Friday, April 17, 2009

The New Chattanooga Classic: Rock Creek

About a year ago, most Chattanooga boaters I talked to hadn't even heard of Rock Creek. If so, they were confusing it with the easy class 4 run up towards Dayton. But this is the Rock Creek that falls off of Lookout Mountain. A few guys knew of it and that it had been done, but other than that, there was nothing. Once again, another run that never got the full attention of boaters in Tennessee.

Access has been an issue since the run first started being picked off, as the land surrounding the creek is managed by the Lula Lake Land Trust. It hadn't been run in years, but while working in the area 2 years ago, I ventured into the canyon to find a beautiful and steep creek with many big rapids and drops. It was hard to tell how runnable it would be with flow, but from that moment on, I couldn't get Rock Creek out of my head.

About a year ago, it rained in Chattanooga around an inch or more. The Bear didn't come up, but Lookout Creek, which is the barometer for water conditions on the north side of the mountain, came up to 500 cfs. This was during a substantial drought, so a spike like that meant water was flowing on the surface and fast. Not being able to free anyone up for a run, I decided to go in solo, and take my time feeling out the place.

Since my first run, which was at a minimal flow, we sorted things out and came back a year later with medium-high flows. This level turned out to be even better, and I venture to say that 4-6 inches higher than this and every drop will be runnable. All of the pictures in this post are from the later high water trip.

There are two big drops at the top, the first one is around 25 feet and has a shallow landing, but can be run.

The second one is a 100 foot waterfall that is not good to go. The run starts below this big drop.

Puting in below the big drop is like riding the maid of the mist at Niagara. You can put your paddle in the air and sail across the pool from the downdraft. The run immediately kicks into 5th gear with the very first drop, which is one of the better rapids on the plateau. A double drop going into a low angle slide where a planing, hole punching turn is required halfway down before ducking under and through an undercut sliding corridor. The second drop of the double drop is an excellent 10 foot shoulder boof. What an awesome set.

Next is a section that will likely have some portages, but it could all be run with the right flows. First is a 15 foot jumble that is not runnable on the right, and dry on the left. You can wheelchair it, or do a slightly moving glorified seal launch. Next is a slot on the right where all the flow drives left into a horrible undercut. It currently has wood, making the line thinner than thin. The next drop is commonly run. The whole left side of the creek is no man's land, with sieves galore. Driving right through a crucial notch move puts you into a hanging eddy above a 15 foot drop that throws left onto a rock.

Driving right and dropping angle will yield a scary but tightly clean line. The next drop I ran the first time but no one ran the second. The creek runs down a broad low angle shelf and claps down a 15 foot waterfall, with the right and center being totally class 6. The only line is to drive hard left and further left still, being careful about not letting the clap throw you right into the center tombstone rock. The portage is on the right.

Then after a difficult boogie rapid you come to the steepest set on the run. Here is a sweet 10 foot sloper through a 2 foot wide slot in the middle of the creek.

This slot leads into the next and biggest drop on the run, Wet Dreams May Come. If you run it correctly, it is a no brainer, but if you somehow go down the right side, you will never be seen again, as this channel flows into the biggest sieve I have ever seen in person. Scraping down the left side to line it up safe is the way to go, and then all you lack is dropping 3 feet down a slab into the main drop, which is a 20-25 foot sliding waterfall that is just too much fun. A stout class 4 exit keeps you focused.

Below the big one, there is a nice garden leading into a bedrock ledge that you have to run right to left. You have to be real aggresive to avoid getting thrown right into a bad pin rock which has already seen some action just in the past month the creek has been seeing use.

Below here is a little portage that can be wheelchaired on the far left. After this, there are some nice ledges and boulder rapids before the final big one, Downward Spiral. This awesome ledge garden is almost like a spiral staircase winding clockwise from left to right.

It has 5 drops on it, with the first 2 being the more intense ones. This rapid is good ole fashioned boofing fun!

From here down the run calms, but not before a final slot that the creek channels into on the right. If it was 3 inches tighter no one would run it. But, as is, this slot is the perfect last drop. Below the last slot the run chills to class 3 and passes some nice homes on the left. Be quiet and move quickly, boofing a few dams and other drops. Then it is a mile paddle out down to Chattanooga Valley Road. Watch for a big logjam at the rail bridge.

Rock Creek is a great run. It has a solid half mile of class 5-5+, and some of the best scenery in the area. The rapids are similar to Morgan Creek, or a toned down Middle Creek. Moreover, the creek has a sizable watershed and is 10 minutes out of downtown Chattanooga. When the Bear is on the low to too low end, Rock will usually be at a perfect level.

The most important thing to remember about Rock Creek is that access is impermanent and delicate. For detailed info about access protocol, check . Here are some general guidelines:

The Land Trust is open the first and last Saturday of each month. DON'T run it on these days.

Don't run the 25 footer at the top, it is off limits.

Clean out trash in the gorge and pack it out if possible.

Don't be seen by ANYONE, other than fellow paddlers, in the gorge at all!

Be smart and considerate about shuttling, parking, and noise. Don't screw it up for everyone else.

Avoid leaving ANY cars on top of the mountain. Be low key.

The manager of the land who works for the trust is a really cool guy and wants us to be able to paddle in there. But it only takes a few assholes to ruin it for everyone. Follow the instructions on Waldens Ridge Whitewater for access. This involves notifying the caretaker a day or days in advance, filling out a waiver, and following all rules.

This ain't Suck Creek, in any way shape or form. Serious skills and a covert mindset are both mandatory. Enjoy the run for now.

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