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October 20, 2009


By Clay Wright

"Gage read 9” but felt like 10” today, might hold for tomorrow”
said Chan Jones on Friday evening, so with some reservations I
decided it was worth doing and early Saturday morning loaded up my
truck with Dane Jackson and Nick Troutman for Nick’s 21’st Birthday
weekend – not the Russel Fork, not the Coosa, not a strip club, but
Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee was his choice and off we went!

We were making good time till the snow up on Newfound Gap stopped
every tourist in their tracks.. lost an hour or more .. so we arrived
in typical Clay-time fashion – to a 6” level – ouch – but by 3:30PM
we were hiking off, just the 3 of us, as a light snow started to
fall. The hike in was beautiful, fall colors, lush moss, mushrooms
and a brisk wind blowing the leaves down around us. Soon we were
portaging up to the seal launch into Anaconda and scouting our way
down that amazing valley. The rock is so smooth and the rapids so
clean, it was hard to imagine NOT coming here at this level – though
pogies would have been nice.

While I was happy to run left on Wet Willy, Dane liked it so much
he ran it twice. By Big Boy it was after 5, and the cold was
taking it’s toll on our game. Nick picked out a nice line off the
right shelf – like so many others have from the top – but a side-view
showed those pesky rocks so we were soon scouting Mike Tysons
instead. I’ve had hard hits at Tysons at 7” and was planning to
portage, but a careful scout revealed a soft landing on the top 8′
boof a bit left, and the right side of the bottom to flow smooth as
silk between the middle kicker and the right flake. That rapid
makes my day every time…this time without the Advil chasers!
Just as I rounded the next drop to scout the Harjes sneak I was
surprised to see a local hiker, who told me we had just missed a big
black bear on river right. Too bad, but lucky for us Gil Jackson
offered to give us a ride back to the truck. The rest of the run
went like always and we made Emanuel’s well before dark as the
drizzle turned to rain. How much would fall? Would it turn to
snow? Would the river come back up or drop? With these questions on
our mind we packed up for dinner and stayed put .. just in case.

The next morning there was hoar frost just up the mountain but the
sun was out and the river was .. barely there. 4” to be exact. We
hit town for breakfast and I called around and contemplated our
options. Nick and Dane didn’t have any question where we were going
– back to the Raven Fork of course. Now I’ve heard ‘it can be done
at those flows but expected extra portages and lots of pushing. I
was wrong. Perhaps recent floods, perhaps simply hunger being the
best sauce, we enjoyed the slightly different challenges of that
steep bedrock gorge with tighter lines and shallower landings. We
found a few new routes, but in general everything goes. We ran only
the stuff I usually do – top drop of Anaconda, Big Boy through Elbow
Crusher, and Mangler not looking any better for sure. There were a
couple wheel-chair moves required (sneak at Hale Mary and Harjes’s,
plus 3 below Mangler) but even the paddle out had deep channels to
slide through as long as you were patient. After speaking with Gil,
we saw for the first time the ‘Raven Rock’ on our way up the trail,
and kept a close eye open for any bear that might come down to see
the show. Funny how differently you see a place when you aren’t
worried about dark or on any time constraints at all – we ended
seeing far more of the gorge and getting to the take-out even later
than before.

We finished off the weekend by heading over to Saluda to boat with
Shane and Adrienne on their backyard run, and get a nice outside
shower! It was so amazing being back on the Green again but with so
much more water than last year it felt like a different place. Dane
decided to get his first triple-crown without a single scout, running
"Go-left”, the Notch, and Sunshine for his first time on memory.
Nick took a glance or 2 but aced them all for his first time as
well. The temperatures were rising fast, colored leaves were
drifting down with us, and we didn’t see another boat on the water
all day – or all weekend for that matter. Thanks to Nick for a
little motivation to take the ‘road less travelled’ for an incredible
memorable weekend.

Clay Wright

All photos by Clay Wright or Dane Jackson

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