Tuckasegee, West Fork, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||143 fpm|
The West Fork Tuckasegee Gorge is currently a wild and beautiful, but woody place. Hike in on the incredible trail built by Duke Energy that starts in a well-signed parking lot just across the dam from Highway 107. Don't get lured into putting on before the trail ends at the base of the massive double drop known as High Falls or Cullowhee Falls. Put on too soon and you could risk going over one of two big unrunnable drops.
At the put in, amidst the spray and wind coming off High Falls, you will have a choice: Either paddle across the river and hike around the first two challenging Class IV/V rapids, or run them. Note that the entire run below the put in is private property. After the two entry rapids (and some wood) the river mellows and flows through small rapids until a house comes into view on river left, and an obvious horizon line appears. Pick your way center through a couple entry slides and then you come to the hallmark drop of the run, a 25 foot slide typically run well left of center. Note that at least two people have suffered significant back injuries on this slide, and scouting is extremely difficult.
Small rapids (and strainers) continue until you come to two houses right on the stream bank on river left. The homeowners of both of these homes are very concerned about trespassing, so please be respectful. These mark the location of a man-made relatively new rapid. It offers a nice 4 foot boof just a couple feet off the left bank. There is a rock in the landing but a good boof should make for a soft enough landing. If you scout this drop, stay in the streambed and respect private property. Just past this rapid there is currently a large tree across the flow. You can portage either direction but catching a small eddy river right will be the easiest route and keeps you further from the homeowners.
The river continues at this Class II/III pace for a ways. You will see a small house on the right just above the river. Just after this house, the river will drop over a series of slides. These aren't as steep or tall as the earlier big slide, but quite a bit of fun. You can catch a small eddy on river right above the first one to scout. he first of these slides (Kornegay's Cascade) is the biggest, probably 15-20 feet of total drop. The river right side is currently no good with trees in the runout. The preferred current line starts left of center and moves right down the slide to the bottom. The other slides are smaller and easy to scout from your boat.
These slides will continue until you pass under Cullowhee Forest Bridge (a private road with no public access), at which point the river changes character dramatically. A nice slide indicates you are almost to High Turnover, the crux of the run. High Turnover boasts a lead in wave/hole followed by a vertical ledge hole, followed by a sloping ledgehole that can dish out some surfs at the right flow. More cool bedrock rapids continue for a while as the river flows through a small mini-gorge before the run opens up. Once it opens up it stays pretty mellow to the takout at the bridge near the Tuckasegee Powerhouse.
The West Fork offers paddlers a couple of complex boulder garden Class IV/V rapids at the put-in, a big slide, several smaller slides, a standout class IV mini-gorge, and many other class III rapids. Be aware that this entire run below the put in flows through private property - travel respectfully.
Put in: Drive across the spillway and dam to a wide turnout – parking area on the right at the west edge of the dam. The recommended put in is downstream of High Falls, about 8/10 of a mile below the dam, at the terminus of the well marked trail. DO NOT PUT IN ABOVE HIGH FALLS.
Take out: There is a parking area on Hwy 107 next to the powerhouse. The shuttle is 7 miles exactly. Duke Power has built a walkway from the takeout bridge to the parking area.
Rescue Protocol: Someone who is injured and needs to be assisted off the river from the private land needs to call the Glenville Rescue Squad at 828.743.3655. They will come in with access to the private land gates (Cullowhee Forest has multiple gates, not just the one at Hwy 107) and remove and/or transport an injured paddler to care.
Release History: On June 29, 2001, American Whitewater organized a team of
volunteers to run this dewatered reach as part of a whitewater flow study. We found a super fun
creek run of moderate difficulty with one big drop and tons of great low angle slides and boulder
rapids. We signed a settlement agreement with Duke Power and other stakeholders in 2003
recommending 7 annual releases, which were expected to begin in 2006. Delays associated
with the removal of Dillsboro Dam have prevented the new releases from becoming a reality. FERC
licenses were issued in 2011, and 2013 became the magic year when releases began.
