Late Spring Heavenly Highland Whitewater

wildwildwes wrote 481 days ago:

This past winter and early spring was starting to look like we were not going to have much of a creek season in the southeast.  Warmer and dryer temperatures was the theme of the winter months in our region.  Then spring sprung and we had a few showers here in there in late March into early April that started getting an occasional run up to a runnable level for a day or so if you could catch it. 

At the end of April the weather changed and a more consistent heavy rain pattern started in the highlands region of northwest North Carolina and northeast Tennessee.  The highland area is centered in between Roan Mountain, Beech Mountain and Grandfather Mountain.  Out of this region flows some of the best rivers & creeks any Class IV-V boater would be thrilled to fire up such as: Watauga Gorge, Elk River Gorge, Doe River Gorge, Wilson Creek, Laurel Fork of the Doe, and the mighty Linville River Gorge.

  Running the bottom drop of Darwin’s Revenge on the Laurel Fork of the Doe. Photo by Matt Dalton.

I live only about 45 minutes to the center of this mecca of whitewater and we have truly been blessed with multiple option in the highlands region in late April and May.  I have been fortunate to catch many of these runs multiple times here lately and guide several first timers.

  Running Stateline Falls on the Watauga Gorge. Photo by Amos Ivey.

With all these local creeking options it has given me a chance to use both my trusty JK Karma Large and JK Zen Large on these runs back to back.  I still prefer my Karma for the harder steeper whitewater, but I love the sportiness of the Zen.  The extra buoyancy and boof ability of the Karma gets the job done well for me when I feel I need that extra safety net like on the Laurel Fork or the Elk.  However the Zen excels with speed and nimbleness in handling runs such as the Watauga and the Doe with the plethora of different moves and lines you can take on these runs.  The Zen also still amazes me at how well it stays on top of the whitewater despite my larger size.

Running the bottom drop of Groove Tube on the Laurel Fork of the Doe. Photo by Matt Dalton.


One of the highlights from this highland creek season was getting show down one of my best friends, Brain Vermillion, down the Elk Gorge as a birthday present with another best friend, Ryan Horn.  Check out Brian’s great video edit from the run:

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After Work Doe River Gorge Goods

wildwildwes wrote 514 days ago:

Weekday after work runs are always a special treat for me.  Catching the Doe River Gorge at a good 750 CFS level is an even sweeter treat, because the take-out is only 10 minutes from my house!

Me and a group of 5 friends rallied earlier this week for delightful river trip in this under rated and hidden gem of a gorge!  Good times for sure with Todd Emma, Clay Landrum, Sarah Stine, Ryan Horn and Chris Clark on the Doe!! :-)

It was also nice to have a good place to take-out when we got to Hampton thanks to the partnership and work of the Elizabethton IDEAS Group and Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts Club in the development of the new river access site.

Congrats to Clay on his person first decent of this run and a nice video edit from the run!

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2016 Ocoee River Race Report

wildwildwes wrote 700 days ago:

The 8th annual TVCC Ocoee Race sponsored by WORLDKAYAK.COM went down on Saturday, October 8, 2016.  The race was a great time for the competitors and volunteers as always!  Big thanks to Jen Maxwell and the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club (TVCC Kayaking) volunteers who organized and hosted another fantastic event!!  It is amazing to many of us racers that the TVCC crew can get over 150 race runs down one of the USA’s busiest rivers with such poise.

The race is a time trial event format with racers starting in one minute intervals between commercial raft groups.  The race starts at the Middle Ocoee put-in ramp above Grumpy Rapid and runs the entirety of the Middle Section to the finish line below Powerhouse Rapid (4.4 miles).  Due to the length of the race you really have to set a quick steady pace for yourself to finish well.  It is not a race that you hammer as hard as you can because you will wear out well before the finish. 

The finish line is a raft you have to tag tied to the river right bank directly below Powerhouse out of the main flow.  You really have to carve hard right coming out of Powerhouse rapid to tag the raft or else the main current sweeps you wide left around a pile rocks and you have to eddy out and paddle across flat water to tag the raft.  That mistake can easily cost you several seconds when you are trying to finish.

The Ocoee Race is also unique to itself, because it draws a very diverse crowd of men and women paddlers.  The kayak racing longboats has been the majority of the field in the past few years, but there are plenty of other crafts going fast also: rafts, open single & tandem canoes, tandem kayaks, shortboat kayaks, hand paddlers, SUP, C-1 and even a few play boats.  There are many classes and divisions to choose from during race registration to keep things fair to all who participate.  This gives ample opportunity for the top guns to duke it out with each other while the weekend warriors can have their own heated contest!

