A Long Day on Short Creek
20 February 1999
by: Dave Curry

When we saw the mutilated cow on the creek bank, I knew we were in for an unusual trip. The aliens had obviously done a surgical job that had totally terrified the poor beast. The skin had had been scraped clean of hair, his entrails removed, and the eyeballs were popped so far out of the skull they looked like tennis balls. When Dave Branham and I met John Ellis at Hardee’s I was hoping that we would have at least some vestige of adult supervision for the planned Sand Mountain excursion; it was not to be. Mark D’ was busy, Gary Holder was unavailable, and John Parker was nowhere to be found. We were to be left to the guidance of Dave and our own devices. Dave was eager to paddle Short and I had no objections. It took a few minutes of persuasion to get John to acquiesce. We headed for the put-in.

We had only been paddling for a few minutes before we encountered the mutilated cow. A couple hundred yards downstream, we had our first anomalous event: John got into a wrestling match with a tree trunk. Quick thinking and the exercise of a little rescue training on Dave’s and my part spared him a watery fate.

The first major obstacle on the creek is Short Creek Falls: a “straight over” 22 foot [editors note - maybe 18'] waterfall. This being John’s and my first trip on the creek, we decided to walk it. Dave, the “Master of Waterfalls”, opted to show us the correct line for our next run. After watching Dave’s run, I have wondered how it is possible to turn a boat upside down and get out of it, all while falling 22 feet. Dave ended up on the right bank of the creek and his boat on the left bank. An accurate throw with my rope and a good swim on Dave’s part got the two back together again. All we had to do was wake John up (he had fallen asleep on the rocks at the top of the falls) and we were on our way again.

All three of us had good runs on Grotto Falls. John and I landed upright at the bottom of the 10-foot drop while Dave performed a masterful combat roll after his pencil point run. It was pretty slow going all the way down through the major rapids. We spent quite a while bank scouting each one as we came to it. I had a couple of mandatory self rescues while John had the foresight to walk a couple of the nastier ones. On one of the drops Dave and I both hit a rock really hard with the back ends of our boats. Unbeknownst to me, it would later prove to be a real problem.

The last rapid before the confluence with Scarham Creek is a several hundred yard long constricted eddy-hop with random boulders and pour-overs. I started down the right hand side. As a left handed paddler, this created some problems (most of the eddies were on my right); it seemed that my boat was getting heavier and heavier and more squirrely with each passing second. When I was almost to the bottom, I hit a rock and turned over; I quickly rolled back up, but didn’t quite regain control before I ran over a small pour-over into a hole. I was upside down in a heartbeat. One roll attempt spun me like a top and left me upside down again. At this point, I decided to pull the cord and eject. I popped up in a white foamy world. The water was so aerated, I could barely keep my head above it. I tried to swim to the eddy. I felt this giant hand pulling me toward the base of the pour-over. I didn’t quite get there; the current jerked me straight down and then popped me up about ten feet downstream. I tried swimming again and got a repeat performance from the hole. I did manage to see Dave about 25 feet away getting his rope out to help me. I saw him throw the rope. I saw a red bag a few feet from my head. I grabbed it. It was my dry bag that had been beaten out of my boat by the thrashing water. Dave’s throw had missed me. I threw the dry bag at Dave. The hole gave me another dunking. Dave threw the rope again. This time he hit me and pulled me to safety. Now only my boat was left to save. The boat bounced and bobbed, rolled and turned, but it didn’t come out. Dave tried the patented Branham “toss the rope into the cockpit and jerk the boat out” technique. It didn’t work. I tried to get next to the hole and grab it. I couldn’t reach it. We just hopelessly watched the hole have its way. Just as I was about to give up and start walking, the hole grabbed the end of the boat, sucked it into its yawning maw and appeared to swallow it completely. An instant later, the hole burped and regurgitated it out and over the event horizon and into the eddy where we grabbed it.

A minute later, I was back aboard and paddling downstream. Again I noticed that the boat was feeling sluggish, and I felt water around my feet. I stopped to check things out. It was at this point that we noticed the huge dent (as big as a soccer ball) in the back of Dave’s boat and a foot long crack in the rear of mine. My boat was leaking like a sieve. Half a roll of duct tape later we were again on our way. We only had two miles of flat water to negotiate. My boat was leaking, I was tired, I had somehow bruised some ribs, and we had a headwind. It took forever. We made the takeout just before dark. I drove home, dumped my gear in the garage, I think I ate, and then crawled into bed.