Toccoa/Ocoee River Olympic Course

Ever done it?

Any advice?

Rafting or Kayaking?
I’ve run the easier (middle Ocoee), but not the Olympic section. Most anyone can run it with a guide and a raft, but it is not the place for an inexperienced whitewater paddler in a kayak or open canoe. You need significant skill to run that section in a little boat. It’s one of those things you build up to. Get comfortable on the Nanty and then the Middle Ocoee and then you’re ready – maybe.

Toccoa is the section above Copperhill and is all class 1 unless the water is high. The Ocoee is split into two section. The upper is the Olympic Section and contains several powerful rapids starting about 1/2 mile above the upper walk bridge down to the #2 dam. The middle starts at the number 2 dam and goes to the entry into the lake. The upper is more powerful but has more dead water. The middle is all on most of the way. I have not done the upper but have scouted most of it. I could do it if I took the cheat lines. Mess up and you get washed. I have done the middle many times and know all the cheat lines. If you scout it and have average class III skills you can do it. Just don’t go into it blind but if you would do that you don’t have enough experience to do it anyway.

I would suggest paying for a raft trip to look at the river first. Then hook up with someone to take you down the safe lines the first time. From there you can work your way into the bigger stuff.

If you want to work up to it I would suggest the Hiwassi which is just North of the Ocoee. Then do the Nantihala which is about 45 minutes East of the Ocoee. Each are a step up from the last.

If you are interested in giving them a try let me know and I will join you. I may even be able to give you a place to stay if you are interested. Just let me know.

Oh, check the release schedules on one of the rafting companies to see what sections are flowing. They don’t flow every day.

yes and no
We used to run the upper Ocoee before there was an Olympic course but it took a lot of rainfall to overwhelm the diversion pipe so it didn’t run a lot (there were never any releases) and it was a bit different each time. I haven’t run it since the Olympic course was put in.

There is a fair bit to the upper Ocoee other than the Olympic slalom course and a little bit more below it. The slalom course built for the Olympics consists of the relatively short but very powerful stretch between the two walk bridges across the river. A couple of the rapids on that section are relatively unchanged from before (Slam Dunk, for instance) but most of them were artificially created and the entire river was channelized to roughly 1/3 of its original width so the less flow was required to create consistently powerful rapids. This had to be done to insure that there would be enough water impounded to allow uniform conditions for all competitors over about a two week period of competition.

I would advise you to stay off the Olympic section unless you feel you have pretty solid Class IV whitewater skills and a relatively bombproof roll in a decked boat. This section is quite stout for open boats, although one does occasionally see an open boater on it. If you open boat and are good enough to tackle this section, I suspect you would know all about the course. If you do feel you are up for it, by all means try to hook up with someone who has run it multiple times before.

It might be worth mentioning that last June 2 rafting customers who came out of their rafts drowned on this section (different days).

The lower Ocoee (now often called the middle Ocoee section) will provide plenty of entertainment for you if you have solid Class III boating skills.

2 Drowned
Just to clarify the deaths. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.

The first was likely due to a medical condition. The person had no water in their lungs after death.

The second was a young boy that got his foot trapped at Mikey’s (I believe it was Mikey’s). I guess he tried to stand up when he fell out.

There are very few deaths on this river when you consider the number of people that go down it. There is also no check-in or skill requirement so anyone can throw a boat in and go. That being said, it is a fairly forgiving river but that does not mean that you can’t have a horrible experience. So do you homework.

True enough
Considering the very large number of inexperienced (to whitewater) customers who ride commercial raft trips on the upper Ocoee the number of drownings has been dramatically few.

But the 2 last year were not the only ones. A veteran raft guide drowned on the Olympic course at Alien Ledge in 2005. You can read about it here:

The point to be made is that this is some serious whitewater. I rather expect that anyone who doesn’t know about the upper Ocoee Olympic course already probably only belongs on it in a raft.

Ok Moms
I never said I was going to jump in head first and go kill myself because I’m reckless and a complete idiot.

I was merely looking for people on here who have had experience… and I’ll certainly look you up if and when I can get there.

My plan is to be in the area for several weeks… and try to build up my skills and get to know some of the experienced whitewater paddlers in the area. That would be fun if everyone can keep their panties from bunching up.

That was a strange response. We don’t know you, your skill level, your age or your intentions. Encouraging you to jump in that river not knowing a thing about you would be totally negligent on our part. Just stating the facts so you have all the pieces of the puzzle. What you do with the pieces is up to you.

Have fun and good luck

That was a bad one too. Any death like that is terrible. One that is equally horrible is the guy that got pinned on the middle and trying to remove him from his boat got his femoral artery cut. He blead to death.

