Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bear Creek, the first of many virgin descents in the Big South Fork

After the big rain events we have had lately, we were getting in the rhythm of boating regularly. But, things slowed back down to a crawl in the southeast, and other than some northern cumberland rains last week, the drought is still lingering.

Any rain is useful rain in Knoxville though, and with the Big South Fork and Emory watershed getting pummelled, this was a prime opportunity to try and hit some of the more obscure things on the list up near the KY border. I drove by Pine Creek in Oneida, and though it was at a runnable flow, it was way too high to consider running solo. So I hatched a last minute plan to check out Bear Creek, which I had looked at on topos in the past. There were a few pictures in the BSF hiking guide that showed promise, so I quickly headed just into KY on Hwy 27, before ducking west into the canyon country. I figured if Pine was high, Bear too would have ample flow, as they have the same watershed size.

After some creative shuttling (read hiking off trail and elfing down tiny tribs) I found the creek brown and high. With little daylight left I bombed down the pushy blind corners scouting or portaging when it looked like things were getting a little too big. Before I knew it I was at the takeout and hiking back to my car.

The next day I came back in hopes of lower flows and brought a camera this time. I also better sorted out the logistics, narrowing it down to 2.5 miles of paddling for a half mile downhill hike in and a half mile hike out at the BSF.

The run itself is not a classic, but still has some stout whitewater and some good scenery. I counted maybe 4 class 4 rapids, 15 class 3 rapids, one easy five and one big long unrunnable rapid. The big unrunnable is the big shame on this run, as if it were paddlable it would be noteworthy while in the area. There were 5 sizable and stacked up drops and they were all good excepting the middle one, which went into a horrible sieve. If two boulders hadn't fallen in the wrong place, this drop would be excellent class 5 creeking. As is, it serves mostly to just break the rhythm of a good class 3-4 run. Despite this, the run has good whitewater, fair water quality, and excellent scenery, with big boulders in the streambed and good cliff exposures on the river right and sometimes river left side.

If you are ever up in Oneida and Pine Creek is a little too much to bite off, Bear is a solid run. There should be an AW page for it soon for all the information. For now, here are some pictures of the canyon.

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