Don Kinser, GCA River Protection Chair Day 2 – Chattooga Cliffs
(a/k/a Section 00) and Ellicott Rock (a/k/a Section 0) — 7.7 miles
morning dawned clear and somewhat cooler. The rain from the day
before was replaced with sunny blue skies. The morning chill faded
and warmed to nearly 60 degrees by afternoon. The gauge at Burrell’s
Ford had come up a tenth of a foot overnight. We could not have asked
for anything better.
adventure would turn out to be much more physically demanding than
the day before. Again we convened for another “alpine” start at
the Burrell’s Ford parking lot at 8:30 a.m. We enjoyed another
“Green Truck” shuttle, thanks to the USFS. After checking the new
staff gauge at Grimshawes Bridge on Whiteside Cove Road, we arrived
at the trailhead.
yesterday, when we saw no one, today we were met at the trailhead by
Buzz Williams and several other members of the “Friends of the
Upper Chattooga” (FUC for short). Buzz went about his normal
grandstanding routine, telling the USFS how they were doing
everything wrong and how dangerous it was to allow boating on the
river. He had also blocked the trailhead with his truck to make
things more difficult for us. One of our group made the mistake of
leaning his paddle against the tailgate of Buzz’ truck and learned
first hand about Buzz’ southern hospitality.
than put in at Grimshawes Bridge, the USFS basically dodged the
private landowner issue with a 1.8 mile ”forced march” down to
the confluence of Norton Mill Creek. The trail was good and we
arrived at the river about 45 minutes later. After a group photo, we
put on and started downriver at 10:40 a.m.
Mill Creek joins the Chattooga about 2 miles downstream from
Grimshawes Bridge and about 0.6 miles above a massive logjam. Here
the river is narrow with steep banks, thick with lush rhododendron.
arrived at the logjam about 10 minutes later and took about 10-15
minutes to climb up and over with our boats. After this, the bottom
drops out and the real fun begins. Once past the logjam, it took us
nearly an hour and a half to travel the next 0.7 miles. This stretch
is full of numerous Class 4 rapids and at least one Class 5 drop.
after the logjam, we encountered a cool grotto and then a nice Class
4 ledge. Things were starting to get very interesting. Next was a
stout Class 5 drop that several of us portaged. After Milt (in his
canoe) shamed the kayakers into running the drop, everyone that ran
it made it look easy. We then entered the first of three narrow,
cliff-lined “alleys” that give this stretch of river its name,
river opens up somewhat after this alley before reaching another
Class 4+ drop where you want to make sure you don’t go left.
However, after looking at the wood in the right side of this drop,
several of us again chose to portage on the right.
now found ourselves in the Alleyway, a spectacular narrow sluice with
vertical bedrock walls. We portaged around a large root ball that
plugged the river and ran several significant rapids, including one
with a large boulder bisecting the riverbed.
down in the Alleyway there is a stunning waterfall
on river right that pours into the river from high up on the
cliff. I have visited and explored the Chattooga for nearly 30
years and this was unlike any other place I have seen exploring
the river. This is also a place nearly impossible to see
reached the sieve shortly after noon. The sieve rapid is a difficult
obstacle and everyone portaged.
logistics of this portage were made more difficult by our large
group. This was really one of the few places our group size was much
of a liability. It is very difficult to stage the group down into the
“eddy” above the sieve and exit your boat. I say “eddy”
because it is more like a slow spot in the current, up against a
steep, slippery, vertical rock wall. Milt, the only open boater in
the group, was able to jump out of his canoe here more easily and
helped us exit our kayaks.
took a long time to portage. It was slippery and crowded. Someone
wisely set a safety rope and we worked together to ferry our boats
across a difficult spot. Once across, we had to put in immediately
above a challenging 6 foot, Class 4 ledge.
the logjam to here the river had been unrelenting. Once back on the
water we found it an easy 20 minute cruise with a number of fun Class
3 ledges and drops for the remaining mile down to the Iron Bridge at
Bull Pen Road.
we encountered a large audience waiting for us when we arrived just
after 1:00 p.m. The Class 5 drop immediately below the bridge is
quite impressive and was in full sunlight. I am sure many of the
onlookers were expecting (and secretly hoping for) a great deal of
death and destruction.
was even a troll under the bridge with a camera.
disappointed them as all but two of our group ran the drop in a
dazzling display of the state of the sport. Just for the record, I
walked. I probably should also mention one consultant’s swim at the
bottom of the rapid after he admonished us at the top not to do
anything stupid for the crowd.
barely a moment to eat a quick bite of lunch, we were herded off at
1:30 to find our way down to Ellicott Rock and ultimately Burrell’s
Ford. This reach was rumored to be the most enjoyable and the most
popular of the three sections. We would not be disappointed. The two
or so miles immediately below the bridge to Ellicott Rock is a
wonderful read and run, Class 4 boulder dance, roughly bisected by
the biggest rapid on the Chattooga, Class 5 Super Corkscrew.
