Saturday, January 30, 2010

Can Time Freeze, Just Like Water?

Well, this winter has been the one of the coldest on record in Knoxville, but despite this, the flows have been plentiful. Being a cynic, everytime it stops raining, I begin to be flooded with memories of dry January's, February's, and Marches of years past, and how this time, certainly our good fortune must inevitably curl up and shrink as do the rhododendron leaves in reply to the ruthless arctic air. Being a doubter has its upside though, because if it does dry up, at least you were right. More importantly, if you end up being wrong, your punishment for pessimism is the very raging water you bet against, surging down every ditch without a name in every corner of your world. This is the nature of the southeast. It's as if the incandescent faith of the Bible Belt wags the dog of our climatological surroundings, creating a likewise hopeful and blind perserverance in all loyal southeastern river riders. Keep the faith for the flows, fellow failed confederates. Its the only way. No science, no reason, no calling it a week out like they do in the land of sunny nuts. In the southeast you can only breathe with momentary bursts of responsive praise. Every day is the last. To approach it from any other angle is to come up short, and waterless.

So in between the blustery week long episodes of locked down and bitterly frozen time, the streams have been awakening to the sound of thunder from the west, and the always amazing melt/flow events drive the numbers up higher than you would have thought, creating a frenetic scamper to organize, to decipher, and to respond.

Yet I am over romanticizing what often ends up being a quite predictable, and usual engagement. Oftentimes it comes to pass with no more novelty than a trip through the same cafeteria line as before. Are we designed, that with further knowledge and comfort, we are to be jaded? Certainly any one experience can be a defining and shifting moment, depending on one's epistemology and historical exposure to potent river journeys. Is it possible to experience what has become standard fare, from outside the confines of calibrated and routine familiarity? Can we, through some mantra or method of mental preparedness, revisit our previous self in these situations, and tap into something that seems stuck in the past, an excitement lost to all but those living it for the first time? If you can't laugh, with the clarity and wonder of how it all comes together, on the regular class three run in your backyard, how valid and measurable are the experiences you gather when on the edge of your seat, deep in the real, with no way out but in? Its all rocks and water. Do we need to make it more than that? Am I even saying anything meaningful at all, or am I trying to merely take more than what the rocks and water give?

More confused now than when I sat down and started typing, lets just get to some pictures of the last month of feeding the rat, communing with the water, spending my freetime, or however many different ways you could put it.

I hadn't run Daddy's Creek in a year or so, and Dooley had an even longer hiatus, so with the curves flattening and the creeks low, we met up for a soul run down what has to be the finest class 3-4 river run north of I-40. The numerous sandstone bluffs and clear water match the consistent class 3-3+ nature of the stretch down to Devil's Breakfast table, and we licked the plate clean in the dwindling hour or so before dark.

Dooley on the Fang of the Rattlesnake

Same from above

Suffice it to say that if you can't be content with what a stream like Daddy's has to say, you might need to re-examine what your motives are.

The day after Christmas, we finally got to revisit what I consider to be the best class 2-3 wilderness run in the southeast, Upper Abrams Creek. Connecting Cades Cove with the Little Tennessee is 18 miles of mild whitewater excepting a big drop and a few class 4 rapids. Only one road interrupts this long stroll through the lowlands of the smokies about 10 miles in. The water is very clean, and the run is a great place to just take it easy and soak in what every stream in the park must have looked like before the logging of the 1930's and subsequent road building later in the century.

The Serengetti of the Southeast, Cades Cove.

Dooley, Man who Canoes, getting the OC-1 first descent on Abrams Falls?

Abrams is one of the best waterfalls in the southeast. It's as good as Little Stoney Falls in VA.

Dooley on one of the more technical rapids on Abrams

Here is the big rapid on the run. This is just the first part of Sidewinder, a rapid that consists of three sizable sliding drops linked up with non-stop class 3 action. If you look closely you can see my wife getting destroyed in a big hole at the bottom of the first slide. She fought out valiantly, only to get owned at the bottom of the final drop around the corner. This one will suprise you!

With all the water this year, and the reservoirs being full already, the dams have been spilling non-stop. This has necessitated a pilgrimage down to the big water playground of the Hiwassee Dries. The water is so clean, and the rapids proved burlier than Nick and Andy thought they would be, yielding some dynamic rapid rides, and some unforgettable soul rides on some of the glassier specimens. The dries are great.

The Red Barron avoiding a monster hole

Silly Nick, what's he doing now?

Randy Rodson lost in the big water

I ran the whole run with a 103 degree fever and it was 30 degrees out. It was surreal, and I guess good training for boating in Latin America and Asia. Being sick and running whitewater is a strange experience. That cold water felt gooooooood!

Moving on, Big South Fork is THE quintessential plateau canyon. No other run has such a big set of canyon walls hemming you in to the river. We had around 2500 cfs, which is a nice level.

Everything in it's right place.

Karl "Cool" Whipp being applied to the El.

Double Drop, a classic drop on the BSF

If you are an experienced and adventurous class 3+ boater, put the Piney River high on your list of must do runs. It is 11 miles of beautiful plateau scenery, with non-stop rapids, as well as a handfull that will definitely grab your attention. It had been many years since I had been in here, and I got to bring Justin on his inaugural trip through the canyon. There are so many great rivers and creeks concentrated into the long and narrow Walden Ridge. The Piney is one of the best of the easier end of the spectrum.

Signal Falls, a delightful slide early in the run.

Guardian Falls, the first drop of note. Justin Cullars boofing.

There are so many enchanting corridors like this on the Piney.

Justin "charging" ole Hungry Jack.

This rapid is awful tight and scary for a class 4! Good fun though.

So those are places, images, and thoughts of late, stay tuned for in depth coverage of some first descents revisited, and the most classic portage fest in the southeast.

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