Paddling on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland river,
Tennessee, the United States.
After having enjoyed my trip down section 4 of the
Chattooga, I was hoping to get some more paddling
days in the U.S.A. before leaving for the Netherlands.
We planned to go out and paddle on monday, but
because of all kinds of things that didn't work.
On tuesday, Julie and I were finally caught up by
the emotional and physical strain and exhaustion,
and we felt (and probably looked :-) ) like zombies.
So it was wednesday when we finally left for
Since I didn't bring a boat, spraydeck or paddle,
we needed to arrange those first. I could use
Scott's 45 degree paddle, and after an entire
evening of outfitting (read: rebuilding) Scott's
Riot Kix, I also had a boat that I could squeeze
A message on RBP and some phone calls later, I had
several offers for a spraydeck (thanks a lot every-
one!). Chuck Kirk was so kind to drop a spraydeck
off at the Bristow's office, which happened to be
on our way to Tennessee.
Susan (Dancewater) would meet us at the Bandy Creek
Campground close to the put-in, where we hoped to
arrive around midnight. The ride to Bandy Creek
Campground was pretty uneventfull, although Joe and
Julie must have gotten tired of all my questions and
constant surprise about U.S. customs, objects and
solutions to problems (I still don't understand why
trucks have so many lights, instead of just two at
the corners, at the top of their cabins and
The night before we left, I had done another
raindance around Julie's hot tub. Just before we
reached the campground, the rain started to come
down with the bucketload. Since Joe and I were
also having a good conversation, we missed the
road into the campground and got lost. After the
road and the weather degraded even more, we turned
around and managed to find the campground in the
pitch dark. It was almost exactly midnight.
Susan had already been there for a couple of hours,
waiting for us. Joe and I quickly set up the tent
in the pouring rain, however, Julie managed to
convince Joe into sleeping in her car instead...
I found out in the middle of the night why: the
tent was leaking badly, so that my goretex sleeping
sleeping bag ended up in a pool of ice-cold water,
which eventually laked through the zipper of my
sleeping bag. I had to mop up the water, dry the
sleeping bag with body-heat and after putting the
sleeping bag in a couple of thrash-bags, I managed
to sleep a little. Some scurrying and growling very
close to the tent woke me up before dawn... bye bye
nights rest :-(.
The next morning, as I got out of the tent, it was
snowing. My dark blue jacket quickly turned into a
white one, brrrrr. The snow didn't even melt...
that promised to be a cold day of paddling.
We drove to the take-out, and while we were trying
to find out what the water-level in feet translated
in CFS meant, a car with a kayak on top stopped.
A quick talk with Dave, the newly arrived kayaker
got us two additional boaters for today (Susan and
Joe had their own reasons for not wanting to paddle).
We went into town for a quick breakfast while Dave
waited for his buddy Brad to arrive.
After the two kayakers caught up with us, we drove
to the put-in, the confluence of the Clear Fork with
the New river. We quickly changed in the cold, with
Julie explaining to Brad and Dave how she normally
behaved at put-ins.
The path to the put-in was steep, and, after Julie's
run downhill, covered with blueish-green Dagger
The water-level was low, about 900 CFS, if I remember
correctly. We quickly got in our boats, and Brad
practised his roll (and got the inevitable icecream
headache...). I quickly found out how tippy the Kix
was, although a high brace saved me from emberass-
The first stretch of the river was fun. We had small
class II rapids and some small waves to surf on. After
paddling for a quarter of an hour, we arrived at Double
Falls, a class III rapid. We scouted, and Julie stayed
up on the rock to take pictures. Dave and Brad both had
decent lines, although Brad had to do a high brace to
I had a less beautifull line, which took me sideways
into a hole. Again, a good brace helped me out. I
hadn't expected the Kix to come up so quickly in a
hole, but in the second drop I had learned how to keep
the bucking horse under control.
Julie came down on the same line as I had taken, and
she had to brace so hard that she dipped a gunwhale
under water. I got so see how open boaters empty their
We continued to the next short rapid, the Washing
Machine. I was closely behind Julie, as we suddenly
saw Brad's paddle come up almost vertically... we
could see him getting worked on the eddy-line between
the Washing Machine and the river left eddy. I counted
at least seven very deep braces, but he finally managed
to come out without swimming.