Gauge and Flow: A very useful stick gauge is located across Hwy 107 from Thorpe Powerhouse. It is located underneath the upstream side of the metal bridge, bolted to a boulder next to the bridge's foundation on river-right and facing downstream. The gauge measures level in feet and tenths of a foot. Much of the river feels like class III with a few class IVs when the water is bouncing between 2.6ft and 3ft on the stick. The river's class IV rapids remain class IV down to 2.4ft or even 2.2ft. However, 2.4ft makes the river's class II/III slides very scrapey, and turns its class III rapids into mostly class II+. Running the harder stretches is not advised for typical class III boaters when water is hitting 3ft on the gauge. The first two rapids of the class IV mini gorge (The Crux and Center Boof) are frightening at 3ft and higher. However, the last two rapids (which merge into one at 3ft) are stiff but manageable class IV as high as 3.3ft, and the Two Mile Runout is a class III+ romp at 3.3ft. Scheduled releases are intended to be 250cfs, which corresponds to water bouncing between 2.4ft and 2.6ft on the stick gauge across from Thorpe Powerhouse
Duke Energy links messages about unscheduled and scheduled releases into the WFT gorge on its "Nantahala Lake Levels" page (http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/nantahala/nantahala-lake-levels.asp). Just look in the last column of Lake Glenville's row. If there's a date, click it to open a page that has announcements about releases from the lake into the WFT gorge.
Two web pages can be used together for a usually reliable "online" way to know
if there's water in the WFT gorge:
a. USGS 03508050 TUCKASEGEE RIVER AT SR 1172 NR CULLOWHEE, NC
b. Duke Energy's Power Generation Schedule on EFT and WFT:
There is probably water in the WFT gorge if *any one* of the four following conditions is met.
1. At least 250cfs at the SR1172 gauge (link "a" above) AND *no* power generation on the WFT or EFT (link "b" above).
2. At least 500cfs at the SR1172 gauge (link "a" above) AND power generation on the WFT but not on the EFT (link "b" above).
3. At least 750cfs at the SR1172 gauge (link "a" above) AND power generation on the EFT but not on the WFT (link "b" above).
4. At least 1000cfs or more at the SR1172 gauge (link "a" above) AND power generation on both forks (link "b" above).
These "rules-of-thumb" are based on three facts:
1) Power generation on WFT through the Thorpe Diversion Pipe adds around 250cfs at the SR 1172 gauge.
2) Power generation on EFT through Cedar Cliff's powerhouse adds around 500cfs at the SR 1172 gauge.
3) Releases through Thorpe Dam's gate are typically close to 250cfs.
Two glitches in these "rules-of-thumb" I can think of are 1) the rare circumstance when Duke opens Cedar Cliff Dam's flood gate, adding more water to EFT than the electricity-generating release, and 2) when Duke reports releases into WFT (link B) that aren't through the Thorpe Diversion Pipe.
Kevin Colburn's story about the flow study pdf. Note that the second flow referred to in this story as "350cfs" was determined later to have actually been 250cfs. This optimal flow will be the one provided by releases starting in 2013.
You can view the 2001 Flow Study video of the event on youtube. You can also download Leland's 9.5-minute video of the event. Choose Small version (240 x 160, 69.3 MB) or Large version (360 x 240, 168.8 MB).
Check out a 2013 video of the first release (which was significantly lower than the normal 250 cfs releases)
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Put In below High Falls||IV|
|0.0||First Boulder Garden||IV|
|0.1||Second Boulder Garden||IV|
|1.3||Lead-in Ledges to the Big Slide||III|
|1.4||The Big Slide (aka, Flight Simulator, Breakbone Falls, or Go Right and Fly)||IV|
|2.8||Cullowhee Forest Bridge||III|
|3.0||Mini Gorge (general description)||IV|
|3.0||Mini Gorge's First Rapid: The Crux (aka, High Turnover)||IV|
|3.1||Mini Gorge's Second Rapid: Center Boof||III+|
|3.1||Mini Gorge's Third Rapid: Crevice Ledge (aka, Lumpy Ledge)||IV|
|3.2||Mini Gorge's Fourth Rapid: Swirly Gneiss (aka, Smooth Granite)||III+|
|3.3||Two Mile Runout||II+|
|5.5||Thorpe Powerhouse - Take Out||II|
Launching immediately below the dam is not recommended because of the major waterfalls downstream.
Mandatory Portage! This falls can be portaged with difficulty on either side, but the river left side may be easier. On the left, climb down next to the falls and jump the last bit into a pool at the base.
