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A Close Look at Cheoah River Fatalities

Posted: 06/29/2020
by Charlie Walbridge

The recent death of Chris Clark at Python Rapid on North Carolina's Cheoah River is the third at this site in the last six years. In each case, the person who died was an expert paddler and their paddling partners did not see exactly what happened. Let's take a close look at the Cheoah below Bear Creek Falls and develop strategies for future runs. The river here is very fast and continuous. After a fast lead-in (Chaos), the river drops over Bear Creek Falls, a 12' drop. Below, most of the flow pushes toward the river right channel (Python). Ferrying over to the easier river left channel (the West Prong) requires careful boat control. Python itself contains several nasty holes and sieves, with a bad hole blocked by a boulder at the bottom. There is a good route through it, but paddlers need to plan their route carefully. Scouting is a good idea for first timers, although catching eddies and getting out is not  going to be easy. Groups need to stay together.. The rapid is tough enough that you can't watch your buddy all the time, but you can be ready to help if needed. Click through for links to the accident reports and comments from expert Cheoah River paddlers.

An excellent article by Kirk Eddlemon that describes the Chaos/ Bear Creek Falls/ Python area. It includes aerial and river level photos:

https://www.wwsouthernapps.com/paddling-technique/mitigating-risk?fbclid=IwAR3F4pZgAZk0zLk21sWk9xruR27nWbL3AprFbUy1gIjFgyazbmdziF5yGEE

Chris Clark Accident Report 6/20/2020 https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/103382

Maria Noakes Accident 3/3/2018 https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/26265

Michael Huggins Accodent 04/26/14 https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/3812





Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC