The 9th Annual Ocoee Downriver Race

The Ocoee River Race is a 5 mile race from the #2 Dam down to the end of the powerhouse rapid. It is held in mid-October by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club as a fundraiser for the Chattanooga chapter of Team River Runner, a national non-profit that supports wounded veterans.

Here is a fun video summary of the event: https://vimeo.com/238676387

Hunter and I entered the short boat class (under 9 ft) and the challenge was on to see who would have the fastest time! Hunter borrowed a friends Nirvana while I paddled my trusty Zen. Turns out the extra 6 inches in length on his boat helped make him extra speedy!

There were 130 paddlers and 190 start times this year (some people paddle in two classes). With starts happening one minute apart there was a fair bit of waiting to get on the river. The organizers did a great job of keeping things structured and moving. They called numbers in blocks of five and sent you down the ramp, where you got yourself organized and into the water to await your turn.

The start eddy fits two boats and you have about a minute to get into your boat and organized before it’s time to go!

The Ocoee River is a mixture of fun rapids, wave trains and really really shallow sections. It is also FULL of rafts, which made this a really interesting race. Most of the raft guides were great and would hold their boat back for a brief second to let you pass through and a few, not so much… they are there to make money and provide their guests with a good experience and they didn’t really care that you were trying to make your way through the maze of rubber.

Overall we had a super fun time and would definitely do it again. The organizers and racers are all really friendly and very supportive. There was a lot of sharing of “race line” info and other tips as you stood above the start ramp.

Hunter finished 6th in the junior short boat category with a time of 36:38 and I finished 4th in the Women’s short boat category with a time of 37:27. Chasing the kid down the river seems to help keep me motivated and him moving!

 

Tellico River – multi lap creek run!

The Tellico River is in Eastern Tennessee, just west of the North Carolina / Tennessee border. It is a class III/IV 2 mile run that people often run multiple laps on. The road runs beside the river so shuttles are super easy.  It is described as a fabulous intro to technical creeking for boaters in the south east.

It is a rain fed creek that can come up pretty quickly but also drop equally quickly. Thanks to Hurricane Nate we had a decent dump of rain and everyone was glued to their devices watching the gauges to see if enough water was going to fall. The gauge is downstream of the actual run so you have to incorporate the lag time into your decision on when to head to the river. Ideal level for your first time is 2.5 feet and it gets too shallow below 1.7 feet. Above 3.5 feet is too high.

The main creeking section of the Tellico is referred to as “the ledges” as it is a series of pool drop ledges with lots of horizon lines.

It is also the home of “Baby Falls” – a 12 foot drop that is a great introduction to waterfalls. You can climb out from the pool at the bottom and go back up and run it again and again and again and again. As there are lots of different lines you can stay amused for hours!

We only got 2 runs in and are hugely thankful to Casey Bryant Jones and Melissa Huckson for leading us down and supporting our first descent of the Tellico – it was super fun, really flowy and we definitely want to run it again.

Ocoee River Secret Week

The Ocoee River is located in eastern Tennessee just over the border from North Carolina. It is a dam release river that runs most of the summer and then weekends during the fall. There is one full week in October that there is a release every day so you can get 9 days of paddling in a row – the locals call this secret week.

This is another river that is fairly straight forward to run and to shuttle. Thanks to the Parks Service, there are nice parking areas at both the put in and take out – paved parking, bathrooms and easy access. The road runs along the entire river so you can scout everything and hitch-hiking for shuttles are pretty easy to do.

There are 20 rapids on this class III+ river (missing from the above list is SECRET rapid). Some are actual full rapids and others are shallow rocky areas that you have to work your way through. On the weekends (and I’m sure during the summer) Raft traffic is the biggest obstacle to worry about. You need to time your run down each rapid in between the never ending raft traffic. Secret week was almost raft free, which make it extra special!

