You may or may not know that we (Yukon & Bean) will be floating 150 miles of the French Broad River starting May 29, 2016. We’ll be on the water about 13 days as we explore the length of this very old river (said to be the third oldest in the world, after the Nile and the New River, also here in North Carolina).
The Cherokee called the river “Long Man” and its many tributaries the “Chattering Children.” Native Americans called the French Broad’s quick moving rapids “Tahkeyostee” (“Where They Race”).
We geared up our raft (a 13′ Aire Super Puma) by strapping down our oar rig, adding safety gear, oars, extra clothes, water, and snacks.
Pushing the boat into the water, we entered the “The Forks of the River” where the West and North forks of the French Broad converge. The sun was shining, a slight breeze was blowing, and Yukon hit the oars to send us into the main channel of the river.
Over the course of 11 miles (and nearly 6 hours), we were treated to most spectacular day.
We were fascinated to watch how the river changed as we meandered along. Some sections were narrow, with steep embankments on either side. We’d often see cattle (and few herds of sheep) swing their heads ’round to give us a good look. Other parts were wide open, with long, straight views down the river. There were a few riffles and shoals and one section we’d consider a small Class I rapid because of the low water and quick technical maneuvering around some rocks.
There was much less trash than we expected (except for an exceptional number of tires and beer cans submerged in the river between miles 10 and 11 — wow, SO many tires and beer cans!). Mostly we saw bits and pieces of plastic hung up in trees and a fair number of red and blue solo cups (sigh….).
Throughout our float, we passed fishermen in full wading gear, or perched in small metal boats, hoping to catch some of the trout that call these waters home.
Somewhere past Champion Park in Rosman, I asked Yukon if he’d ever seen a hellbender. We’d seen a film about them and I was fascinated by these huge aquatic “lizards.”
“That’s one of my goals – to see a hellbender in the wild!”
Within a few minutes of saying that, we floated a wide, shallow, extremely clear and still section of water. I looked down and TA-DA! There was a hellbender half sticking out from under a rock! I attempted a photo, but it didn’t turn out too well. Instead, learn more about Appalachian hellbenders, where they live, and why they matter, by watching the magnificent short film The Last Dragons.
All along the river, we saw places where the banks had been “shored up” with logs, landscaping fabric, rip rap, tires, and assorted pieces of concrete. The area experienced some epic flooding in December of 2015 and the remnants of the flooding could be seen far up into the tree branches, along sharp curves in the river, and jammed up under the bridges. Most of the river bank remediation seemed to be holding up, though there were places were huge chunks of the bank was falling or had fallen into the river.
At one point, we focused in something…weird…on a tree branch. At the same we exclaimed, “Is that a DEER?” Sure enough, the hide and feet of a deer had gotten hung up on a branch and was just…there. We surmised it was a either a deer carcass tossed into the water by a hunter after he’d field-dressed it or a deer that drowned in the floods. Either way, it was an interesting sight to behold!
Throughout the day, we were kept busy with nature sightings (so many, in fact, that I started a list of them so we wouldn’t forget).
We saw osprey fishing in the river (and flying overhead with just-caught fish in their talons) and curious muskrats who’d poke their heads up to check us out before dipping back below the surface and swimming to the safety of the hundreds of tree roots along the river banks. The pair of red-tailed hawks showed off their fishing prowess as well, while treating us to stunning views of their feathers as we followed them down the river a little ways. We even had a small American Kestrel fly overhead (so fast there was no time to snap a photo).
Art was not something I was expecting to see, but sure enough, high up on the bank, there sat two gorgeous wrought-iron gates. They seemed to be an invitation to enter a lovely green pasture, though we figured in reality they were a curious and creative marker for the end of someone’s property.
All in all, this was a magnificent way to spend a Sunday. The river was running at a shallow 2’4″ and was scrape-y in a few places. With no rain for several weeks, the water was clear and cold and allowed us to see lots of fish and two hellbenders along the way.
We enjoyed seeing what the first day of our 150-mile, 13-day float will be like. As we passed Headwater Outfitters campground (and first overnight stop), it was hard to keep floating by. It looked like the perfect place to set up camp and sit a spell. Alas, we’ll have to wait until May 29th to experience the full adventure. Wish us luck as we prepare!
And we have to give a big shout out of thanks to Headwater Outfitters Outdoor Adventures near Rosman, NC for letting us launch from the beach at their store (and for letting us park a car there all day).