Tallulah River (Gorge)
|Stretch:||Tallulah Falls Lake to Tugaloo Lake|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to IV+|
|Flows:||~400 to 1,000+. Current AW gauge|
|Put-in:||Stairs at the base a few waterfalls down from the dam|
|Take-out:||Dam at the end of Tugaloo Lake|
|Shuttle:||6.9 miles, 15 minutes one way|
|Season:||Dam Release, November some years|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #57 and in A Wet State's contribution to World Kayak's Video Guide|
Prior to four months ago, I had never paddled on the East Coast. Now thanks to two business trips (with kayaking tacked on to the end) and one vacation, I have now made three trips out and boated in six different states out there. Not bad. This trip was made possible by a meeting that I had in Huntsville, Alabama and thanks to logistical support from Memphis paddler Mike Obester along with a borrowed boat from paddler David Levitt.
Mike picked us up in Huntsville Friday night to start the 5.5 hour drive to Cornelia, Georgia where we would be staying. On the way, we picked up the boat from David in Chattanooga. Arriving at 1 am, we knew that we weren’t going to be afforded much sleep. Waking up in the morning we left to set shuttle and meet with some of my friends in from North Carolina and Tennessee. Although the shuttle is only 7 miles, it still takes about 20 minutes one way due to much of it being on a dirt road. Once the shuttle is set, you look forward to a 1/3rd of a mile hike to the top of 590 stairs. Depending on how busy the release is, you may get stopped by a line at step 275… requiring a long one person at a time wait to get the chance to put on yourself. The problem is that there are only two spots to put on, though two or three others are also perfectly possible. This coupled with the significant class IV nature of the crowd resulted in slow progress towards put-in. Luckily for us, two of our three laps had no line while one lap had only a 100 step line.
Once on the water, you get a junky boulder garden which is very reminiscent of the rapids downriver. If the put-in rapid treats you badly, I would walk off. Downriver awaits many more rapids just as big if not bigger. Below the put-in rapid is a great boof which then boogies quickly down to the main event, Oceana. What a fun drop… possibly the biggest, most intimidating class IV rapid I have ever seen… of course, with 700 cfs it was more of a class IV+ thanks to the hole at the bottom and a much larger “Thing.” Downriver, the drops keep coming, a few have huge holes that are easily avoided while others have multiple move boulder gardens or bedrocks ledges and slides that will keep you smiling through the remainder of the run. When possible, try to remind yourself to look up and around as the scenery is quick spectacular too. Tall cliff faces surround you amidst the densely packed forest. And it probably goes without saying, but those cliffs also lock you into the canyon… the only way out is on the water, no hiking out or egressing back up river.
In total, I don’t think the run was really any harder at 700 cfs than at 500 cfs, but it was a little more linked and thus perhaps a small step harder. At the low flows I think a class IV boater could handle it with a leader, at 700 cfs I think you want to be a confident class IV boater with a solid roll. Of course, this does not ensure that you will run Oceana, that you will have to scout and decide for yourself.
- Last Step (IV). The put in rapid offers a nice rock dodgy affair best run straight down the center. It is rocky, so don’t flip. A nice boof exits you from the rapid.
Tanners Launch (III+ to IV-). It is hard to give a rapid with a pool leading to a boof that is easy to line up a class IV rating… but because there is a bit of an undercut in the constricted exit, and rocks in the landing of the boof, I guess a class IV- rating is ok. Line it up center moving a little left for a clean landing.
- Oceana (IV+ to V-). It is really just a huge, intimidating class IV. From the pool, if you enter it right you will not have to worry about the thing and only have to get through the hole at the bottom. At 500 cfs everyone fought easily out, at 700 cfs some folks swam into the large rescue pool below. Enter moving left hitting the left peak of the entry flake, set your left angle, glance off The Thing (spraying 10-15 foot tall wall of water refracting off a 3 foot shelf in the rapid) and try to get a right boof stroke to point your nose left to flush through the hole. The hole flushes on the left wall. There is also a harder line in the middle, sliding down sideways landing in the center flow and then ferrying out in front of the thing into the hole below. Certainly that line is more of a class V.
