Photo of Fran Fitzpatrick, courtesy of Julie Keller (www.JulieKeller.com).
Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Tennessee, B. Sehlinger and
This is a strange run, with lots of flatwater punctuated by extremely dangerous rapids. Many paddlers had fun on this run--and said they wouldn't be back. See the Comments tab for their testimony.
Andy Bridge, Wig, Keith Clark and myself did it back in the late 90's and the rapids had names back then. We just used the names it had back then, they have been renamed again?
Now Kirk, technically Tom and I did the entire run before y'all yesterday and ran everything except Fat Man's; so doesn't that mean WE get to re-name all the rapids? =) I can't believe you think it's un-classic, the flatwater and tires in the river were awesome!
We did it today at 1200, a good minimum level, at least with today's conditions. Here is the deal:
This run sucks. Its worth doing once, mostly so you can say you will never have to do it again. There is nice class 2+ for the first few miles and a 6 foot ledge. Then it gets real pretty and drops into the first of 2 serious gorges. This one is 1/3 of a mile long, with 4 distinct rapids. First is a nasty double drop, then a cool right to left slot, then a drop alot like the first part of fantasy flight on big south in colorado, then what we called "baby jesus" due to its similarities to Coming home on the meadow. after another 1/2 mile of class 2, its gotta be 6 miles of flatwater before the next thing of interest. lots of roads and rednecks at the river and the scenery is sub par. Then a mile after Little Indian Creek comes in on the left, you hit the second gorge, which is scarier and more dangerous than the first. There are spots in here where a mistake means certain death. Horrible undercuts. However by this point you are so glad to see anything that you will be excited to run it. Class 5 for sure. El Horrendo is first, and has a horrible undercut on the right with 40% going in. This WILL kill you. Then the second move is a tight slot center left with many sieves and a siphon that we threw a log in. Then is afterbirth, which is not too bad. Small mirror version of climax on Russell Fork into a slot that is the tightest that could be run. Don't slice your neck on the sharp undercut on river left and don't go under it for that matter. Then a nice 1/2 mile stretch of class 2 to 3- boulder stretches and you hit Hurricane, then the rest is a little better with better scenery again and then surf city, then fat man's which currently is sketch. The middle is the definition of Sieve. Then the 6 foot drop where you lose water and then the takeout.
As far as the talk of losing tons of water to caves and then getting it back, we really didn't experience much of this. The level remained the same untill surf city where we gained 200 cfs for about a mile. Otherwise our level was roughly 200 cfs, which is minimum. The reading on the usgs gauge was roughly 1200 cfs. Look for 1500.
Watch out. At higher water the 2 class 5 gorges are definitely 5+ and of most serious nature. They are rapids that make Linville and the lower meadow seem less scary.
So there you have it, the ultra unclassic East Fork of the Obey. Glad we did it, but gosh. 2 dangerous class 5 sets, and about 5 class 3 rapids. The rest is either flatwater or class 1 to 2-.
It was an adventure though.
"Its the most exciting run I'll never do again." -Tony Robinson
Ran it yesterday (9/18/04) with a group of nine; 5 open boats, 3 kayaks and an inflatable. Rocky Garrett led. We put on at about 11 am with the level at 2,600 cfs. The day was beautiful and sunny, the water warm compliments of Ivan. Overall gradient is a bit over 40 fpm with some sections at 130. The run is almost 14 miles. The shuttle is easy. Put in at Cliff Springs Road right off TN 164 about 5 miles north of Monterey. The take out is on TN 85. Go n on 164 to 85, go right and drive to the bridge over the river.
There are several miles of flat water easing up to class III and then a gorge with a class V drop through a congested boulder field. We walked the first pitch of this drop (I don't know its name), scouted several more times and completed the rapid with a seal launch. Someone in the group said: "this is as hard as anything on the Russell Fork", to which there was general agreement.
Then comes a loonnnnng ( maybe 6 miles) class I and II section, split by the intermediate putin/takeout point, where 2 of our number left us because Ben broke his boat in the big drop above.
At the end of this flat section comes El Horrendo which we all portaged river left. The portage is more then 100 yards through the woods and on an old logging road and then down a steep hill. to put in below the rapid. I am told that it has been run but mostly walked by even excellent boaters. It is a long, steep drop, congested with a bad sieve at the bottom.