The Ocoee River is a fabulous multi-dimensional river. You can take easy lines for advanced beginners or harder lines to spice things up and make it feel more like a class IV run. With warm water and great weather, you can spend a good 3-4 hours on the river with just one run or you can get in 2-3 laps thanks to the easy shuttle.

We chose to paddle the river in play boats as there are small to large play features all the way down the river. Lots of others paddled it in river runners or creek boats. The Jackson Antix is another great boat for this river as it allows you to mix things up and hit all of the long boat and play boat features.

About half way down the river there is a really fun lunch/rest-stop at Go Forth Creek. It seems a bit odd the first time as you pull your boats off the river and into a HUGE square cement drainage culvert below a bridge. You walk through the culvert and end up at this sunny section of rocks that is perfect to lay out and warm up, grab some food and have the kids play in the creek to stay amused.

The rapids finish just below the powerhouse that is on the side of the river. From there you have about a ten to fifteen minute slow moving/flat water paddle to the public takeout (you will pass by the commercial take out just after the flat water starts). It’s a great “feet out to the takeout” kind of paddle and low key way to finish the day.

We definitely recommend the Ocoee as a place to paddle as a family! Big thanks to “Team Unsafe” for adopting “The Canadians” for the week…

You can also find a shorter version of this writeup at http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/10/13/secret-week-on-the-ocoee-river/

Nantahala Outdoor Centre – Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF)

Guest Appreciation Festival (aka GAF) at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a huge tradition here in the South East.  People come from all around to catch the scheduled release of the Cascades & Upper Nantahala River as well as grab some amazing end of season deals on gear. There is ALOT going on…

We were definitely overwhelmed when we arrived at the river on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were cars and boaters as far as you could see spread across parking lots and fields. NOC very generously provides free shuttles for the Cascades and Upper all weekend. As fast as they can load a rafting bus with people and a truck with boats, then they are off to the put-in. That means that you have 50 people arriving at the put-in at the same time. This is not a big put in, nor a big river so it gets a little crazy…

The Cascades is a class IV/V section that is above the Upper section. It is a short section of 4-5 rapids that people do laps on as you can walk back up the side of the road. We scouted a few of the rapids but decided that this wasn’t the year to run it without an expert local to show us the lines…

The Upper section is rated as class III+/IV and is a mix between river running and creeking. There are definitely rocks that you need to be aware of but not really boulder gardens that you need to maneuver around. The hardest part was actually dealing with all of the people on a very narrow river (less than 50 feet wide), many of them using this release as a chance to stretch their skills after running the Lower section many times. Lots of swimmers, lots of boats without paddlers and a number of people getting off the river after the first stretch of rapids and walking back up to the put-in to catch the bus down to the take-out (which is also the put-in for the Lower section).

We managed to get two laps in on Saturday and three laps on Sunday (an earlier start now that we understood how things worked) and it was definitely a fun river to experience. Our suggestion would be to aim to catch the first shuttle in the morning as that gives you at least one run with very few people on the river. Catching one of the last shuttles does the same thing. This leaves 1-2 runs during the middle of the day that you just have to elbow your way through the throngs of people.

NOC itself is about 10 minutes down the road from the Upper take out/ Lower put in. It is quite the facility, with something for everyone. The river runs right through it and this is where the rafting companies and kayakers that have run the Lower section take out. During GAF the parking lots are very full so getting there early helps guarantee a spot to park, as well as access to the best deals. There are sliding discounts at the Outfitters store throughout the weekend (Friday = 30% off, Saturday = 40% off, Sunday = 50% off) so it’s a juggle between how much you want something vs how much you will wait for the discount and risk it being gone. There are definitely great deals on demo kayaks, with most of them being sold by the end of the weekend.

More to come on paddling the lower section for fun and freestyle training at the hole.

