Sunday, December 5, 2010

Family Paddling, Exploring Close to Home

High adventure on the Emory River

When you have a child, the outlook on trying to paddle as much as you used to can look pretty bleak. But the reallity is that your river experiences will just become even more interesting. As well as being able to revisit the beginnings all over again yourself, you get to expose your child to the wonderful world of rivers and watch every new experience in their eyes. That is a real gift. I have been taking advantage of the fact that I have an opportunity to introduce Alex to the aspects of the outdoors that I think are particularly worthwhile.

We've been taking many trips this summer and fall any time there was an opportunity. We probably did 5 trips on the Hiwassee, a trip on the Clear Fork and White Oak Creek, and we joined Kemper, Michael Ann and their son Zane on a family float down the Emory, which was a lot of fun. The boys loved it.

At the bottom of Nemo Rapid, Alex's favorite rapid ever. (Every rapid is his favorite ever)

Snack break

Alexander loves dressing up. Here he is in his dragon costume with a big ollie:

Boys love candy.

I've always wanted to explore the French Broad below Hot Springs, so with the water low and a beautiful Saturday forecasted, we loaded up and embarked on what turned out to be a long, but really pretty float down to Hwy 25. There were some amazing limestone bluffs in here, as well as some challenging rapids for a 15 foot canoe. Down near the end we dumped on a 2 foot ledge, with Alex and my mother in law flying into the river. Some of you may flinch in horror at the idea of dumping your mother in law into a nasty cold river, but I rather enjoyed it, and so did she. Alexander however, was not amused, and scolded Laura sternly, telling her that the line she recommended was bad. While I took ultimate responsibility for the jettison, it was amusing to see Laura recieve the blame.

French Broad downstream of Paint Rock

Like sand through the hourglass

Later in the week, Alexander and I decided to visit one of the coolest places on the plateau, Twin Arches, in the Big South Fork. This rock formation is the most impressive around. Two Arches span a considerable distance, providing shade, curious acoustics, and many "secret passages".

My hiking guide for the day

This is surely one of the coolest places on the plateau

This is one of a few secret passages

On top of the arches

We liked it so much we came back with the rest of the family the following weekend for a relaxing few days in a cabin on the west end of the park near Twin Arches. While in the area, we checked out Pickett State Park, which has lots of cabins and some cool trails.


More arches, more cousins

Big South Fork bonfire

Probably the best way to celebrate fall boating is up at the Russell Fork. We went the first weekend and took Alexander down the Upper in a ducky. He couldn't stop talking about Twenty Stitches the whole weekend. I wonder if he was as gripped as I was. No more camping at Ratliff Hole or Carson Island. We're civilized these days, and don't mind shelling out a few bucks for a clean and quiet campsite on top of Pine Mountain with great views.

Making the switch to the "family" camping area at the Russell Fork, the park.


Looking out into the Kentucky side of the gorge, not far from our site.

Upper Russell Fork

While sitting down to dinner that night, we had a visitor to our campsite.

Is it a dog? A deer? Click on this pic and zoom in for the answer.

And its coming this way!

This bear was clearly accustomed to encounters with humans, and was showing no signs of backing down. It was marching right into our campsite. The kids went in the vehicles, the camera came out, and Caleb rose to the challenge of scaring the bear away. Caleb isn't scared of big hairy rapids, and it should be no surprise that he wasn't shaken by the big hairy bear either. The bear was sent running via some loud shouting and boulder throwing.

Caleb's bear fighting face

The next morning after breakfast and on the way to run the river, we stopped at the Towers overlook on the edge of the park. This is one of the best overlooks in the southeast, as you can view the Russell Fork doing what few streams manage to do; break through the formidable walls of Pine Mountain. From the perch you can witness the river almost complete an entrenched oxbow.


Fist. Scary from here.

Rivers aren't the only thing of interest for Alexander. And while he will probably thank me later more likely than now, hiking is something he likes to do quite a bit of. It is challenging to teach a child perspective and how the journey is the destination, and you have to know how to give and take. Sometimes you might need to push them a little, whereas other instances might require a little giving in. Some days he can go 5 or 6 miles, but more often a few miles renders him like Gumby and playing in the creek near the trailhead is your best bet for sanity. Come to think of it, we might be learning just as much as he is.

Squatting on the AT

Beat from a 2.8 mile, 1000 foot climb up Mt. Ambler

Here Alex shows off his battle scar from a high speed crash on the trail.

