Railroad Fork (possible 1st descent)
13 December 2001

14 December 2001
by: Curt Ruffing

Railroad Fork Paddlers: Mark D'Agostino (C1), Dave Branham
OC1), Brian McAnnally (K1), Shane Hulsey (K1), Greg Lawrence (K1), Curt Ruffing (K1)

Lively Paddlers: Mark D'Agostino
C1), Greg Lawrence (K1), Wade Amis
K1), Brian McAnnally (K1), Curt Ruffing (K1), David Curry (Shuttle)

Many of you may remember Wednesday the 12th of December or the days that followed. The rains were beginning and large accumulations were promised. My cell phone began to ring as excitement was shared, speculations passed along the grapevine and plans made. I was to join Mark D'Agostino on Thursday to paddle the Railroad Fork of Flint Creek. Rain was pouring down as I drove to the meeting place when suddenly I was sitting in a traffic jam on I-65. It took me 45 minutes to travel 10 miles and I arrived at Dairy Queen an hour late. [ed: I backed up exit 325, took Hwy 31 to where it was closed due to someone meeting their fate via driving into Flint Creek, then had to drive the MIll Creek shuttle just to arrive 15 minutes late.  Wade never made it in time to meet anyone!]  I dashed in to interrogate the counter girls who had to seen some guys with boats leave about 15 minutes earlier. I ran to the car, Dave pulled up and we sped off to catch the others. At the put-in was Markís truck was but there were no boaters. I had doubts but luckily Dave was still confident about putting on and catching up.

This run features nine tunnels that pass under the railroad tracks. The first tunnel was low (~4 ft) but toward the bottom the tunnels become cavernous. We passed through the first eight tunnels over some class II water with a couple IIIís mixed in. We spotted our fellow paddlers at the entrance to tunnel 1 (numbered from the bottom up). There is a fun rapid at the tunnel entrance but it is after you exit this tunnel that the real amusement begins. We eddied on the left at the tunnel exit and got out to scout. This half-mile section is continuous slots and tight drops. It was a kind of pool-drop arrangement with very very short pools, making division into distinct rapids almost irrelevant. It provides constant thrills, requires the ability to catch small eddies, and has some notable consequences. However, the water isnít too pushy and all of the rapids can be scouted with little difficulty. I think we hit the creek at the perfect level, in the midst of a serious rain. Railroad Fork is an unusual experience that I absolutely recommend if you can catch it when itís running. Most importantly for me it provided a dose of confidence and a nice prelude to the adventures on Friday.

The rains continued Thursday night, painting Markís flow-page blue. We set off to paddle on the north end of Sand Mountain. Lively had been described as nothing more than III+ but when we arrived the banks were full and no one seemed sure what to expect. Dave Curry, with wisdom and serenity I obviously lack, decided to pass and kindly ran shuttle for us. In retrospect the rapids on the first mile were probably not that difficult, in the II-III range, but they were nonstop, coming one after another after another. The others paddled like they were enjoying a whitewater dream come true, but I was nervous, my paddling was sloppy, and my dream threatened to become a nightmare. Due to the continuous nature of the rapids and the reptilian survival mode of my brain I can only recall a few of the rapids distinctly. In the second mile there was a double drop with sticky looking holes on river right and a 14-foot waterfall which pumped enough adrenaline into my system to quiet my nerves and allow me to enjoy the river.

After the second mile we picked up more water, the holes got bigger, and the complexity of the rapids increased. Most of the rapids were in the III-IV+ range. I walked several but others ran all but one large drop with a sieve about halfway through. In the last couple miles the length of the run and the portages we taking their toll, I was just following the person in front of me and trying to stay upright. We made it to a convenient takeout thanks entirely to Brian's GPS. Lively creek at the level we paddled is a large step above anything else on my resume. Its length, six miles of almost uninterrupted whitewater excitement, precludes the look at a rapid, drink some water, discuss the rapid, tempo to which Iíd grown accustomed. Thanks to the encouragement of my fellow paddlers Lively was an intensely enjoyable adventure but, at least for me, another run would still be an intimidating prospect. As you would expect Mark has good descriptions of these runs, pictures, and directions to the put-ins on his web site.