“Yeah,
sure, Jason
(Jason Schnurr GCA Cruisemaster at the time). I’m flattered that you thought of me
to coordinate a trip. Let’s see, what river would be good for a
first-time trip coordinator in the rain-choked dead of winter?
(February 7, 1998) How about the mighty Nantahala: dam controlled, so
the level is fairly constant, and the water temperature usually makes
you forget the air temperature. And to be honest, I do have some
degree of experience both paddling and swimming this river.” As
you might have guessed, I accepted this task with a fair amount of
anxiety and trepidation. What if it is really cold, like in the lower
20’s? What if the level is higher than normal, say 4+ ft., due to
winter rain runoff? What if mostly novice paddlers sign up; beginners
who just can’t wait until spring to try their new boats and paddles?
What if all of the above?

As
usual, the apprehension was unjustified. (Insert river analogy about
here.) After driving through some fog, we dropped into the gorge for
a mostly sunny day in the lower 40’s. The river level was just a tad
over 3.6 ft., enough to cover most of the nuisance rocks and to give
a new twist (literally) to Lesser Wesser (more on this later). But
here’s the best part: A great group showed up to paddle, all good
friends and good paddlers with a combined 5000 (est.) hours of
experience on this river. Louie Boulanger, Chuck Creekmore, Louie
Reynolds, Jane Rooney, Knox Worde and myself in kayaks with Debra
Berry as our token open solo whitewater canoeist.

Our
group was unofficially joined by T.R. in one of his fleet of kayaks.
If you are ever scouting the outfitter’s store prior to your trip and
see him there, offer to shuttle him either to the top or to Ferebee.
If he paddles with you, I guarantee that it will be entertaining. He
is a genuine personality, with the promise of developing into a true
river character. But watch the women! He has definite River Snake
tendencies.

No
one had any problems with Patton’s Run which should be paddled
aggressively at this level. The hole between the rocks at the bottom
of the run will back-ender a smallish creek boat in a flash. The
waves at Quarry Rapid were both higher and more squirrelly than usual
— a good opportunity for a little air time. I really can’t say why
I ended up running Whirlpool in the sluice between the rocks rather
than mid river, but it did get my attention. Knox had so much fun
surfing the wave at Surfing Rapid that most of the group was 1/2 mile
down river before he gave it up.

On
to the Falls. By observation, the percentage of people that scout,
and then successfully run the falls at this level is very low.
Frothy, highly aerated water at the left 1/3 of the river. A
pour-over-type hydraulic for the rest. Oh yeah, and the top hole
looks deep and grabby. Micro Eddy has turned into Pinhole. And even
the approach is more intimidating than usual.

Billboard
Eddy appears to be elevated about a foot and a half above the main
channel, and the main channel is fairly littered with weighted PVC
poles strung from wires (What do they DO with those things?). Only
one of our group stopped to scout, the rest ran more or less straight
down.

From
all reports, Knox was having a great time side surfing until he saw
me peel out of Truck Stop and start barreling down river — straight
for him. In my favor, I never saw him until after I had straightened
out. Knox managed to back paddle out while I scrubbed off just enough
speed to get caught on that d…d diagonal tongue. Now I’m side
surfing! It might have even looked intentional if you couldn’t see my
eyes. It’s a mystery how I got out of there without getting
thrashed.

I
eddied out and offered my (unsolicited) advice to a group from
Tennessee that was scouting (thanks to the visor I don’t think they
had seen my eyes). I am convinced that the line is far left; drop
into the aerated pool and keep paddling. The above mentioned tongue,
and the associated kick right, has never done me any good. Their
score: 0 for 6 took my advice and 5 of 6 flipped. One fellow couldn’t
have been prouder, however — his first ever open boat combat roll!

Dinner,
cold brown-bagged beverages and warm camaraderie at River’s End
perfectly capped the day. Thanks to all for a wonderful day on the
river.

by
Ray Channell
From The Eddy Line, April 1988