Rafting the "Deliverance River"

By Mike Boisvert.

This past summer the water level of the Chattooga River was low so there were no expectations of any intense whitewater seen in the movie Deliverance itself. It seems that the key put-in spot is at Long Creek, South Carolina.

I think it would be great if someone would organize such a trip for gay outdoorzy guys. Straight guys would probably call in the 'boy's night out weekend' but we could call for what it is: the 'gays deliverance weekend.'

"Deliverance," the 1972 Academy-award nominated film based on the novel of the same name by James Dickey, carved out a permanent dark corner in the gay psyche with its unsettling combination of backwoods gang rape and masterly banjo playing. The Web site promoting the recent release of a newly remastered 35th anniversary DVD advertises the movie’s world as “a wilderness of terror.” The movie played on our primal fear of encountering straight guys in the backwoods who could attack us.  “Deliverance” also acquainted us with a stunning stretch of river.

The word was soon out that many of the perilous rapids that filled the screen were on the Chattooga, which starts in North Carolina and and runs along the Georgia-South Carolina borderr, coursing through two national forests, the Sumter and the Chattahoochee, which together make up over 1.1 million acres. Soon rafting operations were established to meet the demand of outlanders who wanted to test themselves against the same danger where Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight had launched their canoes.

This was a time when whitewater rafting and boating was just taking off as a mainstream activity. The sport’s thrilling edge of peril dovetailed so eerily with Dickey’s river of concealed evil that no one seems ever to have forgotten the connection: 35 years later, you can’t go rafting down a wild river without someone in the group humming a few bars of “Dueling Banjos.” US Graphics of Norfolk, Va.,  which prints T-shirts for the resort industry, reports that its T-shirt imprinted with the slogan “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music” has sold more than any other in its 12 years in business, even though it wasn’t introduced until two years ago.

The Chattooga’s influence on the world of whitewater rafting in America is unmistakable, and unmistakably bound up with the film. For many, it has the aura of the ultimate rafting trip.

During the rafting trip, you'll encounter Deliverance Rock, where expensive film equipment is said to have been lost in the rapids, and the site in the woods where, in the movie, Burt Reynolds rescues his companions from sadistic mountain men. But the main point of this rafting trip is  adventure, and you learned firsthand to respect the power of the Chattooga.

The Chattooga is separated into several sections with Section 0 starting out near Cashiers. Section III has Class II-IV rapids which rafters and kayakers frequent. Lush rhododendron line the banks. Section IV has long been regarded as one of the most challenging rivers to raft or kayak. This section includes Class III-IV+ rapids, including the famous Five Falls. One famous waterfall is the Bull Sluice, featured in the film Deliverance.

On the Chattooga and a growing number of other rivers, big thrills come, in part, from being in a small boat: two paying customers, one guide.

“Sport rafts,” as they are often called, are the Porsche Boxsters of whitewater rafting: nimble, able to fit into places others don’t. They move faster and get stuck less often.

Though low water is not often the sort of thing that attracts adrenaline fiends, there are benefits to running the Chattooga in this condition. Rafters-turned-swimmers can drop down into a cylindrical hole in the granite, six feet in diameter, swim out the bottom and end up in a different channel of the river. Or with the aid of ropes and a guide, they can also be safely plunked down into an alcove behind a rapid, so you can look out from beneath it. What’s more,  the waterfalls drop farther and more steeply at low water. Rather than the water shooting you outward you’re dropping almost straight downward.

So who is up for organizing this trip? I'm sure you'll get a great response so post it in our Activities Calendar!

If you are looking for a whitewater rafting outfitter, check these out:

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