DISCOVER A DIFFERENT, MORE DRAMATIC CHATTAHOOCHEE IN COLUMBUS, GEORGIA

Drifting in a raft in the calm, swift current down the Chattahoochee River toward the churning Class III, IV and V rapids ahead, our river guide, Mookie, gives a brief history of Columbus, Georgia.

“If you look ahead you’ll see a building with a tin roof,” he begins. “That’s where Christopher Columbus first landed after sailing the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria upriver, thereby discovering the city of Columbus.” The tale goes on to include Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin and Columbus partying together at the end of the Civil War, and the sword of Excalibur in the form of a canoe paddle stuck in a rock in the middle of the river.

Of course, Mookie’s story is a fantastical tale he made up to provide a bit of levity on a smooth stretch of river between rapids. We’d already gone through some Class IIs and received an adrenaline rush, along with a healthy splash of water down our backs and fronts, when Mookie expertly turned the raft around in the middle of a rapid so we could “surf” it. Now we were heading for much bigger rapids and a lot more churning water while hearing the tale of the hero named Mookie who pulled the paddle out of the rock as Lincoln watched in awe.

Mookie provided the crew in his raft with some real history, too. He told us about the actual founding of Columbus in 1828 and how the textile mills along the river became the lifeblood of the city. When the mills were shuttered, the spillway dams remained. Then, some forward thinking people had the vision to remove the dams and return the river to its natural state along the fall line—a gently sloping geographic area about 20 miles wide—that cuts through the middle of Georgia. Once the dams were removed, the rapids returned, creating what the city of Columbus now claims is the longest urban whitewater course in the world.

WhiteWater Express began operations in Columbus in 2013 and is the only company that provides guided rafting trips along this exhilarating 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee. If you’re used to “shooting the Hooch” in Atlanta, this is something completely different. You can’t just float down the river here, because the rapids are always raging, even at low water in the morning. Later in the afternoon, Georgia Power releases water from its dams upstream, and those Class III and IV rapids become Class IVs and Vs.

By the time our group made it to the last rapid, the water was at its late-afternoon highest. Our raft folded in half like a taco at one point before becoming vertical. I looked back for a split second and saw Mookie also standing vertical with his back flat against the stern, the sky behind him. Once we were through the rapids, Mookie whooped and hollered like a rodeo hero, smiling broadly, amazed that we didn’t flip or lose a person overboard in such intense conditions. He does this practically every day, yet insisted it was one of the better runs he’d had in a while. He tried to give his crew the credit, but we knew better. We knew we made it through that raging water due to the expert skills of Mookie and a paddle called Excalibur.

IF YOU GO:

Columbus, GA, is an hour-and- 45-minute drive from Buckhead.

Where to get your paddle on:
WhiteWater Express
706.321.4720
whitewaterexpress.com
Individual rafting rates $38.50-$69.50, depending on time of day and river course.
Ziplines across the Chattahoochee and an aerial obstacle course also available ($22-$59.50).

Best breakfast/brunch spot to fuel up before your adventure:
Plucked Up Chicken & Biscuits
706.225.0044

Best place to wind down afterward with craft beer and a casual meal:
The Cannon Brew Pub
706.653.2337

Best place to stay nearby if you want to stick around and explore more of Columbus:
Columbus Marriott
706.324.1800
marriott.com

STORY: Blake Guthrie
Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau