Big East Fork of the West Fork of the Big Pigeon…No its not a joke.

September 25, 2009
Big East Fork!  

     This trip started on Monday with a classic Asheville drive session looking for something low enough to run. The funny thing is that when we left the house we knew it was going to be like that. It felt like it rained 97 inches over the weekend and it almost did in some parts of the south. Sometimes this can turn into a frustrating proposition but we had an awesome crew that was just interested in getting on the water and not worried about finding the absolute perfect thing. We focused on one watershed for the most part, the Big Pigeon area near Canton, North Carolina. We started with a quick run down the Little East Fork of the Big West Fork of the Big Pigeon. I know, I know, sounds like a joke, but its real. It’s a hike up section that starts with a bang and ends with a fast paced continuous class 3-4 race back to the cars. With a closer inspection during the hike we saw lots of wood and very very high water for the top part. That’s where the humility kicked in. “Wow that looks high!”, we thought amongst ourselves.  The word comes down from the upper reaches…”its really high!” “Hey do you guys want to put in here below the big stuff?” “Sounds good to me”.

Driving

and Driving

We went on to do a short stretch of the Middle Prong of the Big West Fork of the Big Pigeon and paddled on into the Big West Fork that same day. More of the same put on below the big rapids and bounce and smile down fluffy class 3 and 4…without any eddies.

You don’t necessarily ever come away from a day like that feeling like a hero but a little wood removal and some hiking with boats makes you feel like you have done something.

Put In at Skinny Dip Falls 

     Tuesday on the other hand was set up ideally.  We knew that rivers would be dropping into perfect levels all over western North Carolina so we drove up higher into the Big Pigeon watershed to look at the Big East Fork. After a short conference with some other paddlers we decided it was a great level and off we went. I love the fact that we start this paddle off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and probably start actually paddling above 4,000 feet which in the southeast is pretty high altitude. The put in parking lot has great views of the Blue Ridge and a nice granite dome called Looking Glass. From there we hike in along a lush trail crossing a small stream and the fork at the put in Skinny Dip Falls.

 

The first part of the run is small and a little manky. There is a trail down to the first confluence which cuts out the shallow stuff makes the river much kinder but walking into the falls the put in are nice enough to endure the 1/4 mile of mankdom. On my first time down this part of the run was high enough that this section was moving right along. It made for an exciting but manageable day on the high side of good.

Once we gained the water of a couple side creeks the volume was enough to float most of the time and at the first significant rapids we were psyched with the water levels.

This run is a lot like other stuff in the Smokies, its very continuous, with small eddies, and fun technical rapids thrown in all the time.  Throughout the run we probably scouted 5 times with lots of buddy beta scouting to keep the group moving along.  The complete run from car to car was 4 1/2 – 5 hours.

Lil A Hole
Adriene had a fun little surf in this hole.  I think I will call this the Lil A hole. It was a sweet little rapid.  You come down from an eddie above the first drop in the background of this photo which is a little boofy boogie water then get river right for this sweet slide drop into a fairly stout hole that is pocketed out.  Lil A came in angled and the drop stopped her quickly.  I took time to get a couple shots at the beginning of the surf but it was looking a little rough so I reached down and pulled her out. That was fun.

Real Purty and Continuous
This place is beautiful

This is one of the cooler drops on the run.  At the top of this rapid you came around a couple big rocks, big enough that you couldn’t see anything and then dropped through a series of small drops and then down this technical section.  Adriene had jumped out to scout and we ran on her beta so it was a fun way to roll into this rapid.

 First Drop of Triple Drop

Gabriel is entering the biggest drop on the run in this shot.  The rapid is called Triple Drop and comes in just after Greasy Cove Prong comes in on river left.  This rapid is really sweet because of the different moves that are entailed.  The first drop above is a tight bouncing drop.  With a decision to follow immediately afterwards.  Go left and deal with some power or nice boof on the right that is a little touchy to get to.

Second Drop of Triple Drop
This is the right side of the second drop.  You can see the left side opposite of Gabe.  You land in a moving pool just above the final drop which is about an 8 foot drop with major consequences over on river right which is very much in play because a good portion of the river is pushing right.
After Triple drops the run continues steeply for the next mile plus with very continuous boulder garden drops that for the most part could be run by eddie scouting and read and run but with the thoughts of all the wood we found the other day we scouted pretty much anything we couldn’t clearly see completely.   This section was probably my favorite of the day because the one right after the other the drops were coming at us constantly and we would take turns jumping out and giving beta, and that gave me the chance to take a bunch of photos.
 
Rapid Transitish Rapid

Nice entrance to Fan Rock Rapid

I call this one “In Over Your Head”
 
Lil’ Gorilla
The Tunnel at the Take Out

I can’t imagine a better day to be on this river.  It takes so much water to get this thing running you pretty much have to be there when its raining but this day we had blue skies and crystal clear water because it had been running for several days.

Here is the slide show of all the shots I took that day.   Later Shane