2014 marks the second year of restored paddling opportunities on the West Fork of the Tuckasegee. The first of 7 releases this year will be on April 19 and 20, and we would like to share some important facts and lessons we’ve learned about the river to help paddlers know what to expect. First and foremost, be aware that this run requires a commitment consistent with wilderness rivers given the remote nature of the gorge and private property.
Injuries (ALERT): There have been two significant back injuries on the left line down the big slide so far. While this drop appears straightforward, it should not be taken lightly. If you run the left line, smoother lines have been found farther left, while a big bounce that has caused the injuries has been found more toward the center (see photo 1 and photo 2 of the bad bounce). Paddlers that have thrown their weight forward and leaned forward over the bounce have had far smoother lines than those sitting up, boofing, and/or leaning back. If you run the more technical right line be aware of piton potential and check out this photo taken at base flow to understand the landing zone.
Rescue Protocol: If someone is injured and needs to be assisted off the river through Cullowhee Forest private property, the Glenville Rescue Squad should be contacted at 828.743.3655 (there is no cell coverage in the gorge, the nearest cell coverage is on Hwy 107 in Glenville). The rescue squad will come in with access to the private road gates. Cullowhee Forest has multiple gates, not just the one at Hwy 107. If injuries occur at the big slide that require the rescue squad, either paddle out or you may choose to hike straight up the fall line on river right to the Shoal Creek Trail, and then left on the dirt road to reach 107. Hitch uphill (right) to Glenville for cell service and rescue services.
Put In Trail: 0.7 mile trail dropping over 450 feet down wood and rock stairs. DO NOT LAUNCH until you reach the end of the steep rocky section of the trail at the base of the large double waterfall. Please use the official Duke Energy trail beginning at Glenville Reservoir.
Initial Rapids: There are two steep congested rapids immediately below the put in. Consider ferrying across and portaging these rapids on the well-established trail on river right. Currently there is a significant log in both of the first two rapids. A large rock has shifted at the bottom of the second rapid creating a sieve (see photo).
Class IV+ (Advanced) rapids: The West Fork has several class IV+ rapids including a 25+ foot slide, and lots of wood. Don’t launch expecting a class III/IV run.
Strainers: The West Fork has a large amount of wood in it. While most of the main lines are open at this time (except the first two rapids), expect more wood than you are used to, and be aware of the added risks wood poses.
Private Property: The entire West Fork gorge is bordered by private property. A trail parallels the river for the first mile or so on river right that is open to hiking (and leads to Shoal Creek Road, which in turn leads to NC 107). Other than respectful use of this trail, all portages and scouting should be conducted below the high water mark in the river channel if at all possible. Respect all private property and do not walk on posted lands or Cullowhee Forest Rd. Cullowhee Forest homeowners have made it clear that paddlers are not welcome in their gated community road (can be seen from the river on right midway in the run).
Access: Please launch only at the base of High Falls and take out only at the official take out at the powerhouse. Cullowhee Forest Road, midway down the run, is a private road.
A Treasured New Creeking Opportunity: Now that we've shared some of the risks, unique challenges, and evolving knowledge of the West Fork, we are pleased to say that for those with the requisite skills, fitness, and drive, the West Fork is proving to be a welcomed new creeking opportunity. The West Fork joins the ranks of the Nantahala Cascades, Tallulah, and Cheoah: all outstanding Class IV/V paddling opportunities negotiated by American Whitewater and our affiliate clubs. Together these opportunities offer paddlers 43 scheduled days of restored advanced boating for the Southern Appalachian paddling community each year.
American Whitewater's participation in the management of the West Fork is supported by the Charles Paul Horner Memorial Fund and our members. Enjoy, and please support AW. Have fun and be safe out there.