Entrance Rapid on the Ocoee River

Gorp.com

Playboating is a form of river running that focuses on improving specific whitewater skills at specific locations on a river. Intermediate paddlers and those more skilled can have lot of fun and significant control over their learning environment while they're perfecting the paddling skills they need.

Playboating runs the gamut from relatively easy river maneuvers to demanding, gymnastic freestyle stunts, according to the choice of the paddler. Getting from the put-in to the take-out is not necessarily the goal—making the most of a given spot on a river is. It's an aspect of river running that can be done in any type of whitewater boat.

The Ocoee River, in southeast Tennessee, is one of America's premier playboating rivers. The water is warm and the season is long, beginning in March and extending into November. The variety of rapids and play spots provide perfect locations to hone different paddling skills. There are shallow holes, big juicy holes, great 360 holes, killer cartwheel holes, and shredder waves of all sizes. There are easy lines, tricky lines and downright hairy lines. All of these features make the Ocoee just right for practicing the moves you need to paddle nearly any river, from the tightest creek to the biggest big-water run.

An annual whitewater rodeo competition has been held somewhere on this river every year since 1983, and the Rodeo World Championships were held at Hell Hole and Entrance rapids in 1993. It is very common to see elite paddlers on the Ocoee day after day, week after week. The Ocoee has also been the site of many national and world cup competitions in both slalom and wildwater. The most famous of these, the 1996 Olympic slalom racing site, is just upstream of the section of river described in this book. Since the early days of contemporary whitewater sport the Ocoee has been a developing ground. Today, the Ocoee sees nearly all forms of whitewater craft on its waters. Many boat builders come here to test their new prototypes.

A Short History of Ocoee Whitewater

Entrance rapids is the first section of a four-and-a-half-mile stretch of almost continuous whitewater between the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) diversion dam No. 2 and its No. 2 powerhouse. Most of the rapids on this run are in the Class III range and the average gradient is 30 feet per mile. The water is best suited for for boaters with abilities at the intermediate level and above who are comfortable running Class III-IV whitewater.

An elevated wooden flume follows this entire length of river, and the history of this flume has much to do with the recreation opportunities on the Ocoee as we know them today. Originally constructed in 1912, the flume was designed to help achieve TVA's primary objective of generating electricity by carrying water diverted from the river downstream and dropping it into the powerhouse. This it did, and for sixty-four years the Ocoee was for all practical purposes nothing but a dry, rocky streambed. However, maintenance was a huge task from day one, and in 1976 the flume was condemned and a restoration study was initiated.

That year, the water returned to the riverbed and a new Ocoee was born. Right away, adventure enthusiasts and business entrepreneurs discovered a river ideal for whitewater recreation. Rafting operations sprang up on the roadsides and paddlers came from everywhere to test their skills. The put-in and take-out as we know them today did not exist, and folks just dragged and lowered their boats from the highway to the roaring river below. The typical release was 1480 cfs, but releases were not scheduled, nor were they guaranteed. Sometimes the river ran all day and all night, sometimes it came on late and shut off early. Sometimes folks would drive for hours and arrive to find no water at all.

The TVA did plan to rebuild the flume and was intent on again rediverting the river. Determined not to lose their new paddling Mecca, private boaters and outfitters organized the Ocoee River Council, which took its cause to representatives in Nashville and Washington DC. In the meantime, a new flume was built. It was finished just before Labor Day, 1983, and the day after Labor Day the riverbed was dry again. It stayed dry for the remainder of that season, and no one knew if it would ever run again. By Thanksgiving, an agreement was reached—literally through an act of Congress. Starting in March of 1984, water would be released for recreation 116 days of the year on a very exact schedule. Commercial outfitters would pay $2 per rafting customer to make up for the power generation lost.

In 1996 the entire world paid a visit to the Ocoee via TV satellite linkup to view the whitewater slalom portion of the Olympic Games. Considering the Ocoee's history, it seems perfectly logical that the events were held on a normally dry and until then unused section of the river. Only time will tell how boating and the Ocoee will change in the next twenty years.

Entrance Rapid
aka: Grumpy

The water spills over a dam and gives the Ocoee a helluva bang-up start at Entrance. It also gives the playboater an abrupt beginning. Take the opportunity to stretch completely before you put in, because you'll have no time to warm up once you're in the rapid.

Hairy Ferry

There are a bunch of great waves and tough eddies to catch in this first rapid. The first hot move is to ferry up and over the current beside the ramp into the eddy at the base of the dam. You'll need powerful strokes and a conservative ferry angle to make this move doable.

Screw-up factor: 7. Not making this move has some consequences—if you blow it, you'll likely end up on the rocks below.

Boof Move

Catch the eddy on the right below the put-in pool and under the overhanging tree, just downstream of the pole. From here, look at the rock most of the current is slamming into, called "White Face." The name comes from the reaction a guide has when his or her raft is about to hit this rock and pin. Line up for the boof off the right corner of White Face for a thrilling drop into a solid eddy.

Screw-up factor: 7. It is possible to broach between the White Face rock and the small rock just to the right of it.

Prior to 1985, the put-in parking area, changing rooms and launch ramp did not exist. The put-in was several hundred yards downstream from the dam, in the spot where the metal steps that run down to the water from Highway 64 below Grumpy Ledge are today. Water was released through the gates on the far left side of the river in a raging torrent. The first half of Entrance, including Grumpy Ledge, was essentially dry.

Hairy Ferry II

Seventy-five yards downstream from the put-in is an obvious ledge with a wide, strong hole behind it, appropriately named Grumpy Ledge. Go in there, and you're comin' out grumpy. A series of tough moves begins behind the House Rock on river right above the ledge. (The House Rock is—you guessed it—a very large, house-sized rock.) Exit the House Rock eddy on the river left side, attaining the next eddy left via the small wave. Surf the next wave over above Grumpy toward the main channel left of the hole, or stay on the wave for a few shreds if you dare.

Screw-up factor: 8. Missing these moves or blowing off the wave can send you into the depths of the Grumpy Ledge hole—not a pleasant experience for most of us.

Great Surf

One hundred yards downstream of Grumpy is the first really solid surfing wave on the Ocoee. Access is from an eddy on river left. The best part of the wave is on the river right side, requiring a sometimes tricky move to get there. The easiest route to the sweet spot is to exit the eddy high and float back to the wave, landing in the surf. More difficult is to surf across the small hole from the eddy and jump the small rejector wave in the center onto the wave.

In the early 1980s, a group of Navy SEALs used the Ocoee for training purposes. These frogmen swam the entire river underwater and would frequently surface in an eddy right next to a boat. Another exercise was to swim through the spillway at the river left of the dam. This was before rocks were put in place to stop this activity. Not to be outdone by the military, river guide and excellent playboater John Kennedy also swam through the spillway.



©Article & Drawings copyright WMC Publishing. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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