Tuesday, May 3, 2011

First Descent! Jennings Creek

We all thought that the spring rains were coming to an end. The leaves were out, it was 80 degrees everyday, and hope for any more good storm systems dropped out along with the watertable. But just when it seemed that the sweltering valley summer had arrived, yet another system, bigger than any this year, got churning in the gulf plains. What followed was 3 days straight of solid rains, lighting the Tennessee Valley afire with floodwaters, providing more amazing flows. Main stems hit levels not reached in more than three years.
Our first trip out led us to the swollen Sequatchie Valley, in search of more obscure fruits. With some creeks being flooded and others being too low, we found a perfect flow on Stone Coalbank Creek, which flows into Hicks Creek south of Dunlap, TN. The run basically has one really long and very steep set of big time class 5+ drops that had ultra severe consequences. We ran the first drop and portaged the rest, not wanting to pay up just yet. Unfortunately, that was the end of the bigger drops, but a decent paddle out followed, with some good water boofs and hole punching, as well as some interesting tree encounters. Overall, I wouldn't go back, but it was great to do once!
Later during the storm, an overnight downpour north of town focused attention to an anticipated first descent we had been scouting and eyeing for many years. Jennings Creek is in Royal Blue WMA, and not a place where one would expect class 5 creeks to reside, but alas, there is a full on stacked up juicy series of slides and drops set in this tight little watershed, and if you know how to get in there, it is well worth the effort, assuming the required deluge of rainfall is met with equally precise timing.

Tony on the flats up top
The hike in is around a mile and a half, and you end up puting in above or below a massive landslide/sieve combination. There is one good drop above here, but it barrels right into the portage.

Lead in to Landslide
The Landslide is just around this corner
Below the portage were 6 quality and sizable rapids. It starts with a sweet boof through a hemlock studded corner.
Hemlock Boof
Next was a blind and nasty boulder rapid with some serious gradient. Tony opted for the no scout first descent here. After Blind Tony we came up to the two big drops on the run, back to back big slides with tight lines and little slack in between. The first had a scary slot on the bottom left to avoid.
Entrance to Split Personality with Blind Tony in the background
Coming down the big slide
Ducking out to the right to avoid the slot
The second big slide had a juicy entrance to center clap onto a long slide that hit a big hole at the bottom. The water then broke left into a nasty rock so a hard drive to river right was neccesary.
Tony peering into Adult World
Tony, Adult World
Melting the hole
Meltdown #2
Around the bend from Adult World was a great little boof into a hallway, a smaller version of Midnight Hole, if you will.
The final drop into the confluence with Meadow Creek is a very tight undercut finesse move. Classic plateau servings here.
Running the Chunnell
Even though I had scouted it years ago and thought it would be hard, we were pleasantly suprised to find it hard and fun as well. All drops were run, and once at the confluence, we commenced militant bombing down an excellent mile plus of class 4-4+ boulder rapids, with boofs, holes, curls, a few undercuts, and a few sketchy log moves, Johnson City style. The pace was quick and continuous, and felt alot like a smaller version of Big Creek in the smokies. Other than the 2 barbed wire fences in the paddle out, the run was chilled out below the boogie stretch.
All in all, I think Jennings is a pretty good run, but there are some complicating factors that will never make it a regular classic. First of all, it takes alot of rain to run. You need a few inches to get good flows. And you don't want it too low or too high either. Tolerances are narrow. Finally, it just feels weird and wrong to drive north on I75 towards Kentucky when often other more high density and quality watersheds are blowing up to the south and west. But when the rains fall north and nowhere else, there is yet another fun creek with some sickness to pluck off north of town. Stay tuned for more updates.

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