River log: Mill Creek and Holly Creek

20160224 river log

We drove through the night to meet Justin Pagano somewhere near the Georgia-Tennessee border so that I could pick up a lightly used Jackson Karma that he had for sale. The plan started out as Tellico, then shifted to Chattooga Section 4, then back to Tellico when I saw the water start to rise. Storm warnings were coming in, and as we drove through Ohio and Kentucky the rain came down in drops of all sizes and even sheets. There was no way the Chattooga was going to stay within the safe zone if this weather was anything like consistent.

Sure enough, the message came in at around 9 that “everything is blown out.” Holly Creek, which Justin had suggested as “just like Tellico,” was above runnable. But maybe we could run this other nearby run that starts with a 40 foot waterfall. It turned out that he meant Mill Creek, in northwest Georgia.

We arrived at the chosen rendezvous- “on Old CCC Camp Road” wherever we happened to see a Tacoma full of kayaks – a bit after eleven. Among those kayaks was the large 2014 Jackson Karma that had brought me into contact with Justin through the WNC Gear Swap Facebook group. I hadn’t brought a boat down at all for this week in anticipation of committing to this boat. I’d better like it.

The Karma for me is a strange journey. I’ve been certain since Wilson Creek that it was time for a serious creeker. After countless backenders on the Upper Yough and seemingly every other steep creek I paddled in 2015, I was ready to part with my beloved Diesel. Hours after my first descent of Glen Park Falls at the end of 2015, I’d made a deal to sell the Diesel cheap to a Facebook friend who was struggling to learn in my old Nemesis. I was boatless for almost a month before picking up an old Nomad on the same group, in an epic adventure worthy of its own story during the massive southern blizzard. The Nomad was meant to hold me over while I decided between the Karma and a Recon, which seemed an impossible choice. As minimal an issue as this perhaps seems, I was torn between Wave Sport’s excellent 2014 seat and thigh braces, and the Karma’s innovative planing hull, and nobody on the blogosphere seemed to have a comparative review between the two. Everyone said Karma, but I’d struggled to roll it in pools, and the thigh braces posed a real concern. Nonetheless, Justin posted a nearly new boat on the group for just $650, nearly $200 cheaper than the only Recon I could find, and of course I love a good trip south.

So Karma it would be. We arrived at the top of Mill Creek and collectively elected to scout the waterfall with a long and steep hike. First was the entrance rapid, a hundred feet of drop in perhaps a thousand feet marred by a few blind drops into deadly strainers. That’s a pass for me, but let’s see this 40 foot “clean drop” I’d heard so much. Clean except for a pool supposedly all of eight feet deep, and a lead-in consisting of at least 20 feet of drop in continuous froth and long shallow slides. (AW says this is “Hickey drop falls” and it’s apparently quite runnable at lower levels.) I had left my phone behind and missed a great photo opportunity. There would be no chance of gopro footage to make this up. Not for my first time in a new boat, anyway, if ever. Thankfully I was not alone and we returned to the cars to run the middle section.

Other than a dozen significant strainers, the middle section of Mill Creek is a relatively modest narrow class 3. The Karma seemed to effortlessly plow through any kind of hole, except for one where I side-surfed a bit while avoiding a sudden riverwide strainer. I had a hard time keeping it straight – the planing hull with pronounced chines made turning very different than the Nomad. 

To be honest, Mill Creek quickly faded from memory after Holly. When we got off the river at 3:00, my shuttle bunny was ready to call it a day, and with inexplicable wetness inside my dry suit I was tempted to join in that call. But Justin insisted that we would be in and out in half an hour, that Holly was easy, and that I’d regret not running it. So after we had unequivocally agreed to head to lodging, I got back in to car to tell Amanda that we’d be doing this one quick run. Keep the car running.

The hike up (foot shuttle) is supposed to be 15 minutes, unless of course you’re 30 pounds overweight and struggling to balance a hundred gallons of new boat on your shoulder. It’s worth noting here that after last weekend’s challenges on the Yough and Stony, my confidence isn’t what it was in January. So when I looked down to see the curtain drop that caps out Turkey, I was ready to hike back out. But pride is a terrible thing, and swims be damned I never regret a tough run, but hikes out always seem to haunt me. So I proceeded through careful scouting and repeated back the line for the first two rapids as “stay down the middle.”

The first rapid began pushy but surprisingly rocky; I was broached on a boulder before I knew it, peeled back in and plowed a substantial hole, and got stuck in a central eddy. Justin tried to assist me out of the Eddy and proceeded onward a boat length or two ahead of me. He went over after the first big rock, where I found myself on nearly the same line but further right. It turned out the rock formed a nearly exposed shelf where I could park to wait out his carnage. I saw a single carp before spotting separation between boat and boater. The other two from our crew were already out of their boats with ropes ready when Justin dropped the ten-foot falls, boatless, and I was shortly behind, fully upright. I was stunned. The Karma was indeed taking care of me. Justin’s Villain was not far behind and exited its eddy before we had any hope of giving chase. This was Turkey, the most dangerous rapid, consisting of two substantial drops with a frothy hole in between and a curtain at the bottom. Following the first guy’s line, I made it through cleanly until rolling right after the curtain, but I made the roll, and at that moment the handling of the Karma gelled for me- it’s a giant playboat. It rolls like a playboat. It surfs like a playboat, except that it can also boof and punch holes. In my humble opinion I styled the run from there, although it was just class 3 boogie water. In hopes of finding the errant boat, we blew well past the standard takeout to give chase; two boaters stayed on after I hit my time limit and had to head out. I gave Justin his money and expressed my condolences.

It’s only been a day, but no activity has turned up online. If you find a red Villain or a paddle downstream of Holly Creek, please let me know. 

The fruits of the day's labor, my new 2014 Karma
The fruits of the day’s labor, my new 2014 Karma
Mill Creek
Mill Creek

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