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By Clay Wright

Finally broke away from the thundering torrent at Rock Island just in
time to meet Jeff West and David Levett for their 7th lap of Bear
for the day! For those that don’t know, Bear
drops about 900 feet in 3.5 miles and is considered the best steep
creek in Chattanooga area. New groups will spend 3 hours to run the
short, steep stretch. Jeff’s group was averaging 45 minutes a run
since 7:30AM and they not only broke the lap record, but also notched
another ‘vertical mile’ on their creek-belts. No shots from this
trip, but it was great to follow these guys lines – they truly had
the smooth lines on every last rapid dialed in to perfection.

Next up was ‘The new Rock Creek‘: this Chattanooga gem was off-limits
for years but recently opened with certain restrictions (closed first
and last saturday a month, printed waivers and check-in required, and
no one allowed to run the first falls when any hikers are present).
And it’s right in town!. I followed local Matt Wallace’s lines down
this super-steep boulder choked gorge and man, what a beautiful
place! The first portage is around a massive waterfall and from
there on down you are in a tight-walled gorge feeling completely
isolated. There is almost no trash anywhere till ‘Insurance bluff’
where ancient car-parts decorate the runs’ best rapid – a 20′ off-
vert slide between towering boulders. The run has many portages,
many scouts, and many required ‘hits’ on some of the bigger drops,
but I’m sure after another couple rains Matt and crew will have a few
more trees removed and new lines worked out.

The rains came down again, and by mid afternoon the next day Bear was
back up to 15” and I think every class 5 boater in Chattanooga was
there! That was a perfect level to run the old ‘sneak through
Surrrealistic Pillow again and all the rest of the rapids. We
started in one huge mass of kayakers and ended as smaller groups –
many seeking another run before dark. Just one log portage
mandatory the whole run.

The following day we were seeking less-travelled pastures so a trip
to Middle Creek was in order. This ridiculously steep creek
falls off Signal Mountain over by Suck Creek but instead of the quick
no-portage fix you get hours of hiking, portaging, and figuring out
lines down the 600′ / mile poison ivy-filled gorge. While I
participated in the 2nd or 3rd descent years ago, I should have
scoured the websites before this run, as it really is a challenge to
stay focused on finding lines between the scouting and portaging and
every little bit of beta helps. We seal-launched and bounced our way
down ‘Sierra’ and many rapids below the falls but were stalled
completely by ‘Superman’ – a nasty pin spot followed by a 20′ slide
into an overhanging rock. After scouting and taking photos when dry,
a few have put-in after the approach and run this tight slide
(knowing the landing was deep and the crack got wider at waterline)
but to our group it was a sad portage around what we thought would be
the highlight of the trip. The other highlight is ‘Shoot me in the
face with a 9MM” – a perfect name for a really long, tough rapid.
While we had all seen the shots of the 15′ er into the cave, I had no
idea this was just the second drop of a 5 part sequence dropping like
40’. There were no takers on the 1st drop, due to a nasty log, and
the first 2 of our party to run the cave ended up swimming along the
wall or below the next drop on another overhanging wall. Watching
the gear slide into the last 15′ drop onto rocks convinced most of us
that a portage was in order. But Kirk Eddleman fired into the cave
and sent sweet lines through the runnout – making short work of what
would be a long, difficult portage through poison ivy for the rest of

Had we found the alternate put-in within the cave, I’m sure the
whole run would have seemed more fun for the group, as it’s a great
sequence even below those top drops. The rest of the run was more
scouting, bouncing, and portaging with a few sweet drops and a lot of
puzzling decisions – both in the water and along the shore. Middle
Creek is a ‘must do’ for jaded Chattanooga creekers, but some prep-
work would really make your paddling day much more fun. Consider a
low-water hike to find the put-in trail in advance, scour the
internet for shots of the rapids, wear long pants and elbow pads,
bring a pre-broken boat, and plan on a long day before you go. The
extra time you spend preparing before the run will make your time in
the gorge more productive, allowing you to run more rapids, plan
shorter portages, and simply get more ‘bang’ for your buck.

While Technu saved me from a sure whole-body poison-ivy episode, my
new Teva’s kept me on my feet, and my short little Hero felt perfect
for the tight, steep drops .. I was happily resting my legs and
playing the Ocoee and Hell Hole all weekend, looking forwards to
when Rock Island drops below 10,000 and Brave Wave will come back
in. Of course it’s Monday now, so once again I’m hoping this next
rain hits Lookout and Walden’s Ridge and we can start Creek Week all
over again. . . All photos Clay Wright

Clay Wright

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