I feel the muse calling once again to record the amazing day we had on Mountaintown Creek. I had been planning on catching it on a Saturday but thought it to be a highly unlikely event. We would need a good rain, but not one that was too heavy, and we would need to catch it right as the rain was ending because the watershed is small. "What are the chances? Not good," I thought, but sometimes things work out for the better, and that is exactly what happened Saturday. We had to launch in the rain, but the level was absolutely superb and eventually the clouds cleared to give us huge areas of blue sky interspersed with just a few fluffy white clouds and highs in the 70s.
My lineup changed for the float trip several times and I eventually ended up with a group of 10. Some of us met up near Chattanooga, and a couple more met us in Ellijay for some breakfast at the local DQ. We stopped at the creek on the way there and I couldn't believe my eyes. The level looked perfect to me. Additionally, the property owner who runs the small antique store, junk shop, game room, and outdoor used lawnmower showroom place was exceedingly friendly and allowed us to park there. A couple of group members bought various small items to smooth things along (and due to the general irresistability of the merchandise) and we were set to go. After setting shuttle, we launched into the creek just before noon. The level looked good, though the water was a bit muddy and we were off.
The current moves along swiftly, mostly fast moving flat water with class I and II riffles and rapids interrupting frequently for the first few miles. It was wider than I expected, only 25 or 30 feet wide at the launch on highway 76 but widening to 40 or 50 feet later in the run. Around mile 4 or 5, the gradient starts to pick up and some good solid class II rapids begin to appear, some of which are quite lengthy. We navigated some small Nantahala-ish wave trains and some good ledge drops. This culminates in a suprisingly large horizon line with a 3 foot ledge reminiscent of Nantahala Falls. To run it properly, you need to follow a left to right diagonal line with a lot of speed to avoid the suprisingly large hole on the left at the bottom. A couple of small curlers interfere with the execution of this move. This drop was approaching class III in difficulty but probably not quite there at the water level we were seeing. I'll admit I was surprised by this drop, and the creek had a slightly greater level of difficulty than I expected as we neared the confluence with the Coosawattee.
When we finally saw the confluence with the Coosawattee River ahead, I was surprised by the obvious pushy whitewater in the channel. I was also stunned by the width and volume of the Coosawattee at this point. It looked nothing like the narrow channel I had scouted by the DQ in Ellijay. I have to think it was at least 1000 cfs, if not more. In retrospect, I'm thinking it must have been more than that, like maybe 1200? Hard to say, I'm guessing the creek had at least 300 cfs in it based on prior experience elsewhere. The gauge hasn't updated so I can't be sure.
The riverbed was surprisingly wide, perhaps as much as 200 feet or more in places, and it had the general appearance of a mini-French Broad Section 9. GOOD STUFF! We paddled about a mile and a quarter of the wide Coosawattee and navigated Nantahala-like wave trains in a channel four or five times as wide. This was the exact type of whitewater I like: high volume wave trains combined with broad ledge drops requiring some maneuvering around rocks and holes. I LOVE the big water. I would say that there still wasn't anything beyond class II but it was a little more difficult than the Hiwassee. I had no idea we would get this wonderful contrast to the narrow creek we had paddled for 6 miles. This pattern continued for over a mile.
And then we hit the lake . . .
Well, one of problems with this run is that the public take out requires 3.8 miles of paddling on a reservoir. Fortunately, it wasn't very windy or it could have been really unpleasant. As it was, the lake was beautiful, and we didn't miss the cove that hides the boat launch, so we all pulled out with smiles. We heard a rumor from a creek-side resident that there is an alternate takeout available at the confluence of Mountaintown Creek and the Coosawattee that requires a half-mile boat-carrying expedition but that remains to be located. Perhaps we can find it for future expeditions and avoid the lake paddle.
One other minor problem with this run is that it is beginning to see housing development. Apparently this creek was remote and wild in the recent past, and it is still 90% forest, but there are new expensive houses appearing amidst the trees. Unfortunate, that . . . another beautiful ravine being developed into a suburb, but for now it's still magnificent and the impact is minimal.
I have been on countless float trips in the past five years or so and most of the individual trips I can't remember, but once in a while there is a trip that is particularly memorable, and this was one of them. This is a beautiful run! It is yet another river in the list of high-quality class II, low-volume, free flowing runs in the region. It was very similar to the Etowah but much more continuous and the difficulty is closer to the Nantahala, maybe slightly less. There is definitely more action than you get on the Toccoa or Etowah. It is high quality class II with a sampling of both low volume and high volume rivers.
We finished the day with really good Cajun food in Ellijay, just up the hill from the Coosawattee, and I couldn't be happier with the outcome of the trip. This was a wonderful exploratory run. We saw many beautiful places from a perspective that many people never get to see, some of us made new friends, and others renewed existing friendships with the people we spent the day on the river with. I have to say a big "Thank You" to those of you who came along.