Piney Creek (Tiny Piney)
|Stretch:||Highway 70 to Highway 27|
|Difficulty:||Class III to IV (V)|
|Distance:||5.45 miles (plus 2.65 miles on Whites Creek)|
|Flows:||1.75’+ to ~4.0' at take-out for normal flows|
|Gradient:||82 fpm average to Mammy’s Creek at mile 4.15, 34 fpm after|
|Put-in:||Highway 70 bridge on Piney Creek|
|Take-out:||Highway 27 bridge on Whites Creek|
|Shuttle:||7.2 miles, (10 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Winter/Spring from rain…|
I have driven to White’s Creek take-out maybe 4 or 5 times trying to squeak in a run on this creek. However, each time I was a little too optimistic on the flows and found insufficient water. Except of course for the time I ran White’s Creek at 7’… which is really high. The bright side of this run though, is it takes only 2 minutes to check the gauge as you drive along US-27, which we use to access the northern part of Walden’s Ridge, and worst case, can be used to go all the way down to Chattanooga while chasing flows.
This day started off as a bit of a cluster. Plans were tentatively made the night before with Jim to boat, but as morning came he opted for a class V mission, and with Diane being 5 months pregnant, that obviously was not a good choice for us. The group issue was compounded by the fact that it was the coldest day of the year thus far (though today, the day after, as I sit here writing this, it is 10 degrees cooler and only 16 degrees), this of course limits the number of boaters looking to get out. I started by trying to recruit a group for the Citico, but after people flaking or waffling on plans, I changed to a Tiney Piney day with friends Erik Hancock, Lisa Ivester, Josh Elder, and Clay Wright.
The day starts off quickly, no paddle in on this one. Around the first corner you get the first bedrock slide which drops off a powerful small ledge at the bottom, scouting is easy from the left, as is safety and portaging. Around the next corner, to the right, you get to the biggest rapid of the run. Locals have called this rapid Time Warp for years. Steve Scarborough, who lives near the confluence with Whites Creek relayed to me that the timezone change runs through this rapid. So, there is occasionally the funny outcome where you clobber the right wall, which then sends you left, where an hour later, you hit the left wall. Apparently sometime subsequent to that naming, people started calling it by “Baby Gorilla” or “Chimp.” Really I am not sure why, it is nothing like Gorilla. Anyways, scout left and seal launch into the pool below if you aren’t feeling threading the needle through the entrance drop to avoid getting stuffed hard into the left undercut.
Downstream, you are greeted with entertaining rapids, mind the undercut left wall in the exit of Time Warp. About a half mile downstream is a boulder garden that looks like you want to go to the right with 75% of the flow, however this ends in a sieve which has caused numerous near-death experiences. Instead, go to the left of the rock pile island. If you have in your mind “when in doubt, go left” then you should be able to figure it out, it hit me as pretty obvious when I was above it, with that information, even though the sieve was over a blind horizon.
Below this, the river’s pace backs off, though several small stair step slides keep you entertained before you get to Tiny Piney’s grand finale, “Aircraft Carrier,” which is a great long slide. Before long, Mammy’s Creek enters quickly followed by Falls Creek. Surf waves become better in this section as the volume ramps up. Then you get to Whites Creek where the surf is fantastic in a few spots. After a mile on Whites the action peeters off to take-out.
We had 2.25’ when we set shuttle and 2.0’ when we got off. I thought this was low, but still fun. I would like to go back with 2.5 or 3.0’ I think to see it all with fluffier water, though I am sure the rapids are less forgiving at that flow. I think the downside to this run is that there is a lot of between rapids that are class II. Where the nearby Piney River has its good stuff all in a mile, this creek spreads it out more, but it makes it feel like a run with a few class III to IV rapids, but other than brief periods, doesn’t ever get into a groove of class III to IV. Additionally, though it is pretty, it does not have the walls like Piney River has, instead it tends to be more in a wider gorge, which is pretty in its own right but not as uniquely spectacular.
