Double Suck Trouble on the Ocoee 8/11/02
It had to happen sometime...
Todd and I started a river we didn't finish. Well, more about that later. First we met at the 'take out' of the middle run of the Ocoee River. This used to be the only run on the river but in 1996 an area was made upstream of this section for the Olympics. I was familiar with the Olympic area as I watched Lori win one of her two American Canoe Association national titles here. This summer on Saturdays the TVA has run a whole extra stretch of about 7 miles that includes the Olympic course toward its bottom. So now everyone calls that run the upper Ocoee and the traditional run starting at the pourover dam the middle Ocoee run (where is the lower Ocoee run?). We put Todds boat on my Land Rover and on our way up we picked up some guys who told us about the upper run and we took them to the putin for that run. TVA has built paved walks, dressing rooms, bathrooms, and parking space. The run starts in an area called Bush Gardens because you paddle between trees that are on dry land except on Saturdays. Soon you can go over a 7 foot ledge on river left, eddy out, carry back up above the ledge, ferry across, and take another drop on river right continuing the main channel. There are several good play spots. There is a notorious hole that has to be crossed above the bridge above the Olympic section. This is called Blue Hole. The Olympic area has the river narrowed into some really fast water. I was surprised to see racing boats doing rail surfing, enders, and flat spins toward the top. Farther down is a rock in the center at a drop with monster standing waves, side flow coming off the rock and holes in several places. We saw so many people swin here that it amazed me when someone made it over in a playboat. This was a really dangerous rescue also. We decided that the upper Ocoee might be fun for a family raft trip someday but not for us today. We proceeded to the putin for the middle Ocoee.
At the putin we were surprised how much more water was pouring over the dam than two weeks before. The walkway down to launch our boats was flooded and Grumpy and Snow White holes looked viscious. It was obvious we were in for some fast water! I immediately got stuck in a hole. Swam and still couldn't get out for a while. I got to shore fine but couldn get my boat for another hour. When it washed out of the hole finally, it went to the other side of the river. It wasn't hard to get a ride on a raft as Todd stood and pulled a steady stream of rafters and kayakers to the side with his throw rope. I lost one of the pieces of foam for my feet so I was stuck paddling with only one foot braced (a real disadvantage in big water). We paddled on down and kept getting pounded by the waves and I had to roll a couple times. We decided that we would both feel safer stopping as we clearly both felt exhausted and things just weren't going our way. We also had to deal with people floating by all the time and neither of us are rescue trained. We saw boats and people everywhere on rocks, and in addition I was cold from my swim. We eddied out on river right and I climbed up to the road but found that the next place a car could pull over would be a half mile down. We decided to paddle on down some more. That is where disaster lay. Double Suck is a Class III rapid in an area where cars pull off and watch. It gets its name from two keeper hydraulics that form to river right of two large boulders. The river comes over a ledge just right of the main boulder (forming the first suckhole), and then pours over a smaller boulder (forming the second suckhole). Todd went closer to the boulder than I did. I got up speed and powered over the ledge and through the first hole and its wave but was partially vertical (as I always seem to be at that point) and everybody says I dropped tail first directly into the second suckhole. The hole I had been upside down in and had to swim out of earlier in the day was bubbly and just held me and my boat and just made me feel silly and stupid for not getting over it. This one was the most violent force I have ever experienced in nature. It rolled me end over end over end. I knew that I would be hurt by my boat if I was out of it and we were both spinning side by side so I stayed in a long time. It finally took me deep and spat me out and I rolled up. Everyone told me that if something like this ever happened again and I survived I should force myself to roll up with a big smile so everyone would think I was having fun. Todd and I made a hard fast ferry to shore and he went for his car. When he got back he had a whole car load of paddlers that he took on to the top and then came back for me and the boats. I watched that hole catch whole rafts and one poor person recirculated for almost a minute during which I never saw his head. Luckily a raft came over and grabbed him as he came out of the hole. We sat at the top and discussed the day's paddling. We were both proud of ourselves for calling the day at mid river. I called a technical dive once because I just didn't feel that everything was just right and have no regrets. Cave divers have a rule that anyone can call any dive at any time for any reason. Paddlers should too. Oh yes, I wasn't hurt at all! Tomorrow I will do strokes, rolls, and sprints in the lake. I'll have to be on call next weekend but will have a 3-day weekend after that. Trey will be home and we will paddle the Nanthala. He'll be moving to Seattle soon and it may be a long time till we paddle together again. /hugh
Click a photo to view or click first photo to see a slide show.