Some days he is up for some long distance treks on the AT, and other days are more ideal to explore a smaller area. The unofficial trail that leaves Greenbrier Road and follows Rhododendron Creek up to the Grapeyard Ridge Trail is a great place to ramble around and focus on the little things. There are a dozen cascades as well as lots of small scale scenery to ponder. Despite it being 1 mile long, it probably took us the better part of a day to complete. Perfect.

Taking a closer look on the Rhododendron Creek Manway

Danger Danger Danger

For the last three years, my interest in doing the Russell Fork race has always been pleasantly squashed by the fact that Linville has run solidly and we re-direct to the high country's version. But this year, there was no love as far as gulf moisture goes, so we took a second family trip up to the Fork. The race was fun, despite me practicing my roll several times, and we had another great weekend with beautiful leaves in the air and water. This trip we tried the Lower for the first time and it was short, but really scenic. The big rapid was trickier than I thought too. Alexander and I ended up sneaking down the right.

Charles throwing down at the hole

Laura shredding the mighty Meatgrinder on the Lower

Fall at the Russell Fork is hard to beat.

After the Russell Fork, and one more low key race on an obscure creek that isn't really worth mentioning, the fall boating season was over for the most part. November was pretty warm, and we got some good days in the Smokies, and then it got cold.

But right before the frigid temps of winter one critical event occurred. Opening season on the plateau started with a bang, as some areas got up to 8-10 inches of rain. Every obscure creek on the plateau ran, with flows sustaining for the better part of a week. I've always wanted visit the I75 whitewater park on Bruce Creek, and I thought today would be as good a chance of any to catch this 1 square mile drainage with adequate flow. The goods are a 100 foot stretch of creek that drops 60 feet over four drops. It goes like this; 12 footer, 15 footer, 25 footer, 10 footer. Alas, even Bruce Creek can get too high. There is around 20 feet between each drop, and the top 10 feet were going back into big holes, and the bottom 10 feet were rolling into the next sticky sloper. Good to know it gets too high. Hopefully that means it runs more than we originially thought. We'll have to save the Tennessee Teacups for another day. Here are some shots from this mouth watering set of falls:

The lip of the 25 footer

Top drop

Looking from below the top drop to the next 15, then 25

The second drop

Obscured glimpse of the bottom 3 drops

With Bruce Creek being too high, Russell and I headed to one of the few places that never gets too high, Crab Orchard Creek. With what turned out to be a peak of the Emory at around 60,000 cfs, we ran the bottom three miles at very high water. Though I had run it with the Emory higher, this was huge. There were many 8-10 foot waves, and a few bus eating holes, the likes of which I hadn't experienced since I had been in Chile. There was so much water that Mill Creek was raging, which meant that Keep Out Falls should have ample flow. Even this drop was on the high side, with a sizable hole and a large recirculating pocket on the whole right side below the drop. That said, the drop was incredible, and reminded me a lot of the big falls on Callaghan Creek in British Columbia. Totally clean, and a solid 25+ feet.

It was a little high

Keep Out Falls is surely one of the better drops around!

The smokies got up big too, which allowed me to hit a section of the West Prong of the Little I had always wanted to do. Finding it with sufficient flow was almost as hard as finding someone to do it, but Nate joined me for an early morning quick mission. We hiked up the Bote Mountain Trail and down into the watershed where we found a quaint little stream buzzing along into a mile of whitewater few have ever seen. It didn't end up being anything epic, but was busy the whole way. Nate characterized it this way: "As blind as class three gets". We made quick work of it, walked a few trees, and then went under Laurel Creek Road, continuing down to the Wye.

Dropping in on the West Prong Trail

Nate a few strokes into a quick little adventure

The roadside section

One of the bigger rapids on the run

The sliding ledge at the bottom of the run

There are always new places to check out, and being a map geek, I still have a few ideas of things to do around here. One afternoon I had a few hours to check one of these out, and what I found was a long stretch of class 4-4+ boulder creeking with a clean 40 footer at the top. Its only a matter of time before this thing gets run. While turning to continue downstream to check the rest of the creek out, I wondered if anyone else had checked this thing out before, when before I had taken my first step, my eyes dropped down to the creek bed where a midstream strainer had clearly been sectioned with a chainsaw for obvious purposes. I don't know what's better; to scout a cool creek and fantasize about coming back with more water, or to scout a cool creek and find out someone has cleaned it out for you. I don't want to spoil the cutters plans, so I won't say where this thing is, but I hope they have fun when they pop the cherry on this one.

A clean 40 foot waterfall yet to be run. It came up with this same rain. Who will be the first??

Whether you are searching for family float trips or cutting edge creeks, there is always something new to experience out there. Here's to new horizons for us all.

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