Georgia's Stunning Streams
The Cartecay was for years a sleeper hit among Georgia's many fine whitewater streams. It rolled along unnoticed near Ellijay, known only to a few area anglers and local boaters. However, this situation is gradually changing and the Cartecay is now attracting some well-deserved attention.
The navigable section of the river lies entirely within Gilmer County in northwestern Georgia. The Cartecay is a tributary of the once mighty but now dammed Coosawattee River. There are many launch and take-out spots providing a variety of trips for all skill levels. The upper section is two and a half miles of scenic Class I rapids from Holt Bridge Road (Highway 52,"A" on the map below) to Lower Cartecay Road ("B" on the map below). The trip from Lower Cartecay Road to Blackberry Mountain is full of fun. There is a public take-out at the covered bridge. The lower part of the river should be done only if you are prepared for eight miles of Class II-III whitewater with three miles of calm water.
The first few miles are slow and easy paddling through a scenic mountain valley. Thickets of mountain laurel, large pines, and various hardwoods will often suddenly part to expose rolling pastures and views of the surrounding mountains. The flow here is Class I. The only hazards are occasional downed trees that may block the narrow streambed.
As the valley ends the gradient gets steeper and easy Class II rapids begin to appear. Just below the first large island, the S turn is the first rapid of significant technical difficulty. Go to the left of the island and scout from the left shore. The terrain in this area is reminiscent of the third section of the Chattooga and has often been called a miniature version of the Narrows.
Seeing the covered bridge at Blackberry Mountain signals the first big drop on the river, called Stegall Mill. The drop can be scouted on the left and a small pool is all that separates it from several tight rapids below. Stegall Mill can be run straight down the center over the pluming wave in the main chute or in the chute on the left by cheating the wave to its left side. Eddy left in the pool below or be ready to brace and recover for the technical turns that follow.
The Cartecay, like the Chattooga, is a drop-and-pool stream, with sudden bursts of rapids interrupted by long, nearly placid stretches. This pattern continues as the river meanders along until it reaches a series of small islands. At the bottom of the second island after the covered bridge, pull out on the left to scout the second major drop, the Narrows at Clear Creek. At normal water levels you should run near the left bank. At water levels over three feet, a potentially hazardous hydraulic reversal develops at the base of the falls. Portage is easiest on the right.
The Narrows is the last drop on the river, but the pace remains brisk with some interesting Class II ripples before reaching the lower valley. Here the river slows almost to a halt and signs of civilization reappear in abundance. Highway noises filter through the woods. Riverside homes and pastures are again noticeable and a mobile-home park marks the end of all seclusion. A Class II rapid just above the river gauging station on the right bank denotes the end of the trip. Take out on the highway right-of-way on the right bank ("C" on the map above).
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication