Tag Archives: kayaking

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!

Paddling the “Yough” or Youghiogheny River system

We spent 4 days hanging out around the Youghiogheny River basin in early September and had a great time exploring the area. It was definitely too short of a visit and we’ll need to come again to really explore all that the Laurel Highlands area provides (paddling, biking, hiking etc.).

The Youghiogheny River has four different sections – the TOP, the UPPER, the MIDDLE and the LOWER (which has a subsection called the FALLS which is within the LOOP). The TOP and UPPER are located in Maryland and the MIDDLE and LOWER are in Pennsylvania. The two sections in Virginia are class IV+, the MIDDLE is class II and the LOWER is a class II/III run (excluding the falls, which would count at III+).

We paddled the UPPER section on our first day – nothing like jumping right back into class IV creeking after being in play boats for three months! Everyone wore their full face helmets and elbow pads and we were pretty glad to have them. Lots of rocks, tight slots and boofs were the general theme. Once you got in the groove it was pretty fun and certainly a beautiful river. This run is based on a dam release so be sure to check the schedule. Total paddle time was about 3 hours, with the put in being at the end of a country road with a nice park and the take out is a spacious parking lot on the edge of Friendsville, MD. There are some great food and beer stands right up the road to be sure to stick around and check them out.

One of the highlights of the weekend was hanging out with a bunch of amazing paddling kids that Hunter met through Keeners this summer. It is so great to spend time with likeminded families and have other kids to support and challenge Hunter with his kayaking.

Our second day we paddled the Lower section, which starts right below the falls in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. It is quite different from the Upper section as this is where the commercial rafting runs primarily go. It was also our first experience with having to pay a river access fee and being given a “time slot” to run the river! It definitely felt a bit overwhelming to start with.

The Falls themselves can only be run at certain water levels and unfortunately it wasn’t in the sweet spot while we were there. This run is not release dependant so you can paddle it on most days.

 

The lower section is a straight forward class 3 run full of fun slots and rock splats – definitely a play boat kind of place!

If you are pressed for time, just run the loop section of the lower run. It covers about 75% of the rapids and the take out is less than a km from the put in so it’s an easy walk – either to do another lap or back to your car.

We definitely recommend this area for paddling and outdoor families. We stayed at the Ohiopyle State Park Campground and definitely recommend it – big clean wooded sites with hiking and biking trails right there and it is half way between the put in and take out for the lower section. There are hiking and biking trails that follow the river and are very scenic.

A crazy month on the Ottawa River…


We were up at the Ottawa River for the month of August this year and it was fabulous… It all started with a trip that Hunter and I took last year when we paddled the Ottawa River for a week and he participated in the inaugural “Little Rippers” program at Ottawa Kayak School (a primer for those too young to attend Keeners). We had so much fun that Hunter declared he wanted to attend the Keeners sport development camp this summer… so off we all went!

We kicked things off with an impromptu birthday party for Hunter, pulled together by our amazing group of River Moms (thanks Kristine, Kathy & Carol!!!). There was a water balloon attack, competitive ping pong and pool, an amazing potluck smorgasbord and of course, cake, candles and singing. Hunter was thrilled to get to celebrate his 14th birthday with his river friends.

It was quite the community of families, which made things super fun. I call this the grown up version of living in a van down by the river. Definitely not a failure in life in any way – more like a huge success; all these amazing families that spend their time living outdoors with their kids while still making a living.

We managed to get one day on the river paddling together before we had to get Hunter all packed up to go to OKS Keeners Camp. We got all of his boat outfitting figured out, pulled together his new gear from our partners at Jackson Kayak, Salus Marine and Level Six, and managed to shove it all into one small duffel bag to cover him for three weeks.

Normal late summer flows on the Ottawa River are between 1 and -2, with the sweet spot being between 0 and -1 for features like babyface and garburator to be in. Over the course of the month that we were around the Ottawa, it only hit those lower levels for a few days. Almost the whole summer has been unseasonably high, with levels in the teens in late June and people surfing Buseater into late June / early July.

Shaggy Designs has an online gauge  which became super handy as we woke up each morning and checked the gauge before making any plans. Once on the river we would also paddle by the physical gauge after McCoys to see if anything had changed. We would often see 1-2 foot swings while on the river with one day having a 4 foot drop within an hour. The blue line above is 2017, the red is 2016 and the orange is 2015. This really shows how wacky the water was from “normal” flows. Lots of speculation on why but no definitive answers…

With higher water levels we spent most of our time on the middle channel exploring new (to us) rapids and playing with the Walker family. It was fun to be a part of helping another family stretch their paddling muscles and really exciting to see the progress being made over our two weeks together. Tim’s new rack system for the truck worked out super well and left us feeling pretty pleased about having a shuttle vehicle.

Keener Camp is a kayak leadership camp, with equal emphasis on whitewater kayak skills and personal leadership skills. The kids live in houses together and are responsible for cooking their own breakfasts, dishes, and cleaning. They are also monitored to ensure they have a shower at least once a week as they are teenagers… The kayaking focus is all about progression. They figure out where you are and then gently support you through learning new skills and challenging yourself every day. Hunter loved it and is already talking about going back again next year. His description was that he learned to be a better kayaker and a better person…

Left to our own devices we managed to get out and kayak almost every day as well as go on some adventures. Our first woods walk was really buggy and we regretted forgetting the bugspray. For our second walk we thought about the bugs and put on long sleeves and long pants but yet again forgot the bugspray, which turned a 2 hour wander through the woods into a true effort of perseverance. At about 45 minutes in we decided to continue to push forward, having no idea where we were, purely because we didn’t want to turn around and walk back through the ravenous bugs we had just made it through! There are lots of walking, hiking and biking trails in the area to help fill your time off the water.

One Friday evening we all headed out to the Corner Wave Classic event (like a hometown throw down competition). Transportation is always a fun challenge. With the main event being spectating and the secondary event being fishing, we managed to get 8 boats, 8 people, coolers and fishing gear on and in the suburban. It was a super fun night out with friends, treats and a campfire. Pretty impressive when the local friday night competition has Dane Jackson, Nick Troutman, Clay Wright, Bren Orton, Emily Jackson and Claire O’hara in it!

The Ottawa Valley runs right along the Ottawa River and has strong french influences from Quebec, which is just on the other side of the river. One of the must-haves when in the valley is Poutine, and you need to get it from Tammy’s Taters chip truck in Renfrew (in the Walmart/Canadian Tire parking lot). YUMMY…

While the Ottawa River has some amazing rapids, it also has big chunks of flat water. The warm water makes this a great time to practice all of your flat water skills and generally goof around with friends!

Tim had a small mis-hap on the river (accidental paddle to the head from a kid) so we went to check out the Renfrew ER and then wallow in ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen, because it makes everything better!

Being a teenager, we really didn’t hear much from Hunter unless he needed something (laptop, go pro, blanket, money etc.). It was nice being just down the road and able to drop things off as well as get glimpses of him on the river.

Our time on the river ended with one last family day after Hunter finished camp. It was pretty great to see all the new skills he learned and how his confidence has increased. One Lower No Name, one of the last rapids on the middle channel, he snagged a 5 minute surf while everyone else was coming down the river around him. Tim sat at the bottom of the river and said “that’s my boy” full of fatherly pride, which is priceless.

We definitely recommend the Ottawa River as a kayaking destination for families. We stayed at River Run Resort in their new RV sites and it was super handy being at the take out, just a short distance from the river. Lots of places to play for kids as well as washrooms, showers and internet.