An annual pilgrimage reveals a lost treasure of years past
Small waves tickled my kayak as the autumn sun warmed our chilled cores, a light breeze gently skimming Fontana Lake, just two hours south in North Carolina. Two eagles circled our small armada as we disembarked on the shore of their namesake creek. That night, under stars of unobstructed radiance, the stillness of our backcountry site was broken by our laughter at an experience long past in this very special place.
Two years ago, the percolating coffee pulled us from warm bags as Richard Hatten wrestled his boat upstream, a sizable chore that found him wading over and through partially submerged rocks. Over steaming mugs, we chuckled at his plan to take advantage of low water and be in position for a sporting whitewater exit in a few days.
Our anticipated trek to the creek that year was abbreviated. Light sprinkles morphed into a monsoon the likes of which I have rarely experienced. And on the second afternoon, the growing storm found us huddling beneath a tarp, lifting the center periodically with a shovel as gallons drained to the ground. Richard’s exit plan was starting to look like a suicide mission.
In between storms the next day, our stalwart friend proclaimed, “It will be an adventure either way.” We offered to carry his kayak, but he refused. With an anxious friend and most of the camp gear in tow, I navigated a 17-foot canoe back across the lake just before another storm arrived. Two of our crew remained for safety and to witness the inevitable debacle, one that would be shared over many a campfire since then, as if legend.
My favorite version has Richard nearly making it down the whitewater tunnel until he, his Go-Pro, and his favorite outdoor kit rolled into the water. Severely bruised, he was left to paddle back to Fontana Marina with nothing but a flat shovel. Everything else was sacrificed to the river. Richard returned multiple times over the last two years attempting to recover his gear without success.
In my most recent pilgrimage back to the site, something glimmered from the bank as Curt Roberts pulled his boat ashore. Caked in mud was Richard’s holy grail: the GoPro lost two years prior with footage still intact. Eagle Creek finally gave up the secret of Richard’s epic adventure, but the water may reveal even more next fall.