Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kayaking Trip on Ocmulgee

Lloyd Shoals Dam at Jackson Lake put it in (from American Whitewater Website)
We were going to go kayaking Saturday and Sunday this weekend, however due to record heat and getting in super late Friday night/Saturday morning, we opted to sleep half of Saturday away and then go eyeball the Towaliga river and kayak on Sunday instead.  Luckily we did that because the river was so low, that will have to wait until we have a lot more rain!  So Clay consulted our book A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Georgia and decided we should start the Ocmulgee river (eventually he wants to run the whole thing piece by piece).  Leg 1 is from Lloyd Shoals Dam to Wise Creek approx 6 miles.

 Above is a video I found on You Tube that shows the same run we did.  They said the water was about 400 cfs ( this is a new term that I learned this weekend) at the time of their run.  I had looked up the river levels online at NOAA and it said that the Ocmulgee at Jackson was about 3.5 feet which sounded like PLENTY for our kayaks.  What I didn't realize was that the book said not to run it less than 400cfs and Sunday it was around 240.  Needless to say we learned our lesson!

This photo is taken from our book and shows the put in (A) and take out (C) spots.  I searched the internet for good directions to the take out at Wise Creek (C) and never found any great ones.  Basically it is in the middle of nowhere.  I settled on latitude and longitude coordinates and we put those in the GPS.   We were on a dirt road  without much signage and the GPS indicated for us to take a right (into the middle of some pine trees) so I thought maybe the road was a little further down, luckily we ran into some folks headed opposite us up the road and I asked the guy if he knew where Wise Creek ramp was and he said that is where they were headed and just to follow them.  He said that the last time they came it took them 2 hours to find the spot.  We finally made it down lots of dirt road (funny in my little Versa) and dropped Clay's truck there and headed north up another dirt road toward Lake Jackson and the put in.

Who knew we would have an adventure just finding the place.  So here we are hot and ready to get on the water (did I mention that there was record breaking temps all weekend here - like 108 degrees without the heat index).  So we readied our boats while the folks we followed in got in the water.  In a few minutes, we were on the water.  This was my first outing in the little watermelon and it took some getting used to.  I got spoiled going out in the Jackson sit on top that we rented from the outfitter in Macon, it was much more stable than the one I bought.  I decided that the underlying benefit was that I would get a good core workout paddling my boat and staying upright.  I must say that throughout the day I did get more comfortable with it and felt less unstable.  The fact that I paid less than half of what the Jackson cost helped ease the pain too.

We started off in slow moving water and ran into some rocky shoals here and there requiring some grunting and maneuvering to get loose and back to paddling (which you had to do a good bit of since there wasn't a current here to speak of).  This also made the water a little stinky, there were lots of little mussels and due to the low water a lot of them on the rocks were exposed and baking in the heat, eew.  Further downstream the river opened up some and still required paddling but there were less rocks and made for smooth sailing for a while.  Clay is pretty much in love with the comfort of his boat.
We had only been on the river an hour and started getting hungry since it took like 1.5 hours just to find the place and get on the water but we decided to try and get about another hour in before stopping.  This worked out well because about an hour later we saw the perfect spot on this island in the middle of the river with a little beach area to pull up to.  There was a tree overhanging this spot and I was double checking the tree for snakes when I caught some movement in the corner of my eye and there was a snake swimming to shore right where we wanted to eat.  I was back paddling and getting out of there.  I cannot stand a swimming snake! 
We headed downstream a little further and there were a bunch of folks swimming on the right side and they warned us that it was a little rocky further down we thanked them (not knowing what we had gotten ourselves into) and found us a good place to stop and eat.  There were lots of big rocks in the shad on the right bank and we were going to have to stop and portage the boats through that area anyway.  We got the boats down to where we would get back in after lunch and sat down to enjoy our MREs (I think these are fun, like grown-up lunchables).  We were both excited to find that we had cheese spread and jalepeno cheese spread in our MREs 
; ) oh the little things in life! 
We sat in the water for a while to cool off (it wasn't deep enough for swimming).  In the distance we thought we might have heard a little thunder and some clouds were getting dark but there was no wind to speak of and it was still hot as blazes.  In fact, I had taken lots more pictures but I think my phone was overheating and didn't save most of them.  We headed off down-river again.
We started running into more and more rocky shoals and getting stuck, it is pretty easy to get in and out of my kayak but that doesn't exactly make it fun with a very uneven bottom and the current picking up between rocks.  I tipped out at one point on a rapid between two rocks, I banged up my legs a little bit and lost my shoes (Croc slingbacks which I know now are too big).  I was just glad to get my feet back under me and that Clay's boat didn't run over me!  I got back in and Clay made it down without a hitch.  Around the corner I found a shoe and as I was scooping it up, Clay found my other one, YAY!
The sky is getting darker at this point, the wind is picking up, and I start noticing lightning in the distance.  I am curious how far we are from the take out point and check the Garmin, it doesn't look terribly far.  Bad news is that we come up on a huge treacherous rocky shoal and Clay's boat gets swamped, we pick up all the unsecured items (cooler, seat, etc) and throw them into my boat and pull his up on some rocks to dump.  I had lost one of my shoes again at this point and was just hoping I didn't tear up my foot on the rocks.  It starts to rain at this point and there is lightning to boot and some thunder just laughing at us.  We are standing on the top of the shoal looking around and realize that it is impassible by boat due to the low water and the currents in between are super fast.  We started pulling the boats along attempting to get down the rocks (we are stuck in the middle of the river a long way from shore and it is easier to go down that to the side).  After many choice words, almost twisted ankles, and bruised shins later we made it down and got back in the boats.
Rapids just before 40 acre island (from American Whitewater.org)

