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Kayak Camping Trip

Chattooga River March 11- 12, 2017

In preparation for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip in the summer of 2017, a few of us decided to do a bit of a shakedown run. Even though we have raft support on the Grand Canyon trip, we thought it would be a good idea to see what kayak river camping is all about.  In our group of ten for the Grand Canyon, there were only three of us available to do this weekend trip. As a bonus, there was snow in the forecast to heighten the sense of adventure.

As the date drew closer, the water level was too low for a Section III into Section IV trip as it was only about 1.2 on the online gauge. The Grand Canyon trip leader, Mike Herndon, suggested doing two laps on the section IV. We would do 1.5 laps on Saturday including the shuttle back up to the top and camp midway down, and then do the last half lap on Sunday morning. I hadn't thought about doing it this way but this seemed like a great approach to doing this trip.

The plan breakdown was for Mike to put on the river Friday afternoon and get two nights on the river. We would put on at Bull Sluice on Saturday morning and travel down a mile or two and Mike would be waiting for us at the campsite beside the river. Then we would proceed on to a campsite near Raven chute, stash our gear and then continue on through to the five falls and onto the lake. Then once we finished the lake paddle our shuttle driver would take us and our boats back up to the put in at Bull Sluice and we would paddle down again to where we had stashed our gear at Raven shoot and camp for the night. Finally on Sunday morning we would paddle the rest of section 4 to finish up our trip early on Sunday.

Matt and I travel down to the Chattooga sound campground on Friday night and stayed at the campground overnight. This Campground was one of the nicest I have stayed at, it was very clean with modern bathrooms and we had the place to ourselves as it was early season. We arranged for a morning shuttle that would put us on the river around 9 o'clock meet Mike around 10 and then the campground owners son, Tanner, would help us again with the shuttle Saturday afternoon.


On Saturday morning, once we got to the put in, we did two carries to get our boats and gear down to the river at Bull Sluice. Matt and I packed up our respective boats, Matt took a Jackson Superhero and I paddled my Liquid Logic Stinger XP which is my planned boat for the Grand Canyon. We each had two different approaches to packing their boats. The Superhero is a standard creek boat so Matt packed gear in the bow and stern. My approach was just a put gear in the large stern via the hatch and move my seat up to re-trim the balance of the boat. Luckily my efforts to balance the boat empty versus loaded work perfectly I found out that the boat handled just as well loaded as empty. The boat rolled easily loaded, it turned well and actually seemed to carve a bit easier loaded. Another advantage of the loaded boat was that it tracked and punched holes better than empty. The only downside was that it took a little longer to get up to speed then an empty boat. Actually I found that my loaded boat handled better for me than it did for my to stick paddling partners. I was worried that being a hand paddler it would be difficult for me to control a loaded longboat but I was delighted to find out that it didn't bother me at all.

One of the things I discovered in previous paddles in my new Stinger XP was that to better control a long boat you needed a bigger paddle. So I had an extra-large set of hand paddles custom made for me. This made for a substantial improvement in giving me more control in paddling a 12 foot long expedition kayak. This was Matt's first trip from the Bull to Woodall. He had only paddled section IV once before and that was two years ago. Matt looked solid and paddled well. The river level was between 1’ and 1.1’ on the bridge gauge. We ended up meeting Mike closer to 11 than 10 but all was good. Once we got underway our crew was in fine form. No rolls and swims and all had solid lines. The one interesting experience we had was running the line beside the hole at Woodall. I have never run this line at levels over 1’. Mike and Matt got stalled a bit coming over the drop to the right of the hole, so I wisely went several feet further right to get well clear of this wicked river feature. We continued down and dropped our gear at the predetermined campsite spot and then reset our boats and got under way again. The five falls were the rapids we had been preparing ourselves for. Entrance was fine Corkscrew was very manageable at this level. The third rapid, Crack in the Rock, had a log blocking the entrance at the top of rapid during my last run but has since been cut out. So it was now runnable.  Jawbone was fine and Sock’em Dog was challenging for me to hit a good line, as usual. But our group did fine through the five falls.

We met up with another group along the way that had already pre-arranged a boat shuttle across the lake, so we were able to take advantage of this and make quicker time to get back to the lake take out. Once we got to the takeout, Tanner was waiting for us. We loaded up and headed back to the put in posthaste. Once we got back to the Bull I decided to run the double drop line at the Bull for the first time. I had an ugly line but got through upright. The rest of the run was fine. We made it through this section from the Bull to Woodall and Woodall to Raven fork in one and a half hours. We made it to Camp around 5:30 that evening in plenty of time to set up camp in the daylight.

The campsite was a pretty, flat sandy beach with plenty of wood firewood- the perfect spot.

My camp kit included- a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, warm dry clothes, gloves, headband, down booties and plenty of food, an inflatable pillow, a camp chair, rain gear and pee bottles. The camp treats were beer, bourbon and dark chocolate. Our shared gear was a stove fuel canister and a water filter. I estimated the weight of this was about 35 pounds plus the weight of the normal kayaking gear. Mike brought along a tarp and a fire starter log. I felt like I had all the camp essentials but Mike saved the day with his Noah's tarp as it started raining about 9 o'clock that evening and rained all through the night and into the morning.

The rain made for good sleeping weather for me as it was a restful night. Unfortunately, Matt’s hammock leaked and he ended up with a wet and cold sleeping bag and by 5:30 in the morning he was starting to shiver. So he ended up putting on his dry suit to keep warm. Mike and I were up by 7:30 and had a leisure morning at camp. Very leisure as it turned out, since we didn't leave camp until after 12 noon. We found that all the rain had bumped up the river level and the five falls section felt considerable considerably pushier than the day before. It felt like the river had risen several inches overnight. We did fine the rest of the run. Mike wanted to get back home early so he paddled ahead on the lake section so he could load his boat and get packed up for his trip home. Matt and I, on the other hand, had a very leisurely paddle and actually found it most enjoyable to have no head wind facing us and our spirits were bolstered by the pint of whiskey we split crossing the lake. The paddle got even better the closer we got to the bottom of the flask as we neared the boat ramp.

It was a great weekend. The only disappointment was we didn't get the forecasted snow. It was a good bonding time with a few of the Grand Canyon crew and a valuable learning experience on paddling a loaded kayak, rolling a loaded kayak, determining essential camping gear on a kayak camping trip and first and foremost a new and exciting adventure. This type of trip added a new level of excitement to a kayaking trip and I look forward to doing it again soon.

The post Kayak Camping Trip on Section IV of the Chattooga River appeared first on Get:Outdoors Blog.

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