I’ve been doing research and exploring the French Broad River, so when the Western North Carolina Kayaking Meetup announced a trip on the river, I knew I had to sign up. The trip wasn’t on any part of the river covered by the Mountain Lily story, so I’m not calling this “Part 3.” The timing was convenient, though, and it did give me a feel for traveling on the river.
I had two paddling options for this Saturday with Meetup groups. The Tri-County Paddlers from Berkeley County were doing a full-moon paddle out to Church Island on Lake Marion. I initially said yes to that one, but when I found out about the WNC group’s trip I changed my plans. I was already deep into my Mountain Lily research and the French Broad trip would require less driving. Plus, the Lake Marion trip would require and overnight in Santee and I’d miss the jam session I had planned for Sunday. It just worked out better all around to go to the French Broad.
The plan was to paddle from the Island Ford Access to the Hap Simpson Park, a trip of about 10 miles. According to the website we would meet at 11:00 am and the event would end at 2:00 pm. 10 miles including shuttle and a stop for lunch in just 3 hours? Yeah, right. I knew better.
Things went off the rails as soon as I arrived. First off, there was no leader/organizer. Someone named Ed said that the plans had changed and that there were too many trees down on the stretch we had wanted to do. Instead, we would do the section from Rosman down to Island Ford. I was OK with the new plan, but it took me even further from my Mountain Lily route and threw our “schedule” even further off-kilter.
After a few fits and starts we got folks together and arrived at the Island Ford take-out, where we left a few vehicles. I loaded more boats onto my truck and we drove to Rosman.
I’d scouted this section many times, but never had the opportunity to paddle it. Today there would be a lucky 13 paddlers – 3 men and 10 women. We unloaded boats and got things staged for departure.
A woman introducing herself as Marjory took the roll of organizer and had everyone introduce themselves, then went over some info on the trip.
After that we got underway.
At the launch site the river is rocky and shallow. My boat snagged as soon as I launched and spun me around. I’m a better paddler than this, and I was embarrassed to get hung up so early in the trip. I was hoping that this wouldn’t be typical for the entire trip. Another paddler, Debbie, caught a photo of me struggling through the shallow water.
Things smoothed out quickly, though…for a bit. The water was deep enough to navigate and it was good to have a current going in the same direction as I wanted to go. We passed the town of Rosman and under the Highway 176 Bridge.
Past Rosman the French Broad twists through an agricultural valley. Right along the edges trees hang low, but just beyond we could here tractors and other activity. In many respect it reminded me of the Enoree, Saluda, or any number of other Piedmont rivers I’ve paddled.
All along the way I tried to imagine the Mountain Lily traveling these waters. It seemed improbable. Not only was the river fairly shallow and narrow, but there was the occasional rapid/ripple. These were nothing serious and I navigated them with ease. I enjoyed the rush of speed as I bounced through small chutes and standing waves. It made me want to head back to the Green River or Nantahala.
We pulled up to a grassy bank for a lunch stop.
After our lunch stop the area opened up and became even more agricultural with mountain vistas in the distance. We saw cows and corn along the banks and irrigation pumps dipped into the river.
We passed by a couple of bridges. Ed, who had said we should do this alternate route, kept saying, “This must be the take-out!” I knew from my GPS that we still had quite a ways to go. A couple of the bridges did have make-shift take-outs. One, a rough single-lane bridge, had logs wedged into the roadbed from a past flood.
At one bridge we reached the commercial take-out for Headwaters outfitters. A shuttle bus was at the take-out. Marjory, the eldest (and most experienced) member of our group, was feeling a bit worn out. She got the Headwaters group to give her a ride back to Rosman.
Our group was getting strung out a bit. I hung back to check on some of the stragglers, but I knew this could be an issue. Anyone at the take-out would have to wait for us in order to run the shuttle, or we would be stranded. I often found myself paddling alone, positioned between a fast group and a lagging group.
As we got closer to Island Ford the vegetation closed in a bit. There were huge stands of bamboo lining the river and tributaries. There were also some deep pools that made for tempting swimming holes.
If I had been with my normal (if that word can be used in this sense) ADD paddling group, we would have explored each of these. A couple of the paddlers did stop to swim, but I kept going.
Eventually we all reached the Island Ford take-out. It was about 4:30, much later than the 2:00 prediction. The take-out was a very steep set of concrete risers. I won’t even call them steps because they were too tall. We helped each other lift boats up to the parking lot.
I caught a ride back to Rosman to retrieve my truck, then loaded up my gear back at Island Ford. It was a great trip and all of my fellow paddlers were nice folks. I enjoyed getting to know them on the river. In all we had paddled 10.5 miles on today’s trip.
I did make a time-lapse with the GoPro.
Here is the album of all of my photos from the trip:
Another paddler, Debbie, also took photos and posted them to Flickr. Here are her shots:
It was a great trip, and I’d definitely like to do this section again. However, even more now I want to get onto the section that the Mountain Lily had run.