A lack of rain sent us (Steve Smyth, Sandra Walker, Jennifer Fortney, Lois Newton, Steve Craig, Artie Green and Allen Pogue) searching far afield for anything running, even if it was far from home. This resulted in a plan to cross another new run off my list: Chattooga Section 2.
The plan was to meet in Blairsville, Georgia as early as reasonably possible and head over to Clayton at best speed. The day wasn’t brilliant, with clouds moving in relatively early, but the water at the put-in was crystal clear and we were all hopeful for a wonderful run.
After muddling our way through the unloading process and setting shuttle, we finally struggled into our boats and launched. We paddled upstream a little just to thumb our noses at the boating ban above the bridge. Section 2 was immediately beautiful and wild.
There was a house on the left just below the put-in, but eventually we left all signs of civilization behind. The first couple of ledges hinted that the level really was too low but the long pools of flatwater were gorgeous and we spotted schools of large trout in the clear water and the forested ridges provided a pleasant backdrop for the “social water.”
After I got the pace set nice and slow like I like it on flatwater, I began to calm down and enjoy the day. The only detracting factors were the low water level and the mostly cloudy sky. Section 2 is slightly narrower than Sections 3 and 4 but this isn’t a bad thing and it’s narrowness draws you into the forest. Unfortunately, every time we entered a rapid, everyone pretty much got stuck so it wasn’t a good day for whitewater, with only a couple of exceptions.
Earlier in the day I had stated that I had read a couple of write-ups on the section and most stated that there was one Class 3 rapid in Section 2. I doubted this, loudly and verbally. It was apparent to me that the type of people who paddle Section 2 most of the time are not the same people who paddle Class 3-4 rivers. I concluded that this probably meant that the rapid had been overrated, especially since we had a low water level. You know what that means. It means I was destined to get beat down by said rapid.
When we finally came up on the single Class 3, it was obvious enough. There was a fairly good horizon line over a large jumbled rock ledge. We could see that a slot on the left was clear but a slot on river right looked very creeky and promising so Steve Craig got out to scout on the rocks in the middle of the river. He climbed up and said basically that he thought the more advanced boaters could take the right line but the less experienced boaters should take the left slot.
Steve Smyth and I went first into the right slot. Steve eddied out behind the large boulder that was obstructing the view of the bottom of the rapid and I moved over to river right to where I could see some of the drop that followed. He advised me to catch the eddy he was in after he peeled out and then he ran the bottom drop. I could see that his ride wasn’t entirely smooth but it didn’t look too bad so I dropped around behind the giant boulder and caught the eddy.
When I looked downstream, I couldn’t see anything that looked runnable to me. There was a possible line on the left but it looked like it would probably result in a pin. There was another possible line on the right, but Steve said there was wood in it. That left only a very ugly looking curler over the ledge that poured into a slot. The best line would be to hit the top of the curler with a lot of speed to avoid the slot and drop over into squirrely water below. It looked to me that if you hit the curler too low then you could quite easily get into a potentially life threatening pin.
“That’s the last time I let someone else scout a blind drop for me,” I thought. About this time I started thinking about what I’d said about how there probably wouldn’t really be a Class 3 on Section 2. By now the drop was looking very much like a low-volume Class 3 creek drop. River karma can be a pain in the (back) sometimes.
After floundering and receiving various advice and trying to figure out if it would be reasonable to climb out of the eddy behind the boulder, I decided the best thing to do was to just go ahead and run the drop even though it looked like rocky garbage. I headed for the lip and put on a burst of paddling to ride over the top of the curler, barely staying off the rocks on the left.
I dropped avoided the pinning slot and dropped into the whitewater below, which was swirling like a toilet bowl and thought I had made it when it jammed my playboat up against a rock and I flipped. Actually I didn’t flip very quickly. Since I’ve gotten too heavy over the winter for my ZG 48, I have been paddling my old Perception Blaze 7.1, which has a strange habit of settling on it’s side whenever you start to flip. Think of it as secondary stability taken to the point of ridiculousness.
After a couple of seconds of hanging there with my head submerged and bashing rocks (along with my shoulder), the boat finally flipped all the way over and I tucked hard to avoid further injury and rolled. At least I didn’t swim. After that, everybody else ran the slot on the right side and I got some great pics.
We paddled through a long series of flat pools broken up by ledges and shoals that were entirely too shallow to float through. I personally never got out of my boat but pushing and prying myself off of rocks wore me out. Still not having seen any signs of civilization, we finally arrived at the takeout at Earl’s Ford. Then our little adventure became a misadventure.
The group divided in two on the way back to the car. Most of us followed somebody up the wrong trail, not knowing the way back to the car. This resulted in a long and difficult boat carry up the horse trail a ways before said person realized we weren’t on the right trail. Lois headed up the right trail and we all wished we’d followed her instead.
I have to say, I’ve had a few bad boat carrying experiences in my day but that one really took the cake. I would say we ended up hiking a few hundred yards extra and probably an extra 40 or 50 vertical feet. We’ll make sure not to let the person who lead us astray live this one down.
Section 2 is a beautiful river and there are several rapids that have a lot of potential. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough water. If you go at 1.4 on the Internet gauge, then you’d better not mind getting stuck. The trip was still fun, and since not much else was running anyway I would probably still say it was worth going.
More pictures from the Chattooga Section 2 trip are at:
or at www.allenpogue.com/Chattooga02_24_2007.html.
by Allen Pogue From The Eddy Line, April 2007