- Gauntlet (IV). With more water the rapid was harder, lots of cross current moves and holes to negotiate. We ran down the right, then down the center. This quickly leads to Bridal Veil so be on your toes and set safety if it is pushing your limits.
- Bridal Veil (IV). Ok, the rapid is easy… sure if you mess it up it is really bad. But it is so easy. Enter the lead in rapid, some run right, some punch the hole on the left. From there, drive as far left as you can, using the backwash of the entry curler to drive further left. Slide down the slide and auto-boof the hole. If you for some reason end up going down the center or god forbid the right side of the slide, it is a massive hole. Basically a low head dam with green water feeding back into it. Really gross looking.
Zoom Flume (III-). I can’t give this rapid a harder rating, if I can do it while holding my paddle above my head and not taking a single stroke then it is not class III. Enter the rapid and find the small channel on the left wall, it is only a few feet wide and slides you down a cool ramp into the pool below.
- Lynch’s Wrench (IV). First, the rapid just above is a river wide slide, at high flows if you run the deepest channel on the left, make sure you carry momentum to the right as the left wall has a pocket with bad undercut spot one in our group found. Easy to avoid if you start on the left wall and move right. A small pool then leads to my favorite rapid on the run. Boof center into the large curling hole that will likely typewriter you, from there, line up the ledges below. The exit of this rapid is called Amphitheater, but it is all one rapid. The exit is good all over, another large hole in the entry leads to some fun slides with a few holes strewn about.
- Tom’s Brain Buster (IV-). Some decent boogie leads to the junkiest rapid on the run. Run down the right side of the river, at 500 the exit was rock choked making a hit inevitable, at 700 you could run center at the exit and not hit too many.
- The Road to Aintry (IV-). A long slide. Enter the top ledge anywhere and then work your way to the middle of the river for the main slide. Keep straight as the hole at the bottom is large. Punch through it and you are through. Apparently this rapid was filmed while making Deliverance (mostly on the Chattooga) in a scene where they all swam out of their canoe’s. I guess I need to rewatch the movie to see it.
- Paddlesnake Ledge (IV-). An easier line is down the far left. A fun line that I enjoyed was center, boofing the ledge into the fast moving ramp below. It looks like you are going to piton, but as long as you boof into right angle you are good. The powerhouse is then visible on your left.
- Powerhouse and Maxwell’s Last Drop (III). Powerhouse is a river wide slide/ledge. Easiest on the left, doable on the right with a good stroke through the hole. Just below the river enters another rapid that has a good size ledge in it. At 500 the ledge was not bad, at 700 it got pretty sticky. Far right was easier at the higher flow, but center and left were still fun as well with a good stroke.
- Lake Tugaloo, Now you get a fun 1.5 mile paddle across the lake to the right edge of the dam. Good times. Too bad… otherwise you could do lap after lap on this section. As it is, 2 isn’t hard, but 3 is pushing it.
For more details on the run, see the AW write-up...
Take-out: From Tallulah Falls, Georgia, head south on Highway 15/23/441. Just on the far side of town, turn left on Tallulah Gorge Scenic Loop and quickly turn right on Tugalo Village Rd. Follow this about 5 miles to the parking at the bottom. Be aware, they close the gate near the bottom at 5 pm.
Put-in: Head back to Tallulah Falls, just before you cross over the lake/river/dam there is a parking area on your left. Park here, though it costs $5 and there will be AW folks there to collect. Make sure you don’t j-way cross the higway to the trail, use the stairs that drop under the bridge. From there, follow the trail to the top of the steps. It is 590 some-off steps down to the gorge floor. Make sure to stop and take in some of the views of the massive waterfalls between the dam and the put-in.
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