On Jan. 17-18, Doc Stephens, April Ingle and I set out to explore the Broad and Savannah for more pre-Paddle Georgia scouting, and for the umpteenth time this winter, heavy rains altered our plans.
Our destination was the Broad River’s whitewater section; but on Jan. 16 the rain fell in buckets over the little watershed, and what was a manageable whitewater run at just below five-feet on the Carlton river gauge became a torrent suitable only for experts and those with a death wish. In a 24-hour period, water levels jumped five feet. Now 15 days later, the Broad still has not dropped below the “safe for novices” level of five feet. On Jan. 25, it topped flood stage at 18 feet.
Undammed and free-flowing the Broad responds to rain like a river should, but this provides a bit of a conundrum for paddle trip planning:
To see what the river looks like at 10 feet, click on the “Broad River High Water Video/Photos” link at http://www.broadriveroutpost.com/ This will help explain the conundrum. If we get heavy rains on June 18 this year, the whitewater section may be unsuitable for our group and we’ll devise an alternate route. Don’t worry, we’ve got a plan…but we’re hoping for normal summer water levels so keep your fingers, toes and paddles crossed.
For now, the high water has simply prevented us from enjoying the Broad’s whitewater that includes a six-foot waterfall locals refer to as “Nose Bleed” and other Class II rapids like Rooster Tail and Horseshoe. There is among the rocks and shoals one particularly ornery outcropping dubbed “Canoe Eating Rock.”
We took a look at the flow at the Hwy. 172 Bridge and quickly decided to scout our alternate high water route–a pleasant flatwater section upstream from the Broad’s baddest whitewater.
The route which begins on the North Fork of the Broad River is narrow and intimate with meetings of the Middle Fork of the Broad and the Hudson River along the way.
At high flows, with the rain still coming down, we made quick work of the 10-mile paddle path. Along the way we spotted a river otter, slipped beneath high rocky bluffs and abandoned stone bridge piers and even explored up creeks that spilt into the river over pictureque cascades. Even at high water with the sandbars and playplaces underwater, there was plenty to find.
We finished the trip at Broad River Outpost where downstream the real whitewater begins. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise come the last week of June, our journey will begin just a few miles upstream from the Outpost at another Broad River outfitter facility–SlowWater, a bucolic piece of property off U.S. 29. Otherwise, we’ll move further upstream.
The following day, Ben Emanuel, Bryan Nuse, Larry Castillo and Kelly Frazer joined April and I for a tour of the Savannah River from Savannah Rapids Pavillion at the head of the Augusta Canal to downtown Augusta.
Again, high water met us. We’re told that summer time low flows will make the last day of Paddle Georgia a tedious chore of picking your way through shallow shoals, but on this day the river was rolling and there were no shoals to be seen–just the waves created by them.
Believe it or not, the Savannah does include a Class II rapid in this section, though it can be avoided by taking an alternate route on the big, wide Savannah. It is after all, passing over the fall line between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain, and this makes the last day of Paddle Georgia a “watershed” moment as we pass from one of Georgia’s four geological regions to another.
Along the way the Savannah will delight. There’s something for everyone
on this paddle: history in the canal, shoals and rapids for the whitewater enthusiasts, wide expanses of flatwater for the touring kayaks, abandoned rock quarries, islands, impressive riverfront homes, industry, “authorized” crew graffiti on bridge pylons, views of downtown Augusta, houseboats and, I am told, the remote chance to see an alligator.
Heck, we’re even throwing in a short (though some may argue, long) portage from the canal to the river.
On thing’s for sure, you’re not likely to get bored on this run.