Hurricane
Opal blew through north Georgia on a Wednesday evening in October
1995 and heavy rains (8 inches) guaranteed that the Amicalola would
have water during the season in which it is usually bone dry. So, I
decided to take Friday off and go paddling.

I set up my
shuttle by leaving my mountain bike chained to a tree at Devil’s
Elbow. Then I drove up to Six Mile (the traditional put in on the
Georgia Dept. Natural Resources site). I unloaded my non-whitewater
Mohawk and noticed that the water was high, but within its banks, and
moving along at a rapid clip. In fact, it was a bit
unnerving.

Thanks to that water level, I was able to make good
time the first couple of miles on the stretch that is ordinarily very
scrapey with alot of rock gardens. Amicalola is a beautiful, wild
creek, the scenery was spectacular, and was enjoying myself immensely
as I approached Cochran Creek and the stretch with three nice class
II/II+ rapids.

Just above Cochran Creek, I rounded a curve and
encountered two rafts full of laughing paddlers. They were river
guides for one of the mountain outfitters and had paddled kayaks on
the Amicalola the previous day, just 12 hours after Opal came
through. When they had reached the ledge just below Cochran Creek,
the conditions were so attrocious that they had pulled out, left
their kayaks in the woods, hiked up a mountain to a road and
hitchhiked home. Now they had returned to retrieve their kayaks and
reported that the water level had already fallen three feet
overnight!

Shortly thereafter I approached the ledge,
ordinarily a class II or II+ with an river-wide, four foot drop. The
volume of water going over that ledge, and the immense wall of water
just below, left me stunned and unable to imagine what it must have
looked like the previous day when the creek was three feet
higher.

For reasons I no longer recall, I decided to proceed.
I don’t know if there weren’t any sneak routes or if I decided I was
up to the challenge. I ran the usual route near the center, sped over
the ledge, and hit the wall of water below straight on. The result
was a turbulant, jolting, out of control ride. Somehow, I managed to
remain upright although my Mohawk filled with water and I lost my
grip on my paddle.

It was all over in a second or two, and
momentarily I sat there gathering my wits, both addled and energized
by adrenelin. Then I noticed my paddle proceeding toward the next
rapid, which lies just a couple of hundred yards downstream.

This
next rapid is probably the toughest on the upper Amicalola, a Class
II+ ride that begins on river right, falls to the left, and then back
to the right, ending in the center of the creek. It looked like my
paddle was going to beat me to the rapid. I did not want to try
navigating the turns without my paddle, so I paddled with my hands as
fast as I could. I caught up to my paddle at the entrance to the
rapid. I had no time to “admire” how the tremendous volume
of water had elevated this fall to another class altogether. I had no
time to plan my attack. I just picked up my paddle and tried to
control the descent of my water-filled canoe as it entered the
maelstrom of water.

Again, I somehow managed to remain upright
although my canoe was completely filled with water by the time I
exited the rapid. I stopped somewhere below to empty it out and
gather my wits and composure. I felt a strong sense of relief at
having made it through the two rapids uninjured. One more rapid
remained, and at that point all I wanted to do was get through
safely, survive the experience, complete the trip, and go home to
take up some sort of safe hobby.

I don’t think I had any
trouble with the third rapid, although it too was a different animal
than I had seen on prior trips. Whatever transpired there, however,
has faded out of my memory, overshadowed by the events upstream.

At
normal water levels, the Upper Amicalola is a Class II trip perfect
for beginners. There are easy shoals and rock gardens near the
put-in, gradually increasing in difficulty to the three Class II/II+
ledges and rapids below Cochran Creek. I have never been a Class IV
paddler, so I don’t rightly know how to rate the rapids I encountered
that day, although I think they equaled the Nantahala’s Lesser Wesser
(III+), which I have paddled many times. I can’t imagine what it
would have been like the day before when those kayakers had abandoned
their boats and the water had been three feet higher.

There
are a couple of Class II rapids on the stretch below Devil’s Elbow
(just above Highway 53) that are also entertaining. From Highway 53,
I have paddled and hiked down to Edge-of-the-World Falls, but have
never tried that series of rocky ledges. For some reason,
Edge-of-the-World is the most intimidating series of rapids I have
seen (or at least equalling Bull Sluice on the occasions that I have
viewed the Edge from downstream). Most paddling guides I have seen
don’t seem nearly as impressed with Edge as I am (rated Class III or
IV), and it is rated lower the Bull Sluice (V), but I have no desire
to paddle either, especially when the water levels are high. Give me
the Cartecay’s good ol’ S-Turn any day.

Regards,
Dan
Roper
Rome, GA