five or six years I’ve led a winter trip on the Etowah tunnel
section, usually on a weekday. Several years ago it happened to fall
on Groundhog Day, which I thought was funny. (Tunnel and groundhog,
get it? Yeah, I’m easily amused.) So I have since declared this to
be the annual Groundhog Day run and scheduled it to coincide with
Groundhog Day.

This is important only because the event
usually falls on a weekday. Most years there are three or four boats.
Last year I had zero. There are always a few folks who call to see if
the date is right: “but that’s a weekday.”

so this year: it fell on a Saturday. I had about twenty five people
sign up to attend. Even after the call offs that left 18 people and
sixteen boats who came out to paddle in 25 degree weather. The day
was predicted to warm to 60 but I think the low 50’s is the best we
saw. That was at the take-out parking area in full sun, not on the
river between the ridges.

set our shuttle, gave the safety spiel and hit the water with Jack
Taylor in the lead and David Brytowski and myself as the sweep. There
were sixteen boats. Two tandem canoes: Chad Hyess & Drew Byer and
David Brytowski & Vincent Payne. Three OC1’s: Robert Harris,
Karen Saunders and Jack Taylor . An assortment of 11 kayaks paddled
by Darlene Hawksley, John Miller, Lamar Phillips, Melissa Karasek,
Lori Helman, Lisa Haskell, Keith Haskell, James Unger, Michael
Kellis, Dan McNavish and Carol McNavish. The group included a half
dozen paddlers new to this river and a couple of paddlers who were
new to paddling.

got everyone on the river and ran the first small drop without
incident. Around the second bend there was a nasty combination of
strainers, rapids and logjams that most people opted to portage. A
few brave souls paddled down the drops, ferried across in front of
the strainer and slipped through an opening between a log and a
treetop. The whitewater boats did this very cleanly but two longer
kayaks needed a bit of assistance to stay out of the strainer.

were dismayed to see a set of posted signs on the property at the
entrance to the tunnel. A local paddler told us that it was because
people can set up a camp leaving behind chairs and grills and a zip
line. The zip line is still visible and could pose a threat to
paddlers when the water is much higher. It looks like 3/8 inch cable
and is only about four feet off the water and not very taut.

the tunnel section the river has few rapids and the longer kayaks
were able to out pace the shorter whitewater boats. There was a place
where a log stretched across the entire width of the river. Karen and
John sat on the log and helped pull boats across. I know their toes
were cold. The two old guys in the red tandem boat known as Big Red
refused to paddle anymore for the remainder of the trip and were last
to make the take out.

take-out at Highway 136 is convenient from a parking perspective but
is a brutal carry. It might be a good idea to keep a spare key with
your river gear. With a little assistance from Triple A we all made
it home safely.

by Vincent
From The Eddy Line, March 2008

For more information on this river see:
Etowah Tunnel Section