Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Toxaway River!

Saturday I knocked out a run I've wanted to do for a while - the Toxaway. It was way bigger than I expected it would be and it's extremely remote. I can definitely understand why they say it's the most serious run in the Eastern US.

My group met at the put-in at 9 to run shuttle and we made it down the mountain and put on at the base of Toxaway Falls at around 11am... a late start for a first time group. We had almost 4 miles of V+ whitewater ahead of us, several mandatory portages requiring some major hiking, and a long hike out at the end of the run. 7 hours of daylight is not a long time to do that by any means.

Jacob warming up in the parking lot

Looking down from the bridge into Toxaway Falls.
Photos: Chan Jones

The put-in slide. At the top of the photo is the bridge that US-64 crosses the Toxaway. You can really get a feel for the size of this river by seeing how much gradient the Toxaway loses in its drops. Photo: Jacob Black

Eli at the put-in slide

Adam at the put-in slide

The put-in slide clued me in on how the day was going to be. We started with a 1/4 mile long slide that drops nearly a hundred feet before dead-ending into a big pool. After some flatwater, we came to a 20-footer that landed on rock on the right, requiring us to stick a line through the tricky entrance in order to get left where we wouldn't shorten our spines.

As the gradient picked up, the gorge grew deeper and the river narrowed. The shallow water running over the smooth granite slide at the put-in that had seemed like little water quickly manifested itself as being a perfect level. Not too low but not too high. Wary of the portages, we took our time and scouted every horizon line. So many that I lost count. The snail's pace we were setting had me worried since we had not even gotten to the steepest part of the gorge yet by 1pm.

Adam on the first 20'er

Eli at the first 20'er

A big rapid whose name I'm not sure of

Jacob, Matt, Adam, Isaac, and I fired Minigizer up. Two boats were broken in the process and we had to take inventory of our situation. Two of us ended up hiking out up the ridge above Minigizer and back upriver to the put-in. Later, I would be wishing that I had been one of those who had hiked out.

Chan dropping into Minigizer

Adam at Minigizer

Jacob in Minigizer
Video of Jacob at Minigizer

Matt in Minigizer

Our smaller group continued downstream from Minigizer, continuing to take a quick scout at every horizon line. At the top of the mile containing the biggest rapids and portages was where I got jacked up. This rapid is called Birth Canal and is a sluice-type drop similar to Minigizer but with a tighter, slottier entrance. We didn't get any pictures here so I'll describe it. There was a pillow at the top on the left coming off a mild undercut that went about halfway down the slide before the drop terminated into a big hole guarded by a flake on the right that looked to be mostly out of play and a big rock on the left sitting right in the flow. The pillow rolled me at the top of the rapid. I fought it but I ended up flipping about halfway down the rapid where I proceeded get accelerated head-first into the rock on the leftt. Somehow my Werner Sidekick was broken in two over my helmet in the process. I managed to handroll up and forced myself to handpaddle into the nearest eddy, which unfortunately, was a swirly, surging eddy that did nothing to help me. There was a log in the back of the eddy that I grabbed and collapsed onto for stablity while my head stopped spinning. I never lost consciousness but the realization that my paddle had been snapped and that one of my elbow pads had been ripped off of me didn't even set in until one of my buddies paddled over to me to check on me a few seconds later. Had I not broken my paddle and hit my head as hard as I did, I would have thought seriously about running Energizer and Wintergreen. Landbridge and 40-40...not so much. I knew I was hurt when my ear still felt like it had water in it after I'd been upright for a few minutes so with Kirk's help, I portaged the rest of the drops and handpaddled the few small rapids until we found the trail leading away from the river.

Further downstream in the gorge - Energizer.
Video of Adam running Energizer

My helmet after flipping in Birth Canal. Big thanks to Shred Ready for making awesome helmets!

All in all, the Toxaway is the most incredible river, if not the most incredible place I have ever been. There are several drops that each lose about 100 feet, there are multiple portages, there is a one mile stretch that drops 650 feet, and the whole run loses around 1,000 feet of elevation in just over 3.5 miles. A mini-expedition if I ever heard of one! Despite rupturing my eardrum, I hope to paddle the Toxaway again one day, just to experience that spectacular gorge again. I am still in awe. I wasn't as prepared to paddle the Toxaway yet as I should have been but if I'm lucky enough to paddle through that amazing gorge again someday in the future, you can bet that I'll have made up for where I was lacking on this trip.


Post a Comment

<< Home