Chattahoochee (Columbus Metro)
|Stretch:||North Highlands Dam to Good Wave|
|Difficulty:||Class II to III+ (IV to IV+)|
|Flows:||Base (1,000cfs) to ?0,000 cfs (Max controlled flow is 4 generators and 12,000 cfs). Current USGS in Columbus gauge. Current Georiga Power 3-day forecast 3-day forecast set to "North Highlands"|
|Gradient:||16 fpm (half the gradient is in the final third of a mile)|
|Put-in:||Access Below North Highlands Dam, just above the Ambush Wave. Other optional park and play put-in options exist. Look at the embedded map for that.|
|Take-out:||Access near or at Waveshapper Island|
|Shuttle:||2.6 miles, (10 minutes one-way)|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #157|
For the past few years I have seen friend after friend spend some time down in Columbus Georgia during the winter months to beat the cold, and enjoy some dependable kayaking on this river. But, it is 4.5 hours south of us and I am not super excited about playboating, so it was never a huge priority for me. But, this year, Diane had 7 days off of work and there weren’t any natural rivers running, so we headed down to see what the fuss is about. Stephen Wright has lived down there the past few winters, so we had someone to meet up with which is always nice. Plus, he has become the unofficial caretaker of the area and has keys to the Whitewater Express on the Alabama side of the river which closes their doors to customers for the winter, and opens them to kayakers! So, rather than doing some urban camping or van life, we set up camp inside the store itself which was great! The location would be a little less than ideal for camping in the gravel lot, due to homeless traffic through the area, but it has proven pretty safe regarding vehicle break ins, in part due to the friendly interaction’s that kayakers have had with the homeless community. While I was there, Clay dropped an over-thruster on the walk to the river, and several hours later one gentleman found it and went out of his way to bring it to us knowing it was kayaking equipment.
So anyways, there are several ways to enjoy this river. At the top is Ambush Wave. You can either put in up there or park and play that spot. At the bottom is Good Wave and Great Wave (which isn’t as good as Good Wave), which also can be parked and played. Or, if you are home basing at the Alabama store front for Whitewater Express, you can run the final rapids and play at Good Wave and only have to walk a half mile back to your car at the shop. This is for sure what most people do.
A note about flows. Georgia Power gives 3-day outlooks but is also a bit notorious for not following their outlook. But typically, it runs every day. We had 3 generators 24 hours a day for our entire stay which correlates to 9,330 cfs. 4 Generators is 12,000 cfs. Base flow is 1,000 cfs. They are planning to add a base flow feature at some point in the future. And flows over 20k some other features come in that are apparently massive, but fun if you have the skills.
Finally, at the bottom, there are two channels. The left contains Good Wave, and the right Cut Bait rapid. That rapid is weird, it is called class IV, and sure… there are minimal moves to make, but dang the final hole is deep and big and flips rafts relentlessly and doesn’t look like fun in a kayak. I am torn because I get why it isn’t class IV+ and certainly not V… but at the same time, I have literally never said “eek, that is an ugly class 4, I don’t want to run that, no thanks!” So… it is caught in this weird it is straight forward, but also big and not easy to get through.
So, was it worth it? We suck at playboating but yes! It was fun, it was low stress living. Multiple sessions a day. Good food in town to enjoy. Other kayakers enjoying the river. Tourists watching you play. Just all around fun time! We will be back for sure!
One more quick thing to mention. These rapids have only recently been given back to the world. In 1882 the Eagle and Phenix Dam was built to power a textile mill. It was located just below the 13th street bridge, or just below the Monkey Wrench waves. It was 20 ft tall and inundated the river upstream, and dewatered the river downstream except during higher flows. The Powerhouse is still standing, just next to Wave Shaper Island. The dam was brought down in 2012 and the city decided to invest in revitalization of their river corridor with refurbishing old industrial buildings as new condos, adding new restaurants, a wonderful river walk, and of course this playpark. So thank you to Columbus GA and Phenix City AL!
Oh and on that note… from what I have found, Phenix City is spelled that way as either a way to distinguish it from Phoenix AZ, or simply as a misspelling. If it is the latter, hilarious.
Also, our personal thanks to Whitewater Express for opening their door to us kayakers during the winter months. If you are looking to raft the Chattahoochee, Ocoee, or Nantahala consider supporting them!
