July 21, 2010 by Woody Noland
Pictures from July 21, 2010 (password required)
Since leaving the paddling program for the role of Head Counselor in the summers, it is rare that I get to join a river trip, so this week held quite a treat. Townsend and I met up with a group of our canoers/kayakers/C-1ers/C-2ers for a day on the Nantahala River spent participating in the annual Camp Cup Challenge.
This event has a long history that stretches back to my own time as a camper and after a hiatus of some years, it has returned in strength for the third summer running. Camps from around Western North Carolina send almost 90 campers to test their skills in two events.
The downriver portion starts above the Nantahala Falls and runs to the first bridge, approximately a quarter mile. Constestants paddle a boat of choice as fast as possible while still navigating wave trains, rocks, eddies, hydraulics, and the frequent rafters. The adrenaline burst and desire to muscle your way to the finish needs to find a balance with reading the currents and avoiding taking too much water into the boat. Our boys did an excellent job of scouting potential lines prior to the race and sticking to their developed plan. Every now and then one of our boats would find themselves in the top hole of “The Falls” and exhibited truly impressive calm in extricating themselves from the difficult feature. Not one of our guys appeared to hear the shouted encouragements from all the camps’ staff on the banks and in their safety boats, but they did seem to sit a little straighter and paddle a little harder past the fans.
After a break for a pizza lunch and some socializing between camps, it was time for the afternoon slalom event. Taking place over a much shorter distance, campers had to navigate through a series of 10 gates for time while attempting to avoid touching each gate. Depending on their designation, gates required paddling through them downstream, upstream, right or left. The placement of each gate was carefully planned to challenge the participants with eddy lines, waves, fast currents, and rocks to hinder their progress down the course. The High Rocks group was a mix of Upper Seniors down to Juniors and so the race offered a variety of successes. For some of our older guys, it was a chance to demonstrate some serious (and hard-earned!) skill with their incredibly fast stroke rates and masterful reading of the river. The confidence and pride was apparent as they zipped by. For the younger guys, it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. This was not the biggest water they had seen, but they were being asked for a level of precision that pushed their experience to a new understanding. It was great to watch one of the guys so nervous before the race he was shaking and unable to talk to his partner due to his butterflies. As soon as the whistle was blown for his start, I do not believe his paddle could have physically been moved any faster all the way down the course. Rocks were encountered, troublesome eddies kept pulling the boat off course, but at the finish line nothing could stop the HUGE smile (partly of relief) and the non-stop chatter all the way back to camp.
The race took place in front of all the camp groups making for quite the uproar for every boat. One of the amazing parts of the Cup is watching staff and campers from all camps cheer, encourage, and advise every single boat in turn. Finish times are posted, awards are handed out in a raffle format, but no one leaves the race with any clear notion of overall winners, nor is that ever mentioned in the event. It was beautifully done and was once again a hit with our guys who all appeared today at breakfast proudly sporting a Camp Cup shirt and with stories for everyone.
Please enjoy the pictures tonight. Tomorrow is the last full day in activities so tune back for a final installment!