Category Archives: US Deep South

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures in Columbus, Georgia

Original post can be found at http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/01/19/never-winter-family-whitewater-adventures-part-four/

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you definitely can’t go with kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #4 is Columbus, Georgia which is located in the southern United States. It’s not what you traditionally think of in terms of warm water paddling but compared to the rest of North America – it is warm and is fairly easily accessible. The water runs all winter long and the temps are rarely below freezing. The average high in the coolest months of December and January is a balmy 59 F (15c)! November and March are great times to either extend your season or kick off your season, with temps almost hitting 70f (20c).

The Chattahoochee River runs right through town and acts as the border between Columbus, GA and Phenix City, Alabama. Columbus has a small airport but flights may be more economical landing in Atlanta, just a few hours away.

We have always travelled there in our RV however there are 2 hotels that are right on the river and within easy walking distance: Columbus Marriott and Courtyard by Marriott (Phenix City). There are also 2 great outfitters in Columbus that can help get any trip organized – Outside World Columbus and Whitewater Express. You can also rent boats/paddles from the outfitters if you don’t want to fly with your gear. If you will be travelling by RV, be sure to message us and we can give you tips and suggestions.

The Chattahoochee River is a 2.5 mile stretch of river that runs from the dam through to the whitewater park. It is anywhere from class II – class IV depending on the level of the river and the feature you are on. It is dam controlled with traditionally lower flows in the morning and higher flows in the late afternoon/evening as the power company needs to make hydro. One of the best parts is that there are lights in the play park at night so you can paddle when it’s dark out – that is an adventure in itself!

The Chattahoochee is big water, which makes things a bit pushy. At the same time, it’s warm and a great place to learn. Lots of room to roll up after every feature. Any rapid on the river run has an easy line and a hard line and the park and play whitewater park right in town allows you to play at the spot that best lines up with your skills. There is a big flatwater pond for smaller kids, trailing small waves off the back of the island to practice your ferrying, small and medium surf waves and then the big bouncy “Good Wave”, which definitely packs a punch at 3 generators! It is considered on par with Garb wave on the Ottawa.

Things to think about when considering Columbus:

  • Consider what your normal temperature threshold is when packing. We are northerners so what is considered “cold” in Columbus was still quite warm for us. On our last visit in late November we were wearing swim tops and shorty dry tops while the locals had switched to full dry tops.
  • Both Outside World and Whitewater Express are amazing ambassadors for kayaking – check in with them before you go to get some beta and drop by when you are in town to see about getting shuttles to the dam so you can run the river
  • There are many affordable restaurants in Uptown Columbus, which is only 2 blocks from the river. Our favourites are the pizza place and the burrito place.
  • Chat with the local paddlers and they will give you lots of great information
  • Take time to check out the fabulous museums and science centres in town – they are amazing resources and lots of fun for kids. The riverwalk runs right along the river and is an easy walk or bike to most sights and locations

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More information can be found at:

http://visitcolumbusga.com/visit/outdoors/kayaking/

http://www.whitewaterexpress.com/chattahoochee/

http://www.outsideworldcolumbus.com

Columbus for the win yet again!

Our first experience in Columbus, Georgia was two years ago. We spent a week in late November and were so impressed with everything that the city had to offer – both on the water and off. It was definitely a “must do” for our travels this fall in the south east. Lucky for us, it is an incredible paddler friendly town with a secret parking lot that is steps from the river. Urban camping at its best…

The main features are located on the Chattahoochee River, which runs right down the Alabama / Georgia border and through the main business area of Columbus (aka Uptown Columbus). There is a 2.5 mile stretch of whitewater that ranges from class II to III+ depending on the water level. There is also park and play off the island with a number of different waves that come and go at different water levels.

Water levels range from 1-4 generators and can be checked here. Predictions can be found at the Georgia Power website (select Bib Mill Pond) but they are often wrong… (to translate 1000 cfs = 1 generator, 5000 cfs = 2 generators, 10,000 cfs = 3 generators). As you can see from the chart, the water levels move around a lot. The positive note is there is something fun at every level.

 

One of the best parts of our year this year has been meeting so many other great kayakers. It was fun to get to connect with people in Columbus that we originally met back in May at Buena Vista at CKS Paddlefest.

At the top part of the island is a small wave hole and a set of rocks that is super fun to practice pogo flips off of.

Next up comes Waveshaper wave (what you can see through the boys).

Then you get to Oli wave, which shows up at 2 generators and above – super smooth surf wave with a nice pocket.

Good Wave is next in the line up (photo of Matt Hargrove styling it!) – it shows up at 2 generators and really picks up at 3 generators. Considered comparable to Garborator Wave at the Ottawa.

