On
New Year’s Day, Amy Kinkennon, Matt Crawford, Janet Chisholm,
Gretchen Mallins and Chuck Spornick ran the Upper Nantahala. The
level was at 320 cfs, just below the projected release volume of 350
cfs for the seven planned releases later this year.

Cascades

We
did not set out to run the Upper Nantahala that morning. Instead, we
were setting up shuttle for a high level run of the Nanty. The
torrential rains had come on Sunday night, with the cold front moving
through overnight. On Monday it was clear and cool, with high
temperatures edging into the high 40’s.

After
setting shuttle we wanted to drive up Wayah Road (SR 1310) to look at
the Cascades. We stopped to look at Chinese Feet and the Horns of
God. As we drove up, Gretchen suggested that we give the Upper
Nantahala a try. Matthew seconded her, and the rest of us said we
were in.

None
of us had run the river, so we knew that we had to work well as a
group, working down the river eddy by eddy to boat scout or land
scout the drop ahead. Matthew volunteered to take the lead, with the
group putting Chuck as sweep.

Upper
Nantahala – First Mile

We
put in at the fifth bridge crossing of S.R. 1310 (working from west
to east) over the Nantahala. The path down was steep and required
that we pass the boats down one by one. It was a technique that we
would have plenty of experience with by the end of the day with our
three portages.

The
river is very creek-like, being narrow, very technical and
continuous. The average gradient for the 3.2 mile run is 100 feet per
mile. It was a day much better suited for draw strokes than forward
strokes. Within a tenth of a mile, there is the first serious rapid.
From here to the next bridge, approximately one mile, there is a
series of 4-5 full-on Class 3 rapids.

None
of the rapids have been named, but I will briefly mention three in
this section. The first was “Z Drop,” the third rapid downstream,
which involved negotiating a series of diagonal ledges with folding
currents. In one of the ledges, Janet hit a rock and went down, but
had a beautiful roll.

After
the bottom ledge there is a substantial hole, which ate my Diesel. I
did have a nice roll.

About
two tenths of a mile below, after several other rapids and a short
pool, is another significant Class 3 which I will dub “Camp
Branch.” About halfway down the rapid is a stunning waterfall on
the right, Camp Branch Falls, where the small creek tumbles down the
Nantahala Gorge. This rapid involves threading two offset rocks and
then busting through a good size hole at the bottom. Everyone had a
clean run.

The
last major rapid before the bridge is a funnel that feeds into what
looks like and is a munchy hole. Above this rapid was a river-wide
strainer that forced a portage. Given the size of the hole, we opted
not to put in before the “Bridge Rapid.” Just below the bridge
was a path that gently sloped down to a large river left eddy. There
we put on for the next leg of our journey.

Pierce
Creek Section

From
the river left eddy we worked to river center to run “Double Drop,”
a large rapid with two distinct ledges and two river left holes. At
the bottom of the second drop is a large and long undercut rock along
the left bank. Most of the current through the rapid works from the
center to the right. Everyone had a clean run.

After
the river made a bend to the left and to the northwest, we
encountered another strainer forcing a portage on the road to river
right. Soon we were back on the river, working down a series of Class
2+ steep shoals.

One
on of the drops, I landed on a rock, pointing upward and downstream
at an angle. My stern was in the current, with the current from the
drop hitting close to the back of my PFD. Calmly, I waited to see if
the slide was going to continue to the back: if so, I had a hand on
the grab loop, ready to punch out. The slide stopped, so I was going
to try to extract myself. Using the paddle with both hands I was able
to push the boat up the ledge and then pull myself over the ledge
with my hands. Whew!

Soon
we passed Pierce Creek on river left. From here the Nantahala widened
and picked up some volume. The river then banked to the right as we
approached a horseshoe bend. Before the bend we came upon our third
and last strainer. After a long walk on the road we worked down a
path to a large river right eddy, where we put in.

As
the bend ended and the river turned to the right, we paddled
underneath the third bridge crossing. Soon, as we looked to the
right, we could see the penstock for the power substation coming down
from Rattlesnake Knob.

After
the second bridge crossing the river banks to the right and then, in
a few hundred feet, the river passes under the first bridge crossing.
There are no major rapids in this section, but the current continues
to be fast and very technical.

Substation
Section

Immediately
to the left is the power substation, a stately two story brick
building constructed during the Second World War. The rapids continue
as the river banks to the left. Soon on the left the river passes the
commercial put-in for the main stem of the Nantahala. We continued
down the river, joined by the release water, to the private put-in
above Patton’s Run.

There
Chuck ended his day (a good day indeed). The rest of the group bombed
down to Ferebee, where Gretchen took out and Don Robertson put in.
Don and his friend Jeff were kind enough to shadow us on our run of
the Upper. They also shuttled me back to my car at the put-in for the
Upper. Thanks!!!

Don
had a great run to Surfers, and Janet, Amy and Matthew continued
downstream to the Falls. There Gretchen and I met them to shuttle
them back to their cars.

by
Chuck Spornick

From
“The Eddy Line”, February 2007