Next rapid, coming quickly is Afterbirth, also steep and congested with a serious undercut at the bottom left. On this one we ran the top, made several ferries and lifted over the bottom pitch.
Following Afterbirth is a nice mile or so of fun read and run, somemore flat flat water and then Surf City. I am not much of a play boater but this has got to be one of the finest play hole/waves anywhere. It is big and fluffy, is attainable on either side and has no danger factor. If the East Fork were not such a challenge this would be a destination play spot. Even though we were exhausted, we all took some turns at it.
The last significant rapid is Fat Man's Squeeze, which (surprise) is a big blind, congested rapid full of huge boulders.
Another mile of very nice II and III read and run brought us to the takeout which we reached about 6:30 pm. All together, we portaged 3 (in some cases 4) times, scouted maybe 8 or 10 times, carried around river wide wood twice. Rocky's leadership was impecable; safe and knowledgable. This is his home river. We had no misahps but scrapes and cuts from the rocks and trees.
I had an excellent time but was exahusted at the end. The big drops were very challenging for me. Nevertheless, I won't recomend it except to those who want an expedition type day. Here is why. Intermediate boaters cannot mess with the hard stuff; it is just too dangerous and the portages would be horrible. Class V boaters will probably be impatient with the miles of flat water. (I have more tolerance for the flat water than most.) Another factor is that it is unusual to catch the East Fork in nice weather. In March, with shorter days, this could be a long cold paddle.
I liked it but unless you want this kind of challenge it may not be your cup of tea. There is also on the East Fork the interesting issue of syphons; places where a significant portion of the river dissapears underground. I did not see this as so much a danger issue (although at one point it did appear that the syphon was in an undercut) as a water availablity issue. Apparantly at low water you can lose the water and end up gorilla walking your boat. We had high water so it was not an issue but it means you may either have high water for these bigger drops or are losing your stream.
Very nice ,strange run.we arrived late in the afternoon and put-in about half way down the run by hiking into the canyon just below the Indian Creek confluence on the west side of the canyon. There was a moderate amount of water at our put-in, est.200 cfs which held to below the first short boulder clogged gorge.below this gorge water fell out of creek bed into underground caverns by pouring down several siphons.This reduced flow to about 40 cfs. after a spell of wheelchairing, and boat dragging, water came back into the creek though several cliff bases bumping it up to a higher level than before maybe 350-400 cfs. pretty good class 3 section for a couple of miles with one section of good fluffy low angle play holes this ends up at river wide 5 to 6 ft. ledge into a big pool,water goes under ground again at this pool leaving steam very low again. there is another extremely boulder clogged section below this that was very cool with mulitiple low volume slots mazing through gaint boulders.we scaped on down to the 85 bridge .Big Laurel Creek comes in on the left just above the bridge depositing massive amouts of orange gunk in this pristine steam complely killing all moss and life in the Obey and staining all the rocks a rusty orange.Very nice area and intersting runs can't wait to go back and run the whole thing at a good water level.
we ran it at 560 on the Jamestown Gauge this is too low, this gauge is several big tribs downstream and is likely twice to three times the water that is in this upper section.I am guessing that 800 to 1500 would be a good medium level. any more input on levels would good.
3000 is going to be very intense and the big rapids will not be pretty. 1000 will be painfully low. 1800 to 2000 would be nice
Permits are not required for this reach.
Chris Kelly shared:
The shuttle is easy. Put in at Cliff Springs Road right off TN 164 about 5 miles North of Monterey. The take out is on TN 85. Go N on 164 to 85, go right and drive to the bridge over the river.
El Horrendo, bottom drop
First gorge, second drop
First gorge, top drop
Looking downstream from Fat Man's Squeeze
Now THAT"S a sieve
Tony scouting Fat Man's Squeeze
Alex Zendel keeping the bow up
Scenery and whitewater
Close up of second drop of afterbirth
Tony on afterbirth
looking down the gut at Afterbirth
El horrendo from the bottom
Looking into el horrendo
Getting out to scout gorge #2
a fun slot
Top of first gorge
East Fork Obey
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!