drifting into danger.
• Beware of high water, over 3 feet above Highway 76, over 2 feet below. Fast, powerful currents make boat control difficult. Powerful hydraulics can trap boats or swimmers.
• Be sure your route is not blocked by a freshly lodged tree or boat.
• Familiarize yourself with evacuation routes.
The Chattooga is filled with dangerous features. Those described below deserve special respect.
Dick’s Creek and Sandy Ford: Dangerous hydraulics develop at water levels over 3.5 feet. The hydraulic at Sandy Ford, at the base of the rapid, looks just like a wave from above.
Bull Sluice: Eight people have died here. A pothole just above the ledge hole trapped the leg of one swimmer who was trying to stand. He drowned. Lethal entrapments have occurred in the ledge hole at very low water levels. If you swim there, ball up and allow the current to flush you around Decapitation Rock. Decked boats side-surfing the ledge hole will wash around Decap. It’s safer to stay in your boat, even upside down, than to swim. Another low water entrapment hazard exists in the main drop, just right of Decap. The bottom hole is dangerous at levels over 2.8 feet.
Woodall Shoals: Five paddlers have died here. The innocuous looking initial drop on the left terminates in a keeper hydraulic. Quite powerful at low levels, it becomes more so with increasing flow. Carry on the left, or run the chute on the far right, by the Georgia shore. The hole at the bottom of this chute is very sticky at levels over 3 feet.
Seven-Foot Falls: Alligator Rock hides at the base of the Falls, waiting to bend boats and break ankles. Run as far right as you can, angled right, so your bow lands in the boil on the right. At higher levels, the chute on the right is a simple alternative.
Five Falls: Use ropes and safety boats to prevent swimmers from washing into the next rapid. Time available for rescue drops dramatically as the level rises. Do not lose your rope. It will become a hazard to others.
Entrance: Run hard right. Pinning is a real danger in the center.
Corkscrew: This difficult rapid produces lots of swimmers. Familiarize yourself with the danger downstream (Crack-in-the-Rock). Set a rope on the midstream rock, below the swift water. A swimmer can easily be pulled into slack water from here. The left bank does not work as well. Use safety boats. Unaided swimmers should stroke hard to the right, away from Left Crack. Corkscrew can be carried easily on the right.
Crack-in-the-Rock (a ledge with three passages, Left, Middle, and Right Crack): Crack can be carried on the left. Take out in the eddy behind the tall rock, well above Left Crack.
Left Crack has trapped and killed 4 swimmers at moderate water levels. The lethal crevice, below the surface of the lower pool, is totally hidden by the water pouring over the drop. No one has ever been rescued. Stay away.
Middle Crack may ender and hold boats, especially at levels over 1.4 feet. Snagged throw ropes may entangle paddlers.
Right Crack has had a log trapped vertically in a hole for decades. There was a pinning hazard, and at least one near death. The log is gone, and now there may be serious danger of body or boat entrapment here. The hydraulic below is very sticky and dangerous at levels above 1.8 feet. If you know you can make it, catch the eddy just above and to the right of the drop and climb out onto the rock. From here you can set a rope, or carry to the downstream side and slide into the pool.
Jawbone: Hydroelectric Rock, at the bottom of the drop, is actually two rocks with a usually submerged passage in between. Swimmers have been washed through here, and many rafts have been pinned and upended on Hydro. Don’t hit Hydro. Set a rope below it on the left bank to stop swimmers on that side. Swimmers on the right side should swim hard toward the eddy on the right, above Sock-em-Dog. They must not allow themselves to be pushed against the flat topped rock just to the left of the main current entering Sock-em-Dog. It is badly undercut, and has killed one swimmer. Jawbone can be carried on the left.
Sock-em-Dog: The hydraulic is fierce at levels over 1.8 feet. As the level drops, running over the Launch Pad becomes impossible. Run just to the left. Running to the right invites a bow-stern pin on the right bank and the Pad. Can be carried easily on the left.
From The Eddy Line, July 1997