|Stretch:||Above Lake Calderwood|
|Difficulty:||Class IV (the lower is a harder than the upper, and gets harder with higher flow)|
|Distance:||6.0 mi for the Upper/Middle, 1.7 mi for the lower, 0.5 mi lake paddle|
|Flows:||Upper: ~600 to ?,000? Lower: ~400 cfs to ~2,500 cfs for most. American Whitewater's flow page.|
|Gradient:||Upper: 72 fpm. Lower: 91 fpm (from The Splat to the end of Yard Sale it is 134 fpm)|
|Put-in:||Either at the Cement Slab on Santeelah Dam Rd or downstream 0.8 miles at the field for a small fee.|
|Take-out:||The boat ramp at Lake Calderwood.|
|Shuttle:||8.2 miles, 15 minutes one way.|
|Season:||Spring and Fall from Dam Release, Release Schedule|
I don't know why I was surprised by this run... I have only read good things about it, the continuousness of the whitewater, the ledges, the busy bottom 2 miles (actually 1.7 miles)... it was all good feedback. I think after Diane's first time down at a 850 cfs release she declared that her mom would love that run. I guess in my mind I anticipated it therefore being class III and easy IV... and I bet at 850 the upper section is. However the Saturday of my first release weekend was at a 1,200 release (1,000 was scheduled) plus an additional 200-300 of natural accrual from recent rain. This meant that the Upper was full of fun moves, and a few holes that were causing havoc on the class III boaters who were expecting a pleasant float. The lower section was non-stop, hole bashing, hole boofing, fun at those flows! I wish I could have lapped the lower at that flow all evening long! I would say that although the lower does not have any specific rapids that jump out at me as class IV+, other than Bear Creek Falls, the run was feeling borderline IV+ at those flows... it was so continuous, and the holes were so powerful... though it is good to note that there were sneaks around most of them... we were just choosing to go through or over the meat in each rapid.
The second day the flow was substantially less, a 850 release with maybe 100-150 of natural accrual. The upper was slower and scrappier. The hole at the top of Land of Holes still provided enough oomph to cause issues, but we saw significantly less than the previous day. Downstream, the lower section felt slower. The lead in to Bear Creek Falls was slower and less powerful, the falls themselves were easier with less seams in both steps, and the pool between the falls and the rapid below was longer and slower. The holes at Yard Sale though seemed to be a little harder to get good boofs over due to contours of the rocks that form the hole causing irregular lips. At high water they were clean uniform lips. Our second lap on Sunday saw the water drop even more due to the water being shut off early at 1 pm rather than 4 pm. I would estimate we had about 600 cfs. I don't think I would want to boat the upper at those flows... the nature of the river is low angle small ledges that would be a pain to dry out on each one. Even with water some of the channels were scrappy. The lower was still fun but definitely felt low and a little boat abusive. The fun boofs of Saturday long gone... now we were searching for the deepest channel that would allow us to pass without breaking our boats. Still fun? Sure. A good way to step up to the run if you are nervous? Sure. Worth driving out of your way to if you are comfortable on harder whitewater? Probably not.
With that said though... I really hope I get to get in there again with the healthy flow... extremely worth the visit at that flow! So fun!
- From the Cement Slab put-in, the first 0.8 miles is mellow class II+. Below, the pace starts to pick up leading to a right hand bend and a water tube and footbridge overhead.
- God's Dam (III+ to IV). A few ledges lead to God's Dam. The ledges start on the right hand bend./ The first set are run right, then the second set are run left. This leads to a large eddy just above God's Dam. God's Dam has a nice boof left of center. Careful for the sticky river wide hydraulic!
- "Take-out" (III+ to IV-). Named after an aborted high water descent, this rapid is easiest to run far right, driving right of the large pillowing bolder right of center. Ther eis also a line down the left through some sticky holes but you also want some water for that as at ~1,000 the ledges also have some rocks hidden within.
Sweet Boof (III-). Not far below is a fun rapid that really isn't more than a wave train down the middle with a wave hole that may flip you at the very bottom. But if you go far right at the top there is a sweet boof over a 4 foot ledge!
- Land of Holes (IV-). So this rapid really isn't that hard... but the biggest hole is at the top of 0.4 miles of non-stop action. The further right you are on the top hole the better it seems to go. Below are smaller holes that leads to the brushy exit that also has a large hole in it as flows rise. Luckily for most, that one is fairly easy to avoid to the left. Then just stay out of the willows by working back right.