 These photos were found online and were listed as being taken when the river was at 460 cfs, there were even more rocks on Sunday since we were running it at 246 cfs.  Lots of rock, little water.
Rapids just before 40 acre island (from American Whitewater.org)

It was already about 6pm and was much darker than usual thanks to the storm and I am getting concerned thanks to the darkening sky and frequent lightning, I attempt to make a phone call and realize that I have no service.   I urge Clay to "paddle faster" and we head down the river to the river right of what we hope is 40 acre island (the last little bit before our take out).  Good news is, we found my shoe yet again! A ways down we hit a little more rapid but manage to stay in our boats. 

I see a canoe on the bank to my right and there is this strange stone building and there is someone and their dog looking over the top of the wall.  I am getting a bit panicky at this point, worried that we won't make it to the take out by dark and I am bummed that someone else found this place of shelter.  Hoping they can ease my mind, I yell up asking if Wise Creek is close.  They say "yes, it is just a ways down river".  I have never been so happy in my life.  I pass the news on to Clay and we start to see some hope that we will make it that night and not have to camp in the rain and storm without any camping gear and only a few snacks left.
Lamar's Mill Ruins from American Whitewater.org

After the island we see a creek over to the left bank and are hopeful, but I paddle over and I don't see any signs of life and the Wise Creek campground was hopping earlier so we check the Garmin and sure enough, we haven't made it yet.  Of course just a little further downstream the river gets more shallow and we start getting hung on rocks again and it is so time consuming trying to get off and back going.  
We hear some whitewater again and round the bend and see another decent sized rock shoal and are both getting depressed when I see a guy on the left bank hurry out of the water and a girl putting her bathing suit top back on.  The wind is whipping all around and I am afraid they won't hear me but Clay and I both yell over asking if that was Wise Creek boat ramp and they said yes.  I was so excited!!  It took us about 5 minutes to make it over to the ramp getting over all the surfaced rocks there but we were so happy to see and end in sight that we didn't care.  What was supposed to be a 3-4 hour trip took 7 very long hours.  The take out point has large rectangle cinder blocks that come down to the water.  I grabbed the key and went up to pull the truck down and I didn't see it and thought for a minute we were at the wrong place (major suck!) and then I saw that there are two levels to the parking and we were parked at the top so I pulled the truck down and we loaded up ( we hear a tree crack and fall while we are strapping down the boats) out just in time. 
 We were starving and it was pouring rain, we headed to Jackson to pick up my car and then we headed down town to get some grub.  After we filled our bellies full of Mexican food we headed home looking forward to a shower and some rest.

This is a before picture just thought I would end on a positive note = )

When we arrived home, finally at 10:30 that night we pulled into a dark yard, the power was out!  Apparently the storm that came through was really bad not that I thought any different while I was panicking on the rocks, but Clay was just worried that we were going to break a foot (priorities, right?)  
Feet not broken > Not getting struck by lightning 
The next day, I am messing around on the internet reading and trying to figure out why it was so scary and how did others want to repeat this stretch.  I learned about cfs and will pay very close attention to this number in the future.  I also noticed a paragraph in the Kayaking book that stated: A more abrupt channel right of the island abuses boats; few would consider it worthwhile.  Less advanced boaters and those more keen on experiencing history than bruising limbs and busting boats can portage the entire right rapid through the mill site on the right shore.  Ok, noted.  Also noted: Long stretches of smooth water deter most whitewater boaters from the Seven Islands section; the difficulty of the infrequent rapids wards off most others.  I must say that the rapids that we did make it through were fun and a little elating but they were few and far between, we (especially Clay's boat with the gear) got stuck far too many times to just laugh off.  However, I think a lot of our problems would have been remedied had we gone when the water level was higher.  We will keep that in mind if we ever feel frisky enough to run this stretch again.  We will also probably opt to portage around the mill.

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