Exploration Trip, March 1, 2009

 

The Middle Fork of the Broad River bubbles up about seven miles ESE of Clarkesville on the south side of the Eastern Continental Divide traced by Georgia Highway 13 at Dicks Hill, which is also the source of Hazel Creek to the east and the North Fork of the Broad to the southeast. For its first ten miles it drains a densely forested natural area almost entirely within the southeastern corner of the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area (LRWMA). To the east it drains Davis, Currahee, Farmer, Allen, and Wells mountains before leaving the national forest, entering Banks County and becoming a more pastoral stream.

I have been dreaming of paddling the Middle Fork of the Broad River since the mid-1970’s and often talked about it with the GCA’s first Exploration Chairman, Gary DeBacher. He walked the entire section we paddled in the 1970’s and wrote an exploration trip report for the November, 1976 Eddy Line about a 4 mile section of the river, A to B in Welander’sA Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to Georgia, 40 miles downstream of the headwaters streams we paddled this day.

Our trip was billed in The Eddy Line as a Class 2-4 “Exploration Wildcard,” meaning we would paddle a stream “not yet written up in any guide book” or on the AW website. There is no river gauge anywhere near the LRWMA, but we figured it had rained at least 2 inches there since Friday night, so our intrepid crew (open boaters Kevin McInturff, Liph Johnson and I) set out to paddle the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Broad despite forecasts of heavy rain, strong winds and snow.

Kevin had paddled the Middle Fork a few years ago with Jim Gerwer and Chuck Wilburn from the Brown Bottoms bridge, but we decided this day to put in near the head of the Broad River Trail at the FS87 bridge and also paddle 1.2 miles on Dicks Creek before it joins the Middle Fork a quarter of a mile downstream of Brown Bottoms. Dicks Creek is 15 to 30 feet wide here and drops at a rate of 100 feet per mile, mostly in tight Class 1 and 2 drops.

We also found two sliding falls, both of which tempted us but had wood in them. We portaged both easily along the Board River Trail, which hugs the left bank. The first drops about 12 feet and threatened to be a boat basher. The second, a Class 5 which plummets about 40 feet on a 35-40 degree angle, sports a pretty clean line along its left side. My alibis involved my using a 16 foot, borrowed Boy Scout canoe with no floatation, the in-stream wood (which we could have cut out in about 10 minutes) and the horrendous weather. Yes, the weatherman was right: it rained about an inch and a half, with occasional wind-blown snow, during the three and a half hours we were paddling.

We also had to pull over 2 deadfalls on the creek (and one on the river), but in just over an hour we paddled Dicks Creek and reached the Middle Fork, which more than doubled the flow. Below here the river widened to 30-50 feet and the rapids eased up. However, we still found frequent Class 1 and 2 rapids and a lively 25 foot per mile gradient in the next 3.3 miles to the bridge at Farmer Bottoms. As the river was rising rapidly, we enjoyed many good play spots.

Kevin promised that there was a long, fun Class 3 about a mile past the bridge at Farmer Bottoms, so we decided to eschew the easy takeouts at the bridge and along FS92 on river left during the next three quarters of a mile. Instead we paddled another 1.2 miles to a river left trail just after this rapid.

The Lake Russell topo shows about 60 feet of drop in this 1.2 mile stretch. However, we discovered that 35-40 feet of this gradient is consumed by Kevin’s “fun class 3 rapid.” Moreover, with three and a half inches of recent rainfall we paddled, without scouting, into a heart-stopping, LONG, continuous series of twisting, Class 4 slides, punctuated with several eye-popping holes and large curlers.

I was feeling pretty proud and thankful to have made it unscathed to the right side eddy at the bottom. I had been surprised by the size and power of the rapid we had just run, which I assumed we had completed. So I didn’t worry too much about the horizon line in front of me as I pulled back into the current. As far as I could see was another twisting humongous drop, very similar to what we had just survived!

We all made it to the bottom, smiling from ear to ear! Our exhilaration helped to generate the adrenalin needed for the steep path up to the road, similar to the hike out at Woodall but with and additional third of a mile carry along the rough road to FS193.

We paddled a total of 5.7 miles dropping 260 feet in this beautiful natural area through mature, second-growth forest. Despite the horrendous weather, we had a great trip.

The three of us are already talking about soon putting in at Farmer Bottoms and exploring some of the Middle Fork downstream of our takeout. We know that the river soon leaves the national forest and plummets over a steep, possibly runable falls, perhaps 40 feet high, into a small reservoir less than a mile after our takeout. What else awaits us?

Directions: The Ayersville and Lake Russell USGS topographical maps will be helpful in planning a trip on Dicks Creek and the Middle Fork of the Broad in the Lake Russell

 

Wildlife Management Area. During hunting season, August 14 through the end of February, one may only drive into the RLWMA from the north, by the Game Checking Station on Guard Camp Road (FS87). At other times one can also use Forest Service roads 193, 191, and 92 (both east and west ends) to enter the LRWMA, a good road map of which can be found at http://www.georgiaoutdoors.com/hunting/WMAmaps/LakeRussellWMA.pdf.

To enter the LRWMA past the Game Check Station from Atlanta, take I-85 and I-985, which becomes State Highway 365 just past Gainesville. Enter Habersham County, pass Highway 197 and stay on Highway 365 towards Toccoa by bearing right just before the light at the Tom Arrendale Interchange southeast of Clarkesville.

Enter Stephens County and about a mile past the Southern Railroad crossing turn right onto Quarry Road. It will end in less than a mile on old Hwy. 13 (Dicks Hill Parkway). Turn right and in about two-thirds of a mile turn left onto Ayersville Road (Patterson Milliken Rd. on some maps). After about a mile Guard Camp Road (FS87) turns left and is well marked. A couple of miles after you pass the Game Checking Station Browns Bottom Road (FS 92B) turns right.

For those who do not want to run Dicks Creek, you can put in on the Middle Fork at the bridge about a mile and a quarter down this road at Browns Bottoms. If you continue straight two tenths of a mile on Guard Camp Road you will reach the Dicks Creek bridge, our put-in. A couple of hundreds of yards past this bridge is the head of the Broad River Trail, which hugs the left bank of Dicks Creek all the way to the Middle Fork and then follows the river for another 3 miles to the bridge at Farmer Bottoms (FS92). To reach our takeout, drive south on FS87 four or five miles more till it ends at FS92.

If you were to turn right (west) here onto FS92 (Red Root Road) you would encounter the Farmer Bottoms bridge over the Middle Fork in about fifty yards. To access our takeout continue straight (south) on what is now FS92 (Kimbrell Creek Road), which stays close to the river left bank for about three quarters of a mile and provides several easy takeouts for those not wanting to run the last Class 3-4 rapid.

Shortly after it leaves the river, FS92 turns left (east) but you continue straight(south) on FS193 (Post Oak Corner Road) for another half mile. Shortly after fording a small stream a rough road turns right. High-clearance 4WD vehicles might try this road to get closer to the takeout, but it was blocked by felled trees this day and we had to park here and carry out the full four tenths of a mile to FS193.

by Roger Nott
From The Eddy Line, June, 2009