I start by saying that a paddler died on the Cheoah River Saturday afternoon. There has been a lot of conjecture about what happened and I will not add to it. We learned of the incident Saturday evening after we returned to camp. Suffice it say that when a paddler dies on a river, it is a true tragedy. I have though a lot about the accident and the rapids on the lower part of the river. I’ll think long and hard about paddling below the bridge to the Falls and beyond in the future.
Louis Boulanger and I put on the river about noon on Saturday, April 26. We paddled Louis’s shredder. David Peak, David Jr., Karrie, and Micah paddled with us. Shortly after putting on, class 2 and 3 rapids started off and quickly picked up to class 3+ with an occasional class 4. The dam release was scheduled for 1000 cfs. Louis and I agreed that the lower 850 cfs release would make it difficult for the shredder, at least in the upper section of the run.
As we approach Wilma’s Ledge, aka God’s Dam (class 4+), we noticed sever people setting a Z-Line, trying to remove a pinned boat below the drop, which resembles a low head dam. Evidently, a boater swam, made it safely to shore but the errant boat pinned. We were able to make it safely by the activity and our group continued downstream.
We had road scouted most of the class 4, 4+, and 5 rapids prior to putting on; however, things looks very different while paddling. All I remember was several big drops, holes, and big wave trains. All went well, as we took out at the bridge above the Falls for a break. Karrie wisely decided not to paddle the big stuff from the Falls downstream. The rest of the group paddled on through the class 4+ entrance and class 4+ falls. Louis ran that in good shape and we took the class 4+ left side of the island below falls that included several big drops. We ended up getting broached on rocks just upstream of a strainer. It took several minutes to free ourselves and then we ferried hard to avoid the strainer.
More class 4+ rapids including Tapco Lodge Rapid and Yard Sale was followed by a mile or so lake paddle. As soon as we carried the shredder to the top of the ramp, I felt great relief. I also realized how tired I was after paddling 8+miles through constant rapids.