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This was an aborted trip due to river conditions and weather, but I am writing to include some cautionary notes for those considering it. I had done this stretch once years before with one other experienced paddler in a single canoe, and we enjoyed a calmer water level and thoroughly enjoyed the trip. However, several factors were different on this float.
First, we had several small children along on this float as well as an adult that had never been in a canoe before, and the river was about two feet higher than normal. This would probably not matter, except that this stretch contains one of the largest drops in elevation (around eight feet over six and a half miles, according to Foshee) of any day float on the Cahaba. As a result, the stretch includes a number of shoals and a few small vertical drops that are swift at slightly higher water levels and can prove challenging to overloaded boats or people unfamiliar with paddling.
In addition to that, on the day we arrived the weather forecasters totally missed their predictions. Instead of an afternoon of sun, we arrived around noon for this relatively short float in a light rain that soon developed into a monsoon while we carried a vehicle to the takeout. Our spirits were lifted as we arrived back at the put in and the rain tapered off. However, the let-up was short-lived. Once we put in, it began raining again with a vengeance. We all got soaked in our boats, experienced paddlers, newbies, and kids alike as we began running the first of the shoals below the C.R. 24 Bridge. Some of the lillies were still blooming, but provided brief distraction from the slightly high water pounding against the big underwater boulders that tossed our canoes and kayaks all over the submerged shoals.
We made it almost a mile or so before the first canoe (a rickety old aluminum with a broken thwart and a newby in the front) flipped over against a submerged rock. Several of us out front were able to catch the canoe and spilled contents in rushing, whitecapping water while the former occupants kicked their way to the bank holding on to a cooler. We beached on a sandbar just upstream from mile-long Hargrove Shoals to regroup and drain the errant canoe. It was about that time it really began to pour rain.
With drenched kids and an adult with bruised and bleeding legs from the rocks after the canoe flipped, we decided to call it. Fortunately, we beached at the very end of the dirt road that follows the river a good distance from the put-in. We walked in a drenching rain to the put-in vehicle and headed home.
All this said, I want to say that under ideal conditions, this is a great float for everyone. But if the water's high, inexperienced people are along, or if the weather gets dicey, this one can be rough. It's one of the trickier portions of this beautiful river, and water levels are important.
When planning this trip, I consulted the USGS website to check water levels just 15 miles downstream at Centreville, AL. (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?02424000). At the beginning of this trip, the gauge at Centreville showed a flow of 650 - 700 Cubic Ft. Per Second and a 2.5 Foot Gauge Height. I can tell you that these levels are a bit challenging for beginners, and I was a little concerned picking a path with young kids in my canoe. The driving rain didn't help, and it was soon apparent the river was rising and becoming swifter. What was ordinarily a thrilling ride for folks with experience was becoming a slightly dangerous one for people with newbies and big clumsy canoes.
Anyway, in the future I will pick calmer stretches when bringing kids and beginners or at least watch those USGS Centreville readouts online and pick lower, slower water. And hopefully, the sun will be shining next time. I look forward to coming back better prepared and floating this stretch again.
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