July 23, 2017

Watauga River

  • 8.5 miles
  • 5:00 duration
  • 4 geocaches
  • 1 Earth Cache

I have been busy traveling this summer, so it had been over a month since my last trip with my trusty kayak Huck. I finally got the opportunity to hit our favorite local river with friends LakeBum (Rob), BackWoodsAng (Ang) and Got Fossils? (Jerome and Carla).

The threat of rain had deterred at least one friend from joining us, but we are a hardy bunch and were ready to take whatever weather came our way. If you are already wet from the river, what will a little rain hurt, right?

As promised, there were showers when we first arrived at the Lover’s Lane launch point, so we decided to wait them out for a little bit. After waiting a little while, I told the group I was going to wade up and across the river to an island that held a geocache I had not yet found. I have gazed at that island longingly every time we have launched from here, but have never had the time to actually go to it.

This turned out to be a little harder than I anticipated. The knee deep current near shore was tough to walk in, but once I got toward the middle of the river, the water became much shallower and easier to navigate.

Once I reached the island, I checked my phone and saw that I still had quite a distance to go to reach the cache. I began whacking bushes and being whacked by bushes and managed to make my way a very short distance in the right direction in what seemed to be a very long time. I looked to my left and saw that the water next to the island was very shallow, and there was even a bit of a rocky beach along much of the edge.

I gladly left the bushes behind and walked along the water until I finally drew even with the spot my phone indicated the cache was in. However, the bushes were even thicker here, and I had to continue upstream a little further to find a spot to punch my way through. Once I did, I had to then bushwhack back down to the cache location. I chuckled at the hiding spot, suddenly understanding the hint, signed the log and then made my way back to where the others were patiently waiting.

By this time the rain had completely subsided, so we put our boats in the water and began our journey downstream. There was a low lying fog all along the river, caused by the warm air meeting the cool water. Did I say, “cool?” I meant COLD! I forgot to mention earlier that my legs were a bit numb after wading to and from the island.

Along the first half of our journey were three geocaches that I have had to pass up on previous trips. When the majority of our paddling group consists of muggles (non-geocachers) I hate to stop for caches and hold everyone up. But since everyone in today’s crew geocaches, I felt comfortable in doing so. They understand the addiction.

The first was a cache I had considered stopping for on a previous trip, but I noticed that it was completely surrounded by poison ivy. Today I had come prepared to deal with that by packing some latex gloves in my dry bag. However, my eagerness to grab the cache and continue our journey caused me to forget about them, and I braved the loathsome three-leaved plants to reach in bare-handed. I hope I won’t end up regretting that rash decision.

We made a brief stop so that Got Fossils? could log a cache and then everyone made it safely through the Sycamore Shoals rapids without incident. There is an Earth Cache at this section of river, so I took a selfie there to share in my online log and made a mental note to check the cache page and attempt to answer the questions so that I could log it, something I had neglected to do on previous trips.

After the shoals there are a couple of interesting little drops to navigate. Rocks stretch diagonally across the river, so one has to find just the right spot to sneak through without getting stuck. One in our group (I won’t mention his name but it rhymes with “flange”) learned the hard way that if you are on the downstream side of these formations and get your boat parallel to the rocks, you might get hit broadside by the current flowing over them and flip your boat.

Those two drops are a nice warm up to the main show, a drop of about five feet a little further downriver. Mrs. Fossils had never paddled this stretch of river, so we showed her what to watch for and the one spot where you can safely paddle over this cascade. I then went first to show her how it is done, and to set up so I could take pictures of the rest of the group. It is always a highlight of the trip and should be properly documented, no matter how many times you do it. Everyone made it safely across, although the air turned a bit blue as our newbie’s boat crested the drop.

I paddled upstream a short way to grab another geocache that I needed to log. This was one I had attempted previously, but been unable to open. It is what our geocaching group calls a “dirty tube” – a PVC pipe with a fixed cap on one end and a screw cap on the other. Sometimes those screw caps get tightened a little too much and I don’t have the grip strength to unscrew them. Today, I came prepared with channel lock pliers and successfully opened and signed the cache.

Those pliers came in handy for the next cache I stopped for, another dirty tube that was too tightly closed. I am sure the man and woman that were fishing the river nearby wondered what I was doing getting out of my boat, going into the woods, coming back out to the boat to get pliers, and going back into the woods. They gave me some really strange looks and quickly waded to shore and left.

We passed the Blevins Road boat ramp which marks the midway point of this journey, and soon afterward stopped for lunch on a small sandy beach. Ang found a camp chair that had washed ashore, and put it to good use despite the fact it was not in the best condition. After we ate, he rinsed it off and strapped it to the front of the party barge to take home with him. I’m not sure if it will be repaired and used as intended, or what plans he has for it.

Blue Herons are plentiful along our area rivers, but today we were treated to the rare sight of snowy white Egret. We were all very quiet as I glided up as close as possible to take his photo, and he cooperated nicely by not flying away.

Not so quiet, was the family that paddled by us. There were two adults and a child in a tandem canoe, a couple more adults in kayaks, and two pre-teen boys in kayaks. When I first spotted them coming down the river, I thought one of the boys was on a standup paddle board, but as he neared some rapids he plopped down into his kayak to ride them out.

WARNING: Beginning of rant. We were disturbed to see that the only one in the group wearing a life jacket was the small child in the canoe. While it is one thing to put yourself at risk by paddling without a flotation device, it is unconscionable to allow your child to do it as well.  A life jacket does you no good strapped to your boat if you flip. End of rant.

Eventually, our good weather ran out, and the rain moved in. We paddled for a bit in the rain, passing another group of adult paddlers that had pulled to the side to wait out the rain. I was glad to get past them and their extremely loud music, but wondered why they were worried about rain when everyone was wearing bikinis and swim trunks. There was no shelter where they stopped, so they were going to get as wet standing there as they would paddling.

A little further downriver we pulled up under a rock overhang to give the rain (and thunder which was a bit unnerving) time to move on. When it eased somewhat, we decided we needed to head on down the river as the day was growing short. As the rain stopped, the fog returned.

We navigated through Goat Rapid and the Wave Train, and soon the train trestle marking the end of our journey came into view. We were glad to see the family we had encountered earlier had arrived at the take out point safe and sound.

We all agreed that this was once again a great trip, and that we wouldn’t have changed anything, including the rain. It is hard to have a bad day on the river, especially when you have been away from it for so long.


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