Thompson, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||400 fpm|
|Max Gradient||800 fpm|
Though pictures at flow are currently lacking, NCwaterfalls has some great shots and a relatively in depth look at the river's course.
The Thompson River flows through the most rugged and beautiful region in NC. Lake Jocassee has many incredibly tough river trips and the Thompson River is probably the toughest. There are a few different ways to do it. From NC 281 to the lake the river drops 1750 feet over the course of 4.5 miles.
Though the average gradient is 400 ft/mile, there are two sections where most of this is accounted for. There are two 3/4 mile stretches where the river drops seriously. The first is encountered around 2.5 miles into the run and the second is at the end of the run, dumping right into the lake. The top steep section has a quarter mile that drops 400 feet, and throughout the whole 3/4 mile the gradient is around 1000 ft/mile. There are two very large or one big portage that comprise over half of this gradient. Finding a way around the whole stretch might be a good idea. There are runnable slides of quality laced amidst the unrunnablility, but missing an eddy would be bad to say the least.
The second steep gorge is the last 3/4 mile to the lake, which drops an average of 500 ft/mile, which brings this section into the realm of high quality class 5+. Most of the quality runnable drops are in this last short stretch. Given this information, unless you are just feeling like going on the hardest and most intense expedition in the SE, puting in at NC 281 and running the whole thing is probably more trouble than it is worth
To run the last 3/4 mile though is logistically complicated. During the months of September 15th through December, and the month of April, Musterground Road is open and provides access to the area. This road is found by turning off of NC 281 at the Bad Creek Access area. From the parking area for the trail to Lower Whitewater Falls, the road starts down and to your right. The road is 5 slow going miles to the putin at the location where Musterground Road crosses the Thompson River. To takeout, the best option is to find a fisherman trail from the road down to the lake and mark it prior to puting on so you will know where to takeout. The walk back to the car only gains around 150 feet or less of elevation and shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.
For the full adventure puting in at NC 281, have at least 10 hours of daylight available from when you put on, and if its Winter of chilly at night, bring serious survival gear with you. This is not a place to come up short. The parking area at the putin is just east of the crossing of the river on 281. Look for a pull off on the south side of the road at Brewer Road. Pull off here and walk down NC 281 to the river.
Here is a feeble attempt at the blow by blow from top to bottom
The very first drop encountered is white owl falls, a nice little 15 footer. Soon after this, Mill Creek comes tumbling in on river right, signifying that High Falls is 0.2 miles downstream. Be careful, as its totally unrunnably and there is a winding bedrock entrance that is blind and not easily escapable. There is a trail on the left, and at the confluence of Mill Creek it is nearby, so it might be a good idea to get out here, If you do go further be super careful. To portage High Falls you can slide the last 20 feet in from a ledge on the left or go all the way to the bottom and put in at the pool below. From here it is smooth sailing for a while with a nice slide and another cool bedrock rapid before a confluence with Reid Creek, which comes in from river left.
Below the confluence with Reid Creek the river is tame for around 1 mile before entering the scary inner gorge. In this relatively calm stretch are a few good rapids though. There are some nice little ledges in here, and then just a quarter mile below the confluence is Simon's Fall, a nice steep angle 25 foot side. Below here are a few ledges but mostly calm waters for the next 0.6 miles. You may notice at the end of this stretch a small tributary coming in on the right. This signals that things are about to pick up.
This would be a great place to look for the trail that parallels the gorge some distance up the river right side.For the next third of a mile sizable rapids begin to appear, before climaxing at a sketchy looking 30 foot cascade. Portage on the right. Below here is a series of steep questionable rapids before the river turns back to the right and plunges off the face of the earth. The next 1/4 mile has an average gradient of 1600 ft/mile! The first big drop is Standing Stone Falls, a must portage section of unrunnability that drops around 200 feet. Between here and Big Falls, another colossal portage, it is possible to run a big chute rapid, but it ends right above the 160 foot Big Falls. Portage Big Falls on the left carefully. It is highly recommended to do your portage scouting before getting in here with water. This place is not friendly at all. Portages on the Toxaway are nothing compared to the type of terrain found in this gorge. Portaging high on the trail on river right around all of this is definitely the safest option, though making your way back down to the river below Big Falls certainly wouldn't be easy either.
Below Big Falls the river crashes through a series of boulder breakdown rapids that may or may not be runnable. Soon things calm down though, and after crossing under the Foothills Trail, the next big rapid is a third of a mile further. Called Seyentoga by the native Indian tribes of long ago, this is a sweet 45 degree angle slide that drops around 40 to 45 feet. From here down to Musterground Road Access the river is not overly demanding.
Upon reaching the culverts at Musterground Road, take a break, because things are about to pick up, with 10-12 rapids in the class 5-5+ range that will come in quick succession. After a short warm up, the river necks down and for the next third of a mile drops at a rate of around 800 ft/mile. You are going to spend a little while in here so be prepared. There is a good little section from Waterfall Rich's pbase gallery that shows alot of the rapids in this stretch. These drops have all been run, as seen in various whitewater videos.
After the last drop, find a way up to your car if you used the access road and if not, paddle 2.4 miles around the peninsula to the Whitewater River cove and look for a place to hike up to Bad Creek hiker access. Or you can take out at Musterground at the lake and hike 3.6 miles all the way back to the car if you wanna go Jocassee style. Either way you will be spent.