Several of us paddled the Coosawattee this past Sunday (Dec 14, 2008). Joe Cook, David Robinson, Vincent Payne were in solo canoes while Doc Stephens was in a rec yak, Karla Vinnacombe, Kelly Harbac and myself were in ww boats. Since the inception of Paddle Georgia (http://garivernetwork.wordpress.com/ - has a few photos of the river), the Georgia Canoeing Association has supported the Paddle GA by setting up safety on the more difficult rapids. This run will be the first day of Paddle Georgia and wanted to scout the rapids so as set up safety for Paddle Georgia. The temps were a very chilly, overcast 38 degrees. The temps would never get above 46 the entire day. We put on the river around 10:40.
The Coosawattee is a 13 mile run and is rated class I-II. Depending on the lake levels, 9-10 miles of the river is whitewater while the last 3-4 miles is lake paddling until you get to the first take out on Carter’s Lake. Only Doc and Joe had run the river in October and at that time the river was running just below 1’. The Coosawattee gauge on AW was at 1.6’ so we figured we’d have good water to explore the river.
The river starts slow with only occasional class I shoals. I was expecting more of a wilderness experience, but there were lots of houses along the river. The closer we got to the lake the less we saw of houses. Also, the closer we got to the lake the more numerous the rapids got with a few solid class II rapids. We had GPSs with us and we noticed that after mile 4 the rapids really started to pick up.
The first significant rapids started around mile 5. One rapid around mile 5 stands out in my mind because it was a slightly tricky ledge. At this ledge, there was a scrappy, bumpy slide on river left and middle right was a twisty, S-turn type rapid. You entered into a chute going left and cut hard left to right. It required quick maneuvering skills, but there wasn’t any horrible consequences and at the bottom was a nice pool for recovery. At lower water levels, the river left slide might not have been doable.
After that there were a few more straightforward rapids and ledges. Around mile 8, Mountaintown Creek entered on river right. I’d paddled this river before. It’s a fun river, but I think the Coosawattee had a few more class II rapids on it.
The rapids really started to pick up below Mountaintown Creek. There was on series of a couple of class II type ledges. Most of the ledges required good river reading skills and you sort of had to pick your way around. Most chutes were either on the far river left or far river right and occasionally there were strainers that you had to watch for, but you could see them from upstream. At this water level, most ledges had more than one line to choose from.
The last significant rapid is around mile 9. It’s a cool ledge with both far right and far left lines to choose from. I think the far left line had the most water. The remainder of the river was class I shoals and then at approximately mile 10 we hit the calm waters of Carter’s Lake.
The remaining three miles was lake paddling, but it only took us about an hour. We had to make sure we followed the right bank otherwise you could be deceived and go the wrong way. The Ridgeway Boat Ramp take out is at the first slough on the right. You don’t want to miss it or you’ll be paddling another 4 miles to the next take out. We knew we were on the right track when we saw the sign on a point saying “Slow” with several buoys lining the shoreline. Around the corner was the boat ramp. We got off the river/lake around 4:15. It took us about 5 ½ hours to make the paddle. We did stop once for a few minutes for lunch, and once to rescue a swimmer, but other then that we didn’t piddle or play around much so you can expect a long day.
The other thing to note is that there are very few places to stop to either take a nature call or eat lunch. The further you go down the river the fewer houses you see. There are no houses once you get to the lake.
Joe and Doc said that when they paddled the river at 1’ that there weren’t as many lines to chose from, but most rapids were runnable and that the line was pretty apparent.
All and all it was a great adventure, but I wish it had been about 5 degrees warmer and sunny. The river is really unique and the rapids are really a lot of fun. I guess the 3 mile lake paddle has kept many whitewater boaters from trying the river out. I will paddle the river again, but maybe when it isn’t so cold.
I recently read an interview with James Dickey where he comments on an encounter with two locals while canoeing this river before the dam. They confronted Dickey and his paddling partner in the late 60's with a shotgun, asking why they were snooping around. Dickey felt that they were protecting a moonshine operation in the vicinity, so they did the intelligent thing and got back in their canoe to continue the run, a bit shaken by the experience - which obviously made a lasting impression on him.
I've subsequently seen old photos of several rapids in this stretch - one a large Class V waterfall - all submerged today beneath the lake. The Coosawattee became the Cahoolawassee and the rest is history. The dam construction scene in the movie is from the bulldozing work going on then as Lake Jocassee was being built in S.C.
Other points of movie trivia: a friend of my dad's was a social worker in Rabun Co. during the movie and said the guy who plays the Banjo Player got $10k for his role (he couldn't really play), bought a Camaro, and totalled it within a month. Also, my Ex's older brother worked for Ga. Outdoors at the time, which supplied paddling gear for the crew. He said Burt Reynolds would hit the ground for push-ups prior to his scenes to look as buff as possible. Funny.
9 years ago
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