Once upon a time on a river far, far, away…
Back in 2015 Kayaking was my favorite hobby. Me and my best friends went every chance we got. The winter of 2015-16 was very mild. there were many days between December and the end of February that were in the mid 70’s in the Chattanooga area. Especially in December. I think we paddled 8 days in December that year. We always adhered to the rule of 120. Kayakers and Canoeist will know what I mean.
Anyway, this post is not about 2015, but it all began back then. Me and one of my best friends were looking for a place to paddle. Only problem was it had been raining, raining a lot. The South Chickamauga was at 22 ft above flood stage. We were float paddling in our sit on tops. Good to small class III water. However, you don’t paddle in flood stage. Water color, high CFS, debris and strainers make it too dangerous.
But we were searching for somewhere less affected to go. I found that the Upper Coosawatee was only up about 2.5 ft and a few hundred CFS and thought it might be manageable. Well, I was incorrect. We made it about 5 miles in like 45 minutes or something crazy and we got off river.
We found some nice folks to give us a ride back to our vehicles. Don’t get me wrong. It was one hell of a ride with big wave trains and I was having a good time even if it was a little scary. But my friends kayak was a sit-in with no skirt and he was constantly filling up with water. Given that he had a near death experience on our previous paddle it was a little too much for him and the early exit as it turns out was a smart choice.
Memorial Day 2023
So I’ve been Coosawatee Dreaming ever since. I always like to finish what I start. Memorial Day 2023 became that day for me and the Coosawatee.
This was a five man paddle. Me, my friends Chris and Tom and Chris’s son Brandon and his friend Devin. As is par for the course sometimes, things don’t go as planned. We were about 1.5 hrs behind schedule getting on the water but I had planned the trip with plenty of daylight cushion because you never know.
The Upper portion of the Coosawatee River runs through East Ellijay, GA and eventually joins with the Conasuaga River near Calhoun GA to form the Oostanaula River. In between is Carters Lake which separates the upper and lower portions. I have run the lower and that is a whole other tale for another day.
So we put in at Memorial Park in East Ellijay. The put-in here is in disrepair. You can easily slip and there are stakes sticking up where the wood has rotted away. Be careful if you put in here.
The Memorial Day celebration was there and while unloading we paused for the National Anthem. I would like to pause here for a small rant
Pause for RANT
As I stood there with my hand on my chest staring at the flag held by an armed service member I could not help but feel a sense of pride and providence to be born in such a magnificent country. I’m a history buff and have read extensively on the forming of our great country and the men who forged it.
Yes we are not perfect. There are bad people, bad policies, bad politicians and businesses and I would not want to live anywhere else. To those who live in America and despise it. I would say that you are short sited. To those who love it but fear the inevitable change I would say stop demeaning those who believe different than you. There is a common ground it doesn’t have to be all your way or all their way.
It is one of the few countries designed with an adaptive government by very smart men who did their best in the era they occupied. They provided us a form of government that allows you to disagree and one that lets us grow and mature. No it’s not perfect, but its what gives you the freedom you have to voice your opinions. You should not hate it or the men and women who formed it, fought to maintain it and left you the freedoms you have today.
America is a beautiful mess that was built to endure and change. Love your damn country! Rant over!
So after honoring our country and getting our take out vehicle dropped off. On the river we went. The river was running an average 1.96 ft and 458 CFS. Most rivers and creeks we paddle run about this depth and in the 200-300 CFS range. The Coosawatee is also a little wider than most we run. Not Hiawasee wide but wider than most.
The day started out really nice. The river had just enough little shoals and a few drops to keep it interesting. It was Tom’s first ever kayaking trip and I had hoped to plan something not too crazy for him. Having not run the whole river and not at appropriate levels before, I could not know for certain. In the end I had made a poor choice. None of the information available indicated anything other than a few shoals.
This may have been because most people apparently take out at one of two parks around the six mile mark. I would say that six miles in we were having a pretty good trip with just enough light white water to make it fun.
I cannot say this for the last seven miles of our approximately 13 mile paddle. Shortly after passing the public park the houses faded as we moved into the wildlife managed area and the river changed. We were faced with about three miles of rocky ledges and drops. The boat came home with plenty of new scars.
I’m not going to say this wasn’t fun. I really enjoyed it but it would have been better with about six to eight inches more water. Tom was on his first trip and did great. Devin told us he had paddled plenty but I’m pretty sure now that it wasn’t on rivers. I got stuck at least four or five times and had to exit the boat and reposition it to continue. Exiting your boat on rocky ledges is treacherous.
So this stretch of river was between miles six and nine. We are hours into our paddle and this section offered few deep or slower moving areas. We pretty much were in constant motion during third quarter of our trip. If we had kept going back in 2015 this section of the river could have been deadly. You can see plenty of debris from past floods piled up and much of it would have been hidden dangerously under water.
As if that wasn’t miserable enough for some in our party. Somewhere around the nine mile mark we hit the flat water portion of our paddle. Our takeout being a boat ramp on Carter’s Lake. We had approximately three and half miles left at this point.
To top it off no matter which way the river turned we were facing the wind. The mountains were channeling it up the river into our faces. If you stopped paddling you went backwards. I’m probably the only one who truly enjoyed this trip as a whole. But even I was praying to reach that red dot on my map the marked the take out. We pretty much paddled for two plus hours without stopping and that was after we had put three-fourths of the trip behind us.
To say my friends were tired, grumpy, unhappy with me might be understated. I keep telling them the trips you will never forget are the best and I know we will talk and laugh about this trip over many beers and around many campfires in the years to come.
Summary and tips
All that being said. It was a beautiful paddle. I tracked it with a new app called Wikiloc and I will share the trip so you can view. Normally, I use an app named Ramblr which I really like but you always have to try others occasionally.
I would definitely recommend the first 6 miles of this paddle to anyone. You could easily tube it also. I really wish there was a takeout around the ten mile mark it would make running the whole section 75% better. I would also recommend not running the lower part of this section if the water level is less that 2.5 ft.
If you are interested in paddling rivers and streams. Below is an image of my paddling folder of needed apps to check water levels, power generation schedules and locate put-ins and takeouts Hope you find them helpful and happy paddling.
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