Unlike the Green Race and Lord of the Fork Race the Ocoee Race course is primarily on class III whitewater, making the race more accessible for many whitewater paddlers with an intermediate skillset.  However, it is a good step up from racing on the Nantahala Gorge, so the Ocoee Race makes a great bridge to step up the racing game!

One of the more fun aspects in racing for me is the friendly banter and trash talking that goes on in the weeks leading up to race day.  My best racing buddy and close rival, Brian Vermillion, and I had a go at it on social media to try and prove our supremacy this year.  Ryan Horn and Casey Jones also got in on the trash talking action with us this year making some high quality entertainment!  We had a blast racing with each other this year!! :-)

This was my third year racing in the event and I was pumped to put the hammer down with my Mitchell Paddle for some fast lap times!  This was my first year racing in both the Long Boat and Short Boat classes (Often referred to as the Iron Man League in our sport).  I raced my Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited/UL in the Elite Men’s Longboat Class and I raced my Jackson Kayak Zen Lg in the Elite Men’s Shortboat Class.  I knew it was going to be an extremely difficult task to beat the time I posted last year, because we had some extra flow last year with rain and this year we were going to barley be at normal release flows with the dry weather we have been experiencing over the past couple of months.  So I set the goal to at least beat my original time I posted in 2014 as a benchmark.

My first race run was in my Karma/UL.  Iron Man Racing Tip – Typically you want to race your fastest boat first to be fresh to post the best time overall.  My longboat run was going very good and clean for me up until the second to last rapid in the course.  The right race line at Hell Hole is a fine line to ride through clean.  The line is only about 3 feet wide and since you are in a kayak that is a little over 2’ wide you don’t have much room for error.  If you enter the line with any angle to the left you end up taking a big chest full of water hitting the exploding wave of Hell Hole; which can result in an unintended extended surf session.  If you enter the line with any angle to the right you end up catching the eddy on the right.  I spun out in the river right eddy on accident and slammed into the rock bank losing all my forward momentum.  I tried to quickly spin my kayak back up stream to peel back out into the current to keep from losing too much time, but Casey Jones passed me at this exact moment and I knew that he was going to beat me by over a minute.  I peeled back out behind Casey and I used what energy I had left to charge hard to the finish line raft.  I was happy to find out later that I did complete my race goal of beating my 2014 longboat time even with the spin out at Hell Hole by almost 1 minute, but alas… Brian beat me for his 3rd time in a row in this race.  I guess there is always next year!

My second race run in my Zen started well, but I was already tired early into the race at Gonzo Shoals from the previous longboat race run.  I came into Broken Nose and was lining up for the greasy race line that cuts through the top of the traditional right line to the left through a channel that connects to the sneak line left of the island.  I came into the top drop a little too far to the left and my bow pointing too far right, so I tried to correct with an air plane boof sweep stroke on the right to get me turning left in the drop toward the channel I wanted to hit.  Midway through the stroke, with my head turning left looking the way I want to go, my paddle tripped over the strong eddy line and decided to go for a mystery move taking me with it underwater.  At this point I was in a bit of a state of shock.  I’ve never been upside down in Broken Nose in all my years on the Ocoee and I’ve heard all the horror stories of flipping in this rapid.  I was also sucking wind profusely right before the unexpected flip occurred, so I was not quite ready to be in an non-oxygen rich environment such as I found being underwater!  I tried to setup for a roll and right before I began to execute the maneuver my head impacted into a rock underwater.  Casey Jones started behind me on our shortboat lap again and he said he saw me bounce up out of the water upside down from several hundred feet upriver when I hit the rock!  His exact words were, “It looked heinous!”  

Thankfully my trusty Sweet Protection Strutter helmet took the brunt of the blow and kept me from experiencing any kind of concussion.  However the hit was still hard enough to really ring my bell and leave a nasty looking scratch on my helmet that ripped all the way into the substrate of the helmet (You can see light through the helmet now when you pull back the interior padding).  I’ll have to replace my Strutter now, but I’m glad it did its job well on this crash! 

