The section of the Upper Chattahoochee between Highway 115 and Duncan Bridge Road is one of the most popular runs for trained beginners in north Georgia. It is an easy drive from Atlanta, has pretty scenery and rapids that should challenge a beginning paddler without being too intimidating. This section flows almost entirely through private lands, so please bear that in mind when paddling. Homeowners on this part of the river have been friendly in the past, so let's keep it that way.
The best level for paddling the Upper Hooch is 2.0 feet or better. The Hooch can be paddled below 2.0 but it tends to be slow, shallow and very rocky. Paddling this river below 1.0 on the gauge makes for a very long day. There is a hand-painted gauge on the down river pillar of the Highway 115 bridge. A quick way to check the river at the takeout is to check the small platform at the bottom of the steps. At 2.0 feet the platform should be just barely above water. At 2.0 feet the rapids are good, at 3.0 the rapids are really good and at 4.0 or higher paddlers need to be very confident of their abilities. Beginners should think twice about paddling the Upper Hooch at 3.0 or higher.
About fifty yards below the put-in you will encounter your first drop on the river. This is a one-foot drop that can be easily run near the right bank through a sloping chute. After this initial drop the river is slow and easy through the next couple of bends in the river. As you round that second bend you should see Buck Island and hear Buck Island shoals. As you approach the island you will need to work down the left side of the river through a small rock garden until you see a group of rocks about fifteen feet from the left bank and just above the tip of the island. This marks a drop of about two feet. The drop cuts right behind the rocks, so it's best to run close to the rock with a little bit of right "English" on your boat. This allows you to avoid the rocks directly below the drop and sets you up to catch the eddy behind the rocks if you want to stop and play here. After the drop stay to the left of the two islands. Below the islands work back to the right side of the river to set up for
the next set of rapids. After you pass the islands and the rocks downstream the river channels to the right and picks up speed as the gradient increases. This continues down the right side for about 100-150 yards, with some fun waves and few rocks to worry about, until a rock outcropping on the right side narrows the channel and forces it to the left. If the water is fairly high, simply cut left then back to the right and down the right side of the river. If the water is normal to low, then cut left at the rock and out to the center of the river. From the center look for a wave train that angles from the center towards the right side of the river. Whichever way you choose, about thirty yards below the rock outcropping the river drops over a long slide on the right side. The drop itself isn't that tricky but right below it the river makes a quick S-turn through some rocks that are just dying to meet you. Pay attention and you can catch an eddy right at the bottom of the drop. Other wise be ready to cut hard left and then hard right below the drop.
After you work through the rocks below the drop, the river widens and slows for a few hundred yards. After this long eddy, the river once again channels to the right and picks up speed. This next rapid starts with a small S-turn through some rocks and then runs down the right side with some fun waves and few rocks to worry about. Sound familiar? Approximately two hundred yards down stream the river is funneled through a cut in a rock ledge. Right in the middle of this cut is a rock called "Canoe Catcher". A kayak running the middle of this drop might "ski jump" over if the water is high and their luck is good. Open boats and unlucky kayakers tend to wrap around this rock. To avoid this inconvenience run the opening slightly to the right or left.
Below "Canoe Catcher" the Hooch bends around a large rock face on the right and over a short series of small ledges. Work your way down these ledges on the right. You may want to eddy hop down these ledges and play some of the small waves on your way down. This area is called "Surfing Beach" because of the fun wave and sandy beach at the base of the ledges. The river is relatively calm after this, until you reach the "Three Ledges".
