Pigeon, Tennessee, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III+ (for normal flows)|
|PIGEON R BL POWER PLANT NR WATERVILLE, NC|
|usgs-03460795||300 - 4500 cfs||II-III+||01h12m||2090 cfs (running)|
The Pigeon was for many years so polluted that is was biologically dead. The river ran a coffee brown for most of the 20th century, containing toxic chemicals such as dioxins, furan, and chloroform -- all from the Champion paper mill in nearby Canton. As noted by Joyce Coombs "the Pigeon River was once so polluted that North Carolina classified the best use of its waters to be for waste disposal." In the early 1990's the trend was reversed. The modernization of methods used at the paper mill led to significant reduction in the use and discharge of toxic chemicals. According to "a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services ... dioxin concentrations in fish samples taken from the river have decreased 99 percent since 1990." - Smoky Mountain News Jan. 31 2007. In the late 1990's snails and common mussels were reintroduced to the river - the river was again alive! Since 2000 more than 20 species of fish have been re-introduced to the river.
Rafters, kayakers and canoeists also returned to the river. This five mile run offers a number of big water Class 3 - 3+ rapids, Powerhouse, Roller Coaster, Lost Guide, Double Reactionary and Accelerator. The river has a number of popular playspots, in the first mile of the river, Snap Dragon, Lost Guide, below Double Reactionary. Although the I-40 flanks the run on river right, you are paddling through a scenic gorge that on the eastern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Pigeon tends to be quite busy on scheduled released days, especially Saturdays. The release schedules are as follows:
*Memorial Day - Labor Day *Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 12:00pm - 6:00pm
Walter's Power Plant also releases during the winter and spring occasionally. . The number for Pigeon information is 1*800*899*4435. After Labor Day, the recording at this number is seldom, if ever, updated.The good news going forward is that if you go here https://lakes.duke-energy.com/index.html?_ga=1.186907947.209325095.1487718327#/flow and use the dropdown menu to change Catawba - Wateree to Pigeon you will get a rolling 3 day forecast of generation / releases. As of late Feb 2017 this was functional. The water is on from "noon" to 6 pm, but the measuring point is the USGS gauge 3/4 mile downstream, so the water is on by 11:30 am. All the rafting companies have known this for years and at 11:20 am there is a line of busses waiting to unload passengers and rafts.
Cocke county constable "Mac' McRee a long time friend of boaters retired in May of 2015. Some new guys are there but no major changes. You still sign in so that there is an annual head count. The more river users, the more days of releases - so sign in. There is no charge.
The "normal' release on scheduled release days is two turbines (@ ~ 625 cfs each) plus some inflow from Big Creek and the creeks feeding the dries. So on a typical summer release Saturday, you will get 1250 cfs + maybe 60 - 100 from the creeks or around 1350 cfs. Occasionally you will get a 3 turbine release and sometimes the inflow from the creeks is a little higher. The descriptions that I have written are for a 2 turbine release with ~ 100 cfs inflow, but work well from 1000 cfs to 1600 cfs.
The parking situation at the put-in changed in spring of 2015. About 40% of the private boater parking spots were redesignated for commercial vehicles (e.g. rafting busses). So far it hasn't caused major problems. Part of the solution can be increased carpooling and / or parking at the takeouts and catching a ride to the put-in with the rafting busses.
Parking at the takeout(s) and Shuttles
Near the first bridge that you come to in Hartford, just upstream from USA Raft, there is a large grassy field with a gravel bus path through it. This land is leased by Cocke county and you can park there. There is plenty of room for the usual number of private boaters and a few of the spots are shaded. Ultimatley the county plans to add picnic tables, changing room and a couple porta-potties. You can also park at nearby USA raft (even in the shady spots) for $5 and you can then use their changing rooms & showers. You can ride USA Raft busses for free, waiver form is preferred. If you go further downriver, you can park at NOC ; park near the slalom poles. NOC has changing rooms and you can ride the raft buses for free (must sign a waiver). NOC gets very busy during July and August and parking gets tight. spaces will go to their customers first. If you take out at NOC, you must use the upper ramp; the lower ramp is reserved for their rafting guests. That means if you go surf the "NOC wave", you must get out on the island, walk upstream, then put back in and ferry to the upper ramp. You can also park at Wildwater - in the grassy area behind the "moonshine still" building, it's free. You can also use the Wildwater busses for free, waiver preferred; and you can use their changing rooms. The Wildwater buses run at 11:00 am, 12 noon, 1:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 3:15 pm, and 4:15 pm. All of the free bus rides are space available - but fortunately it usually is. With the lost parking spaces, the parking / unloading at the put-in is very tight on Saturdays and holidays so try to leave most of your vehicles at the takeouts. Charlie Williams runs a shuttle service and as of this writing charges $10 for a ride from the takeout to the put-in. His phone # is 423-608-0582. When he is not actually shuttling someone he is usually hanging around the Cocke County takeout in a pickup with a flashing light.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.5||Full of Water||II+|
The rapid starts just below the put in. At the start it is a wide rapid that offers lines to the left, middle and a shallow bumpy run on the right. The first half of the rapid consists of a series of shallow ledge drops. As you pass a point where there are boulders on the left and right banks, the river narrows a little and the gradient picks up. From there the center line becomes much more challenging, with big irregular wave and holes. The more conservative line is to the far right about 15 feet off the right bank. On the left you can work down the left side by eddy hopping; good eddy turn and water reading skills are needed for the left lines.
