Whitewater rafting experts Southeastern Expeditions agreed to take About North Georgia's publisher Randy Golden and his wife Pam on thrilling Section IV of the Chattooga River, the dramatic climax to one of the best whitewater adventures in the United States. Forming the northernmost part of Georgia's eastern border with South Carolina, the river begins as a trickle in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and ends at remote Lake Tugaloo near Tallulah Gorge. This is the story of their adventure.
My wife and I greeted the cool mountain morning with a palpable tension as we drove from our house north of Atlanta to the northeast corner of Georgia. We are about to embark on one of the last great adventures in the world today -- whitewater rafting -- along Section IV of Georgia's Wild and Scenic Chattooga River.
Seven miles east of Clayton, and about a mile west of the Chattooga River, the Southeastern Expeditions base camp sits on the south side of U. S. Highway 76. The bulk of this large wood building is barely visible from the road, but their sign leads us to the parking lot that is quickly filling. As each group arrives the excitement mounts. It is a perceptible excitement, driven by equal parts of the journey into the unknown, the awaiting beauty, and the ever-present element of danger.
Nervous laughter marks a pre-launch session that covers the essentials of rafting and simple rules to make the trip as safe as possible. Team leader Tasha Iglinski reviews such things as staying afloat if you fall out of the boat, keeping your head above water, wearing your safety gear and paying attention to the guides as you travel down this mighty river.
A journey to our put-in just below Woodall Shoals and we are off, in eight groups of four rafters and a guide. Taylor Bennett, guide for our raft, takes us through a few simple commands that will keep his adventurers working together as a team. The excitement and tension mount as we pass through the Class IV Seven-foot Falls, thrusting forward through a rock crevice and dropping precipitously. We land squarely and firmly in a pool of water beneath the falls, quickly catching our breath but taking slightly longer to calm our pulsing hearts.
Now visible in front of us is the rock-strewn land of whitewater made famous by the movie Deliverance. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise high here, creating only a thin strip of blue sky. Massive boulders, rounded by the cumulative effects of water, wind and gravity are placed randomly throughout the riverbed as if the leftover remnant of a long ago game played by giants. The river has cut channels throughout, rolling, dipping, twisting and turning, sometimes playful, sometimes daring, but always changing.
Long Creek Falls
The challenge of the river is not the only attraction. Along the way are unique sights that are best witnessed from the river. For example, Long Creek Falls, whose wide, full falls create a beautiful backdrop for the expedition's photographer from Photo Krafts. It also gives us a chance to rest for the two Class IV rapids ahead.
Steadily dropping in altitude and moving southwest, the river cuts through its channel carrying us onward until Deliverance Rock looms ahead. For more than half-a-mile the rock dominates the view of the river and marks the first rapids after Long Creek Falls. Atop the massive boulder a tree rests, first evidence of the 1994 tornado outbreak known as the "Palm Sunday Killer Tornadoes" that devastated the southern end of the Chattooga and Lake Tugaloo. Six years later the land is yet correcting the destructive power of this storm. We put in shortly after the rock and enjoy sandwiches for lunch (the meal is a feast with a wide variety of cold cuts and breads!).
Raven's Rock has long been a favorite hiking destination of ours, viewing the rock from the western side of the river gorge. This massive wall has been created slowly by eons of river wear. Immense strata (layers) cover the rock from top to bottom and the imposing monolith towers directly above us as we line up for the Class IV Raven's Chute. At the closest point to the cliff Taylor moves the raft into position and as we are drawn down the chute, the raft shifts from side-to-side, nearly knocking us out.
Designated as a Wild and Scenic waterway in 1974 by the Congress of the United States, the Chattooga River and adjoining waterways are protected from the hands of man. Access to the river was restricted and Southeastern Expeditions, one of three Chattooga outfitters that existed at the time, was protected by a grandfather clause in the act. Today they remain the only Georgia-based outfitter permitted by the U. S. Forest Service to guide trips down the river.
These men and women who are responsible for our safe trip down this river are a colorful cross-section of America. Well traveled and educated, they converse on a wide range of subjects, especially rafting in America and abroad. Their experience ranges from EMT training and certification to marketing and many things in between but they share one love, whitewater and one goal, our safe journey. They are challenged by the changing nature of this river. As our guide Taylor puts it, "Each time you run this river it is different, and if you aren't careful it will bite you!"
After Raven's Chute we enter Hell's Half Mile, a rugged, bumpy ride, especially during low water. Here the river widens and slows, dropping steadily but not dramatically. As we paddle down the river a large rock looms, growing bigger as we grow closer. Some 15 feet tall it marks the start of the true test of whitewater aficionados. Beyond it lies Entrance Rapids. Those familiar with the river know the best is yet to come.
Whitewater on the Chattooga River
Over the first 6 miles of the trip we have dropped an average of 150 feet per mile. In the last half-mile we will drop over 300 feet in a series of five rapids that have defined this sport for the last 25 years. Entrance Rapids, Corkscrew, Crack-in-the-Rock (a Class VI rapids that we circumnavigate), Jawbone and Sock-em-Dog are a grueling challenge for novice or expert whitewater fans. For safety our guides take turns watching each other for critical problems and manning the downstream safety ropes. A mistake on any of these could be dangerous, but thanks to the hard work of the Southeastern Expeditions team we made it safely through. We skillfully bypassed the appropriately named Decapitation Rock in the middle of Jawbone Rapids, and safely did the corkscrew in Corkscrew Rapids.
Then, almost as quickly as we began, the adventure ended in the cool, calm waters of Lake Tugaloo, rising and calming the rapid decent of the Chattooga River and the teams of whitewater experts now floating to conclusion. We frolicked for a few minutes in the lake, waiting for a boat to tow us back to a dock on the South Carolina side of the river. Then, showers at the SEE offices while Photo Kraft sets up a display of our trip. Our recommendation - Buy a couple of the photos. It makes the memories more exciting.
Truly great fun awaits you on this wild and scenic adventure. Hope to see you there this year. Go ahead, make your day.
Southeastern Expeditions carries people down the Oconee and Chattooga Rivers. Because of safety concerns age limits do apply. The number of people allowed on the Chattooga is strictly regulated by the Forest Service. Please visit their web site for up-to-date information on price and availability.