The "Three Ledges" is one of the more challenging sections of the river. After the calm stretch below "Surfing Wave " the river turns to the left, getting rockier as it does, although the current remains fairly slow. Once you've gone around the bend, so to speak, if you look downstream about three hundred yards you'll see a horizon line that extends all the way across the river. This is the first ledge. If you swing your vision to the left along this horizon line, you'll see a large flat rock fairly close to the left bank. The drop is between this rock and the left bank. The river is very rocky directly above the drop, making a direct approach difficult at low to normal water levels. It's usually easier to approach the first ledge from the center or right of center for the first two thirds of the distance. About one hundred yards above the ledge, look for a wave train running from left of center almost directly towards the large rock on river left. This marks a fairly clear and direct channel to t
he drop. The best line is usually down the wave train and then over the drop, just to the left of the rock. The drop is about two feet, with a feisty little hole below it, so hit the drop with good speed and remember to paddle through the hole. If the water level is 3.0 or higher you may want to consider swinging wide left of the rock to avoid the hole, which can get "grabby" at higher water levels. There is a nice big eddy on the right below the drop to recover, set up to play the hole or scout the next ledge. Second ledge is about twenty-five yards downstream of the first ledge in the center of the river. Second ledge is a more gradual sloping drop, with a slight s-curve thrown in to keep it interesting. Enter the drop just left of center with a little right "English", follow the drop right, then back to the left. There are some rocks in the middle of the "s", so pay attention.
Third ledge is twenty yards downstream on river left. This is the biggest of the ledges, about three feet, but it is also the most straightforward of the three. Run it just left of center, maintain good speed and keep paddling and you should have no problems. At higher water levels there is a sneak route on the far right side of the drop. There is a good eddy on the left just below the drop. This is a great play spot for the adventurous types.
After the third ledge the Hooch stays pretty low key for a while, with a few shoals and rocks to keep things interesting. The next point of interest will be a set of stair step ledges. Although this section is technical (that's riverspeak for rocky), it's not difficult. This section can be run several ways. One point of interest here is a small drop near the left bank at the bottom of the ledges. This innocuous-looking drop is easy to run but if you decide to surf it be aware that it does not like to let go of a side-surfing boat. We call it "Tennis Shoe" because it has enough pull to suck the shoes off your feet. Fortunately, the water is pretty shallow here and the river fairly forgiving downstream so go ahead, jump in there. After these ledges the river is slow and calm for a while. After this calm stretch you will see a small island and the river will take a sharp turn to the right. Around this turn the Hooch picks up speed and carries you through a short rocky stretch. Run this section on the right. The river once again calms down for the next few bends in the river.
A large rock outcropping on the right marks the approach to "Horseshoe Rapid"."Horseshoe" is the last major drop on this section of the river, and one of the most challenging. When you first view this rapid from upstream you see a low ledge that extends from the right bank of the river almost all the way to the left bank. On the left side of the river is a 3-4 foot drop that is a half-circle or horseshoe shape, giving the rapid it's name. This drop can be run several ways, but the best approach to the run is right of center to right until you get within fifty yards or so. The drop is on river left, but the river is very rocky and shallow on that side until the last twenty yards or as above "Horseshoe". Once you've gotten fairly close to the rapid (thirty yards or so), you have three options for running the drop. Probably the most popular is to work your way over to the eddy directly above the drop ( it's far enough upstream to easily avoid the drop itself), then run straight down to the drop, going over it right of center. Another option (my favorite) requires a little nerve the first time you try it. Instead of working over left to the area above the drop, paddle up to the ledge itself, just to the left of center and avoiding the pour-over in the middle of the ledge. Turn left and paddle along the face of the ledge. Accelerate as you come to the end of the ledge and enter the current.
The force of the water will push the bow of your boat downstream, aligning your boat with the current and dropping you neatly over the drop. Remember to lean right and be ready to brace or stroke on the right and you'll do fine. This route sets you up to catch the eddy behind the ledge, in case you need to catch your breath or you want to play the hole in "Horseshoe". There is a pretty tight rock garden below the drop, so don't relax too much after your run. There is narrow channel directly below the drop, but it is usually easier to eddy out behind the ledge and then work your way down the center or right of the river.
When you've passed "Horseshoe" you are pretty close to the end of this section. The Soquee River enters on the left just below "Horseshoe". Just below the Soquee you will also see a pretty little waterfall tumbling into the river on the left side. The Hooch is pretty quiet from here until the take-out, except for one last series of step ledges. Approach these along the right bank of the river until you come to a large rock face blocking the channel. Move left and out to the middle of the river here, over the next ledge and then back to your right. Next stop- the take out.
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