This is Good Wave at 1 generator – definitely a different feature… great for beginners to build up their surfing skills.

Just after Good Wave is Micro Wave, which comes in between 1 and 2 generators, and is a great beginner surf wave and a fun place to play King of the Wave, which Tim was pleased to be crowned winner…

At 2 generators and above, Great Wave is also in, which is the last wave in the line up and can be a first experience at a wave that you drop into and it stops you before zipping you down the face of the wave, ala baby face on the Ottawa.

It was pretty fabulous to spend 4 days with the Hargrove Family during our recent visit. Nothing better than having like minded friends to hang out with, on and off the river, especially for travelling families…

Once again we have to say a HUGE thanks to Outside World Columbus for their amazing hospitality. Be sure to check out their store when you are in town!

We also strongly recommend both Barberitos and Your Pie pizza shop for yummy affordable lunches and dinner. They are both located in Uptown Columbus, which is only a few blocks from the river.

Wilson Creek – a little bit of California in North Carolina

Wilson Creek, designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, is a beautiful place tucked away in central North Carolina within the Pisgah National Forest. We had a great time running this with friends in mid-October after rains brought the levels up.

The run is about 2 miles long and people often do at least 2 laps in a day. Assume your first lap will take 1.5+ hours and your second will be close to an hour since you now have a better sense of the lines. The road parallels the entire river so you can scout everything and shuttle is quite easy – could be done by biking or running if need be.

The entire run is in a granite canyon, which makes it feel more like California than eastern USA. It was a full face helmet and elbow pads kind of day due to all of the drops, slides and rock boofs. Although the guidebook says that this is good up to “2” on the gauge, local intel suggests not doing it at anything greater than “1”. We did it at 0.5 and it was a great first time level. There are a few sticky holes placed throughout the river so be sure to read the guidebook or find a local for a guided tour down on your first run.

Downriver racing – a great family activity!

The below is a post we wrote for Jackson Kayak: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/11/08/downriver-racing-a-great-family-activity/
This is our first year being exposed to downriver races and we have to say… they are a great family activity! If you pick the right ones they are a family bonding experience with high fun factors.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

We dipped our toe into the world of Downriver racing at CKS Paddlefest (Buena Vista, Colorado) in May by participating in the Race to the Grill. This is a super family friendly race that is held on a 4 mile long class II+ section of the Arkansas River referred to as the “Milk Run”. There is a group practice run on Sunday afternoon for those that are interested and then the race is held late morning on Monday of the long weekend.  It is a very laid back event with people in kayaks, canoes, tandem kayaks, rafts and SUP’s. Free shuttles are provided by River Runners so you want to a) drop your boat off at the put in to get it in line, b) drive your car down to River Runners at the finish line and c) sign up for the race / pay your $10 and then catch a ride back up to the top. Start order is based on the order that you line up in so you can choose to paddle in front of, behind or with friends and family. It was fairly low water this spring so it took us 33 minutes to do 4 miles. The race ends at “The Riverside Grill” at River Runners, one of the local rafting companies. Awards (prizes!) to follow the race and yummy food and drinks from the Grill while you are waiting.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

Next up was the GoPro Games in Vail, Colorado. This was a bit more of a structured event and you need to sign up online ahead of time as many of the events at GoPro Games reach capacity. There is the famed Steep Creek Race and then there is the DownRiver Kayak Sprint race. You want the Downriver Kayak Sprint Race! It is a mixture of young kids through to seasoned pros and everything in between. This is also where you see a lot of old school long boats being pulled out of garages as people work to improve upon their times from prior years. Consider it low key competitive…This race is also 4 miles long on a class II+ section of Gore Creek, where the water is COLD as it’s fresh from the snowpack. It is faster moving than the Arkansas River so times are more in the 20 minute range. Shuttles are a bit tricky as the start location is in a residential neighbourhood and it’s an 8:30 am race start, which makes for an early start to the day. We paired up with another family so one vehicle did the paddler drop off while the other did the cheering squad and pick up at the end of the race, which is right in the village. All athletes that register for GoPro Games get a SWAG bag full of goodies (T-shirt, Hat, socks, snacks, stickers etc.), which makes just showing up a win for everyone! There is no formal awards ceremony so we chose to head off for ice-cream in the village to celebrate with friends.

