My write up of "Carnage on the Cheoah" for the Chota newsletter
With lack of water on Clear Creek, I decided to cancel the trip I had planned for Chota and get another taste of the Cheoah. I had gone to one of the clearing sessions, and missed out on the first release with the shuttle nightmare. I had been back once only to take out about 40% of the way through after a fellow boater got worked in a hole a while, which I saw as a preview of what would happen to me if I didn't get out. This time the plan was to take the raft. That way both Cornett & I could take a look at what no one from around hear can seem to describe to us. Each person's description contradicts the next persons, and the only thing people can agree on if that it is fast, full of trees, and like the water out West. Without the knowledge of the river, I decided to ask Tom (Don Vito) to guide the raft since he had been down the Cheoah 10+ times and seemed to know the lines, and was willing to take us (the most important part). The plan was to meet Tom Rannels, David Howard, Glen Taylor, Russell Decastrone, and Doug Klaras at O'henry's put-in at 11:30. O'henry's is a gravel lot across from Joann’s Gas and grocery that can be used to avoid lots of 2-3 tree dodging in the first few miles of the run. Doug soon called saying all were running late thanks to Cinco de Mayo. Damn Te-killa! Holli, our shuttle bunny (I don't think this is a sexist term, but please correct me if I'm wrong), James Cornett, and I arrived at 11:30 and starting pumping up the raft. Soon Tom showed up and seemed ready to take us down. We waited for another half hour or so for the rest of the gang to show up. Soon we were heading down the river. The first several hundred yards were class 2/3 with lots of brush and trees. James, Tom, and I planned out how we would guide the boat. The first rapid of consequence was Take-out rapid. This rapid was named because many people chose to take-out here during the test releases. I had run this rapid in my single boat before, and I knew it was "game on". We charged through the entrance and over a big drop into a huge hole. The boat punched through it, and we feverishly paddled downstream. Then five yards later the next drop had an equally big hole. We hit that on at a bit of an angle, which caused us stay in the hole for a second, but thankfully we popped right out. Just as I was about to be relieved, I realized that this was just the start. We worked well together missing most of the islands, brush, trees, etc. There were several times we had to cross the river between rapids to stay on course. This required raft eddy hopping. I'm glad we made all the moves. Tom was doing a great job. We bounced down the congested riverbed, through never-ending white water, wondering what would happen when things picked up. We soon made it past where I had taken out previously and were headed for Land of Holes. Land of holes was maybe ¾ of a mile of whitewater with some decent ledges every now and again. There were many holes that would be quite intimidating in a single craft, which were easy to punch through in the raft. We easily made it through this and waited for the group to catch up. We soon went under the bridge indicating the gradient would be picking up considerably. We ran some tight lines through the obstructed streambed. You could only see the line at the last minute, and you would often need every stroke to get on line. In the next eddy, I watched the guy who was parked next to me at O’Henry’s swim to shore as his boat flushed downstream. We offered him a lift and headed downstream. He had 2 friends chasing his boat, but with the fast water, it was an effort in futility. We watched as his boat disappeared around the next bend. Off we went! Things were starting to come at us faster and faster. We ran through a rapid Tom’s had told us about, but we had no time to do anything but react once we arrived. We made it through some more decent water, when Tom caught a micro eddy on river right. I was apprehensive as it wasn’t much of any eddy. Tom said we were right above entrance to the “Big One”, and that our guest needed to get out if he wanted to get his boat.. He thanked us as we charged downstream. We worked our way through entrance successfully, but we were far river left, and need to ferry far river right to line up for the “Big One”. We barely made the ferry and blindly headed into the rapid. As we were ferrying I could see the rest of the gang had gotten out to scout. 30 feet and half a world away! We charged into the rapid a little right of the line. While in a kayak the water will blow you left, this is not the case in the raft. The pictures tell the rest of the story on this one. I was just glad the boat was upright & Cornett appeared at the surface at the bottom. I tried to pull Cornett back in, but it was Tom who got him back in. It was a this point I realized we only had one paddle left, so I jumped to the front of the boat and desperately worked to get the boat to go left. As I paddled one of our paddles popped up. I grabbed it and threw it to Tom. We had made it left away from the mega nasty hole on river right, but were now lined up for the West Prong line. Tom had no time to describe this beforehand as we were self rescuing, but when I saw 3 distinct horizon lines in a row, I knew where we were. The routes were about 4 feet wide and with the boat being 5 feet wide, I’m glad we had the speed. On the 2nd drop a left to right move we got spun around then pinned down stream. At least we made it through the drops and were able to rest and unload an extra paddle I had stored. After gathering our breath we unpinned the raft and headed downstream. We caught an eddy and waited for the rest of the gang. When we got to Topaco Lodge we ran far left though the biggest holes, big fun!. We charged under the final bridge, and headed for the lake. We lined up for yard sale, which is 2 drops with big holes on the left, and one drop without a big hole on the right. Tom opted for right line to avoid the big holes. Only problem was that the pour over on the right was only 4 feet wide. A rock grabbed the boat and through us sideways into a hole and sent us all swimming. We were all able to get the next eddy and recover the raft and 2 of the 3 paddles. Skully, who was hand paddling showed up just in time to laugh at us and offer us Jayrockin’s paddle so we could make it to the lake. You see Jeremy had decided to swim the “Big One”, and Skully had recovered his paddle. With water this fast, it’s nice to have friends to chase after your stuff. From there just some Class 3 stuff till the lake. When we hit the flat water I was glad to see Holli found a spot on lake left which keeps the flat water to a minimum. When deflating the raft I found a 6-inch tear, and a puncture mark. Last time it was a 14-inch tear between the self-bailer holes of James’s ducky. This river proves ruff on the equipment. Anyway thanks again to Tom who proved not to be “dangerous” as others have stated, and to those who tries to run with us. This is an awesome run that could use some more brush clearing.