After the hit, I tried to regain my composure and I tried to roll on two attempts that both resulted in carping, but was thankful to get a couple of breaths on the missed attempts.  I knew I was drifting down river in the rapid, because I could feel the flow around me.  I decided that I had to hit my third roll attempt, before I go over the bottom hole of Broken Nose upside down, so I composed myself to setup correctly and execute the fundamentals as best I could.  I rolled up backwards just in time to find myself cresting over the left side of the bottom hole of Broken Nose.  I quickly placed a couple of back strokes to gain some speed to try and punch the hole backwards and the hole sucked my stern to the right as I began to drop into it. I quickly engaged a big left back sweep stroke to freewheel my Zen around 180 degrees and using my now forward momentum to escape the hole to continue downstream into the run out rapids below the main drop.  In the run out rapids I had to coast for a while to shake off the hit and make sure I was OK.  Once I assured myself I was well, I kept my eyes toward the finish to complete the lap.  I knew I had wasted several seconds with the crash at Broken Nose and I had no chance of trying to beat my goal of finishing the short boat lap in under 35 minutes.  I was happy I was able to finish the lap though coming into the finish line extremely exhausted from paddling hard two full laps!  

Complete overall 2016 Ocoee Race results at WORLDKAYAK.COM:


No one likes to crash or not meet goals, but that is what going fast and taking chances is about sometimes.  I try to take these moments to develop myself into being a better paddler by embracing my failures and focusing on the recovery.  I find no use in making excuses and getting frustrated with myself; this makes me get scared and want to quit.  In this sport we are all in between swims and beatering due to the forces of nature we are dealing with in whitewater.  I have learned over the years that perseverance and shaking off a mistake is key to finishing a race or river run, if I’m within my skillset.  That way I get to come back another time to try again to be a winner! 

Overall I had a blast racing this year again in the Ocoee Race.  It was a great time with many good friends on the river.  Then Brian, Sam and I topped off the day with a delicious meal at the Ocoee Dam Deli!  Good times going fast for sure!!

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Nolichucky High Motivation Day: Gorge Guiding & a Triathlon

wildwildwes wrote 731 days ago:

My wife, Jennifer, and I had a very active day on the Nolichucky Saturday, August 27, 2016.  Together with the help of 3 other rive guides we lead a total of 28 paddlers with 7 first timers down the mighty Nolichucky Gorge for the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts annual First Timer’s Trip in the morning.  Then we raced in a triathlon known as the Nolichucky Triple Threat in the afternoon.  Needless to say we were a bit tired after all of the day’s events, but we had a great time together and with many friends!

The day started out with Jen and me towing the Jackson Action Wagon to USA Raft to setup a demo for the Triathlon event.  Once I got all the boats set out for showcase Jen and I began organizing the large group to set shuttle for the gorge river trip using a USA Raft bus and some trailers to haul boats up to the put-in at Popular, NC.  The group worked together well to load up all the gear and boats to get moving efficiently.  On the way up the mountain in the bus I gave my river safety talk and explained how we would be breaking into smaller groups with our five river guides when we got on the river.

We were greeted with a warm summer day and sunny skies with temps in the high 80′s when we reached the put-in.  The river flow was on the low side of good at 515 CFS on the Embreeville Gauge, which made for a steeper more channelized run for our gorge first timers.  It turned out to be a fine level for all!

We all slide into the river in the large pool at the Popular put-in and split into our smaller groups.  Then we headed down river to enjoy a great late morning/early afternoon in the gorge.  All 7 of our first timers had a good time and were stoked to complete the run!  Big thanks to all the river guides and sweep/safety paddlers who supported the trip to make it another great success!!

We finished the 9 mile trip Noli Gorge trip around 2:00 P.M. back at USA Raft and that allowed us a couple of hours to rest up and refuel for the triathlon we would be racing at 4:00 P.M.  Jen and I were excited to be racing with our friends Amy Register, Brain Vermillion and Andrea Gass.  Brian & Andrea joined us on the gorge trip that morning also and we decided we needed some sort of Iron APE Award for trying both of these events in the same day!

The Nolichucky Triple Threat is a three part event that incorporates a 3 mile paddle trip down the Lower Nolichucky River, an obstacle course and a 5K Run.

Event website – http://nolitriplethreat.com/

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The race started at USA Raft for the paddling portion (Class I-II) of the triathlon and headed down river to a spot known as Red Cliff below Radio Wave rapid.  I chose to use my Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited racing boat to GO FAST and Jen used her Jackson Kayak Karma Sm.  Brain and I were there only racers there using racing long boats, so we were the first two finishers in the paddling portion of the race.

