Little River Canyon Fun by Joe Ravenna
Anyone who knows Joe Ravenna knows a few things. First, they know he’s about as handsome as they come. Second, they know he loves him some whitewater. Third, they know he does not love waking up early. Finally, they know he’s from Florida, and that temperatures below 60 degrees afflict him in ways known only to Floridians and animals branded by a hot iron.
Whitewater, and all that term encompasses, will make people do crazy things. For Tyler Bradt, crazy means 186 ft. of vertical madness. For me, crazy means waking up at 6:00 a.m., to frost on my windshield, and driving 4 hours to Alabama. Does that make Tyler Bradt any crazier than yours truly? Yes it does, but I digress…
So that is where our story begins, at 6 a.m., on the Sabbath day. Fellow ERA co-worker Brian Snyder (a.k.a. Snydertown) and I woke up to refreshing 35 degree temperatures, and started driving west. It only took us an hour before we encountered the enemy. NOC instructor Jason McClure (a.k.a Freaky Stick) appeared out of nowhere while Brian and I were enjoying a delectable and nutritious breakfast (MacDonalds). A wiser man than myself once said: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” so we decided to invite Freaky Stick along.
Arriving in Fort Payne, AL, home of country music legends Alabama, as well as the Alabama Fan Club and Museum, we headed straight for Little River Canyon State Park, to take a look at the falls. The most commonly run line is on river left, and consists of a double tiered waterfall, that is approx. 35 feet in total height. It looked like a little bit too much boat and vertebrae abuse, so we opted for the lower of the 2 “Suicide Section” put-in’s.
As we unloaded and geared up, Milt Aitken drove up and asked us to look for his paddle as we made our way downstream. For those newer to paddling Milt Aitken is the creator of “The Paddlesnake Hunter” series, and well, kind of a big deal. We told Milt we’d keep our eyes peeled.
Some may call it fate, but after Snydertown found nobody at the takeout, we ended up coordinating with Milt for our shuttle. This helped us save quite a bit of time.
Once on the river, we paddled down to the first rapid of consequence: “Cable Falls.” This rapid consists of a 12 ft. spout, followed by a slow moving pool into a smaller drop. The left side is lined with undercuts, the rock at the bottom being particularly dangerous. Snydertown and Freaky Stick styled it. While I didn’t make it look good, I ran it without a problem. Downstream we went…
We jumped out to scout the next rapid of consequence, aptly named “Pinball”. This rapid consists of approx. 100 yards of boulder garden, ending in a sloping drop with undercuts on both sides of the entrance, and a vortex of a hole at the bottom. This one boggled our minds a bit, mainly because we scouted the rapid from the left side of the river, and were treated to a misleading view of the bottom drop. We decided to get a better look, so we ran the first part and eddy’d out on the right this time. After watching a local boater run it with ease, we decided to give ‘er. Our fearless leader Snydertown proceeded to show some Alabama boys how we do it WNC. I went next, and wasn’t quite aggressive enough moving right to left at the bottom drop, which resulted in me plugging the hole, getting worked for about 10 seconds, and getting spit out. Freaky Stick made it look good, and we decided to hang out in order to back up the local boater who ran the rapid in front of us. His buddy nailed it, and we proceeded downstream, having survived the “Suicide Section” of the LRC.
We ran the “Upper Two” section with ease and proceeded to the “Chairlift” section, meeting Milt along the way. The river becomes less and less steep as you continue downstream, but the “Chairlift” section is a real treat. Words cannot describe how beautiful this part of the river is. The canyon rim is about 1600 ft. above the river at this point, and the overhanging cliffs offer a spectacular sight, over-emphasized by the outline of fall colors. Needless to say, the three of us were impressed.
When we reached the take-out, the boys and I were more than content with our day. Dry clothes never felt so good, and after loading up Milt’s vehicle, we were treated to some paddlesnake wisdom from a whitewater legend. Without good people like Milt, days like this one would have been much more of a hassle. We thanked Milt, loaded our vehicle up, and made our way to La Reyna, a little Mexican joint in the middle of Fort Payne. We ate the heck out of some delicious tacos, and began the drive back east, to the area the three of us call home.
Most of you are probably wondering if it was worth getting up real early, in the freezing cold, and driving 4 hours simply to run a river and eat some tacos? Let me tell you, not only was it worth it, but I’ll do it again, even it if means waking up earlier, in colder weather, as long as I’m with good friends, and tacos are available after it’s all said and done. Next time I will even remember to bring my camera!