Upon arrival we confirmed a nice medium level (9" on THE Tony Robinson gauge), so on up to Dennis Cove. I had been once before at lower levels and the medium water felt great, but made the super blind rapids even more difficult to boat scout. Fortunately the wood situation was in good shape. After bombing some great drops in what might be the southeast's most intimate gorge, we made it Darwin's Hole, the scoutable but only marginally portageable and protectable crux of the run. I know some folks who've had near deaths in this hole, so it warrants some serious caution. Safety from the top is marginal for the first boater (your buddy can keep you from drowning but can't get you out of the water), and slightly better for everyone else if the first boater gets out on the left and walks back upstream along the base of the cliff to an appropriate location. Fortunately, we made it through without incident. Just watch the nub on the right that the lead in throws into, and deliver yourself to safety with a well timed boof.
Ben Warf Blasting through Darwin's. It's nastier than it looks and getting out to take this photo was exciting.
After some more great boxed in rapids and a few slightly more open slides, we made it to Laurel Falls. I thought it looked good the last time, but the water and daylight wasn't there. This time there was more water (although more would be better) and plenty of daylight, so I gave it a good look. Mike Patterson fired off the middle line to start the stoke. I was feeling the right line and gave it a a go. A slight piton on the first drop followed by some crucial bracing through the second drop saw me under control rolling off the 35-40 ft. final step. Unfortunately, I didn't took my paddle and ate it right between my upper lip and nose, resulting in a bloody nose and split lip, but luckily no broken nose or knocked out teeth. Lucky! Chris Vella followed up with a nice line off the center as well. Below is a video Chris threw together.
JJ Boofing into the Trees (Photo: Brandon Stephens).
And Rolling over the Final Tier (Photo: BS).
Vella a long way up on the Middle Line at Laurel Falls (Photo: BS).
Wanting more action, I headed to the Elk with Mary Anne and Alex who had decided to sit out the Laurel Fork. It was slightly lower than the last time I was there, but still a good low (1.7 on THE Tony Robinson gauge). Last time we did the short put in, but having no 4x4, we headed to the top. Big Falls was not remotely tempting with low water and still bleeding face, so on we went to some flatwater and a few great rapids before reentering familiar territory. Some great slides, a little portaging, and a few waterfalls followed before we were paddling out in the twilight. Twisting Falls Gorge is definitely an intense place.
After a great night of camping under a full moon, we knew exactly what the rest of the weekend entailed: Watuaga. And at a great level. And with a race Saturday. It was a fantastic two days on what might be the best class IV in the southeast (Cain/Chick is pretty good too). The race started in usual fashion: an hour late with a clusterfuck of a mass start under the bridge. Fortunately I got the holeshot and was out in front from the beginning. I got passed by 5 longboats but didn't see another shortboat after about 1 minute in. It was nice to boof the finish line falls in a mass start race without anyone in sight behind me. We went for one more lap that afternoon, having the river to ourselves.
Sunday was a little lower on the water, but just as good. I'll let the photos do the talking, as I took lots of them.
Hoping this won't be the last of a great spring of boating...