Conasauga section one Description.
The headwaters of the Conasauga are formed high in the western side of the Cohutta wilderness, in north Georgia. Popular Springs Branch, Cowpen Creek, and Birch Creek, come together and here starts the highest boatable section on the Conasauga. Shortly after these three come together the river gets additional flow from Potatopatch creek and Chestnut creek bother coming in on river left. The tributaries mentioned here are too small and wood choked to realistically be paddled. But as they all come together they give the Conasauga enough push to move most of the wood in it out of the way.
When considering running this river keep in mind that the easiest and traditional take out is no less than 15 miles down stream. So as when running Jack's river, also in the Cohuttas, shuttle should be set the day before. But the length of both of these runs makes them ideal for a legitimate overnight run. This run passes by Bray Field which is a popular place to camp and there are plenty of other sites as well. A rarity, in the southeast!
The put in: Ideally you'll have to hike about a mile and a half from one of two spots. One could park at Betty Gap and hike down the Conasauga river trail to where the three creeks confluence and start from there. The more ideal put in, in my opinion is to park at Chestnut lead trailhead and hike down to the river. From here you can hike up to the confluence or just start down stream from this point where Chestnut lead intersects with the Conasauga river trail. I do not suggest the Betty Gap location due to how the trail in many cases is hiking down the stream bed. Given that the stream bed will have more water in it than normal you would already be assuming more risk to you, your crew and equipment before ever arriving to the river. Important note. The gate that gives access to both of these trail heads is locked from January 1st through March 1st. This does not mean you cannot do this run it just means you have to walk a little further. Another reason to set shuttle the night before.
This is definetly a wilderness run and is remote. If something happens in here and you need medical attention or extraction it will be difficult, but not impossible. If you find trouble early on within the first couple of miles. Hike back to the cars. If you are committed beyond this point your next best option will be Hickory Lead where you will be met with a mile and a half hike out. This is the upper, upper put in. If you pass this point your next option will be Chicken Coop Gap and beyond this the normal takeout. An asset to note is that the Conasauga River trail runs along the entire run and provides easy walking for portaging and scouting.
The river itself starts out fairly small but what it lacks in size it makes up for with consistent action and a true alone feeling. The first mile there are two bigger rapids but these are in the midst of an already continuous section. The hike in will have warmed you so you'll be chomping at the bit to get moving. This headwaters section of the run is similar to sections down stream, really nice bedrock rapids, along with some small boulder gardens to navigate. There is nothing scary on this run and everything is scoutable either from your boat or just a quick hope out and look. The wood situation on this run in early 2012 was two mandatory portages due to wood and a couple of other spots that you could squeeze through or under.
The only time this has been run to anyone's knowledge, the water level was a good medium to low flow. It could have been lower and we still could have made it down and it could have been higher and that would have been fine too. Realistically a good first time level. The only indicator is to have your fingers on the pulse of the Cohuttas. Know how much rain is falling, know how long it takes the water to arrive in the river, know how saturated the watershed is, etc. As far as visuals are concerned once you arrive at the put in via Chestnut lead trail, you'll want the upstream side of the rootball of the tree directly across from you to be under water or close to it. Also there is a small pyramid looking rock in the middle of the river you will want this rock to be under water with ideally threeish inches of water flowing over top of it. This is a good first time level. More than this and you'll be in for an exciting day, less than this and the first mile will be a little bony.
Russell Hobby 8-20-2013
This rapid is upstream of the put-in approx 200 yards. Ferry across to river right at the put in and walk upstream for this 3 tier rapid.
This one is about 100 yards below the put-in. There is a trail on river right for scouting. It is a tight line through the boulders.
This is the typical scene and what to expect between the larger significant rapids.
This rapid has two lines far left & a center line. The far left had a huge tree in it. The center line drops about 8 feet and the runout has a decap/undercut rock that you will bounce off of.
This was an S-Turn type of rapid that is the located at the big Log Jam. You have to paddle right up to the Log Jam in the center, then go Left to enter the S-turn. The huge rock in picture is the last part of the "S". Right after this, is a series of ledges & a boulder garden mixed in. Portage on River Left right as soon as you see the Big Log Jam. River right is walled out. At higher water this rapid would be a strainer city & hard to avoid.
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Big Tree strainer at S-Turn
Big Tree Strainer/ Log Jam at S-turn
Big Tree Strainer/ Log Jam at S-Turn
Typical scene on this run
Below Log Jam
Log jam pile up
Last Rapid, S-turn Rapid into Boulder garden
The Put-in Trail head
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