Cartecay Day

Published on 18 September 2010
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It's been a long time coming: I've wanted to run the Middle Cartecay since the waters warmed in the spring. But it's a bit too fast for the entire family, so other nearby rivers and lakes took precedence for this summer's kayaking trips. But with Tina and the girls out of town for a soccer tournament, the boys (Luke, Stephen, and I) headed over for a beautiful September afternoon on the river.

This section has a lot going for it. It's only 35 miles from home and very scenic. With mainly Class IIs (and occasional Class IIIs), it's approachable even for teens and beginners. It's a short run (two hours or less), so it can be done easily in an afternoon. And yet within that 2 1/2 river miles are some interesting rapids: Rock Garden, Surfing Rapid, S-Turn, Whirlpool, and the grand finale: Blackberry Falls. There are a few outfitters in the area, so it's easy to get shuttles and any extra rentals needed. For all the above reasons, this is one nearby river section I highly recommend, particularly before taking on longer runs.

A heavy rainstorm the night before lifted the water to near 1.4' on the standard American Whitewater gauge:  high enough to be runnable (we never got stuck) and low enough to keep the rapids easy. Although neither Luke nor Stephen had run this stretch before, they handled it like pros, maneuvering the falls and s-curves perfectly.

The first mile was gentle, and offered time to relax and get accustomed to the river. We enjoyed the trees, rock faces, mountain laurel, birds, riverfront homes, and a friendly dog along shore. After a few shoals, we paddled straight through Rock Garden and Surfing Rapid, which provided a good warm-up for what lay ahead. The S-Turn near mile two provided our first real challenge: Luke's kayak got swamped and he struggled a bit to find a place among the shoreline boulders to flip and drain it. We met another kayaker there with goggles, treasure-hunting in the big pool at the end. Just this week, he found two rings and a dozen pairs of sunglasses in those eddies.

Shortly afterward, we heard the rush of Blackberry Falls and enjoyed running it the only way we could at this depth: left to right through the chute, then hard left at the end. Our two unskirted open kayaks swamped on every run, so we used the one sit-on-top for repeat runs. I ran it six times in a row: never gets old. After some body-surfing down the rapids, we passed under the bridge to our Mulkey Road take-out.

I'm determined to catch this stretch at higher water levels, so that the rapids will be faster and we can run a longer section. That'll likely mean getting out there in cooler weather (late fall or early spring), but I'm sure I can talk the boys into it.