There are also many heroic stories where common people have made amazing rescues. The one last year that amazes me is the kayaker that rolled another back up after he turned over, fractured his neck and was paralyzed from the neck down. The hero then spinal immobilized the guy in his boat, ferried him across the river and turned him over to EMS for transport. Amazing!

It is a great river with many experienced and helpful regulars. It is a great place to learn and progress.

You asked for advice
And you got some pretty good responses.

If you aren’t already a whitewater guy, you can probably build up skill to paddle that middle section (with a guide that knows the sneak lines) in a few weeks of paddling the Hiwassee, Nantahala, and whatever other II/III sections are running.

If you are young, in-shape, and already have some whitewater experience and a solid roll, you might be ready to run the Upper section after a few trips down the middle section.

But, most normal folks take months or years to build up the skills needed for the Olympic Section. Gotta have boat control, gotta make your eddies and ferries, and you gotta hit your rolls. If you have any trouble on the Nantahala or Middle Ocoee, you probably need more time and experience in Class I/III rapids.

That sounds like a friend of mine
or a remarkably similar incident but if it is the same incident a couple of details are wrong.

In August year before last, I was with a group of kayakers who were sheparding a newbie down the middle Ocoee. We got to the eddy on river left above Tablesaw and my friend (the most experienced boater in the group who had run 'Saw hundreds of times) said he would run down to the bottom to be a safety boater. We saw him hit the edge of the “boof rock” toward the right side and flip. What we did not know is that his head had a violent contact with a submerged rock just downstream.

This was probably so-called “raft guide ejector” rock, which used to kick up the rooster tail years ago for which Tablesaw was named. It was thought to have moved downstream in a flood in the 1980s.

My friend was not paralyzed, although he had immediate numbness and weakness in his left arm, and severe neck pain. He punched out of his boat and was able to swim to river left below the rapid. We thought he was unharmed except for having had an embarrassing swim.

A commercial raft guide with a full load of passengers but him in his raft and ferried him to river right, helped him up the bank to the road where an empty ambulance happened to be passing by which they flagged down. He was taken to the hospital in Ducktown but his fracture was not visualized on an emergency CT. It was picked up a week later on an MRI scan. Needless to say, he was fortunate.

Different One But
That is equally impressive. The one I am talking about happened in the play hole below Grumpy’s. Like I said, it is amazing what people do on that river. It’s a great group and I am impressed every time I get one it.

Paddle safe!

I agree entirely
It really sounds as if you know next to nothing about whitewater paddling. By all means, go ahead and jump on the upper Ocoee. I’m sure you will have a blast.

If you were only running the Olympic
course, then (in my opinion) there is some tough class 3, but only one class 4 to 4+ which occurs most of the way down, within sight of the bridge below the finish line. That rapid is tough if run the way the '96 course forced people to run it, where they had to emerge from heavy turbulence on river left, race over to execute an upstream gate on river right, and then drop diagonally over a slanting ledge through a heavy hole on the way to the next gate on river left. The ledgy bit on river left is hard even run straightaway.

BUT if you stay left, left of an exposed rock, the rapid should be easier.

Polk County Tennessee
is one of the poorest in the nation. Since the mines closed unemployment hits about 15% and most of the county is in the Cherokee National Forest. Please do not stress it’s resources further by having to be rescued, air-lifted, or whatever. These events also cause traffic congestion that is annoying to folks going about their business. That said, the little hospital at Ducktown (Copper Basin Medical) would have to close if it where not for the mangled boaters and rafters that pass through the ER each season. Want some really good water? Try the Tellico at full spate.

what is wrong with you?
Look up the word: accident.

What are you 12?
Look, I was asking for specific information regarding that area… not peoples’ horror stories. It’s totally irrelevant at this point. So save the advice and bring on the BETA.

You asked for specific info and advice
And you got it.

And then after people took the time to respond to your request, you acted like a jerk. Time to grow up.

emmagene, don’t go away mad. Just
go away. I’ll bet I’ve been paddling that area since you were trying to figure out how to graduate high school, and the issues you cite—aren’t.

I live there almost 50% of the time now and you are right. There is a behind the scenes battle that always goes on between the locals, river people, truckers, bike riders, hunters and the transportation folks. The K project is an example of the hornets nest that exists. Every time an incident happens whether it be a truck roll over, river accident, hunter conflict or anything else the opposite sides jump on it to prove their point. My hope is the outdoor recreation people can conduct themselves in a safe curtious manner so the other sides don’t have ammunition. I could easily see a user fee at the river similar to the Nantahala. This could be used to assess people’s equipment and abilities before they get in the river. While it may save a couple incidents it would hurt the area as a whole. In my opinion it is best if people can govern themselves in a responsible manner. Yeah I know, wishful thinking. But it never hurts to try.