Corkscrew is long and scary. It starts with a hard 4+ entrance and
just keeps getting nastier from there. I think four of us walked the
rapid along the rock shelf on river right. Several of the group,
including Wade and Ken, made it look easy, others maybe not so much.
Todd discovered just how shallow it was at the bottom part of the
rapid. Shayne took all the style points for his great ender in the
below Super Corkscrew, the pace quickened and we found a rhythm as we
danced down one boulder drop to the next all the way to Ellicott
Rock, arriving there at about 3:00 p.m. Once below Ellicott Rock, the
gradient began to ease for the next 3.5 miles or so and we reached
Burrell’s Ford shortly before 4:00 p.m.
team was tired and hungry, but we were all smiles as we packed up and
headed once again to the Ranger office to debrief.
me personally and several others on the trip, these were two of the
most emotionally significant days of our paddling lives. After having
worked so hard, for so long, to gain access to this truly amazing
river, I was concerned that I might be let down once I actually got
had nothing to worry about. The upper Chattooga did not disappoint. I
have had some great outdoor adventures in my life. In the last six
years alone, I have climbed Long’s Peak via the East Face, the
Grand Teton via Exum Ridge, and Mount Baker. I have paddled the Grand
Canyon, the Selway and the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
were all great adventures. Our “expedition” to rediscover the
upper Chattooga, however, was more rewarding than any of these other
adventures, at least for me, because of what it took to get the
chance and because it is right in my own back yard.
were also very, very lucky. The “perfect storm” had come together
and allowed this to happen so successfully – the storm Dec. 31 that
surged the river to 6,000 cfs, warm weather, stable flows, a skilled
team with a cooperative spirit, more rain and great support from
everyone involved, especially the USFS.
just hope it is not the last opportunity I have to legally enjoy this
magnificent place. Legal or not, I am sure to return. Maybe, just
maybe, you too will be able to share this adventure and experience
the upper Chattooga for yourself sometime soon.
study was primarily framed as a “flow study” to attempt to gather
data about “boatability” and “fishability” at different flow
levels. Last summer the USFS installed new staff gauges at Grimshawes
Bridge, Iron Bridge and Burrell’s Ford Bridge, complete with data
loggers, as part of the study. The USFS hydrologists established a
flow curve for the Burrell’s Ford gauge to correlate the staff
gauge to cfs.
previous week’s storm surged the river to nearly 6,000 cfs, primed
the pump and made the user trials possible. A modest amount of rain
fell Thursday night onto already saturated ground, and continued rain
during the day Friday started the river rising slowly during the day
and overnight. The result was an extraordinarily stable hydrograph
for our study.
Friday, when we paddled the Rock Gorge Section, the new staff gauge
at Burrell’s Ford read 1.5 feet when we put on. With the rain
during the day the level rose to 1.6 feet while we were on the river.
This was reported to be 340 cfs based on the newly established flow
curves for Burrell’s Ford. The Chattooga was 1150 cfs (2.29 feet)
at the U.S. 76 gauge at about 1:00 p.m.
must admit I expected a rocky, bony, difficult day on a river that
didn’t have enough water in it. I was wrong. What we discovered was
a river with an enjoyable flow and plenty of water. Later that day,
during the debriefing, the panel considered it to be the low end of
the optimal flow range. I agree.
water quality was outstanding as well. While maybe it was not exactly
clear, the river was certainly not muddy and was quite beautiful.
Saturday, when we paddled the Chattooga Cliffs and Ellicott Rock
sections, Friday’s steady rain had subsided. The river had risen
slightly and then fell overnight. The new Burrell’s Ford staff
gauge read 1.6 feet when we headed up to the put-in at Norton Mill
Creek Saturday morning.
new staff gauge at Grimshawes Bridge read 1.25 feet when we drove
over the bridge. It was heavily guarded by the local landowners’
militia. When we passed the new staff gauge at the Iron Bridge on
Bull Pen Road, it read 3 feet. The Burrell’s Ford gauge read
feet when we arrived there Saturday afternoon. Both the Chattooga
Cliffs and Ellicott Rock reaches had plenty of water at these levels.
This was particularly true of the upper reach, the Chattooga Cliffs
reach. The Ellicott Rock reach was good, but a little more juice
would have helped – not much more juice, however, because some of
the holes could become big and hungry fast. Once again, the water
quality was outstanding.
hope you have enjoyed reading about our expedition to rediscover the
upper Chattooga River. I also hope you stay tuned into the ongoing
User Capacity Study. Better yet, if you would like to have the chance
to explore this wonderful place from your own boat, let the USFS know
right now. Visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/fms/ and share your thoughts
with John Cleeves, the User Capacity Analysis Project Coordinator.
Note: Article copyright 2007 by Don Kinser: may be reprinted with
permission and attribution. Photos copyright 2007 by Brian
Jacobson/Trout Lips Video LLC and Todd Corey. Text and photos used
with permission. Additional photos of this trip are on the American
Whitewater website at
Photographer Todd Corey’s name was misspelled in Part 1 of this
report in the February issue. The Eddy Line regrets the error.
“The Eddy Line”, March 2007