5 ways Gauleyfest can be a family friendly event

Here is a fun write up we did for Jackson Kayak on Gauleyfest: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/10/04/5-ways-gauleyfest-can-be-a-family-friendly-event/

Gauleyfest is the largest paddling festival in North America. It is held in mid-September in the town of Summersville, West Virginia and is THE main fundraiser for American Whitewater Association (AWA) each year. Picture you and 4000 of your closest friends converging on a small town and a fabulous river for 3 days of kayaking…. it is definitely a party scene.

This is exactly what had us questioning going to our first Gauleyfest this year. We found ourselves working our way south from the Ottawa and the Gauley river was a logical stop along the way. We were pretty certain we wanted to paddle it, just not so sure about the whole festival chaos. After doing a lot of research online and talking to a lot of other seasoned paddlers, here are 5 ways we managed to have a fun, family friendly Gauleyfest:
1) Stay at the BattleRun Army Core of Engineers Campground instead of on the festival grounds – it is right on Summersville Lake just above the damn, 5 minutes to the river put-in, very clean and QUIET! We got into Summersville a few days early and enjoyed just hanging out at the campground, riding our bikes on the trails and playing in the lake with our kayaks and SUP. It costs $30 per night for a full service RV site or $20 per night for a tent site and has bathrooms, showers and laundry on site. If camping isn’t your thing there is a Hampton Inn a block away from the festival grounds.
2) Check out the Gauleyfest Facebook page to learn about the events and to hook up with other paddlers that have similar interests. We ended up joining Anna Levesque’s “Ladies on the Lower” to run the Lower Gauley on the Friday and it was a wonderful introduction to the river. There were a wide range of skill levels and many people that were running the Gauley for the first time. On Saturday Hunter participated in a Keeners run down the Upper Gauley with Stephen Wright and Clay Wright, which was a fabulous way to run that section for the first time. A number of people connected before Gauleyfest to arrange to run either the Lower Gauley or the New River if they weren’t sure they were up to paddling the Upper Gauley.
This year there was also a new local event on the Thursday called the Kanawaha Falls Festival, which brought attention to another fun paddling and playing area near the Gauley Gorge.
3) Hike in to see key sections of the Upper Gauley – this is perfect for those that just want to watch the fun. The crowd at Pillow Rock is great family entertainment and allows those that aren’t paddling the Upper Gauley to get a sense of what the river is like and to cheer on their family member! The hike to Pillow Rock starts from the Carnifex Ferry Battle Park, which is about 5 minutes down the road from the put-in. You want to head there pretty quickly once you drop your paddlers off as it will take 20-30 minutes to complete the hike. You can also hike in to see Sweet’s Falls from the Woods Ferry takeout. Go to the very bottom beach area and then follow a road that runs upstream. It is about a mile of easy hiking.
4) Stop by the Festival grounds on either Friday or Saturday evening – there are some great deals to be had with the vendors that are there. Many sell off their seconds or slightly damaged items and year end stock at great discounts. You can also find some yummy food vendors with something to meet everyone’s needs. There is a fee for Adults and dogs to enter the festival while kids 16 and under are free. All entry fees go to American Whitewater so it’s for a good cause. You can also go to the AWA tent while at the festival and sign up for a membership and get a great swag bag of goodies! Saturday night is when Jackson does their legendary hat giveaway that results in a free boat so if you have to chose between Friday and Saturday – pick Saturday! Think of yourself as Cinderella and aim to catch your magic coach out by no later than 11pm as that is when things start to wind up – the live music gets louder and the drinking kicks into high gear.
5) Connect with Friends – our Gauleyfest experience this year was a big success because we were able to connect with friends and share a fun time on the river. Tap into your local paddling community to see who is going, rally your Facebook contacts to get a gang interested and convince them to bring their families so there are lots of people to play with. We also met a number of new friends at the event, either on the river or at the festival grounds, and this expanded our paddling network for other regions.
With respect to paddling on the river with 4000 of your closest friends, the best advice I heard was from Clay Wright – look people in the eye, be confident, take your window and go with conviction!