Powell, South Fork - South Fork Gorge


Powell, South Fork, Virginia, US

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South Fork Gorge

Usual Difficulty V+ (for normal flows)
Length 4 Miles
Avg. Gradient 358 fpm
Max Gradient 568 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
POWELL RIVER AT BIG STONE GAP, VA
usgs-03529500 1500 - 10000 cfs V+ 01h08m 126 cfs (too low)


River Description

LOTS OF WOOD!!! December 2009 storm and subsequent heavy rainfall has setback some hard working folks on this gem. The upper reaches from Big Cherry Lake are almost impassable for the entire 2.5 miles. A lot of old growth and dead trees have fallen into this stream making it next to impossible to kayak. A lot worse that when Al G and his crew ran it in 2002.

A first descent of the main gorge was made by several notable paddlers during the 2002 spring flooding that hit Virginia. They ran a lot, they walked a lot and a few have went in after to similar situations. There are several spots to be wary of on this run. Once you get on, you're committed. A hike or evac out of this gorge would not be a pleasant experience. This is a tight and technical steep creek, if you have the skills, you won't need a description.
Here's a link to the article by Al G Vertical Creeking

This run is up to par with some of the best whitewater in the SE. If you aren't up to paddling runs like West Prong, the Narrows, and Ravens Fork this run isn't for you.

The upper section below Big Cherry Lake is remote and contains a portage or two that you might want to consider as well as lots of lumber. This section also contains some of the best whitewater on the trip as well. Too many to list or mention here as each drop or slide has something unique about it.

After the last BIG drop (currently un-runnable) and steep boulder garden that follows, there is a good section of smokies style boogie water with a good eddy or two before the bottom falls out again. Most of this section is on the margin of runnable and along with the lack of well placed eddies and the consequences for not making the move makes it slightly unappealing to attempt, this also leads into the section near the waterplant which is home to a very large unrunnable cascade.

Portage this and put back on the creek below, don't think it is over yet, because the creek drops out of sight one more time on it's final plunge down the mountain. Very few eddies in the lower section to Durham's Chapel. The lower section can be scouted by walking up the dirt road near the bottom of the run. Follow the creek upstream to scout all of the drops, especially Twilight Zone.
At Twilight Zone the creek drops over a series of ledges 5-6 ft and upon reaching the final one one must be nearly scraping along the large boulder on RR to make the move. The old line here changed with the flooding and rolled the "Twilight Zone" boulder onto its side and has created a new hazard. It is next to impossible to go far right now, when the boulder rolled over it covered the old hazards up and created new ones. In the bottom of this drop is a NASTY pinning spot, not to mention a really stuffy hole. BOOF RIGHT! Under no circumstances does one want to be left, left center, or middle if this happens, it will be ugly.
Scout the run with caution, several smaller changes can occur and be unoticed until something happens.

Mile by mile gradient for the upper and lower section:
1st mile: 42fpm
2nd mile: 322fpm
3rd mile: 567fpm
4th mile: 502fpm
Total Gradient: 1,433' in 4 miles

PLEASE NOTE - - The putin and most of the run is located on property owned by the Town of Big Stone Gap. They require the hunters and fishermen to purchase a "special use" permit for fishing in Big Cherry reservoir as well as the creek. The permit cost is $10/person. It would be a good idea to check into a permit just to be on the legal side of the fence for boating here as the property is posted "No Tresspassing without Special Use Permit". They don't seem to mind, but as always, use the utmost discretion and caution while boating this stretch of water. You can reach the Town of Big Stone Gap Parks and Rec at 276-523-4950.

CAMPING IS EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN without special written permission from the town officials. Along the way across High Knob you can find several nice spots both managed and unmanaged for camping overnight.
Thoughtless individuals have already caused enough problems after damaging telemetry equipment on the dam after construction. Let's make the extra effort not to become part of the problem, but to observe and respect the rules established for managing the Big Cherry watershed. 

DON'T speed up and down the road leading to the putin/takeout. The folks that live there are really nice and we wouldn't want to spoil a good thing. Especially after the hard work of several members of the caving/boating community building rapport with the families that live here. These folks have really been cooperative in the past with letting us use their land for access, so lets keep it that way!


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-03-03 04:36:30

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Rapid Descriptions

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