Mandatory Portage! This waterfall has two tiers and is about 170 to 200 feet high. The river right side is blocked by high cliffs, but there is a use trail on river left which facilitates the portage.
This is the recommended put in because it avoids two very difficult portages. A parking area is located about 0.25 mile after crossing the dam's spillway. The trail to the put-in begins with a gravel road and then becomes a trail with log steps and boulder steps down to a put-in that is sprayed with water comming off High Falls.
Put in below High Falls. A long class IV rapid starts immediately at the put in. To walk the put-in rapid, ferry across the river to the big eddy and the river right trail.
The first boulder garden is a continuation of the Put-in rapid. It is around 100 yards long. The first half is run river-left or center and then river-left. The last half is run river-right. A shallow-angle slide followed by roughly 30 yards of class II+/III water separates the first boulder garden from the second boulder garden.
A shallow-angle slide followed by perhaps 100 feet of class II+ water separates the first boulder garden from the second boulder garden.
High flows in early July 2013 rearranged the second boulder garden. The river-right slot commonly run during the 2013 spring releases no longer exists. In its place is a nearly river-wide wall of boulders lined with one large tree and a few small trees.
A little over a mile of class II water along with two or three class III rapids follow the second boulder garden. The first class III rapid after the second boulder garden passes a pretty waterfall on river-left formed by Rough Run Creek. It is private property and posted as such with signs and steel cables.
A trail on river-right is never far from the river until the river-right bank steepens and rises 50 feet or so above the river. The trail is on private land, but public access by foot is generously permitted with posted restrictions (no fires, no camping, no hunting, etc.). Signs near the trailhead on Shoal Creek Mountain Road specify the restricted activites.
The first horizon-line you see about the time a house comes into view on river-left is not the big slide. It's a 10ish foot high ledge on river-left or a fun, fast curving slide on river-right. There's one more small horizon line before the big slide. It's a 5ish foot sloping ledge. You'll see the horizon line for the big slide 200ish feet downstream as you approach this small ledge. There are eddies in the center, left, and right at the based of this final ledge before the big slide.
The Big Slide is is aptly named: it's a big, broken slide, that fractured vertebrae of two people who were carried out on backboards during the first year of official releases. See http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Article/view/articleid/31911 for identification of the line where inujuries have occurred. The river's local sage, Burt Kornegay, says "Breakbone Falls is rough as a cob."
The river-left line (known to some as Crash Landing) is a 28 foot, broken, rough slide into a large pool. Enter far left over the center of a small wave on the horizon line. Being too far right on the small wave results in a ride with two or three very hard hits. Being too far left can result in hitting a bedrock slab about one-third of the way down.
The river-right line (called Flight Simulator by some and Go Right and Fly by others) is about 25 feet high. It starts with a 6.5 foot sloping ledge that pours water into a pothole that's 12 feet deep and several feet wide. Next is a 4.5 foot ledge followed by a 14 foot vertical drop into the pool at the base. People have pitoned if too far left on this line.
Thanks, Burt and Harrison, for making the measurements.
One more word about back injuries. The big bounce on the river-left line that has caused back injuries is located near the bottom a bit right of the ideal left line. Photo 1 and photo 2 show boats on the big bounce. Paddlers who lean forward over the bounce have had far smoother lines than those sitting up or boofing. Check out this photo taken at base flow to understand the landing zone.
A few class II+/III slides and ledges form the runout of Breakbone Falls and lead to a right bend that is soon followed by three houses and a stretch of class II bouldery water. The river bends right again after this stretch and offers a 3 to 5 foot river-left boof in the bend. Several class II+ ledges and a couple class III ledges (some bouldery, others bedrock) and small slides follow.
Shortly after passing a house on river-right, there'll be a horizon line that marks this 20ish foot, medium-angle cascade. Run it pretty much anywhere, but most run it center and just a smidge left of center for the most fun. Do not get too far left or you may dry out on your way down. There is a medium-small hole midway down the center-left line. There are two medium-small holes near the bottom of the center line. There's a ledge hole at the bottom of both lines, but it has been friendly at the normal release level. A medium size sloping ledge with a moderately stronge hole on river-left and then some fun slides follow Kornegay's Cascade for about 0.1 mile.