Brian and I had to wait for the girls for about 5 minutes to catch up with us once we were out of boats, b/c we all agreed that we would help each other in the 17 obstacles that awaited for us in the course ahead.  The race’s official timing did not start until you crossed a pad leading into the obstacle course.  Once the girls caught up to us we started the obstacle course.  The course proved to be a challenge for sure!  There was many different obstacles in the course that included: a barb wire crawl in water and sand, carrying heavy objects, throwing a large rock into the cockpit of a kayak, 6’, 8’, & 10’ vertical walls, flipping tractor tires, dragging kayaks filled with concrete bags, inverted wall, cargo net, monkey bars, balance beam, 15’ rope climb, and a slip wall.  If you did not complete any obstacle in the course you had to do 30 squat jumps for each failed obstacle.  I ended up doing about 120 squat jumps throughout the course!

After we completed the course Brian had pulled ahead of the rest of us and he took off on the 5K run back to USA Raft.  He is a good runner!  I tried to hang with the girls on the run back, but I was struggling and had to walk several times.  Thankfully the girls were pretty tired too, so I was able to hang with them for the most part.  The run back was mostly on the road, but the last 0.3 mile was on an old spur the Appalachian Trail coming into the Nolichucky Gorge Campground.  I really enjoyed running through the woods in this section of the race and came though the campground to cross the finish line back at USA Raft with the girls finishing in front of me.

Event Results: https://results.chronotrack.com/event/results/event/event-21004

After we crossed the finish line one last obstacle laid in front of us as a bonus and it was to jump across two rafts tied together like lily pads in a pond.  We all did this one at a time hoping from the bank of the pond into the first raft.  Then scurrying across the thorts to jump into the next raft.  Then came the tricky part of taking a big leap from the last raft to the other bank of the pond.  We all finished this final obstacle cheering for each other and we were happy to complete the race!  It was a good time for sure with each other!!

We headed to the river to jump in to clean up and cool down after the race.  It felt so good and a great way to end a high motivation day on the Nolichucky!

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West Fork Tuckasegee at 3.0′ = $$$

wildwildwes wrote 808 days ago:

Thank you Duke Energy for the extra 6″ of flow on WFT on 7/2/16!  It made the run a lot better!!  Good times, good times!!!

I got my PFD of the West Fork Tuck back in July 2013. The level was 2.4′ that day.  I thought the run could use more water to be really good.  I’ve ran it at least 4 more times since then from 2013-2015 in the 2.4′-2.6′ range and every time I get off the run I would think to myself this run would be really good at 3.0′.

Well I got my wish this past Saturday when Duke opened the gates a little more to give us a perfect 3.0′ level on the take-out bridge gauge.  The second part of the Mini Gorge was stout for sure with much sticker holes, but it padded out the rest of the run to make a really good run!  It really made for good padded lines on both sides of Flight Simulator!!

I had some good times leading Eric Mckeehan, Jerry Stevenson, Marty Vaughn & Ryan Horn on their PFD’s of the run and thanks to Jeff Vannoy, Bill Finger and & Nathan Vannoy for the support for the first timers. Thanks also to Kirk Eddlemon for helping our first timers get lined up good at Flight Simulator. That saved us a difficult scout.

Check out Eric’s Video of our trip:


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Joy in Leading Cheoah PFDs

wildwildwes wrote 818 days ago:

Ryan Horn, Marty Vaughn and I had the pleasure to lead Eric Mckeehan & Jerry Stevenson down their personal first descent of the Cheoah River this past Saturday.  We may have had more fun than the legal limit boofing and shredding some great whitewater!  Then we topped off the day with some great food at Tapoco Lodge!!  Check out Eric’s video from the day:


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NoliFest 2016

wildwildwes wrote 878 days ago:

The 2nd annual NoliFest was organized and hosted by USA RAFT this year on April 1-3.  The festival was billed “For all who paddle” and the event was true to its roots.  There was something for every paddler to enjoy.  Plus we were blessed with rain the day before the festival started and it bumped up the river level to a near perfect 1,600-1,700 CFS flow.  The festival activities included: whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, Bellyak, Stand Up Paddleboarding, river races, SUP yoga, bonfire, live music, great food, vendor fair with sales/demos, used gear sale & swap.  This festival truly brought the local paddling community together in every way!

All these activities were staged from the USA Raft Outpost on the river bank of the mighty Nolichucky River.  Paddling trips on both the Lower Nolichucky River (Class I-II) and Nolichucky Gorge (Class III-IV) were of course the main highlight of the festival.  USA Raft provided shuttles on Saturday as part of the festival and probable carried out one of the largest shuttles to the Gorge put-in ever in history using multiple buses and SUV/vans with trailers to haul paddlers and boats up to Poplar, NC.

