Calderwood Lake Paddle and Camp

Roger Kennerly reports:Well we decided to end the year with a different kind of camping trip. Kind of a combination Canoe trip with a little hiking. There were a bunch of us going this time. David Cain had his boat on his car. Susan and Randy Beers had a canoe on their SUV, Bev and I had our canoe on our little Honda and my brother Mike had a couple of canoes in his truck for him Pam, Krista and Laura. Bev and I left Atlanta much later than anticipated and were quite worried we would be holding folks up. David Cain called us at the state line and we were only 20 min. behind. We caught up to him at the rest area just before Franklin. The Beers were there as well. So, the Atlanta contingent was at least now traveling in the same timeframe. I called Mike and he was running behind due to some road construction. The good news is, we all arrived at the boatramp within minutes of each other.

For this adventure you go north from Atlanta on 985. 985 turns into 441 and will eventually go to Franklin. In Franklin, stay on the 441 business not the bypass. Just in town you will see a sign for 28 north.

Take 28 North until it intersects with US 19/74

Take a left onto 19/74. Take 19/74 (past Nantahala Outdoor Center and several rafting businesses) to US 129 West.

Take a right onto 129 West. Proceed on 129 West through Robinsville, NC.

After leaving Robinsville, proceed about 15-18 miles (rough guess) past Lake Santeetlah to the Little Tennessee River/Lake Calderwood. You’ll know you’re there because the Cheoah Dam looms tall on your right. Cross the river/lake on 129 to take a left onto the access road to the boat ramp.

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So anyway, we got there, got the boats off the cars, filled them up with camping gear and shoved off. The skies were partly cloudy and there was some wind. There was a chance of rain but not much. On Sunday there was a chance of thunderstorms around noon. Lake Calderwood is just a 5 mile or so dammed up portion of the Little Tennessee river. Mountains come up straight out of the water which makes it real picturesque. This lake is just stunning! Supposed to be trophy trout water as well. Sure was crystal clear! The mountains coming out of the lake gives the illusion that you are going down hill somewhat. I say illusion because with a dam I don’t see how that could be. Sure did look like we were going downhill though.

We were just getting settled in paddling mode when we had arrived. The paddle could not have been more than 20-30 min down the lake to the first inlet on the left. This cove was the mouth of Slickrock Creek. The back of the cove had a neat little waterfall into the lake. Susan saw the first snake at this point. It was swimming toward her canoe.

We drug our boats up on the rocks and went in search of a campsite. There was a narrow trail that runs beside the creek upstream that we followed for a little while until we immerged into a real nice campsite with fire ring. We decided this was home so we went back to the boats and toted in all our camping stuff. Mike and family were nice enough to help. We had many luxuries that are usually not feasible on a 6 mile backpack trip. I brought a large tarp to scare the rain away and a couple of beers. David Cain brought two nice lounge chairs and a table. The Beers brought wine in a bottle! Oh, what decadence! We were living large.

Anyway, we set up camp then set out to find the water fall a mile upstream. Of course, 50 yards past this campsite was another even nicer. Up the trail it gets real narrow in a few places but the river has many beautiful pools that make it worth the trip. Two thirds of the way there we had to cross the river. This was a tricky crossing so Bev and Susan decided to wait this one out. On the way over I think just about everyone at least got a foot wet but we all made it across. Not far past the creek we found the waterfall. It was really a couple of pretty wide falls put together that went into a big deep pool. Well worth the 1+ mile walk. We hung out at the falls for awhile then headed back toward camp. We were not as fortunate crossing the creek on the return. I think just about everyone got either kind of wet or real wet. “That’s why they call it Slickrock Creek.” Eventually we made it back to camp.

When we reached camp, Mike and company had to head home. They hiked back down to their boats and paddled out. There was only one problem. The wind was now much greater and the lake had waves with whitecaps on it. They ended up tying their boats together, staying near shore and paddling like crazy to make it back to the boat ramp.

Those of us that camped did our usual chores. Yep, we gathered firewood! The campsite and surrounding areas were picked pretty clean but we managed to find enough. Randy played fire-god this trip since Richard could not make it. He did a great job. The fire was a little different this time though. You see we usually camp in winter and the fire is real important for warmth. This time we were in spring and I think the low was in the 60’s. So, this was different. It’s still fun to hang out around though. We were also in a very rocky terrain. There is a known correlation between rocks and spring/summer. Rocks retain heat at night and are the cold blooded snakes best friend. Susan and Randy saw another one near the creek that evening.

We made our different freeze-dried dinners except for Bev; she had a can of soup. Yet another luxury. Then David produced a birthday cake for Randy. Mighty tasty! Bev and I were pretty tired by this time, so we turned in. I think everybody else stayed up for awhile.

Sometime during the night a very large object fell into or near the river. It was either a rock or a tree. We never figured out what it was but it was real loud. I did not hear it but Bev and the Beers did.

Morning came and we got up to have breakfast. Bev and I tried something new this time. Thomas premade Waffles. Mighty tasty! We all ate then packed up. I was able to get all our stuff back to the canoe in two trips which was a good thing. Next time I’m bringing my pack! The Beers had their packs, which had to be better. On my first trip I about stepped on snake #3 which made the second trip even more interesting.

We loaded up the boats and were off. Bev and I started a little bit ahead of everybody and heard the first boomer. Funny how you paddle a little harder when you hear lightning’s around! We were cruising along pretty good but the skies kept getting darker and darker. About a quarter mile from the boat ramp the bottom fell out. Bev commented “these are really big raindrops, I mean really big!” The weatherman was 10 minutes off from his forecast. It was 11:50. We were soaked from the downpour by the time we reached the dock. We beached the canoe and jumped in the car soaking wet. It was raining too hard to do anything else. We thought David and the Beers had pulled up somewhere but a few minutes later they appeared from the wall of water.

As fast as the storm arrived it was gone. We unloaded, dried off and headed for home.

Spring in the mountains sure is beautiful. Hillclimb weather if you will. This was a great trip. The only downfalls to me would be attributed to the time of the year. Bugs, snakes, heat and rain. We usually avoid all of these but the location more than made up for these minor inconvenience.