This cascade is visible from the guard rail of the hairpin curve on Hwy 107 known as Cabbage Curve. However, the property along side the road is private and posted.
A medium ledge and a few small slides follow Kornegay's Cascade leading to Cullowhee Forest Bridge. The largest series of rapids on the river occur 1/4 mile downstream of the bridge in a small canyon (the Mini Gorge). After going under the bridge, head river-right over wet bedrock and then boof a 5ft foot ledge. A couple hundred feet down, there's a river-wide slide that's 10ish feet high with a left-to-right shallow crease in the bedrock. The feature is exciting and fun. It is followed 50 to 100 feet downstream by a low-angle, moderately long, river-wide slide.The bridge, Cullowhee Forest Road, and the land bordering the road are private property and posted.
Photo shows the medium-size, low-angle slide just upstream of the bend that leads into the mini gorge.
The mini gorge's first rapid ("The Crux" which is also called "High Turnover" and "Burt's Beast") is indeed "the crux" of the mini gorge. It is distinct from the mini gorge's other three rapids, and it is separated from them by a pool and another 100 feet or so of class II water: The rapids downstream of The Crux include two back-to-back (but distinct) ledges followed by a tight/narrow, roller-coaster rapid with small ledges and strong swirls. These three rapids feel like a single long rapid to some people, but they are seen as distinct by others. Each is identified separately with individual descirptions for clarity.
After a medium-size, low-angle slide, the river bends left. This bend marks the lead-in to the mini gorge. The first major rapid, The Crux, soon follows. It can be scouted river-right.
The first 20 feet of The Crux consists of a sloping ledge followed by a sneaky, speed-trap style whirlpooly hole, then a benign-looking, 2ish foot high, river-wide ledge. The speed-trap causes many people to get stuck in this benign-looking ledge. If stuck, work your way out on river-right.
The last 20 feet of The Crux is a smooth, bedrock, shallow-angled slide into a pool that begins with a stompy hole with a strong, horizontal recirculation coming off the river-left, bowl-shaped bedrock and wall. The hole is weak on river-right.
The photo shows a paddler dropping over the second sloping ledge of The Crux at a level lower than the normal release.
The Crux empties into a pool. The river splits 50 feet downstream of the pool. The river-left channel is deeper & better than the right channel, but it can collect trees. The river-right channel is shallow and cluttered with suitcase-size rocks that want to force you farther right, which is bad. Regardless of which channel you take, get to the center as you round the island because you want to hit the center launch pad of the ledge that follows (at 2.8 and lower)...and you don't want your boat to pin in the crap on the right side of the lanch pad. There is serious potential for a vertical pin in the right corner of this ledge.
The photo was taken when flow was WAY LOWER than the normal release level.
Be aware that the this ledge changes its nature when level exceeds 3ft on the Thorpe Powerhouse gauge. The center pad becomes a pour-over into a very large, boiling, recirculating hole.
Typically run right of center through the obvious crevice or by skirting just right of the crevice. Upstream of the ledge is a left eddy, a center-right eddy, and a right eddy. They are flushy above 2.6ft on the Thorpe Powerhouse stick gauge. Many run it exactly as shown in the photo and boof into the crevice. Far, far right is a sneak. Far, far left (shoulder agains bank) is another sneak. The photo shows that the mini-gorge's 3rd rapid and its 4th rapid can be considered a single, long rapid even at 2.6ft. They truly merge into one long rapid above 2.8ft.
Coming off Crevice Ledge river-right or center-right will feed directly into this last rapid of the mini gorge. A tongue of fast green water sweeps down right-to-left before rising and piling up on the river-left wall. The water then swirls for a couple hundred feet over smooth, gneiss bedrock with three small (~3ft) ledges under a smooth-face cliff. The swirling water, fun waves, smooth bedrock, and sheer cliff create the sense of being in a miniature, less difficult version of Tallulah's Ampitheater.
Photo shows paddler dropping into the top of this fourth and last rapid of the mini gorge.
A mix of class II and III water with several wave-trains and small slides.
The take-out is across Hwy 107 from Thorpe Powerhouse on the downstream, river-right side of a metal bridge. It is clearly identified with a sign as the take-out. The official stick gauge is located on river-right under the bridge, bolted to a boulder near the bridge's foundation. For release weekends, expect designated parking areas for paddlers.
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