|Stretch:||Dam #2 to Top of the Lake|
|Flows:||~600 to ?,000 cfs. Release schedule here|
|Take-out:||Private Boater Access at the top of the lake|
|Shuttle:||5.5 miles, 5 minutes|
|Season:||Dam Release, April thru October on Weekends|
I was told the Lower (technically the Middle) Ocoee was on par with Chili Bar on the South Fork of the American. I think in reality though, the rapids are all easier, though flipping would be worse for you. The release I had was 1,200 cfs. The width of this river makes me think that the ideal flow is more likely double that. To that point, I would have loved to have seen a few thousand running through this canyon. The river bed is full of small ledges and ribs that I think would make some excellent play boating and wave-trains for downriver freestyle. As it was though, most of the play spots were too shallow to do much more than flat spin in. And even then, you would only get one flat spin off before having to flee the feature in fear of the raft barreling down upon you.
I was told, the Ocoee is more crowded that any river on the West Coast, but I thought to myself, how bad could it be. On Thursday and Friday it was crowded when a pod of rafts went by, but outside of those pods the river was averagely crowded. That all changed as Saturday and Sunday rolled around. Those days, to surf Hell Hole (the one really good feature on the Lower, much like First Threat on SFA) you would have to surf out immediately below one raft, get yourself stable, and then throw one trick before quickly getting back off. Luckily the eddy service was easy. For those with superb boat control you could surf the right shoulder of the wave as rafts went by, only getting clobbered by 50% of the marginally in control rafts.
OK, so that is enough negativity. For what it is, the run is good fun. It has water when nothing else in the region does thanks to a dam release arranged and paid for by the commercial rafting companies (so I was told). And as it is only 3 hours from Huntsville, Alabama, it made for a very easy side trip while on a business trip. It also has a retailer that rents gear just a few miles away making it an easy traveler destination. Also, once we met a few locals and raft guides we were shown some random boofs, ferries, or attainments that made the run a fun challenge. Speaking of locals, the area is governed by Babtists who have somehow convinced the Forest Service to ban alcohol from all public camp grounds. I heard a story where one ranger went into the garbage can to find empties, and then proceeded to interrogate all the camp grounds folks until someone admitted to drinking and then were subsequently kicked out. We camped just down the road from the lake (15 miles from the run) at Adventures Unlimited, a place known for its wild nights. Bands every weekend night, a bar, and nightly treking college age European groups who apparently provide good statistics for the single men in the camp. Also, as we paid our $6 a night fee and got a strange look we thought to ourselves that perhaps paying isn't expected. A thought that was confirmed by some new friends of ours who were regulars at the camp. If you choose to camp here, don't expect a quit night... but it was fun! Oh, and they have flush toilets and hot showers...
There really isn't a whole bunch of downtime on the run, and several of the best play spots are in unnamed rapids... and would mostly be passed by unless someone was showing you to ferry to loop to flush spots that aren't at all obvious.
- Grumpies (III). Immediately below put-in starts a rapid that has plenty of lines but near the end has a large nearly river wide ledge. You can boof right, boof center through the meat, or avoid it on the left. Apparently it causes some carnage...
A few short in between rapids
- Broken Nose (III+). Probably the second hardest rapid of the run is on the first right bend. Down the left is a sneak, down the right is a double ledge that is rather sticky but fun. Just give rafts room as they tend to pile up here.
Double Suck (III-). There is a boof line on the right, or a ramp in the center channel. The left side of the ramp avoids a large hole while the center leads straight to it. Boof it if you go center. Also, watch out for rafts here as they like to surf this spot.
- Double Trouble (III-). A fun two wave combo, probably the largest waves on the river. Apparently the second wave has a rock in it, but that didn't stop me from throwing wave-wheels and kick-flips off of the first one.
- Flipper (III). A two part rapid. The top is a ledge into a weirdly angled hole. A fun surf spot but again the rafts will take this spot for an hour at a time. The bottom is really rocky and cleanest down the right. I had to help rescue a rafter off the rock/sieve pile in the middle of the river after his raft flipped and his guide didn't realize someone was missing. Something that was very common during the raft swims. Crazy more people haven't gotten hurt (two have died on the upper this year (2011), but I don't think this sort of thing is to blame for those).
Doldrums (I-II). It gets boring...
- Table Saw (III+). The upper drop had the best wave-wheel or kick-flip wave in it on the whole run, nice and green with a sharp lip. Below, the river enters a shoot with a large curler in the center that will smack you and push you right. Just work back center or left to avoid the rocks below. Probably the hardest rapid to stay upright on the run due to the top curler and large wave trains below.
- Hell Hole (III). A double wave with the second being a great play spot. Eddy service on both sides. Just below is Powerhouse Rapid. Some people take-out here but due to limited parking most are forced to paddling down to the lake to take out at the Public Access (there is a Commercial Access just before the lake that you are not allowed to use).
Take-out: 8.5 miles from Rock Creek Outdoor Center on Highway 74/64 you will get to the top of the lake, the Public take-out involves a quarter mile paddle on the lake.
Put-in: Drive 5.4 miles up the road to the obvious large parking lot at Dam #2. Walk down the ramp to put in.
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