There were a huge number of vendors on-site this year for folks to check out: Hala, Bellyak, Pyranha, Southern Raft Supply, Shaboomee, Star Inflatables, Rocky Mountain Rafts, Boardworks, LiquidLogic, Uncle Johnny’s, Overmountain Outdoors, Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, French Broad Outfitters, Eryn Chair Massage and Thrifty Adventures

The Jackson Action Wagon was on site during the day on Saturday with free Jackson Kayak demos, giving away JK swag and showcase foe folks to check out some of the latest whitewater models in the JK line-up.

Our local Johnson City Chapter of Team River Runneralso participated in the festival by taking serval of their veterans on rafting trips in the Gorge.

There were a couple of Special Features during the festival that were big booming fun:

WORLDKAYAK Hometown Throwdown Downriver Boatercross

Check out complete results, photos and report of the event at http://worldkayakblogs.com/throwdown/2016/04/08/2016-nolichucky-hometown-throwdown-1/  

APE’s Downriver Freestyle Jam Session with Pat Keller

We had 17 participants join us in this paddling session with Pat on the Noli Gorge.  Needless to say, but we all learned many great freestyle tips & tricks and had a blast shredding with Pat all afternoon long!

Check out this video edit by Clay Landrum of the freestyle fun we had with Pat.

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APEs Whitewater Long Boat Racing Clinic with Chris Hipgrave = Incredible Success!

wildwildwes wrote 906 days ago:

Photo by: USA Raft

What happens when Team Nantahala Outdoor Center, Team Dagger and Team Jackson Kayak combine forces to instruct a clinic together?  110% pure golden good times and this is exactly what happened on February 20, 2016 in the Nolichucky Gorge, NC/TN!

Chris Hipgrave initially envisioned this long boat racing clinic with me late in 2015 for the two of us to host this clinic for my local Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts club.  Chris and I began organizing and promoting the clinic and the community really responded with overwhelming support!  Chris Gragtmans from Team Dagger heard the news about the clinic and he rallied his team of Adrienne Levknecht, Mark “Snowy” Robertson, Wade Harrison and Hunter Cooper to help with instruction during the clinic.  Soon after news of the clinic reached Emily Jackson and she rallied Eric “EJ” Jackson, Dane Jackson and Nick Troutman to support me with Team JK.  Now that we had a Plethora of Pros to help instruct at the clinic Hipgrave and I decided we wanted a better representation from Team NOC also, so he brought along Tosh Arwood from the NOC paddling School for more instruction support! 

Photo by: USA Raft

The level of paddling talent was off the chart that had come together to make this clinic happen and our 19 clinic participates had an amazing day on the water learning all sorts of long boat racing tips and tricks.  The day was made even better with superb shuttle support from USA Raft to expedite us all getting to the put-in together with 30 long boats!  

Check out this compilation of footage clips including instructional segments of the clinic that Shaun Mullins captured with his GoPro while on the river trip.

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Photo by: Sarah Ruhlen

After the clinic Chris Hipgrave followed up with this great post on his blog with some of the tips that were covered in the clinic at http://chrishipgrave.com/2016/03/06/top-5-ways-to-improve-your-longboating/

Chris and I decided that since the clinic was so well received by all in attendance that we want to make this an annual event and coin it as “Long Boat Camp”!  Stay tuned for details for the 2017 Long Boat Racing Clinic in late winter/early spring if you want to join us next year…

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Kentucky Life’s The Lord of the Fork Video

wildwildwes wrote 936 days ago:

Here is a great video on one of my favorite kayak events of the year, the Russell Fork “Lord of the fork” Race! They filmed some of this footage during the 2015 race and I got a carnage cameo @ 3:41 in it from my flip over at the bottom of El Horrendo.

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Exploring the Forks of the French Broad

wildwildwes wrote 978 days ago:

Brian Vermillion and I have had a lot of fun over near Brevard, NC the past couple of weekends with nice mild weather for January!  We both got our PFD’s on WFFB this past Saturday (1/16/16) at -3″ on the put-in bridge gauge.  The level was on the low side of runnable, but we had a great time checking on this new run and we got a second lap.

The Saturday before (1/9/16), after sliding down the Toxaway put-in slide, I had the pleasure of leading Brian and Ben Warf down their first and second runs of NFFB at 4″ on the bridge gauge near Headwater Outfitters.  This was my second trip back to the NFFB and I enjoyed getting two more laps on this run with our second lap being a bomb run down to the Alligator Rock take-out in 35 minutes!  Good times, good times!!

Brian’s North Fork French Broad video:

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My photo essay for our West Fork French Broad PFD:


Brian’s West Fork French Broad video:

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