Island Creek has been described as "the Gem of the Cumberlands". It is certainly one of the most scenic and continuous runs on the Cumberland Plateau.
Over the last few years, we have made a concerted effort to remove the many strainers that had made the river almost unboatable. We have done this in the most unobtrusive way leaving the river aesthetics intact. However, please use utmost caution!!! Due to pine beetle and ice damage, there are numerous trees both upstream of the put-in and along the run that are awaiting their turn to become a strainer. Therefore, be very alert just after high water. There are a few logs in the creek but they are not in bad spots and no portages are required. Over the last several years downed trees have been cut up near the end of the run where the last island is located down to the confluence with the Emory. The rapids in this lower part of the creek have historically accumulated wood. Please use caution to look for any cut-up wood or newly downed wood that might create a safety issue.
Access for the put-in on this lower reach of Island Creek is on Catoosa Road going southeast from the game check station. While the area is controlled by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the 3/4 mile stretch of Catoosa Road to the low-water bridge put-in at Island Creek has traditionally been open to traffic during managed hunts. The regional TWRA manager for the area has said that the road would remain open to boaters accessing Island Creek during managed hunts. The area is closed during a deer hunt on December 4-7, 2015. The Non-quota Turkey Hunt Handout shows that Feb 1 thru March 27, 2015 is a wildlife rest period and access to the WMA is closed to all users and no vehicle access is allowed. April 10-12, 14-16, 18-19 (Young Sportsman Hunt), 21-23, 24-26, 28-30, and May 1-3, 2015 are turkey hunts. During hunting days, the Catoosa WMA access is restricted to all but hunters. There are usually signs posted during hunts and rest periods alerting you that the area and roads are closed to access. There may be a sign at the intersection warning you that the area is open only to Big Game Hunters. Traditionally, the signs have only restricted the Catoosa Road leading west of the game check station. There should only be "STOP" signs on the righthand road leading west up Island Creek towards the Daddy's Creek takeout at Devil's Breakfast Table. If you are uncertain, check at the Obed Wild and Scenic office in Wartburg or with TWRA. TWRA has fined boaters in the past for illegal access and parking at river accesses in the WMA such as the Devil's Breakfast Table parking area during restricted times. The fine has been as much as $142 per person. TWRA Contact: Jim Lane (931)456-2479. Please provide comments on any access issues you find.
The first quarter to half mile is fairly tame just stay to the river left at the islands to avoid any strainers. Work your way immediately back to the left to get back to the left side of the island. Avoid the right side of the small island as it leads into a rocky blockage. If you end up there exit the far right. The left side of this blockage is not advised as it has a 90 degree right turn that has an undercut in it. The action picks up in the next 3/4 mile with several rapids with small ledges. At about 1 1/2 miles, you will reach a horizon line as the river makes a left turn with a rock wall on the river right. This is the most difficult rapid "Compound Fracture". You can scout on the island above where the river constricts to form the rapid. If you do not feel confident, this is a good one to walk! The best portage is on the river right along the old railroad bed on the rock wall. Some of the rocks in this rapid are from the creation and demise of the old narrow-gauge railroad on river right and are jagged and spaced to thwart a clean line. Also be aware of the potential undercut at the bottom on river left; although I have never seen anyone get in trouble there. The usual run is down the right center angling right. Several fun rapids are below including "The Slide" and "Rockhouse". "Rockhouse" has one of the neatest surfing experiences in the super large undercut on river left in the semi-dark. There is a new obstacle at the bottom of Rockhouse rapid. A large rectangular block stone on the river right side at the bottom creates a pinning potential. The top of the stone is near the water level so look for the telltale wave. If the water is high enough stay left. If not, your going to have to squeeze between the pinning block and the large boulder sticking out of the water blocking the right side.
Near the end of the run there is a large pool with an old RR bridge pier just above an island. Either side of the island can be run depending on wood that collects here. This rapid has been changing. I recommend running the left side of the island at lower levels. Near the bottom of the left-side rapid you must cut back right quickly to avoid being pushed into an undercut rock near the left bank. The right side is open at higher levels. The right side of the island has a shallow entrance and less water than the left side but is a fun rapid with a nice boof/slide drop. Both sides of this island are historically very bad debris traps and more wood will collect from all the dead wood from pine beetles and weather damage. The stretch from the last island down to the confluence with the Emory was cleared of strainers from 2007-2010 but boaters will need to pay attention for years looking for loose wood and new wood that can cause strainers. The cut-up logs will push on to the Emory after a big rain but watch for logs particulary in the last stretch of Island Creek.
For more information please click on the link below:
Here's how to read the Put-In Gauge.
