The upper end of class III is seen again. Scarham is a nice step up if you like Town Creek. The is some introductory class III, then the real action begins with Ab's surprise, a run through the trees, then Munch Stop. Ab's Surprise is the trickiest rapid above the confluence rapid. Scout right or left if you wish, there are at least three possible lines. Munch Stop has a big rock on the left which is a prudent scout depending on water level, though it changed dramatically in 2006. What used to be a good eddy was formed by a solid log jam on river left next to the big rock. The log jam has cleared and now most of the water goes under the left side of the big rock. It's certainly a scout and probably a walk now.
Several more good III's follow. The last class III+ rapid is a fun eddy hop which increases in difficulty until you reach a slot on the left at the bottom. At high water, other routes are possible here too. Finally, confluence rapid (aka Terminator) is about 100 yards downstream. It is a IV+ to V- depending on your disposition and water level. After that, Lower Short can be quite exciting if the water is high. This run can actually be made to surprisingly low levels if you are willing to walk and scrape a few things.
You may see the rock bench at at the Double Bridges put-in on river right in the undercut outflow of Shoal Creek. If you do, flow under it is low and over it is high. Water in the top of the bench signals a high water run. There will be push on the bigger rapids and Lower Short may be Gauley-esque. What to do if it is too high or you just want a longer day? Well, you can run one of the tributaries. Shoal is a nice additional few miles. Whippoorwill will add just a short warmup. Upper Scarham is an option as well. All these require at least medium water on Lower Scarham.
Adventures on Sand Mountain - Mark D'Agostino, Ben Ferrill, David Curry.
Mark D’ was desperate for a fix. All his usual connections had deserted him, and Mary had too much wedding stuff to do to attend to his needs. He dug deep into his Rolodex to call Ben and me to ask if we were up to a learning experience (translation: humbling experience). Little did I know how much learning would be experienced.
We met at Hardees on a rainy Saturday to decide where to go. The Little River in the Smokies was out - too much water. We considered The Plateau - way too much water. You can run the Ocoee any time. That left Sand Mountain.
At the top of the mountain, we started checking out creeks: Black Oak - not enough water; Town - Mark had already paddled it this year; Short - too much of a learning experience; South Sauty - out of the question. That left Scarham. At Double Bridges, things really looked nasty; the level was high and the confluence with Whippoorwill creek was a boiling, seething, writhing mass of "funny" water. Mark said it was perfect.
We put onto Whippoorwill creek and had an idyllic, enjoyable paddle to the confluence. From that point on, the creek began to drop rapidly, and the velocity and push of the water increased dramatically. We scouted and paddled the first few rapids without event. Then, at the top of a rather long rapid, I lost a wrestling match with a bush in an eddy (there were no kayaks available) and ended up swimming without my boat. I had no choice but to hike, paddle in hand, hoping my boat was smart enough to swim safely to shore. It was. About two hundred yards down stream it had neatly broached itself on some rocks on the opposite bank. Mark and I tandem-ferried across the creek and everything was back to normal. Sure.
Ben would not fare quite so well. In trying to run a scary drop which Mark had made look easy, and I had walked, Ben got separated from his boat, had his paddle jerked out of his hand, and got re-circulated a couple of times by a hungry hole. Luckily, Mark hit a perfect throw with his rope and Ben was safely ashore without having to swim the Class V rapid just below. He only had a messy contusion on his leg which Mark repaired with duct tape. His boat and paddle, however, were well on their way to Guntersville.
With Ben hiking and Mark and me paddling, we began the search for Ben's boat. The creek was not so steep now, but the waves and holes were getting bigger. At the confluence with Short Creek and as far as you could see below was an enormous wave/hole extravaganza that looked more like the North Atlantic than a creek in Alabama.
A couple hundred yards below the confluence, we found Ben's boat neatly broached on a rock about 50 feet from shore. Mark immediately took charge of the recovery effort. After three trips back to my boat for the right equipment, ("you don't have a `biner attached to your rope?") we were set. Mark and I held one end of the rope while Ben made the swim to the boat with the other end. On the second try, he made it, and easily popped the boat free. All our troubles were over, or so we thought.
Earlier in the day, Mark had casually mentioned that there was a "bit of a flat water paddle" to the take-out. The three miles of flat water was no problem at all; the 20 mph wind in our faces was, however a bit of a problem. It was a strain all the way. If what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, my spine is now made of pure titanium.
When I got home, I ate supper, took a double dose of vitamin I, crawled into bed, and slept the untroubled sleep of the exhausted. The next morning I awoke to find that all my limbs were intact and I could still walk. I guess it really was a good learning experience.