If Walt Disney were to engineer a river, it would have to look something like God’s design of the beautiful NANTAHALA. The “Nanny” keeps calling us back with its natural DROP-DEAD BEAUTY and its dam-assisted, predictable flow. Wes, the senior member of our party (he’s pushing 60!) likes this river so much he has just bought property over towards Robbinsville so he can be nearby whenever he likes.
This particular October outing provided our favorite format: 2 fathers and adult sons canoeing together on a mild fall day. Wes paddles his new Whitesell Piranha; it’s an ENORMOUS CANOE we’ve dubbed QUEEN MARY. We call it the QUEEN except when it gets turned cross-current, in which case we call it “the dam”. Son Matt patiently paddles a canoe which is recently-repainted H2-Pro; his skill level is beyond his equipment. I’m the other dad, John; I love canoeing (and swimming beside!) my twitchy Viper 12, while son Andy’s canoe for this day was a borrowed H2-Pro with no thigh straps.
Every run on the beloved, familiar Nantahala is more fun than the last because, as four intermediate paddlers, we are still learning new places to play during each new descent. This trip, we all managed to start out well with an eddy-out behind Patton’s Run — that’s a FEAT FOR US because we are never yet settled into our best balance when we come to Patton’s Run only 200 yards into the trip. Since there are usually several LAND-BOUND TOURISTS on shore at Patton’s Overlook, eddying out there gives us a chance to swell up and be admired (by the uninformed).
Further on down-river past Nolan Whitesell’s showroom where the river splits around an island, we found we can now play side surfer in the two-stage rapids to channel right; last season we weren’t skilled up to that yet. My sharp-edged Viper canoe makes like a rodeo bronco in the top hole. I’m getting used to all that motion; I was in the process of being dumped over the downstream gunwale, and just before falling out, discovered a nice SOLID BOTTOM TO BRACE AGAINST only about three feet under: so I’m up and bouncing again!
Matt and Andy’s H2-Pros made good side surfers with moderate buck and bounce. Then came the Whitesell… the Queen Mary… she slid gracefully into the side surf position, locked in place, and allowed her paddler to STAND UP AND STRETCH HIS LEGS without having to even be particularly careful about his balance!
Next, because we had seen somebody else enjoying the shoal area down by the suspension footbridge, we rudder-ferried (did I just make up a term?) back and forth through this area several times. In six or eight previous trips through that section, all we had ever done was ride the haystacks at river right. What used to be a 20-second speed-ride through these shall henceforth be a 2 minute pause-to-play along the edge of the shoal.
Late in the trip appears my FAVORITE INTERMEDIATE EDDY of the hundreds I’ve tried along the Southern Appalachians: the Nanny’s own BILLBOARD. The water is swift, the eddy line is crisp, and there are two wonderful swells in the approach. One swell is three feet upstream of the eddy, along the side of Billboard Rock. He who angles cross-current toward the rock and rides up this swell PRECISELY can rise above a grinding collision with solid granite, FLOAT HIS BOW over the sloping edge of the rock and PLOP HIS NOSE DOWN INTO STILL WATER behind the Billboard. If you do it this way, be ready for a DIZZYING 120 DEGREE SPIN to the left as the boat tries to deal with the competing grips of two such different water masses in the short distance between bow and stern.
The more traditional entrance to Billboard Eddy is through the next doorway: a very pleasant bank shot off the swell four or five feet downstream past the lower edge of the rock. You still get the crisp eddy line in this lower entrance (as several surprised impromptu swimmers will discover on any sunny Sunday).
We don’t yet do much with the features just downstream of Billboard. We do always get a rush while jerking through the Nantahala Falls (does anybody know why they call it a falls??) and have more recently discovered the warm afterglow of doing some no-paddle-needed-if-you’re-good surfing next to the huge loaf of a rock at the commercial take-out.
[“Falls” is a generic term for a drop in elevation in a riverbed. It can be sudden, as in a vertical drop, or gradual, as in most class I to III rapids. Nantahala Falls is a recently coined term for the first big drop in Wesser Falls, known as Lesser Wesser or Little Wesser, the bigger drop downstream being known as Worser Wesser or Big Wesser. – Editor]
Yep, the scenery, variety, and intermediate training opportunities on the Nanny just keep calling us back. It’s easy to see why so many paddlers, like us, are IN LOVE WITH NANNY.
by John Cecil
October 12, 1996.