The Etowah River is a waterway that flows 164 miles from Dahlonega, GA to Rome, GA. It meets with the Oostanaula to form the Coosa River. Along the way, it flows through six counties, passes The Etowah Indian Mounds, forms Lake Allatoona, and can be followed into the Coosa and Alabama rivers ultimately ending in the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile, AL.Day paddles can guided through the Coosa River Basin Initiative.
After longing for the freedom of open river, a friend of mine and I set out to conquer this great river… We purchased a canoe off craigslist, some five gallon buckets for dry storage, and a guide book by Joe Cook then we were off.
Day 1 of my first aquatramp provided me with lessons I will never forget… Within the first five miles here are some of the things that happened
- Our canoe cracked all the way down the middle
- We had to walk 3 of those miles through class 3 rapids next to our boat
- I lost my prescription glasses
- We discovered that our dry sacks were water resistant
- Our five gallon buckets weren’t sealed properly
- Even summer nights in GA can be cold when everything you own is wet
It was hilarious and exciting. Within those few hours we laughed, yelled, cursed, and thanked God that we made it to the campground.
We hitched a ride to the nearest campground, where we met a couple looking for a place to house their camper. They thought we worked at the campground, so they struck up conversation. Turns out, they owned a 17 foot Coleman and they were willing to let us borrow it to finish our trip.
Along the way we met incredible people, faced incredible challenges, and had an incredible experience. We wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for the kindness of the people we met along the way!
Gear to Highlight
Marmot NanoWave 45– This synthetic, ultra-compatible sleeping bag worked wonders on this trip. I would not consider it “ultralight” weighing in at 29 ounces, but for only $90 I would encourage picking on up. When my buckets flooded with water, this sleeping bag dried very quickly and still provided warmth even though it still had wet spots.
Equinox Egret Nylon Tarp– A great piece of gear. Officially weighing in at 27 ounces, there are much lighter backpacking tarps…but for $50 the weight/cost is hard to beat. This tarp serves as a great hammock tarp and two person backpacking tarp. Once during the trip I had to drape it over a picnic table and sleep under the table. The versatility of flat tarps is incredible.
Esbit solid fuel folding stove– Great for UL and Minimalist cooking systems. The stove weighs .4 ounces and the tablets weight .5 ounces each. One tablet is enough to bring 2 cups of water to a boil in under 15 minutes. Not great if you need to boil a lot of water or need to cook for more than 2 people. Be careful not to knock it over once it is lit.
Outdoor Products Ultimate Dry Sack– They are virtually weightless, roll top closure, and inexpensive. They’re waterproofness is exaggerated, but I continue to use them as dry sacks for UL backpacking. They are not meant to by submerged for very long, but otherwise they will keep your gear dry.
Day 1- Mile 7 to 12,… We were dropped off with new canoe at mile 39…Aside from what was listed above, we got dropped off with our new boat at mile 39 and slept at Mountain Stewards Launch Site. We met an oil tycoon and hiked through a wine vineyard.
Day 2- Mile 39 to 58… Easy day, we really got our stride down. Learned the importance of paddling as a unit. Slept at Woodhaven Bend, which is a boat ramp/pavilion for a gated community.
Day 3- Mile 58 to 98.6… Most interesting day by far. We were woken up rather abruptly by a man and his dog. We were informed that if we did not leave we would be arrested for trespassing…so we left…quickly. Found the lovable inflatable tube you see above, which we named NEMO. We slept at Sweetwater Campground. Incidentally, we slept on top of NEMO underneath a picnic table, with my tarp setup above us. It was pouring outside and the trees were too covered with ants for us to setup our hammocks.
Day 4- Mile 98 to 114… The most grueling paddling I have ever experienced: 16 miles across Lake Allatoona. Bartow Campground was where we found refuge. They have excellent campground facilities, a beautiful view of the Dam, and a rope swing. We were also experience some trail-magic from a family who gave us extra drinks they brought with them, some candles, and wonderful conversation.
Day 5- Mile 114 to 135… After getting portaged around the dam (it took several requests and generous volunteers), which I would suggest preparing to have before hand, we had a great day of paddling and the view was beautiful. Climbed an old railroad bridge that crossed the river, for which we had the police called on us. Apparently, some onlookers thought we were attempting to commit suicide. That night, we slept in the backyard of a house that was For Rent.
Day 6- Mile 135 to 164… We made it to the end. I’d like to include a quote from the last page of my journal: “DONE! Paddled close to 140 miles… long paddle but did it, loved sleeping on the ground last night, loved the water…can’t wait to get back.”
After losing our canoe, my glasses, half my food, my ipod, getting my sleeping bag soaked, bumming many rides, getting threatened, having the police called on us, and sleeping in the back yard of a house with a For Rent sign on it…
…We learned what it meant to “get by.” Wake up, paddle, laugh, get pissed, calm down, keep paddling, eat, sleep, wake up, repeat. The first thing my friend and I said to each other once we were in the car having completed the trip…”I hated you so much,” “Oh man, I didn’t think I could hate you anymore than I did.” And we made it.
The last night, sleeping on the ground on top of my tarp, I looked into the night sky and knew that at that exact moment I was exactly where I needed to be. There is something exciting about having everything you need to keep going either in a boat storage compartment or in a pack on your back, and I can never stop thinking about getting back to it.