We finally got a good rainfall after several weeks of relative dryness and cold temperatures. With a lot of river running and some of it at fairly high levels, Steve Smyth and I decided at the last minute to try for Clear Creek, a small tributary of the Cartecay that flows off Burnt Mountain. Carolyn Rand joined in at the last minute as a volunteer shuttle bunny. On the way into Ellijay, Carolyn and I passed over
Mountaintown Creek and it definitely appeared to be running, which I took as a good indicator Clear Creek would run. We met Steve at the Cartecay launch on river left (which was a mistake, we should’ve met at the DNR takeout). We dressed there, piled Steve’s boat into the back of Carolyn’s truck and headed around to the put-in for Clear Creek. I noted with a sigh of relief that it definitely had enough continued on following page water to paddle. It also didn’t appear to be too high, which I always consider to be a good thing when I’m paddling a new run, especially if nobody on the trip knows the run . . . and that was the case for us.
We hurried a little at the put-in because it’s a little like launching in the middle of a neighborhood. The bridge is small and an old lady and man looked us over good to see what we were up to as we donned dry tops and spray skirts before launching into the muddy water.
In a few minutes we were downstream and Carolyn, our shuttle bunny, was quickly gone. I don’t know where you’re supposed to park at the put-in so I was very grateful to Carolyn for shuttling us and we didn’t have to deal with the issue.
The creek is small, about 20 feet wide at that point and starts off as a swift Class 1-2 stream. You quickly leave behind the houses and get walled in by rhododendron, hemlock and pine. A few trees must be ducked under. Then you approach a serious horizon line accompanied by a lot of noise. We were approaching the first drop, according to the AW site, Timber Falls.
The creek splits into two channels around a large bedrock island. Some water goes over to the left and around a blind turn and another channel with a little more water goes to the right. We were able to paddle up into a small eddy on the right and we could see that the right side was clear of wood although it definitely looked a little sketchy.
It was a long, complicated bedrock slide that partially runs under an overhang for 40 feet or more before dropping over a small ledge into a pool. It looks fairly impressive from the top and the creek probably loses 8 or 10 feet from beginning of the slide to the pool below.
Unfortunately the photos I took from the bottom don’t do it justice. For some reason the lighting down in the ravine didn’t favor photography and there’s little that could be done with my outmoded digital camera. The left channel eventually comes out in a steep slide that I would estimate drops about 8 feet onto the last ledge.
The landing zone looked like it might have shallow rock so I’m glad we went down the right instead, and anyway the right side is great fun. Steve went first and I pulled into the eddy and got a look. I blanched a little when I first saw the drop but Steve was OK at the bottom so I eased into the line I wanted and then took a couple of good propulsion strokes to get started and I was off.
I intended to stay right to avoid a somewhat scary looking rock overhang that juts out a few feet over the left side of the slide but the acceleration hit quickly and the current immediately began dragging me left towards the overhanging rock. I picked up speed until I was moving very fast indeed and doing shallow rock-scraping draw strokes half the way down to stay as far right as possible. I ducked my head instinctively and positioned my paddle to avoid the overhang as I was pulled right next to it. I cleared the rock overhang and then I was in the bottom of the slide where I basically got turned right by the water coming in from the left channel and launched into the pool.
The speed with which all this occurred is the main thing I remember. I got an immediate adrenalin kick and grinned. It’s definitely one of the most interesting drops I’ve run. Somehow I followed a lazy S-turn slide to the bottom and it felt like I was going about 30 miles per hour when I got to the bottom. Yeehaw! I’ve been thinking about that drop since I ran it and I can’t wait to go back for more.
At this point you’ve basically dropped into an area punctuated by so-called “minigorges” where sloping rock walls run up to the forest and giant smooth rock formations abound. It’s a neat place to visit.
The next sliding drop is apparently called “Flume,” although I would say the flume is the least of your worries. We eddied out above the drop to make sure it was clear of wood and to look for a hole. Steve scrambled up the bank on river left while I fiddled with my spray skirt and almost let my paddle precede me over the drop, which would have been very stupid indeed. Steve began returning and indicated that I should go right down the middle. He said it looked like nothing significant.
The middle actually looked as good as anywhere so I went ahead. It was a short easy slide with no significant hole at the bottom but I noted with horror that there was a very large pinning/piton rock on the right side of the slide. Steve had decided not to tell me about it because the last time he told me where not to go on Section 3 at Dicks Creek Ledge, I had gone straight into it. I decided to keep my mouth shut because he had a good point but I would’ve been happier if I’d scouted it myself.
After this you ride down the “flume” which reminds me of the runout from Mattress through the mini-gorge on Warwoman Creek. It was easy and fun Class 2. It seems like we paddled around another corner or two and some Canada Geese preceded us down the creek, keeping a careful distance. Then we approached Headless Horseman, which we got out to scout on river right.
This was yet another excellent bedrock type slide rapid and we climbed up on a huge rock formation to get a look. We couldn’t agree if it was actually Headless Horseman at the time because we remembered it as having a right turn at the bottom from the photos on AW, but actually I think we had both confused it with Flume now that I’ve been able to go back and look again.
Headless Horseman was arguably the most difficult rapid we ran all day as there was yet another terrible looking boulder in the drop on the right and to the left of it, right in the line you would presumptively choose to paddle, was a “cauldron” with water circulating into the hole-gnarr behind the boulder. It looked pretty ugly. I hung out with my throw rope and camera on river right while Steve ran the drop. The purpose of the rope was for pulling him out of the hole or helping him escape from a pinned boat.
Part of what makes Headless difficult is that the approach isn’t a gimme. There’s some Class 2 wave hole action as you try to line yourself up. I watched Steve’s approach carefully to see what happened to him. He turned out to be way too far right and subbed out in the hole and had a very close encounter with the big pinning rock. Yikes!
Having seen what happened to him, I knew I wanted to hit a line through a small downstream V that I could see that was much farther left in the entrance, and then follow a shallow fold into the cauldron in the middle of the drop. This line was definitely better at this level although it did push me dangerously close to the decapitation overhang at the bottom on the left that gives the rapid its name.
At higher water that rapid would be very interesting indeed. Too far right and you’re toast on the pinning rock. Too far left and into the undercut you go. All this is not to mention what might become of the cauldron-hole-thing in the middle of the drop with a little more water. It was good stuff but it’s not one I’d carry back up to run again. I was glad to be in the pool below.
I might rate it more like 3+ for generally sketchiness and small margin for error. If you get squirreled around in the entrance and miss the line by much then “Bad Things” are likely to occur. If you went over the drop sideways then you might need some prayer.
AW or I might never have run it. More photos at http://wwwallenpogue/clearcreekga.html
By Allen Pogue
From The Eddy Line, April 2007