We intended to paddle Fontana Lake, but after braving The Dragon for the second time in as many weeks, I was happy to divert to Calderwood, which Jim recommended. It’s a little closer than Fontana, just off 129 on the way to Robbinsville.
In the end, I liked Calderwood better than Fontana. It lacks the scale and long views that Fontana boasts, but the intimacy of Calderwood is very alluring. The banks are almost vertical as it snakes through the mountains, and when we set off at about 11 yesterday morning, a thin layer of fog clung to the water, giving the first part of our paddle a surreal feel.
First impression of Calderwood is that it’s freakin’ cold. Fontana didn’t strike me as being much colder the Loudon (though I’m sure it was), but Calderwood felt icy. Just stepping into it to launch the kayak convinced me I didn’t want to end up in the water. Water temperatures were about 50 degrees, which probably accounts for the veil of fog that didn’t burn off until about noon.
The lake is about 8 miles long, lying between Cheoah and Chilhowee lakes and straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee line. We launched from a small camping area that Alcoa owns and operates near the Cheoah dam, and before the day was over, we logged about 14 miles paddling, much of it exploring small branches and waterfalls.
We were trying to reach the dam at Chilhowee, but we came up short, knowing we were pretty close to our limit for the day. The paddle back was a bit rough, but cool breezes blowing down out of the mountains and a heron who played hopscotch with me along the shoreline made it more than tolerable.