Island Creek is one of those whitewater jems that you hear everyone mention with excitement, filling you with this huge desire to paddle it, and yet it always eludes you. Though it has a gauge on American Whitewater, the more trustworthy reference is Emory, which should have been running at around 30,000 cfs the night before for a good Island Creek Run.
Well, I finally got to set boat on Island Creek over the winter holidays, a treat I never expected upon returning home from Boston. The temperature was a nice 50 degrees, and we put on with some sun and blue sky. When the run was over, I decided Island Creek was definitely one of my favorite Southeastern paddles ever.
Island Creek is where every kayaker becomes a kid again. Long stretches of rock slides —
deep in a gorge blanketed by dark green rhododendrons along the banks–let one feel as though they’re flying down into pools or through holes. It’s a narrow, 2-mile stretch of adrenaline ending in the wide gushing river of the Obed. Paddling buddy Randy states that this is a good creek for those wanting to step up their game to Class IV, and I would agree. Be prepared for a steep paddle with lots of horizon lines into the unknown.
Directions for getting to the put-in and takeout of Island Creek can be found on the Gorp website. Overall, it’s about an hour and a half drive and shuttle from Knoxville, well worth the effort for the run.
The first half mile or so is simple class II-III- read and run with lots of rocks at lower water. When an island appears, stay left of it. After the warm up comes the first rapid called Slip n Slide, a class III rapid comprised of a couple of small drops at the top leading into a long curving rock slide with diagonal holes that are powerful at high water. At the bottom of the rapid, the water pushes into a boulder. Scout from river right and run far right to avoid the holes.
NOTE: This river with its rock slides is a great example of a variant on Dori’s (from Finding Nemo) famous line: Just keep paddling, just keep paddling, just keep paddling paddling paddling. Believe it or not, I sing this in my head as I go through rapids that make me nervous. Silly, but paddling hard gets you through rapids more often than freezing does, and Island Creek is the best example of that. The one time I stopped paddling was at Slip n Slide and I promptly flipped at a hole. Nothing injured but my pride.
A couple bigger slides and fun before Compund Fracture, a class IV manky mess of a rapid. I was pretty nervous for this as it’s got some jagged rocks, water pushing hard into the left rock face that ends in a steep undercut and don’t forget holes and boulders. This rapid is run through a slot angling left, but not too far left to avoid rocks and have enough speed to boof basically center and through the mess at the bottom. That said, I went too far left,
knocked into half the rocks and got shot straight into the bank on left, then paddled like hell to barely miss the undercut area. Seriously, I messed up my line, and didn’t die (or flip for that matter). It’s manky, and I wouldn’t want to mess up, but the bark of this rapid is much worse than its bite.
Another large steep slide and a cave make Island Creek so unique. Paddling into the cave, you want to paddle left but not too far left, else you’ll bang into some rocks (pretty funny watching friends do that after you’ve one it yourself). Two eddies into the cave serve for good resting and walking around spots if you want. After the cave, the rapid snakes right then ends left.
Amazing. Beautiful. FUN. These describe Island Creek, and anyone who wants to experience Southeastern paddling in its raw, secluded serenity should definitely find this river and paddle it. A lot. Happy boating!