Stone Coalbank Creek flows off of the Cumberland Plateau into the Sequatchie Valley from the west, along with 4 or 5 other noteworthy streams between Dunlap and Whitwell, TN. These creeks are seldom run, due to their relatively out of the way location when compared to Waldens Ridge just to the east. Nevertheless, there are many great adventures waiting in this beautiful and geologically significant valley, and while not the classic action filled rollercoaster ride that many other local runs are, Stone Coalbank certainly fits into the realm of an honest and worthy adventure.
The water quality is pretty decent for the area, and the scenery is quite pleasant. The run begins on Stone Coalbank Creek and meets Kelley Creek where it forms Hicks Creek. The top is very low volume and is crunchy class 3 other than one set of drops that could essentially be the biggest and gnarliest set of runnable drops on the Cumberland Plateau.
After a very short paddle in on bedrock rapids, the megarapid is reached. At normal flows eddies can be caught after the first section, but the final chunks of gradient have little in the way of wiggle room above and below, and the consequences of every drop are severe. The first section is an impressive but difficult double ledge that sluices quickly into a sliding slot that drops 15 feet against the undercut left wall. This drop is the most palatable. Then after a brief pool the creek charges into something that would be more at home on Real Manns Creek or Elzey Run in WV, except this would be the main event on either run. The creek drives down a 12 foot sliding slot against the left wall before flying off a jumble into a big sliding drop that lands into and under a house sized boulder. Only a late drive from right to left will save you, but not before dropping 6 feet into a beefy hole. This drive is difficult, as you are entering on the left already. Problems in the hole could prove deadly, as the final drop, a 20 foot reconnecting cascade, is lurking just below with little slack in between. This cascade can only be run driving hard right, as the left and middle land on and under a giant slab of sandstone. While this description makes this section sound ugly and unappealing, the completely clean runnability of this megarapid is intriguing and tempting.
Below the megarapid, the creek wanders down bumpy class 3 rapids with dangerous trees often lurking around blind corners. This kind of heads up boating continues down to the confluence with Kelly Creek, where the flow triples and the water turns to solid class 4. While there were only 5-6 log portages as of 2009, there were countless encounters with wood, and the frequency of downed trees can significantly upgrade the intensity of this run and the cost of mistakes. It seems like a class 4 run for class 5 boaters. There are a few sizable rapids on Hicks Creek. Many have pushy blind entrances, and eddies should always be on the radar. There is at least one that is a certain portage, with a huge multi-slot sieve pile as the entrance, and then a horrible midstream boxed in hole below that looks terminal with a cave beneath. 20 more minutes below here is the takeout road, which will become visible on the right.
Stone Coalbank as stated is not a classic, but great to do once, and even maybe twice. And the paddle out on Hicks Creek is very good whitewater, continuous, with quality and distinct features. The constant threat of wood around every corner will keep the mood serious, and an early start, like with any plateau creek, is a good idea.
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This trib to Woodcock (I think) has 3 really cool big rapids and some others. I remember one double drop waterfallish thing around 20' in particular. If you've got a Gazetteer and can trespass stealthily (shuttle driver?) you'll figure out how to get in and out. I joined Tim Williams and his buds who were running it regulary.
Stone Coalbank has a small drainage, and takes around 2-3 inches of rain to get going. Look for Little Brush Creek and Woodcock Creek to also be running. The put in is on a very small stream, but it gathers many sizable tributaries along it's path to the Sequatchie Valley. The takeout should look like a solid flow, and flows at the top should not look too high.
Here are some rain gauges nearby to base level predictions on.
Dunlap Rain amazon.nws.noaa.gov/nexhads2/jsp/interactiveDisplays/createChart.jsp
Keep in mind that seasonal factors, water table conditions, recent precipitation, and karst topography can all play a role in what certain amounts of rain will do as far as whether there will be boatable flows in the creek.
To get an idea of what the water table is doing, and how much water is flowing in the area, check out these streamgauge links:
Look for these streams to have really big flows as good indication that the creeks in the area are primed and possibly running. They are very far down the watershed though, and should be treated as such.
Permits are not required for this reach.
To reach the takeout: South of Dunlap on Hwy 28, turn west onto Cartwright Loop Road. This is a loop road, so either end will work. At the apex of the loop, furthest from Hwy 28, is a road that branches into the gorge. Right here is a 2 story country store. Turn up the road into the gorge and drive around a mile, or as high up as you can, to where you can see the creek. Don't park right next to the creek if the water is rising!
To reach the put in: There are other options, such as puting in on Kelly Creek. This will describe getting to the put in on Stone Coalbank Creek above the megarapid. Drive back out to Hwy 28, and turn north, going a few miles to Bryant Road on the left. Turn left, then shortly right onto Valley Road. Daus Mountain Road will branch off up the mountain to the left. Turn left here and continue a few miles to the top of the mountain. Approximately 3.7 miles after turning onto Daus Mountain Road, an unmarked road will branch off to the left. This is Nunley Road. Turn left and proceed under a half mile to a split. From here, 4wd is required to travel the last mile to the put in, but it is all downhill and an easy hike. At the split, turn right and wind down the mountain to an old mine cut and intersection. The creek is right below here, and one place is no better than another to drop the short 50 feet down the bank to the creek.
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