Things step down to class II to III for the next few miles to the bridge.
- Alternate put-in at the bridge for those wanting to lap the bottom 1.7 miles that is considered the "lower" section. It is harder, steeper, and more consequential... so others choose to take-out here.
Boogie (III). Fun boogie comprises the first 0.6 miles, all the lines are obvious... and there are a fun boofs to be had for those who are actively looking for them!
- Splat (IV). After the boogie you will get to a a horizon line with a big eddy on the right. You can run straight down the middle of the rapid and punch the hole at the bottom or there is a fun splat/grind thing if you go down the small channel on the left driving left. Below this, it is game on all the way to the end of Bear Creek Rapid.
Bear Creek Entrance (IV). Lots of lines to choose from, one fun one involves moving right to left across the shallow center at the top, this leads to a meaty boof over a hole, then some time to get up speed for a nice ledge on the left that lands between a pocket and a seam. Staying right is easier, but also has a hole or two to punch. There are eddies just above the falls to catch.
Bear Creek Falls (IV to IV+). A few different lines to choose from. You can stay right throughout, boof the main falls (though be aware that the landing is full of sharp rocks), the creek line is a small channel right of center that you take driving right for a double boof over a fun bottom hole. The hero line involves very at the lip of the main falls, avoiding getting slotted in the middle, and then finishing the same way as the creek line. Anyway you go through, catch eddies on the right below as the next rapid starts 100 feet downstream and is not desirable to swim through.
Bear Creek Rapid (IV to IV+). So many fun options to choose from. The river splits down an island. The left line is called the "West Prong" line and consists of a fun steep 5 or 6 foot drop at the top that lands on a tongue that rages down a shallow, narrow, and willow encroached channel with a few fun boofs to hit. Not a place to be upside down though. The right line starts with a really cool toboggan move right of center and ss-turns its way onto a cushion, redirects 90 degrees and sends you through a soft hole. From there there are eddies to catch before finishing the rapid. Some choose to head far left to avoid the meaty hole in the middle, but the hole also goes just right for those with a boof. Just be looking out for your paddling partners as this side has seen a fatality recently partially due to a group of 2 splitting up on either side of the island on their run and one gentleman getting stuck in one of the holes.
- Minor (III+). Some mellow boogie picks up speed into a rapid that looks like it will be big but actually just has ramping wave holes that are soft and easy to punch, even straight over the steepest looking ledges.
- Tapoco Lodge (III+ to IV-). As the river begins to split into different channels and the lodge is next to the river, you can choose any channel with enough water. Common lines involve heading to the right at the top or staying in the left smaller channel for a series of fun boofs. The left side is a little less forgiving as there is a rockier exit if you end up staying left at the bottom for some reason.
Yard Sale (IV). Just below Tapoco Lodge, the road crosses the river and you are immediately deposited in the entry to Yard Sale. Catch an eddy after the previous rapid if you don't want to run straight through. The top has a big hole on the left that you can either boof or avoid by working far right in the lead in. The second tier can be run right of center between two holes, or there is a great small channel far right that can be shoulder boofed into a folding hole. The bottom hole has a window on the far right, or with a good stroke can be run straight through at most flows. Downstream another 100 feet is another hole that is easy to avoid to the right or fun to boof off the shoulder of the midstream boulder. Below, it mellows out before the recovery pool. Downstream is one more small rapid with a fun boof off the right side of the midstream boulder before the river hits the lake.
For more details on the run, see the AW write-up...
Take-out: From Knoxville take 129 South out of turn, turning left just south of Maryville to stay on 129. Follow this for 34.8 miles along Chilhowee Lake (careful for speed traps) and along the Dragon (super windy) until you finally cross into North Carolina and quickly descend to a bridge over the top of the lake. Just before the bridge turn right on the small road and follow this to the parking at the boat ramp.
Put-in: Continue up Highway 129, you can either park on the left in the field where they will collect parking fees, or you can stop at the gas station on the far side of town to buy your wrist bands ($2/person in 2015) and then continue up the river, quickly turning right towards Santeetlah Dam. In about a half mile you will see a concrete slab on the left. You can park there, this access is free.
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