Ran Island today at 0.4. I would say this is a reasonable minimum, or perhaps unreasonable if you aren't keen on ELF boating. Most rapids are runnable without excessive rock bashing BUT there's a log in the first steep drop of Compound Fracture. The log is diagonal across the channel, extending downstream from the rock to the right of the channel, and crossing the hole at the bottom. Completely invisible from above--very glad that we scouted. The other bad places at low water were the entrance to the Cave (stupid bony), and the last stretch toward the confluence with Clear where the flow splits around an island and then goes past the pilons (brushy).
Learning from locals about this run, what I've heard so far: 0.4 is minimum, 2.0 is max (largely because other things are running when it gets this high), big water chops are required from 1.0 to 2.0. First time runs usually done at under 1 foot. Lots of slides makes for lots of holes.
The level today was 0.85 on the first lap and not much lower on the second lap less than an hour later. This felt like a good medium-low level where the run felt like a creek but was scrapey in only a few places. A sizable rain event came through four days earlier that dropped 1.6" at the Crab Orchard rain gage and got Daddy's creek up to 4500 cfs. Today, there was 0.8" at Crab Orchard and an even 1" at the Wartburg rain gage. The rain stopped around noon and our first lap was around 5:30pm. As we neared the put-in, we picked up some boaters that were hitch-hiking back up to their car at teh put-in. They said that the level was just under a foot on when they put on so I assume it was on its way down when we started our first lap.
Here's a link to a really cool headcam video of the first three-quarters of this run.
Compound Fracture starts at 7:40 and ends at about 8:00. The paddler takes the left line at the main drop of Compound Fracture which is a very runnable line and in my opinion the easier line. However, you'll need around 0.8ft or more of water on the bridge gauge. http://www.vimeo.com/11470518
I finally got to experience Island with some real water in it (1.35'), today 3/25/09. All of my previous runs had been low (0.4'-0.6'). Two people put-on about an hour before we did and reported 1.7'. They saw 1.8' before they set shuttle.
Now for the correlation with the Crab Orchard rain gauge. It has been a pretty good spring in ETN. There had been several good soakings that got many plateau runs running, some at high levels. But there had been two weeks with little to no rain before we put on Island today. Three quarters of an inch had fallen throughout the day yesterday, and then another 3/4 of an inch fell between 4 and 8 am this morning. The 1.8' reading was roughly 4 pm and the we put on at about 6 pm.
The Crab Orchard Rain gauge: http://tinyurl.com/knkot7
I'm hoping to figure out a correlation between the Crab Orchard rain guage and the Island Creek visual gauge at the put in. I do think that Daddy's is a good indicator, but I'm guessing that Island could be peaking when the Daddy's gauge begins to shoot upward. Also, I think that this rain gauge could be useful when there's been rain on the plateau and you need to spring into action before the Daddy's gauge updates.
Slimerboy reported 0.3' (low but runnable) on Island on 3-20-08. There had been just over an inch of rain 12-18 hours earlier. It had been a relatively wet spring on the Plateau and many of the common runs had been running pretty frequently.
I made a virtual gauge for this run.
It can be found here:
Island Creek at Nemo
Ran this at 2 ft on the putin guage on 2/22/03. It is definatly a lot more pushy than at 1 ft. The holes are much bigger, and more sticky. There were no strainers that required portaging on our run. However, scouting Compound Fracture required several trips across flowing knee deep water. It is definatly a good level for the creek, but is pushy, and upgrades most of the rapids a step. Still nothing over IV+ in my opinion, but be sure to scout if you have only ran it 1-1.5 feet. There are several blind turns that lead to surprisingly strong holes, of which each member of our party spent at least a little time in. Who says the Blunt isn't a playboat, you should have seem my linked cartwheels!
The gauge on the downstream center pier of the bridge is marked in tenths of feet. This gauge is equivalent to the old historical gauge that faded over the years. Minimum is ~.2' and Optimum .8'. Gets pushy with large ledge holes above 1.5'. Drops very quickly after a rain. Usually must run within one day after a big rain. Need a recent heavy rain and a minimum of around 5,500 cfs on Obed and ~1,600 cfs on Daddy's Creek. Best gauge for comparison is the Daddys Creek gauge.
Island Gauge Daddys Gauge
0.0' 1400 cfs
0.2' 1650 cfs
0.4' 2000 cfs
0.5' 2200 cfs
0.6 2300 cfs
0.8' 2700 cfs
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Island Creek Gauge
Compound Fracture High Water
Landslide high water
Rock slide at Cave rapid
Rock House Slide
Looking upstream at Compound Fracture
Entering the cave
cave looking up at slide
Chillin in the cave
Laura on the slide
bad line #3
bad line #2
bad line #1
Island at its busiest
center line ledge drop
Compound Fracture Swim
Mike L. running left line 1st ledge
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