Select Page

On Saturday July 28, 2007 a group of friends met at the Wartburg ranger station in hopes of running Clear Creek from Jett to Lily. A huge red cloud had appeared on weather radar the night before. It was about the size of the lower part of the state of Kentucky and was moving towards the Tennessee Valley. After the incredible drought the spring and summer had brought the rain had raised hopes to a fever pitch.

The group raced toward Jett Bridge to check the gage. Their hopes were dashed when they saw the creek level was unbelievably low and the water was just touching the bottom of the one foot mark on the gage. However, when crossing the Montgomery Bridge over the Emory, they had all slowed down to look in disbelief at the high water level. William Scarborough (BillyBob), Kary Scarborough (KaryBob), Patrick Martin (Patrick), Woody Austin (Woody) and Phil Austin (Woody’s Dad, Phil?) tearfully began discussing where they should seek water. Patrick has been battling cancer and was a little weakened from recent chemo and a minor surgery a week or so back. Earlier in the week he had expressed interest in an easy paddle like Nemo to Camp Austin or maybe even Oakdale to Clifty Creek. Patrick was feeling better today though, and was game to do the Emory to Nemo run. It was unanimously agreed to drive back to Montgomery Bridge and do the Emory Canyon.

Woody and Woody’s Dad, Phil? slid their Jackson AllStars into the coffee and cream colored Emory. Patrick followed in his Jackson 2Fun and they waited for KaryBob in her Dagger Piedra and BillyBob in his C1 Dagger Cascade. Patrick tentatively poked at one of several cows floating by with all four legs in the air and remarked that the water level might be a little higher than BillyBob thought. The cows were being held up by several small foreign cars and a travel trailer that were being washed along but they all disappeared downstream while BillyBob finished launching his craft. Woody, as usual, was complaining about the long flat water paddle before the “good stuff”. He was surprised and delighted to find the flat water velocity about three times as fast as the moving sidewalk at the Atlanta airport. The day was beautiful with a blue sky with white clouds drifting along. We soon drifted/paddled the three mile flat stretch and reached the crux of the trip.

The final two miles to the Obed River is different. One of my favorite books is A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Tennessee by Bob Sehlinger and Bob Lantz. This book was published in 1979 by canoeists. Here is their description of the lower Emory canyon. “Below Montgomery Bridge the stream continues its Class I flow for three more miles to where the solid rock riverbed finally begins to break up. At this point the Emory River falls off the Cumberland Plateau. For two miles, the canoeist drops at 62 feet per mile, crashing between boulders as the narrow stream is bounced back and forth by the steep-sided terrain. It is best to run this section at marginal water flows.” (Bold in the description by the author.)

As we started into this section of the canyon a glimpse downstream revealed a surreal scene. It was as if an extremely detailed HD video game had been placed in Tennessee. Huge swirling holes and multiple four and five foot high rooster tail wave trains seemed to go on endlessly between the boulders and cliff sides. The chocolate brown water bordered by dark green Hemlocks and Rhododendron only added to the bizarre vision.
Led onward by the ever intrepid BillyBob we began one of Mother Nature’s incredible spur of the moment water parks. Holes four and five feet deep were everywhere with slender writhing tongues half as wide as a kayak twisting their way amongst them. Like a baseball pitching machine with two spinning rubber tires to propel baseballs, the tongues between the holes would accelerate your kayak to twice the river speed as you passed between the holes. After about half a mile of non-stop action we eddied out for a breather. KaryBob claimed she was not having fun and didn’t like this creeking stuff. I couldn’t believe it because she had smoothly and gracefully maneuvered through every obstacle thrown at her. As we peeled out I thought I heard threatening remarks against BillyBob’s life for dragging her in there. Onward we went, up and down, sideways, sideways and up and down, what a rush. We rested and I commented I was certainly glad Patrick had been in a weakened condition because I would hate to see what BillyBob would have taken us down if Patrick was full strength.

We peeled out again and I was behind Patrick followed by KaryBob with Woody bringing up sweep. We crashed our way down the canyon through more massive waves and unbelievable holes. KaryBob was next to me at one point where the brown water was violently roiling and boiling and truly was squirrelly water. KaryBob commented she hadn’t seen water like that since her Grand Canyon trip. BillyBob eddied out for lunch just across from a beautiful rock cliff about fifty feet on the other side. There was a hole almost the same size as Hell Hole on the Ocoee River right in front of us. The hole was very retentive and a good place to do tricks. Woody’s eyes lit up like a kid looking at packages under a tree on Christmas morning. As the four geezers rested and ate Woody played in the hole. He was throwing beautiful blunts and had one perfect Air Screw. I was sitting there looking at the amazing volume of water coming through this narrow creek bed and worrying about Woody getting trashed. I mean the volume was BIG. The next thing I know Woody is out there with no paddle playing in the hole. He flipped over eventually but hand rolled up and got back to the eddy OK. He is now officially a teenager which means half of his brain is not functioning, the half that senses danger and can look ahead several minutes for consequences. If only I could be that way again, ahh well.

We took off from our lunch spot and down river a ways I got tangled with Patrick. I managed to stay out of his way as he took a narrow tongue between the bank and a long trough shaped hole. I saw I couldn’t make the tongue so I stroked hard and plunged into the three or four foot deep trough. The wave on the other side hit me all the way up to my neck and I reached over it and stroked hard and found myself right next to Patrick hurtling down stream. Patrick in his dry sarcastic tone yelled, “Nice line Phil”. I yelled back that I was trying to keep from ruining His line and he laughed and yelled, “Like I know where I’m going”. Well I’ll wind this up now but needless to add we all had an adventure we won’t forget.

I want to thank BillyBob for leading us through Emory Canyon in his normal adept way. I also want to say that Woody is an awesome kayaker and I don’t say that just because I’m his Dad. We were on big water and he played all over the river. He zips around like he’s at the lake. In the kayaking circle I’ve always been know as Woody’s Dad. Recently, after going down the Nantahala, a fellow who didn’t know us very well wrote a trip report and I became Woody’s Dad, Phil?. I was very proud of the move up. Woody told me after this trip that I had now earned the right to be called,

Woody’s Dad, Phil (no question mark)