September 30, 2017

Fort Patrick Henry Lake and Lower Watauga River

  • FPH: 1.54 miles; LWR: 6.11 miles
  • FPH: 1:03 duration; LWR: 3:06 duration
  • FPH: 2 caches found; LWR: 3 caches hidden by me, 3 caches hidden by LakeBum

September was a very busy month, and it had been nearly four weeks since I was last able to hit the river with Huck. I talked with LakeBum (Rob) and we decided that Saturday afternoon would be a good time to paddle. We had two goals in mind: 1) be first to find a new geocache that BackWoodsAng had hidden a month earlier, and 2) explore a stretch of the Watauga River that we had not yet paddled.

We met at the Smith Shoals boat ramp on the upper end of Fort Patrick Henry Lake and paddled upstream and across to a spot where there is a tunnel under Pitt Road. We paddled through this tunnel and emerged on the other side into a quiet lagoon which fills what the map calls Dunlap Hollow. After deciding the general location of the geocache, we beached our watercraft and began searching the hillside for the cache. And searching. And searching some more. Finally, I spotted it, within about five feet of Rob’s boat. Such a clever hide, and very obvious once you knew it was there. We happily signed the clean log sheet, and then climbed back into our boats.

Before heading back to the boat ramp, I asked if we could paddle a little further upstream so that I could log one of Rob’s caches that I had not yet found. This was a very clever hide, but I found it quickly, by luck more than skill. We then paddle back to the boat ramp, loaded up our boats, and drove to Winged Deer Park so that we could check the level of the water and current of the stretch of river we wanted to tackle next. It looked like it would be sufficiently deep enough for our paddle, although a bit slow.

We then moved my boat to Rob’s truck, left mine parked at the boat ramp, and drove to our starting point near the water treatment plant on Riverview Dr. This is often the spot that we take out our boats when paddling the Watauga River. I had always been curious what the river was like past this point, so today we were going to find out.

This stretch of river turned out to be quite tame. I would not classify any of the rapids we navigated higher than a Class I. Most were not even close to that. There were a few spots that were very shallow, but fortunately there was only one spot along the way where we both had to get out of our boats and walk a short distance to deeper water.

We had not been paddling very long when I spotted a very large tree hanging over the river and knew that it had to have a geocache. None of the containers I brought would be appropriate for this location, so Rob gave me one of his to hide here. I was able to easily climb onto the tree and walk the wide, horizontal trunk (through the poison ivy vines) out to the point where it went vertical. There I found a nice knothole that was the perfect hiding spot for the container Rob gave me.

A short distance downstream we spotted a nice little item and Rob decided to hide a second cache here. As we were exploring, I noticed a round yellowish fruit on the ground and looked up to see where it had come from. I found a very interesting shrubby tree with several of the fruit hanging from it. The limbs were twisted and had large thorns. Rob picked one of the fruit and broke it open. It was obviously some type of citrus, very seedy, and smelled a bit bitter.

I searched Google to try to find out what kind of fruit it was, and discovered that it was called Flying Dragon. Originally from Asia, it was brought here and used to create barrier hedges. The fruit is edible but very bitter. One common use for it is to make marmalade or jelly using lots of sugar. Rob hid a geocache here, and we continued our journey downstream.

I hid one of my geocache containers on the next island we came to. Then, it was Rob’s turn again to hide his last container. By this time we were within the upper reaches of Boone Lake, and his hide became part of the Boone Pond Series of hides a group of us having been doing. Many of these hides will eventually be archived once the repairs to Boone Dam are complete and the lake is once again filled at capacity. But, this will not happen for three to five more years.

A little further downstream I found to small islands side by side that seemed to be a likely spot for another Boone Pond Series hide. When I checked the first one, it appeared to be in use as a hunting blind complete with spent shotgun shells and empty beer cans. I moved to the second island and found a hiding spot that will hopefully not be found by muggles (non-geocachers).

I still had one more container, and hoped to find a good spot for it. As we were paddling down the river, I noticed high, rocky cliffs along the shore that normally would be underwater when the lake is full. I began looking for a good spot that I could climb up the rocks and hide my cache. After passing under the Austin Springs Road bridge, I finally found the right spot. The climb wasn’t too challenging, but I had a bit of a scare at one point. I had just slid my toe into a hole between rocks and started to shift my weight when I suddenly felt something vibrating against the side of my shoe. I don’t know if it was mammal or reptile, but something wasn’t happy that I was invading it’s hidey hole. I screamed and quickly removed my foot. I never saw my adversary, but it certainly got my blood to pumping.

Once I reached the top of what would normally be the waterline, I kept going, hoping to make this hide one that can stay after the lake is refilled. A little further into the tree lined bank I found another rock face with a handy ledge about six feet high. I placed my cache there, made a note of the coordinates, and then started the journey back down. This was a little tougher than the climb up, partially because I was nervous about encountering my “friend” again, but I made the descent without incident, climbed back in my boat, and we began the last bit of the journey.

Much of the rest of the trip was flat water requiring lots of paddling, but the scenery was beautiful. At one point we encountered a huge flock of geese that were floating on the water. I snapped a couple of pictures and had just put my camera away when they all took flight together in a noisy, mass of flapping wings. Rob and I looked each other and commented that we wished we had captured a photo or video of that.

Soon, we were almost to the boat ramp, but Rob asked if I wanted to check out the cave across the water from the ramp. We paddled over, and into it.  I was able to paddle my kayak a good 25 to 30 feet into the cave, and might have gone further if I had had a headlamp with me. I used my cell phone flashlight to look deeper in, but couldn’t hold it and paddle at the same time, so eventually I backed out toward the sunlight. Hopefully, I can return and explore it more fully someday.

When I walked up to retrieve my truck, I found a geocache hidden in the guardrail next to where I was parked. We then stopped to find one more as we were driving back to the launch point to get Rob’s truck. Another very successful day of both hiding and finding caches!




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