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Chattahoochee River - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Weekend Trip Report
Trip Dates: August 12-13, 2006
Nearest City: Duluth, GA
Difficulty: Moderate

Description:

24-Hour paddle mania!
Four of us set out to do what we have not heard of anyone else doing before: paddling 24 hours straight with minimal breaks. In the end it was 26.5 hours and 102 miles of paddling. Roughly 60,000 strokes of the paddle.

The goal was to paddle down the Hooch for 24-hours. We would have liked to start at Buford Dam, but the river is closed after sun set so we had to be sure that we had cleared the forest boundary by dark. We knew we could do that if we really pushed ourselves, but that would leave a lot of energy for the hours after the sun set.

We put in at Abbott's Bridge; visibility was pretty short due to the fog at the surface of the river. We often heard fishermen talking ahead of us before we could see them. Occasionally the fog would lift and expose the beautiful shoreline that is hard to believe is in metro Atlanta.

Mother Nature helped us wake up with a thunderstorm that started shortly before we crossed beneath GA-400. We parked our boats under GA-400 a few minutes and played in the "waterfalls" coming down from the bridge. The water had been nice and clean up to this point, but here a muddy stream poured into Hooch from river left. When we reached the Roswell Road Bridge, that muddy stream had made about one-third of the Hooch muddy. By another mile down stream the entire river's width was muddy.

We took out at Azalea Park for a 20 minute break. Desi met us there with fresh baked cookies, bless her sweet heart! I discovered here that my Werner bent shaft paddle was giving me some discomfort. It is a new paddle to me and I may not have a proper stroke yet, my left wrist was really sore already and we'd only been paddling 4-5 hours. Desi had brought me her spare spray skirt, the one that came with my 14' rental boat wouldn't fit.

We paddled on after 20 minutes and met our only portage at Morgan Falls Dam. It is a relatively easy portage and well marked with signs. The take out was full of floating trash, the worst any of us four had seen it. We carried our boats to the grass hill, took a picture then moved on. The put in was a minor difficulty, the water there pushed nearly every one of us into the gauge pole, but we cleared it and kept moving.

The last several miles had been constant paddling in nearly non-moving water. I had expectations that below the dam we would hit moving water again. It was moving, but still at a crawl. We occasionally went through some shoals which made it a more entertaining trip and the scenery was never a disappointment.

We stopped again at 5:30pm at the Palisades (Paces Mill, near Hwy-41). My wife and Desi showed up here. My wife brought my dry top and Desi had a straight paddle for me. I had assumed it would be another hot August day in Georgia, so I hadn't thought the temps would chill us so much. 15-20 minutes later we were on the river paddling again.

The only challenging rapid that we encountered the whole trip was at the Atlanta Water Works, the largest water treatment plant in Georgia. Richard Grove, our guide, had warned us all ahead of time about what to expect. I'm familiar with white water kayaking but I'm used to my 7'7" Liquid Logic Huck. When he asked who wants to go first I shot my hand into the air and my ego was full of itself. I paddled up slowly for a look over the 3' drop and spotted two kayaks there running the gate course. I whistled loudly till one looked up and saw me coming. I paddled hard and shot forward in my rented Kestrel 140 (14') kayak. I went down the drop and I'm not real sure what happened next? The wave train caught the front of my bow sticking way out in front of me turned me left and rolled me over. The borrowed spray skirt came loose and I dumped out of the boat. I maintained a grip on my paddle, let out a happy hollar (hey, it was fun after all!) and started to the left shore line where there was a beach. Ray followed me down fine in his Dagger, then Joel in his 14' Tsunami. Joel also flipped (thank goodness I wasn't the only one, haha) and lost his paddle. He worked his boat to the left shore as well and I pointed Ray to the paddle heading down stream. Richard came over the drop last like the pro he is. His Kestrel 120 came through for him. We emptied our boats and got back on our way. Just down stream of here is where the "treated" water re-enters the river, hold your nose.

Paddling from here was pretty un-eventful. We passed Six Flags over Georgia and couldn't see as much as I was hopeful for. A short time later it was getting close to dusk and we stopped on an island where Richard had camped before. We pulled out our head lamps, took a swallow of water or a bite to eat and put right back in the water 5 minutes later.

The river beyond here isn't as wide as it had been closer to Atlanta. Some downfall and strainers quickly made the river narrow though and in the dark we had to stay alert for them. We had no moonlight due to the clouds, but we had a good deal of reflected/ambient light from towns, etc. This lasted till about 10 or 11 and then as we went into more remote parts of Georgia the light faded away until it was dark. We used our head lamps sparingly to look for imagined rocks and imagined take out points.

At 11pm I was sleepy, sore and questioning why the hell I was there? It came down to will power and the others pushing on that allowed me to complete this paddle. My second wind came at 3am, but as I was ready to again pick up my pace, others were slowing down due to sore shoulders and lack of sleep. We had one brief stop for 5 minutes or so to use the bathroom. Around 4am (I think) we found a boat ramp and parking lot. We took out here for a 15 minute rest.

Dawn became noticeable around 6:45am and it encouraged each of us. When we hit our 24-hour mark we raised our paddles and took a few pictures!

Knowing that we had another 10 miles of paddling to reach our take out was weighing on each of us. It hurt to think about but the only thing that could be done was accepting the fact that it must be completed to get home. I believe the worst heart break were those long straight-aways knowing that slow moving current meant a lot more paddling before our take out.

Seeing the bridge that marked our take out was a relief. All of us picked up our pace and made for the boat ramp at Franklin. Desi had been there waiting for us for 2+ hours and had already found a good place for our lunch. At the take out was a number of stores and this was the only such occurrence of stores right at the river's edge that I could think of.

More Pictures of 24-hour Paddle Mania, with some descriptions.

Accommodations:

The Chattahoochee National Park areas offered a number of opportunities to refill water bottles, use bathroom facilities and spouses to bring us the things we had previously forgotten to bring with us.

After leaving the National Forest area, shores were populated at first with private property, homes, etc, but eventually the land became steep, muddy banks and offered little option for comfortable camping. There was a nice island about 30-45 minutes after Six Flags that Richard had slept on previously. When we arrived there it was home to a lot of Canadian Geese who had no appreciation for our arrival, but I think it'd be a nice place to toss down a bivy bag and sleeping mat.
The take out at Franklin had a variety of general stores, restaurants and gas stations.

Fees:

$3 parking permit is required in the Chattahoochee River National Park, but no over night parking is allowed. We had a shuttle drop us off at the river put-in, and pick us up at Franklin, GA for the take out.

Directions:

Abbott's Bridge put in is 13 miles South of Buford Dam and is North of Atlanta between GA-400 & I-85.
Franklin, GA, is about an hour & a half South-East of Atlanta, near the Alabama state line.

Resources:

Maps of Chattahoochee River area.


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