- Bunny Wave / Ambush Wave (II to III--). Realistically this is just a class II rapid. From put in, ferry across to the right side of the river for these man made features. The far surfer’s left, along the shore, is a mellow wave (“Bunny Wave”) for beginners to surf on and figure out their edges. To get Ambush, you hop on Bunny and surf to surfer right towards the middle of the right channel. At 3 generators it was a nice fluffy hole that you could cartwheel and loop in. The only reason I give it a III-- rating is that the surfers far right side of the hole, while a fantastic spin spot, is also a little trashy if you find yourself upside down. I can imagine a newbie kayaker having some issues running through that feature and then sorting themselves out. So, just avoid that one single spot in the river, for a class II rapid. Class II- if you go through Bunny Wave or far river left.
- Rapid (II+). After a small pool, you get to another rapid. This rapid is probably the biggest of the in between stuff (at least at 3 generators). Just run down where ever, there were a few front surfing waves both left and right.
- Nile Wave (?). I haven’t seen this one myself, but apparently when the river is at really high flows (like 50k cfs, which happens a few times a year) there is a wave that belongs in Africa, big water at its truest form.
- Small Rapid (I+ to II-). So the hardest part of these rapids as I recall were the boils. Three generators is 9k cfs, so that is still a lot of water! There were some sweet stern squirt spots though. The rapid it self was obvious, all over the river, just follow the channels and avoid any shallow spots.
- Park and Play Put-in. On the right, 75 yards upstream of the pedestrian bridge there is a very small path that leads down the embankment through the ivy down to the river.
- Tie Snake Rapid (III- to III). Immediately below the pedestrian bridge is this nice rapid. At 3 generators there was a sweet kickflip or wavewheel wave at the top of the rapid on the left. The rapid itself is just a dynamic wavetrain with strong eddy lines at 3 generators. Lower flow is gets creeky. I imagine at higher flows it starts to flatten out. The flow from this rapid moves quickly downriver. So it is not the place to start having issues. At 3 generators or higher you can sneak down a far left channel around this rapid and the next rapid to take the risk out of accidentally flushing into Cut Bait, if you so need.
- Monkey Wrench Rapid (III). At 3 generators, there was a nice hole for loops and carthweels at the top of the rapid on river right. The problem with this one is that the runout of this rapid goes immediately into Cut Bait, and the boils that form midriver want to push you toward Cut Bait. So, this isn’t a wave for novices. At 4 generators one of the best features on the river comes in on river left at the top. This is the Monkey Wrench feature (I think that is what they mentioned the name being). Or, you can run a more straight forward wave train down the middle moving hard left below the gradient to avoid flushing into Cut Bait.
- Low Water Wave TBD. This rapid doesn’t exist as of the writing (2020) but I am told it is maybe going to exist in the future. It will be a base flow feature for the 1,000 cfs days during the summer.
- Right Channel: The right channel is a continuation of the Monkey Wrench Rapid and has basically no break between the two at 3 generators.
Cut Bait Rapid (IV to IV+). As I said in the intro, although this is commonly just rated as class IV, it is a super sticky hole that looks terrible, and that I had no desire to take part in in my small playboat. Scout from the island for the bottom, and from the shore for the top. The entry is a smaller river wide hole that has a window right of center. Then you ramp down into a big sharp wave. And then this drops you into a big pitted hole. People either try to drive far left to avoid the hole which involves punching a shoulder, or they duck the meat of the hole. On the bright side, downstream is a big pool in case you swim.
Mystery Move Spot (I). Just downstream of Cut Bait, on river right, is a fantastic mystery move or stern squirt spot. It is where a small channel of water that goes right, around Cut Bait, converges with the pool below Cut Bait.
Short Take-out to Walk back to Whitewater Express (Mi 2.0). If you are walking back to Whitewater Express, paddle as far up the river right channel as you can. Get out and walk up. There was some construction on the Riverwalk, so we went under the river walk and under the road to a grassy field that led us back to the store.
- Left Channel (III to IV-): Heading left below Monkey Wrench involves fighting some boils but there are some eddies on the left, including a big one just above Wave Shaper Rapid. Or you can sneak it all far right to avoid the boils. In my mind, all these features are all one rapid, so I won’t rate them individually. Perhaps at lower flow it is more of a class III, but there are a lot of aspects to this rapid top to bottom, and we saw so many swims out of it while there, so I am giving it a IV- at 3 generators.