In total, I will be back, I am glad I did it, I would want more water next time, but I wouldn’t pass up an Island Creek day for it.
- Stairstep (III+ to IV). After a brief warm up of class II, you get to the first bedrock drop after the river makes a very sharp left turn. For those who are more timid, you can scout from the top, or you can drop through the first small slide and eddy out. Either way, the scout is on the left. The main step of the drop is a slide that drops off a u shape ledge into a hole. At the low flow we had, you could run center driving to the far right for the ledge. I think at high flow you would want to run far left to avoid the hole all together.
- Time Warp AKA Chimp AKA Baby Gorilla (V- to V). See the note in the intro about the name… I really like the locals name of Time Warp. Anyways, this rapid comes just downstream of Stairstep when the river takes a sharp right turn and drops through a narrow canyon. Scout on the left via the eddies at the lip. They aren’t super huge so don’t drop down there with a group of 8, spread out. The line is to run the entrance far right to avoid getting kicked to the left undercut. The cross current is strong so it is a real possibility. The scout and portage is on the left, the latter of which involves a 5-8 foot seal launch back into the water.
Wall (III- to III). Below Time Warp is a super nice grotto which exits into this rapid. The river runs along the left wall which is heavily undercut, just stay away from the wall. It is only a class II+ rapid in my mind, but the wall is not mindless to avoid and is more a class III+ consequence. So I averaged the two ratings to get class III.
Boof (II+ to III-). A small ledge is not too far downstream. You can run down the middle of it or boof into the stickier left side of it. Below, boogie gets easier as I recall.
- Sieve Rapid (III). OK, so when in doubt, go left below in the half mile below Time Warp. This rapid has a very serious and very blind hazard where the bulk of the water goes. The river splits around very large flat boulders, the bulk of the water goes right which has a fading slope into a sieve. Instead, go down the rockier left channel.
Boogie (II+ to III). There is a lot of fun but also non-descript class III. The best of the rapids are low angle slides. They are pretty evenly spread out for a mile, and then they taper off for a mile before the last great rapid on the run.
- Aircraft Carrier (III+ to IV). At low water, this is just a big class III+, at higher water I am sure this long, multi-tiered slide gets to be class IV. We went with the flow on it, starting left, heading to the right, and then heading with the flow back left. There are holes forming from the low angle slide between each tier, though at this flow they were small. At higher flow, if you are new to slides, they may be worth a look.
Rock Creek enters on the left immediately below. It is a pretty small little waterfall landing in the river and a nice undercut wall just downstream. A really nice spot.
- Mammy’s Creek enters on the right. If the water is high, that is reportedly a nice mellow float as well.
- Fall Creeks enters on the right. If the water is high, that is reportedly a nice mellow float as well, mellower than Mammy’s even.
Boogie (II+ to III-). Below, there area few nice surf waves and boogie rapids. The volume is now much more than at put-in so it is fun to see the change.
- Whites Creek enters on the right, and the river takes its name. Flow is now what you see at take-out.
- Surf City (III). Some really nice waves and a few small ledges keep you entertained. Different waves form at different flows. It was interesting to see this rapid again at 2.0’ as the only time I had seen it before was when I did Whites Creek at the high flow of 7.0’. At 7.0 there were Grand Canyon sized waves here!
Boogie (II to II+). The boogie continues though rapids get less frequent down to take-out.
Take-out: From highway 40, take highway 27 South through Cardiff towards Spring City. After 12.8 miles look for a small frontage road on your right, just before you cross the river. This will lead you to parking under the bridge.
Put-in: Go back out to highway 27, you can either illegally try to turn left or go down to the right to turn around. We did the illegal turn. Follow US-27 north for 4.4 miles before turning left onto US-70. Continue on US-70 for 2.8 miles. We parked on the shoulder on the left, immediately before the bridge. We then walked down the upstream side’s embankment which was easy enough.
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