Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Whitewater Rafting: Five Reasons to Paddle Before Summer

"Spring rafting!" Words that should energize whitewater lovers everywhere. Think farmer john-style wetsuits, pushy, strong whitewater, flowering trees, fresh air and—more than anything—getting outside and back in nature. Yet, there's a relatively low amount of interest in spring rafting.

Sure, summer is when people have time off, it’s warmer outside, the kids are out of school and there's more free time. Unfortunately though, rivers are usually at their most adventurous early in the season, and all of us at NOC would love to see more river lovers on the water in March, April and May. So, to inspire more spring adventures, here are five reasons why this is a great time to hit the water:

Seven Foot Falls, Chattooga IV

1) “When the Rain Comes…” Historically spring rains provide the best water levels of the year. We’ve had a pretty wet month so far here in Wesser, but we’re still just over half of our average six inches of rain. As I write this the French Broad, Chattooga and Nolichucky are running at beefy flows, and we’re getting a another good set of showers. Bottom line: This weekend, and other weekends throughout the spring, you can bet it will be splashy and exciting out there on the water.

It’s true that rivers tend to channelize water, and that summer flows are more than powerful enough to make plenty of splashes and waves, but big spring runs are the sometimes the best; they're often the stories we recall years later both as guides and paddlers.

2) Supply and Demand: You know the idea: we have less demand for spring rafting trips, which translates into savings for rafters. Interestingly, some of the best prices we offer all year are for trips when the excitement level is topping out.

Examples of savings? Well, you can save over over 10% at the Chattooga, Nolichucky and French Broad, and almost 10% on the Nantahala. The big discounts? The Ocoee and Pigeon are over 25% off full price in the spring.

3) No Need to Share: Another reason to enjoy spring rafting: you're probably going to have the river more to yourself in the spring. It's likely your rafting trip will be a bit smaller and more private, and it's almost certain there will be less river traffic outside of your trip. This means you're more likely to stumble upon wildlife or have more time to enjoy waterfalls or other riverside points of interest. See the photos below for some stops on the Chattooga and Nolichuky.

Long Creek Falls, Chattooga River

Secret Location, Nolichucky River

4) Availability: In the spring NOC rafts all seven of our rivers. Not only that, but we really offer 11 rafting trips (add Chattooga Section III, Lower Pigeon, Lower Nolichucky, and Full-Day French Broad to their better-known counterparts). This is when you have the most options to get on any NOC whitewater river. If it's late-August, we're often only running five rivers, and then only one trip on some of these. So, if there's a trip you've always aspired to do; this is the best time to book it.

5) "Because it's there." Attribute this sentiment to legendary mountaineer George Mallory or river-running Lewis Medlock from the film Deliverance, either way, it's the same idea behind all adventures and adventurers: experience the outdoors because you can. These trips are different and exciting. If you've never run whitewater at high water then you've missed one of the most exciting things you can do outdoors in the Southeast.

The rivers/trips to catch this spring:

1) Chattooga Section III: The upper section on the Chattooga is usually runnable through the season, but with spring rain we may be able to start at one of the alternate put-ins upstream like Earl's Ford, Sandy Ford or Fall Creek. This means a bit bigger whitewater and more river to see.

Bull Sluice, Chattooga III/IV

2) Nolichucky: The Nolichucky has the shortest season of all NOC rivers and because of this it sometimes gets forgotten by late summer, but this is one our staff's favorite trips. In the spring the upper part of this run can get pretty big, and Quartermile rapid becomes one of the longest and most difficult rapids we run. Even if you miss a high-water event, there should be healthy flows through the spring and the scenery here is without match in the East.

Spring on the Nolichucky
(Most major rapids are upstream of this photo.)

3) French Broad Full Day: Imagine a big Ocoee with plenty of giant splashy waves, that's the FB at high water. You can also catch the rare "Seldom Seen" wave/hole that forms at Frank Bell's rapid. This enormous river feature will certainly drench everyone in a raft. Again, even if you miss a high water event, the FB at spring flows is typically faster and a bit more action-packed.

Paddling the Ledges on the French Broad.

4) Section IV Chattooga: Running Section IV at high water provides serious Class V action, and it may be the most white-knuckle recreation you can have with NOC. At some levels we still run through the five falls (scary, but reasonable), and at the highest levels we run monster versions of Bull Sluice, Seven Foot Falls and Raven's Chute.

Corkscrew, Chattooga IV

5) Cheoah: The main reason to raft the dam-fed Cheoah in the spring is because that's just Cheoah season—over half the river's few releases take place before June. Extra rain flowing in from the Cheoah's feeder creeks will certainly make an intense trip even more intense though.

Photo Wave, Cheoah River

By the way, our dam-controlled rivers like the Nantahala, Ocoee and Pigeon can have high flows too, though these tend to be mitigated by the dam. To book an exciting spring rafting trip call 888.905.7238 or visit noc.com.

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