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Do you have this skill in your tool bag?

Often on creek style runs we find the most efficient and safest way to launch into the river is off a vertical ledge into a deep pool. This act can seem really scary at first if you have never tried it, so make sure you find a safe place to practice it. The Sinks on the Little River in the Smokies is great place to learn this skill. The cliff is a solid 12 feet drop to a nice deep and calm pool.

Photo by Ryan Horn

I had a couple of first timers with me on recent trip on the Little River, so we took some time to practice this skill after a lap on the Meanies and the Sinks. It was a reminder to me from the tourist watching us in amazement, who thought we were crazy, that this is an important skill to have if you want to be a well-rounded creeker.

Knowing how to perform this maneuver will help eliminate the spookiness of dropping off a cliff in your kayak and ultimately be a safer way to enter than river than trying to scurry down a step river bank while trying to handle your kayak. Here’s my step by step suggestions on how to do a vertical launch with success:

1. Checking your landing zone.
a. Look for obstructions and flow conditions of the surrounding area. Is the flow going into an undercut wall? Is there a rapid right below the drop you need to be prepared to run? Make sure it deep enough for a plug based on the height of the drop (good rule of thumb is pool needs to be half as deep as the height of the drop).

2. Find a safe staging area.
a. Make sure you launch place has a stable place to get in you kayak without worry of sliding off the cliff without having your backband set and your spray skirt on.

3. Set your launch point.
a. Wiggle down to the edge of the cliff with your bow overhanging the drop and find the balancing point of the edge of the drop in your boat (This is typically about the point where your thighs are crossing the precipice).

4. Prepare Propulsion.
a. Hold your paddle in one hand vertically on one side of your boat chocked against a rock on the lip of the drop. Use your other hand to find a good grip at the edge of the cliff to help push off of at launch.

5. Bomb Away!
a. Give a quick push off the lip with your bare hand and paddle on each side of you simultaneously while letting your bow start to drop.

6. Control Flight.
a. This is the hardest part of controlling fear while in freefall. Concentrate on trying to lift your legs to your chest by crunching your chest forward in the cockpit. This will angle the boat to land at more of a 75 degree angle to the water and activate your creek boat’s rocker to land upright.
b. Don’t lean back on your stern at this moment or you will fall over on your head, because this action drops your bow even more.

7. Style the Landing.
a. Gain control of your paddle in low natural paddle position below your chest at landing to help with bracing if you need it at landing. Make sure to keep the paddle low below your shoulder line, so it doesn’t happen to hit you in the face when you first impact the water. Your PFD will take the hit and you want even notice it when you keep it low.

Find you a safe place to give this skill a go or two. Some future day on a new creek run you’ll be happy you have this maneuver in your tool kit. 😉