After almost a year of trying to get back on this river, I finally made it out to the Watauga yesterday. WAHOO! That is a fun, slightly intense–actually straight-up intense–river near Elizabethton, TN. The Watauga throws everything at you: holes, sieves, waterfalls, pin spots, undercuts, boofs, and slides. It is also situated beautifully at the bottom of a gorge. This post is all about the WATAUGA!
With many S turns and ferrying to get from one side of the river to the other, this IV-V river feels a bit longer than a 4.9 mile stretch. NOTE: these are serious rapids. They’re not too hard, but the overall theme of the Watauga is that a LOT of water pushes you where you do NOT want to be. S*&t Kicker is the first example you’ll experience this. The line is from extreme river right, paddling hard to river left. The current towards the end is deceptively strong and will push the unwary boater straight towards the pin slot/sievey boulder on river right.
After that rapid, the river eases up for a sec. It’s a good introduction to Watauga to let you
know what to expect from the rest of the river. Also, nothing below it is really as technical/ridiculous (though still as if not more consequential). Below S*%t Kicker is Hydro, the first class V rapid and one with some serious teeth. Got some good holes, plenty of sieves, lots of F You rocks and of course a strong current all ending in a seriously deep and large hole at the bottom of the rapid. CONFESSION: I did not run hydro. I will run hydro, but not after running very few class IV over the last year (boo grad school). It’s a beautiful rapid that will eat you if you’re not careful.
After hydro is some more class III boogie water, followed by a bunch of other class IV-IV+ rapids like Vernon’s Folly, Heavy Water, and Knuckles. Again, all typical one side of river and ferry to other side of river type rapids. After Diana’s Ledge, a class III with a retentive hole on the bottom, is the famous Stateline Falls. A 16-foot waterfall with a nasty rock on river left, this rapid looks a little scarier than it probably is. It’s also got a long, though not too technical lead-in to pay attention to.
After that, only a couple more bigger rapids and then the takeout. The last major rapid, Last Hair, is rather straight forward–again a serious pin in the middle of the river with water pushing hard toward it. Once past that, the river winds left, with lots of rocks and holes. Beware, should you flip, this place is SHALLOW. Ask me how I know this. The rest of the river mellows out and before long, you’re at the takeout celebrating a great day on the river!
A couple of things to note, Watauga is really bad for poison ivy. It covers the banks and well into the woods at both Hydro and Stateline. Also, at least this last time, we saw lots of snakes. Be wary of them both because they bite (which is never fun) and because the Watauga is their home so we need to respect that and be careful.
This is more of a sidenote, but be ready to run this river with good technique. While that seems obvious, the first time I ran it, I was not the paddler I am today, and I cannot believe the difference. The Watauga is one of the jewels of the Southeast, and that cannot truly be experienced if a paddler barely makes the rapids. It’s not a hard river, but it does require actual boating skills and not just muscle. Anyway, off my high horse. The Watauga is fun and beautiful; see you on it!