This weekend was a milestone for me, I bagged my first 20 footer on the spout in Rock Island, TN. It was Thursday and everyone had the whitewater itch pretty bad on Nashville Whitewater, our facebook forum, and there was this huge storm coming right at us. We were so pumped for getting back out on the plateau, so when the storm passed over us harmlessly, wasting all its might and thunder over North Alabama, we were definitely bummed. But still, we had to go somewhere, because everybody knows that if you don’t qualm that whitewater bug somehow over the weekend, the rest of the week will be tainted.
So we all talked back and forth, a little about Clear Creek with laps on Jett to Lilly, about driving 3 whole hours to the Ocoee for a day trip, and thats when Rami Ayoub, a “The Outdoor Experience” team paddler, hit me up on Facebook, and asked me to come to the spout with him. I obliged, and invited Jason Crummer and Carlos Aranda to come with.
We all headed out Saturday morning to Rock Island State Park, in Rock Island, TN for our first Spout run. When we got there we all milled about, up above in the parking area, getting dressed out and taking some photos of the falls below. About that time, Clay Wright pulled up with his dog and asked us if we were running the spout too. He then pointed out all the different lines over the falls for us, which was handy beta by all means. He asked us what we would run it in and was surprised when we pointed to our playboats. He was even more surprised when Carlos spoke up, saying he would swim it. Clay’s eyes got so big because he definitely thought Carlos was serious.We all got a good laugh out of that one for sure!
Clay graciously offered up a medium Karma for Rami, and a Superhero for me. We accepted his offer and sat back to wait for him to return from home with 2 loner boats for us. Jason couldn’t wait though, as that waterfall had been singing his name since we got there. He took up his boat and headed up to the put in on the other side of the mills there. It was pretty cool watching him come down and as I watched, I couldn’t wait to get my chance out there. Clay showed up then with the boats and almost immediately realized he forgot his skirt. Off he went again to get it.
We couldn’t wait any longer as that waterfall was calling our name again. We grabbed our boats and headed up to the put in. The approach to the water fall was basically uneventful, although there was one little chute rapid I thought was cool and would like to explore a little better next time I go. We got up to where the waterfall was and I noticed a large eddy below the rock where Jason Crummer was standing. I scooted into that eddy with Rami and Carlos and awaited instructions on exactly where to go.
Jason stood above us explaining which way to go but i couldn’t hear him, so he just said “follow me” and jumped in his boat heading on out and over the horizon line. “Oh man!” I thought, wondering what I had gotten myself into yet again. So I just stifled that fear and headed out following the same line Jason had taken moments earlier. As my boat cleared the edge I went for a strong boof stroke, kicking my legs up, and launching myself out into the air. I was surprised at how far down it was there. Not like baby falls on the Tellico, where you boof then you’re down. Here I actually had time to think on the way down. What a great and awesome feeling it was, falling, then landing a solid flat BOOF! When I landed, I was surprised to see the waterfall was landing right beside my boat. That the closest I’ve ever been to that much falling water! So I took several good strokes and got myself away from it quick!
At the bottom, Rami showed me how to climb back up for round two. I’ll be honest. I’ve never been such a great climber, and have always had a phobia of falling when climbing. And the last thing I need to do is slip on some wet rocks, and fall off there, breaking a limb or two on the way down. So needless to say, I had a little freak out session out there trying to make the climb back up. All the guys did their best to help me get up the cliff, but all in all it was up to me to make it up there. After talking a bit with Rami, I realized the problem was that I was trying to do it with my full face helmet on, and that was messing with my depth perception. I took the helmet off and made the climb. Everybody applauded me when they saw I had made it! It felt good to accomplish something that truly scared the crap out of me! Once up there I pulled up the rope that was attached to my boat and gear, hauling my boat up the cliff. Now it was time for round 2! I got in my boat and headed for the edge, landing an even better boof this time! At the bottom, I decided that another bout with that cliff was out of the question, so I cruised on up the recovery pool to the higher section where I saw the other boaters gathering. Everybody was watching two guys in kayak gear, who were standing at the top of the highest point, pulling driftwood out of their intended line. It was Clay Wright and his JK factory buddy (whose name I forgot. Sorry JK Factory Buddy!) Clay had been talking about how Dane had run this line before and how he wanted a shot at it. So we waited for them to make it down this 25 footer. They styled it, even though JK factory buddy had a near miss at the top of the second drop, almost sliding off sideways! Great recovery JK factory buddy! When they got down, I got Clay to get a picture with me. Just then I was surprised to see Ben Ghertner and Trent Thibideaux paddling up in their BlissStick Tunas . It was cool to see them there. Everybody went back to the top for one more round with the beast as Clay and his buddy climbed back up to their perch for one more go as well. I decided that two times was enough for me so i just floated around, exploring the waterfalls and soaking in the scenery. Everyone made their last runs, then we all paddled down to the take out (above sieve city). At that point we all took out of our boats and went over as a group to check out sieve city.
I’d never seen seive city with water in it, so when I did, I realized where it got its name. That rapid is one to stay out of in my opinion, but if you have the skills to run it, then thats all on you! There were lots of hazards to be aware of. So if you come run the spout, make sure you take out before seive city, and if you want to run seive city, make sure you scout it first to choose your line. This rapid changes constantly from the rock slabs that get washed downstream with big rains. After checking out seive city, we shouldered our boats and hiked up the long staircase back to the top.
We got dried and dressed, and hung out in the parking lot talking about the falls and our run and realized we had worked up an appetite. We loaded up, went to return Clay’s boat to his truck, and headed down to the Rock Island Market and Cafe, where apparently it’s cheaper than cooking! I was able to feed all three of us with only $20 including tip! And the food was great. It definitely didn’t taste cheap. I definitely recommend this place to broke paddlers who are tired and hungry. After we finished eating Clay Wright walked in and noticed us sitting there. He came over and spoke with us. At that moment I realized I was “double Repping”, wearing a Jackson shirt and hat. He definitely called me out on it and I felt a little self concious. lol. We had a good laugh about that. But Clay, I’ve always been a little one sided when choosing with things I like. Jackson Kayak is awesome, it supports World Kayak, and it’s local. So I’m proud to double repp! Big thanks go out to Clay Wright for loaning me the boat, to Rami Ayoub, for inviting me, to Jason Crummer, for driving, and to Carlos Aranda, for being the coolest Mexican I’ve ever met! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you on the river!
All photos courtesy of Tim Curtis of Sparta, TN.