Which was something that couldn't be said of our next
contestant. Julie ran the drop, flipped, and got out
of her boat before her hair had a chance to get wet
(Scott would have been pretty upset of her not even
trying to roll!). I managed to snap a quick picture,
coming down the Washing Machine with the camera in one
hand and my paddle in the other. It wasn't such a hard
rapid at all...
I got Julie to shore as Brad and Dave struggled to get
Julie's overturned boat to shore. After getting Julie
to shore, I went after her boat, and the three of us
finally managed to get the cumbersome craft to shore.
(I had actually expected to be the swimmer on this trip,
being in an unfamiliar boat with a strange paddle and
paddling a new river and all)
Julie says that her 100+ yards "float out of her boat"
isn't a true swim as she didn't get her hair wet. I
still count it as a swim though!
The next rapid is called the Ell. It consists of an
elbow-shaped hole, with one "leg" of the elbow pointing
upstream, and the other perpendicular to the current.
It seems that many people run the thing down the middle,
flip and get worked in the hole.
After scouting, I wasn't too impressed by this (IMO
class III) thingy, and after helping Julie portage
her canoe, I decided to run it. I had had about half a
mile (800 metres) to get used to the Kix, and by now I
felt more at ease in the boat. The 45 degree paddle
might prove to be a bit tricky, as I hadn't rolled
with it yet...
I eddied out, about 100 yards upstream from the hole,
and I surfed to the other side of the river. I had one
last look at my intended line, and I went down. I was
going from river right to river left, heading straight
for the eddy just above the Ell on river left. I ended
up in the eddy a lot cleaner than I had hoped, and I
turned the boat to look into the Ell.
After checking my line, I accelerated and took the
line that was as far as possible to the left.
I quickly ducked to avoid ending up with some de-
accelleration-trauma from the impact with the undercut
rock, and I ran the Ell cleanly.
Dave, Brad and Julie, were sitting on a high rock over-
looking a big eddy with some current in it. I convinced
them that a Himalaya-start was okay. Unfortunately my
camera ran out of film (the meter said 21 on a film of
36 exposures and then suddenly rewinded the entire
film after I pressed the button to take a picture :-( ).
Everyone enjoyed the Himalaya-start (aka Seal-launch),
and we floated down the next stretch of river.
I had a chat with Brad, answering his question why I
had come over to the States. After a while, I fell
silent. The wound was still too fresh, too painfull.
Even now, as I'm typing this, tears well up.
We arrived at Rion's Eddy, played a little bit and had
some of Julie's famous brownies and hot chocolate for
lunch. After another big bend in the river, we arrived
at some huge rocks in the middle of the river. From the
wood on the shore and on top of the rocks it was clear
that there had been a lot of water through here
recently. I think Dave said something about 20.000 CFS.
We zig-zagged in between the rocks, trying to find lines
that were interesting to paddle. We found a crack where
Dave and Brad easily fit through, but from the size of
Julie's open boat it looked as if it would be a tight
It was too tight a fit... :-)
She got stuck about halfway through the crack. Since she
couldn't put a paddle in the water in between the boat
and the vertical wall on both sides, she had to change
plans. She climbed out of her boat, shifting her weight
to the front while I put the Kix under her boat and
lifted the stern. After some pushing and pulling, we
finally got her moving again.
Not so long after this tight fit-incident, Julie
honoured Scott's memory by pinning her open boat
vertically. I thought that she was surfing, but she
stayed on the "wave" a bit too long for that :-).
Scott would have loved the carnage!
I took an unconventional line through one of the last
"big" rapids, going through as many holes as I could,
to see if I could keep the Kix under control now. It
handled smoothly, I really enjoyed paddling this boat!
As we arrived at the take-out, Susan and Joe were
already waiting for us. We quickly ran into the heated
bathroom, where it was comfortable to change. I had a
quick talk with Brad and Dave, unfortunately I didn't
get to thank them for paddling with us, as they were
gone by the time that I came out of the building.
We had dinner with Susan, where she seemed to have some
difficulty with the spelling of "dike", interpreting it
as "dyke", although it was clearly my intention to build
a small dike across the table to prevent Joe's drink
from spilling all over me... :-)
We said goodbye to Susan and drove to the Tellico, where
we arrived late in the evening. Unfortunately the rain
hadn't done anything for the water-level here. I should
have done another raindance, but I was way too tired...
The next morning we had a quick drive up and down the
Tellico, only to find out that there was only 140cfs in
the river... Julie told us some ...
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