Below the pool is a house sized rock -BFR. Big "Friendly" rock, although there is another opinion as to what the "F" stands for. You can run either to its left or right. Behind the rock is a large eddy. It's not much of a rapid, but has a significant visual impact.
Broken ledge below BFR . The right side is a wave/hole that would get an old bucket boat raft "full of water". The left side of the flow is more of a green water tongue.
There is a flat faced "mother" rock attached to the left bank with a smaller shark fin (razor) rock about 10 ft away. You can run the more exciting line between the two or take the easier line to the right of the razor rock - this means anywhere in the center of the river. Razor Rock is one of the better (arguably the best) natural play spot on the river. Great spot for enders, cartwheels, etc.
Immediately after passing under the first bridge, you will come to Vegomatic. At 2 turbines the left side doesn't have enough water, the center is the easier line and the right has a couple wave/holes. At 3 turbines the left opens and the waves on the other routes get a little bigger. There are a couple large eddies at the top of Vegomatic.
Just a class 2 standing wave rapid where the river bends to the right.
Also know as Snapdragon and Dragon Baby. There are a couple large eddies at the top on the left. There is a line that is fairly close to the left shore that goes to the left of the hole. It's easy to catch a left eddy behind one of the river left rocks from this line. Hard to describe exactly where, but further from the left shore is a punchable hole., but you have to be determined to do so . A little further right is a standing wave line, then a breaking wave hole. Fortunately, you can see the features as you approach them and a competent paddler has time to avoid the hole. I've added a photo which should help locate the hole(s). if you click on the photo, you can see notes for that photo.
After Snapdragon, the gradient decreases a bit, but there are still modest standing waves. Then the gradient picks up and the waves get larger. Most boaters just run the wave train. On the left side of the river is a "slalom" route with a couple slalom moves and an optional punchable hole or two.
There is a class 2, mostly standing wave rapid after Roller Coaster. You will know you are at the top of lost Guide when you see a rounded pyramid shaped rock by itself in the middle of the river. This rock has a small piece of vegetation growing out of its left side and at 2 turbines sticks about 4 feet out of the water. Across from this rock near river right is a rock cluster with a 6 ft high bush growing out of the left side. There is a nice eddy to gather a group at the rock cluster with the bush. The traditional line through Lost Guide on the right, staying about 15 feet off the right bank. As you pass the first drop, IMMEDIATELY cut left to the center of the river (and to the left of a spine rock that sticks around a foot out of the water and is around 20 feet long and oriented up and downstream. If you miss this move to the center of the river and wind up on the right of the spine rock, there is a bumpy "escape hatch" at the lower end of the spine rock. The rocks along the right side of the river seem to be firmly attached to the earth's crust and don't move from year to year. The rocks on the center and left are loose and get shifted around from year to year. Thus the left lines change from year to year.
As of 2014 - From your eddy at the rocks with the bush, you can see a huge boulder on river left with a slightly tilted flat side. There is an easy to read standing wave train to as far as this boulder and an eddy by the boulder from which you can plot your next move. Your choices are to peel out and head down the left; this line requires accuracy or luck. You can also peel off and angle right, finishing near the pyramind rock on river right. If you are about 8-16 feet off the left bank, you will go into a nasty hole and provide entertainment to the onlookers sitting on pyramind rock or in the eddy in their boats. Once in the eddy by pyramid rock, you can check out the wave / hole on river right for surfing opportunities.
There is a pool after Lost Guide, then a standing wave rapid called Hawaii 5-0. Long ago and far away (as in before the flood of 2004) there was a great glassy surfing wave here. Now the best feature for most boaters is catching the eddy below the boulder on the top left. From this eddy, you can catch the glassy wave at the top if you are a left side C-1 paddler or a top notch kayaker.
Following Hawaii 5-0 there is a pool and then a stretch of about 1/3 mile of more or less continuous class 2. At the end of the class 2, the river narrows, boulders appear in the middle of the river and the gradient picks up - you are at Double Reactionary. There are eddies on river left; a 10 boat eddy follwed by a 4-5 boat eddy. From the lower eddy you can see some of the rapid, including the crux move. At two turbines, the entire right half of the river is too low to run. At 3 turbines (or above 1600 cfs) some creeky lines open on the top right. Most boaters will find the creeky lines easier than the meaty lines on the left.
From the lower eddy, you can just see the hole (about 25 ft off the left bank). You can start by clipping the left side of the hole. Depending on how much of the hole you bite off and your boat angle one of several opportunities will happen. If you are angled a little right and bite off a good bit you will be steered into an eddy on the right. From this eddy you can go to the "creek line" on the right side of the river (for most folks this is the easiest options). You could also peel off back into the meat.
If you are relatively straight and took only a small bite of the edge of the hole, you will be looking at a flat horizon line (not very high) as you approach it you can see the left boundary of the desirable line which is a curly tubular wave (like a surfer in a pipeline). The sweet spot is 6-8 ft to the right of the tubular wave. Take a boof stroke as you go over the edge. Once you land you can catch an eddy on your right. the creek like brings you into the other side of the same eddy. The remainder of the rapid is easier and an easy read.
There are two commonly run lines through Accelerator. The first is about 5 ft off the left bank and you just head straight. It is a ramp with a smallish wave/hole at the bottom. The other line starts on the right-center. There is a small curler wave at the top / horizon line. You want to be on the right side of this wave (about 2-3 ft from the right edge) and angled about 30 degrees to the left. This puts you on the "Highway" and you will pass (punchable) holes on your left and right. There are shallow spots that have resulted in stitches for swimmers. The two pathways more or less converge and you get to pick your way down the rest of the standing wave with a few rocks rapid.