A write up I did for the Chota newsletter
Big Times on Big Creek
Late August is a time of transition. School had just started, and with 19 hour this semester plus a part-time menial job, I was looking forward to having all of Labor Day weekend off. As classes started so did the rain. I had to see posts on the Internet all week about friends running the Little and Tremont while I suffered through class. The rain had ended and all the gauges were dropping out. I thought it would be another Ocoee weekend. Well it turns out Ernesto did sprinkle a little water over the mountains around interstate 40. Big Creek was basically flooded out on Wednesday causing Kirk Eddleman and Keith Kugley to get a first decent on Trail Fork, a stream that runs off of Max Patch into deep Cocke County. It’s really impressive how when most people think that everything worth running has already been run, Kirk finds some quality Class 5+ creek that no one has ever run! Check out his pictures and description at: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/5009/
By Friday paddlers were posting high visuals on Big Creek (there is no online gauge), which made the educated paddler believe there would still be water on Saturday. It proved true as James Cornett (first timer) & I (second timer) arrived at the Mt. Sterling gauge. With plenty of water we met up with Doug Klaras, David Howard, MaryAnn Grell (first-timer), and Russell DeCastrone (second-timer, but said he swam most of river that time so was more of an expert). When you ask paddlers to list their favorite rivers, Big Creek make most peoples lists. With water that is significantly cleaner than the Little River, it may be the cleanest water around. The rocks aren’t sharp- they are smooth and forgiving. The action is constant; one glance to take in the beautiful scenery and you’ll be off course for sure! Most Class 5 boaters hike their boats up 2.4 miles for some quality Class 5 creekin’ including 200 yards of continuous Class 5 called Action Alley. The hardcore, but somewhat sane folks, hike up three quarters of a mile to below action alley for some quality Class 4+ action. MaryAnn, Russell, James, and I put on at the campground below a rapid named Bitch that only requires a 100-yard hike up. We waited for Doug and David and watched them run the rapids above us. We all put in and we were off!
There are only 2 spots that I would call good Class 4’s, but the action in constant. I would get spun around backward as I felt like the river was playing pinball with me. We would grab the eddies, catch our breaths, and splendor in the beauty of the creek. Doug told us well ahead of a rapid where there is a must make move. He too knew this run goes fast, and things can come up on you quickly. As we continued down the river I got stuck on a rock causing Cornett to swim as he swerved to miss me. He jumped back in seconds and we again shot down the river. Everyone aced the must make move, and the first-timers and I were loosening up as the gradient eased. We continued through continuous Class 3– 3+ for another mile. We passed the playground where most people were taking off. We decided to run all the way to the Pigeon, which includes running a weir dam that has a rock you can launch past the boil line on. MaryAnn wanted no part of this, and promptly took off. This is the first thing I’m really grateful for. Doug then yelled to MaryAnn to take a rope (second thing I’m grateful for). She didn’t understand, and it took a minute for her to understand. I can’t thank Doug enough for being safety conscious here and making sure she took a rope,
On my first run a few months ago, I also swam this Weir Dam but managed to jump off my boat past boil line where I promptly grabbed a hold of David Howard’s boat to keep me going downstream. This time I hit my line perfectly. That was till I dried out, lost my speed and landed in the worst spot of the hydraulic. In the highly aerated water you don’t float to the surface. After a few seconds, I realized I needed to get some air. Then my boat hit me. I was able to pull up and get a breath. So now I could get a breath every few seconds which left me feeling calm. I sat there for a second trying to think of an escape as I sloshed around. In the Chota Advanced Safety clinic you have an opportunity to get re-circulated on purpose at Double Suck on the Ocoee. Having done that, I felt better about my current condition. MaryAnn had already thrown a rope right at me with the precision of Wonder Woman, but I neglected to even see it, as it was inches from me. I then decided to try to swim down and catch the out-flow from the hydraulic. While this technique works well in naturally occurring hydraulics, it doesn’t work with Weir Dams. I then grabbed my boat again (glad duckies float, hard shells full of water would have much less floatation and would hurt when they hit you). I could see the throw rope 15 feet from me. I thought she had re-thrown it, but apparently the force of the water just shot it to me. I grabbed it with all my might and I was rescued! MaryAnn is my super-hero! My boat on the other hand just spun in the hydraulic. Doug and James had hooked a throw rope to a paddle and were trying to get the rope around the boat. After several attempts, Doug decided he would go in tethered to grab my boat. As he bravely jumped in I thought he had no chance of reaching the boat, but the current quickly sucked him toward my boat. He grabbed it and MaryAnn reeled them in! What a way to finish the run. We then took a small break and went for another run! The second run got James’s bad shoulder causing us to take off early. The others had a blast with no incidents.
I had a great day even with the swim! I’m really glad I paddle with people who a very safety conscious, yet still try to push my boundaries. Next time I’ll skip the Weir Dam and do the hike up! If you are not familiar with Big Creek check it out at: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/3341/ &
I will post the video of Doug’s rescue on that page.
Great hiking there too!