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Oh the elusive “first descent”.
If you have been kayaking for any length of time I am sure you have heard the term.
Living in the Appalachian Mountains of TN, waterfalls and creeks that have not been run are very hard to find in this day and age.

Most of the common runs were pioneered back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but for those willing to search there are still a few that are only navigable at flood stage.
When I first say a local drop called Melton Mill Falls I was hiking with my family, and at low water it looks quite foreboding.
Hopping from rock to rock to get closer to the landing zone, I realized the amount of significant rainfall that it would take to make this drop runnable.

I had assumed that it had been run because of the close proximity to Knoxville, and the local chargers that frequent the Cumberland Plateau during rain events.
My friend Matt and I were on our way home from a kayaking trip in Ohio when our home had received over 6 inches of rain in a 2 day period.
Both being in a exploratory mood, we started driving around to some of the local waterfalls.

On a side road near my house, we found a local drop called Middle Fork Falls, it has been run in the past, but not often.
Matt and I both scouted the landing and felt good about the line, with both of us having great lines and feeling pumped up we heading to check out Melton Mill.
With it being a short hike from the Lilly Bluff Overlook, we bounded down the trail and began to walk faster as we heard the thunderous sound of the waterfall below us.
When we arrived at the lip of the drop, the landing to the left looked narrow but what was worrisome is the entry to the drop.

Ask any southeast paddler and they will inform you that rhododendron is a absolute pain when it comes to micro creeks and small waterfall.
The eddy where we would have to make our move across the current was extremely small and blocked by the nasty shrubbery.
With the stream bed being very small, and the creek being swollen the move out of the eddy into the current would be tricky.

With any new rapid or waterfall, setting good safety is paramount.
After loosing a game of rock paper scissors, Matt chose to go first which was perfectly fine by me.
It’s always nice not be the guinea pig, and I was safety at the bottom of the drop.
Matt peeled out right as a boil surged and went off the lip a bit to the left of where we had scouted.
Everything turned out fine and a quick roll quickly remedied the roll after landing on river left.
Having Matt at the bottom for safety I hiked up to the trail to begin setting up for the drop.
After a final scout, I trimmed some of the rhododendron back to make the eddy a bit larger.
Being a bit too aggressive with my ferry, I managed to have a line opposite of Matt and ended up running the right side of the drop.
Flirting with a rock in the landing, everything went well and after getting my paddle wedged underwater I managed to roll up in the pool at the bottom.

Next time there is a big rain event, get out the maps and go exploring.
Who knows, maybe you will be as lucky as we were and knock of the elusive first descent!
Have any first descents that you have run?
Send me a email at, I would love to see some images!

Video of the awesome day is at