My first time on the Rocky Broad 10/3
by Harrison Metzger (email)
Contributed 10/06/2004 Responses: 0
Fortunate as I am to work in Hendersonville, N.C., center of the Southeastern paddling universe, there are two runs within 20 minutes of my office that I have avoided. One is the Narrows, which I still don't have any plans to run. The other was, until yesterday, the Rocky Broad.
Actually, the RB has been on my to-do list for years, along with the Watauga. And as a new dad of a baby girl, now a toddler, close-to-home runs are at a premium for me. So in addition to my favorite creek, the North Fork of the French Broad, I have started looking at the West Fork and the Upper Rocky Broad.
Unfortunately, the Upper was too low to run this weekend. But I got over the mental hump about running the Lower. So I called my friend Will (Slave2H2O) and asked him if he would be willing to lead a few newbies down. That would be me and my friend Stephen, a C-boater, and another very hard core open boater I have recently started paddling with, Pat.
Thanks to Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, I have gotten in a half dozen runs on the North Fork in September in both canoe and C-1 and was primed for something new. Also I ran the Upper Davidson earlier in the month with my friend Doug Bonnoitt. When Doug said he had done the Rocky Broad three or four times and loved it, I thought, that's it Let's go.
We were met at the put-in by not only Will but his friend Chris who knows the river quite well and a kid in a Disco named Adam McKinney. Chris told me the Rocky Broad is Adam's home creek and he knows it inside and out. We were also joined by Scott, an excellent C-1 paddler, and Bentley, a gutsy girl kayaker. Am I forgetting anyone, Will? I thought we started the run with 10 of us.
Also showing up at the put-in was my oldest and best paddling partner, David Withers, along with his huge dog. He came to watch and take pictures, so I handed him my video camera. The river was flowing at just under 3.8, 3.78 to be exact.
Upon seeing the open boats at the put-in, Chris joked "open boats...cool. I love carnage!" Pat and I did our best not to feed his carnage whim. We almost succeeded.
Once on the water, it became evident the Rocky Broad is Wilson Creek on steroids, but with a lot more consequences from all the sharp rocks and junk dropped into the riverbed from flooding and development along the shore. Nevertheless, this is one of the coolest runs I have been on.
At this level, almost all the drops have some kind of pool below them, although some of the rapids are still quite long. It starts out in a cool class III groove then builds as the Class IV+ boulder piles start dropping at 200 fpm. After a 1/4 mile warmup we came to the first big slide.
Cool ferry across the top to slam into a slot on the right bottom of the slide. My strategy for the day was simple. Go where Adam goes. It worked here and everywhere else. The big slide has a big hole in the middle, but otherwise it is more straightforward than just about everything else that follows.
There was much discussion about a rapid called Butt Crack, that the recent floods had washed a nasty rock into the crack. When we got there we found an alternative line, I think it was to the left. More unnamed class IV boulder piles ensued, then we reached one bigger and steeper than the rest: Gauntlet.
Here's where my one mishap occured, and here's what the video shows:
Jah Will cooly hand-paddles his H2 through the entrance drops and through a bad hole just above the crux at the bottom, where the river drops 6 feet or so into a rock. The correct line is either to turn and blast left of the rock or boof it. Will hit the bad hole above the bottom drop (and it is really bad, backed up by a pinning slot and underwater rocks) did a couple of back strokes and caught a small eddy. Oohs and ahhs are heard on shore.
As he is sitting in the eddy a big blue Outrage canoe (me) comes barreling over the crux drop into the hole and spins to the left. One stroke takes me closer to Will in the eddy. But before I can take that next crucial stroke, I hesitate. Big mistake.
As they say, fear leads to hesitation, and hesitation leads to your worst fears coming true. I wasn't really afraid until I realized I was sliding backwards down the drop!
I never flipped. It was more like someone hit the eject button. I hit that rock so hard that the force catapulted me back over my stern air bag, and over the rock the current was crashing into. Right into an eddy, along with my boat and the paddle still in my hand. Praise God I was OK, except my ankle was seriously torked as I was ripped off myfootpegs. Guess I should have waited and followed Adam!
Just downstream is Walker Falls, aka. Redneck Falls or "Frank." One look sent most of us carrying our boats. This was clearly a Class V drop with big consequences. A drop into a grabby hole just upstream threatened to screw up your line through the 8-to-10-footer below. There are four or five cracks, but only one has enough water and no pinning rocks at the bottom. The worst one is a 2-foot-wide slot drop behind a gargantuan boulder on river right.
Pat, paddling an Esquif Nitro, almost made it. But at the last second the current shoved him into that most terrible place on the right. "Get a rope to him," someone yelled, as Steven scampered over the boulders above the unseen carnage, rope in hand. 1-1000, 2-1000, 3...Pat flushed out the bottom, upright, his paddle floating out ahead of him. As he later said, there wasn't room in there for me, my boat and my paddle. He went over the drop with his canoe cocked sideways, dragging his palms on the granite, shoved up against his back air bag. Thank God he flushed through.
Will was the only other one to run Redneck Falls. He too was pulled toward the slot, which some call the "Death Crack." But he was able to stop himself and hand-paddle his way into position for the correct slot before going deep.
The rest of the run was uneventful, for the most part. Scott in his C-1 executed several heroic rolls in the middle of the steep pile below the spot named after a female body part. Two boaters walked off at the 1.5 and 2-mile marks, leaving seven or eight of us to complete the run. The only other portage was at A-Frame. It looked like it would damage my canoe, and from the looks of Pat's hull afterwards, I made the right choice. Pat, Will Scott and Adam all ran it, pretty clean.
This was a great day on the river and a good water level. Although some skepticism was expressed whether the open boats would fit through all the slots, they did, and it did not seem overly tight to me. I had so many good lines through tough rapids that I don't mind the sore ankle today. I loved the microeddies I caught, and all the cool unnamed Class IV+ boulder piles, and I will be back.
The Rocky Broad may not be as beautiful as the Watauga, but it sure closer to the Asheville/Hendersonville area and comparable in challenge. The water looks clean and the bottom and rapids have been scoured clean by the floods. All the junky development on shore does not seriously detract from the rapids, or from the magnificent gorge walls towering above.
This is a fantastic roadside whitewater park, suitable for boaters who run the Narrows and are looking for something different nearby. If you feel you have had enough, you can just get off, being mindful of no trespassing signs and respectful of landowners. I don't recommend taking out at the destroyed river walk in the middle of Chimney Rock Village as we did, though. Just upstream of the Chimney Rock Park bridge is a better spot, and you will only miss one rapid.
Thanks again to Adam, Chris and Will for showing us the lines. I will try to get some video up when I get a chance.