Work Out Hole. This hole has eddy service and is located at the very top of Wave Shaper Rapid. It is good for front surfing and spins. Just be careful to not get off surfers left as 1) there is a hole directly next to it and 2) the pocket on the right side of Wave Shaper Rapid is immediately below.
Wave Shaper Rapid. This rapid is sandwiched between two concrete shaper walls. So, stay middle down the ramp, as each of these walls have deep pocket holes next to them. But, staying middle is simple so no worries there. Below, at 3 generators, there are two fluffy features in the middle that you can run through, or even surf. Most people who intend to catch Good Wave on the fly, eddy out on the left either just above, or at the seal launch spot for the wave. Just be careful about eddying out left too high as it is kinda nasty hole and eddy at the very top, but honestly, you would have to work pretty hard to end up in that eddy I think.
Good Wave. At the bottom of Wave Shaper Island is the main attraction. A big fast wave hole! At 3 generators you could push and pull your way up the eddy on river left along the island. But, for me, it was just easier to get out and walk 20 feet back up for each ride. Apparently at higher flows when the pool fills in a little more, the eddy access gets easier. This was the biggest wave I have surfed in a playboat. Felt like Garburator on the Ottawa. Really good fun. Though it turns out I suck at playboating waves like this. I guess no practice ever on this type of feature would do that. Additionally, at three generators, immediately next to surfers left of the wave, is a small hole that you can loop and cartwheel in. It had a name, I just don’t recall. And for those with kids, the island has nice grass and small stairs that lead down to the pool for kids to play!
Great Wave. Just downstream 200 ft from Good Wave is another feature which is smaller and more forgiving for learning. Apparently before the construction, this wave was the premier wave. Now, Good Wave overshadows it for sure. At 3 generators the pool was full enough that the wave itself was very surgy. It meant you could have a great foam pile one second and a second later, no wave to speak of. At lower flows, when the pool is lower, this is helped. Apparently, it can get a bit trashy at times too.
Powerhouse. This really isn’t a part of the rapid, but from Wave Shaper Island you walk over a small foot bridge and immediately upstream is the old Powerhouse. It is cool to paddle up there and gawk at the industrial age. The pool immediately below the footbridge is also a popular spot for beginners to get their pool practice in.
Longer Take-out to Walk back to Whitewater Express. You can get out at the island and walk up river left to the pedestrian bridge to cross the river right at Whitewater Express. Also, if you park on Front Ave in Columbus, you can exit here and climb the stairs up to that street. Or you can walk down the river walk the long way to the Woodruff Riverfront Park.
- Middle Channel (III to III+): There were lines that started from the top left above Work Out Hole and worked right into a smaller middle channel. If you want a rapid to run, and Cut Bait isn’t your cup of tea, this looks like a nice alternative. Though, it slipped my mind to run it.
- Woodruff Riverfront Park steps Take-out. If you park down at Woodruff Riverfront, these steps can be the best exit. Or if you swim upstream, you very well may end up down here by the time you get your gear all sorted.
Take-out: Just north of the 13th St bridge over the river, on the Phenix City side, is 1301 Whitewater Ave, Phenix City, AL 36867. There is a gravel lot next to the building that kayakers are allowed to use, or plentiful parking in the lot there. See the mile-by-mile description for how to exit the exit and walk back here. Other parking is on the Columbus side at Front Ave and at the Woodruff Riverfront Park.
Put-in Walking Lap: If you want to just walk to the lower put-in to session the lower rapids, cross the street from Whitewater Express and go left on the Riverwalk. Once the river is just a vegetated embankment, between the two buildings on the left, look for a small trail that leads down to the river on the right.
Put-in Full Run: Exit the Wilderness Express parking area and take 13th St back over into Columbus. In 0.5 miles turn left onto 2nd Ave. Take 2nd Avenue for 1.6 miles before turning left onto 32nd Street. Take it 100 ft to the T, and turn right onto 1st Ave. In 0.1 miles turn left, following the signs for the Riverwalk at the Georgia Power plant. Follow this down to the parking at the river.
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