Lee Vincent – Ocoee River Race

Our third race was the Ocoee River Race in eastern Tennessee. It is an 8 mile race on class III that runs from the put-in through to the last rapid on the Middle Ocoee. It is organized by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club as a fundraiser for the Team River Runner chapter in Chattanooga. You have to be a member of TVCC to race – family memberships are only $20 and then the race itself is free. It will fill up so be sure to sign up online ahead of time. Your starting number is based on when you sign up, so earlier is better. Everyone is out for a fun time with a mixture of competitive focus – some people are out for the win and have been doing training laps for the last few weeks, others have bets in place with friends to see who can be fastest and the majority of people are here for a fun time with friends and to challenge themselves. The race is very well organized and this year they had 130 racers and 190 starting slots as over half of the people race multiple categories (long boat, short boat, duo, handpaddle, raft etc.). Depending on when your number is called there is a fair amount of stand around and wait as people are sent off in one minute intervals. The shuttle is an easy one as the road runs alongside the river and there are always people coming and going. If everyone in your group is racing try to set shuttle ahead of time so you will have your vehicle at the bottom when you are done. Race times range from 30-40 minutes, which makes it a manageable challenge for newbie racers. The hardest part of this race is dodging the commercial rafters – there is rubber everywhere! There is a family friendly awards banquet and party at Adventures Unlimited, a local rafting company, however the fun does start to wind up the longer people have been there and enjoying the free beer, so time your stay wisely.

Hunter & Lee – South East DownRiver Race at NOC

Our last race of the year was the South Eastern Downriver Race held on the 8 mile class II+ section of the Lower Nantahala River in western North Carolina. It is run by the Georgia Canoe Association and feels more like a local community race. Sign up online to help them know how many people are coming and it’s a bargain $5 per person to participate. This is a mixture of serious paddlers (they are the ones in the actual carbon downriver and slalom boats) and recreational paddlers (in long boats, short boats, duos and canoes) but the overall vibe is one of FUN. This is a lower volume river so run times are between 60 and 70 minutes, which makes for a LONG race. It was a good one to finish with as it allowed us to use all of the mental and physical skills we have developed through the other races. The Nantahala Outdoor Centre provides free shuttles after the race and there was a simple awards ceremony with medals for every class and some long standing trophy awards as well. If you still have energy left after the race then grab your play boat and spend some time throwing freestyle tricks in the hole!

Hunter being dwarfed by KarmaUL at South East DownRiver Race at NOC

The five biggest things we learned in our first year of downriver racing are:
  • Don’t be shy – give it a try and use what ever boat you have on hand (we paddled in Zen’s, Nirvana’s & KarmaUL borrowed from a friend)
  • Ask lots of questions – everyone is happy to share information on the race and their race lines
  • Be sure you know where the finish line is so you can gauge your effort (which specific bridge or turn does it end at…)
  • Just paddle… you may not be the fastest but sometimes the one that can just keep paddling wins the race
  • Challenge each other and have fun – that’s why you are out there
Check out your local paddling club and sign up for your first DownRiver Race as a family – you’ll love it!

Group photo before Race to the Grill

The Vincent family are currently  travelling throughout North America in their RV in search of great family friendly outdoor adventures and can be found on a river somewhere most days. Find more information at www.chasingthesun.ca // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt
– The Vincent Family

NOCtoberfest – what a hoot!!!

NOCtoberfest at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre is a great FREE community event held on the Saturday before Halloween. There is pumpkin carving, halloween costume contest, face painting and the culminating event – the great pumpkin chase!

385 pumpkins are loaded into three NOC rafts, each one with a number on it. The rafts are paddled from the concrete beach down to the take out beach while tossing the pumpkins out into the river.

Keen pumpkin hunters in kayaks, inflatable kayaks, canoes and rafts chase after the rafts and collect as many pumpkins as they can fit in their respective crafts…

It is absolute chaos – in a really fun way. All is fine and dandy in the first few minutes of flat water. It’s a bit like kayak polo where everyone is chasing after the pumpkins bobbing along in the river. Kayakers have their skirts off and are frantically stuffing pumpkins into their boats. If all goes well, you manage to pull your skirt over your pumpkins before heading through the Falls rapid.

If it doesn’t go according to plan, you end up with a swamped boat and shortly after that pumpkins and people are swimming down the river. Now you are frantically trying to catch your stray pumpkins and get them back into your kayak, which is full of water…

Tim definitely mastered the activity and filled his boat to the max. Between the three of us we managed to collect 33 pumpkins!

Once everyone ends up at the bottom of the river and gets their pumpkin hauls organized, there is the prize giveaway… NOC generously provides over $400 in prizes (as well as the pumpkins). The darn Canadians were pretty successful and came away with a new Watershed Drybag, a long awaited Foamy Boater and a glow in the dark nalgene (doesn’t everyone have one of those?).

We definitely recommend this as a family friendly event. It was cool and pouring rain all day today and yet still so much fun. Kids were in and out of the water all afternoon – like anything, just dress for the occasion and get outside and have fun!