Little Pigeon, West Prong - 1. Chimneys Trailhead to Chimneys Picnic Area

Little Pigeon, West Prong, Tennessee, US


1. Chimneys Trailhead to Chimneys Picnic Area (Trailhead)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 1.8 Miles
Avg. Gradient 380 fpm
Max Gradient 520 fpm

West Prong

West Prong
Photo of Ross Whitaker by Alex Harvey

River Description

Ah. The West Prong. No other place in Tennessee brings chill bumps quite like this one. Way back in the day, the West Prong was the hot spot for Knoxville, TN boaters and to this day remains one of many in the Smokies to spark both love and fear. You've heard of people doing laps on it. You've heard of people getting trashed on it. But most importantly, you've heard of people having all-out-good-boofin'-fun on it.

The put in is at the confluence of Road and Walker Camp Prongs at the Chimney's trailhead. Walk across the bridge and put in on river left to run the first 5ft. slot just below the bridge. Or, to skip this drop, put in on river right just below the bridge.

The next mile is jam packed full of class IV-IV+ complex drops. Most rapids are best run where most of the water is! Just go with the flow. Perhaps that's a given, but be prepaired for lots of boat scouting/scouting and small eddy hoping if no one in your group is familiar with the territory. Within this mile is the first named rapid, Picture Perfect Boof. There may be other names, but this is what I have always heard. This will be the first big horizon line that you come to and also, the last place to get out of the gorge (of ease) if anyone is shaken up. The river takes a left turn and the road can be seen 75-100yrds above. The boof is located pretty much in the center of the river and with water levels of .8-1.2ft, roughly, it is noted by a small triangular rock sticking out of the water. The slot is only 2-3ft. wide and about 8 feet tall. Boof straight and hard as you enter several holes and curlers following. Large eddy on river left just below this series of rapids.

Soon, you'll come upon the steepest section of the Trailhead, noted by a river wide 5ft. ledge that should be run river left with low water and river right with high water. A large pool is below. Hit the eddy and beach on river right to scout Dinosaur. The first two drops each have eddys on river left just after them. It is best to catch the second eddy to set up properly for the final drop as seen in the video and pictures. At higher water, many like to take the far river right line, a 3ft boof, just above the big one to maintain the far right line on the final drop. At low water, from the eddy, you will have to work river left of this boof and then cut back river right for the final drop. Of course, always watch out for the bitch rock located 2-3 feet above the big one ready to screw you over. Catch the eddy on river right just below the drop, get some points with the splat straight ahead, or make a quick turn to the left through the shallows. Avoid running river left down the final drop as it leads to a uncomfortable pillow eddy that continually feeds back into the hole.

Just below Dinosaur there are several slots to choose from. Run the far right 4 foot slot with higher water levels, but watch out for the nasty rock you might hit. The left slot was pioneered by Travis from Knoxville and is a low water alternative to the right side. After this drop, work your way to river left through several more drops. The river will start turning to the left somewhat and notice a silver box in a small eddy. "The Box" is a 7' tall 2' wide slot that should be run on far river left just below the box. River right of this drop is one of the places to avoid on the leads to sieves and lots of wood that continually collects there.

The next drop, which I don't know the name of, is pretty steep and trashy, probably droping around 15 ft total. Keep your gaurd up on this one and your paddle well-gripped. It tends to snatch paddles. Below this are several s-turn drops, working river left and then back right over a course of 25-30 yards.

The next two are double drops, quite shallow, and super-tight. The first one is the drop above "Big Tree" and has a noticable line and some great boofs. Collect in the eddy below and scout, if possible, "Big Tree". This double drop is on far river right with a very definate horizon line and a shallow, shelf- like entrance. The first drop is 5-6 feet straight onto a rock, then straight into a 9-10 footer that lands in a mini-canyon some 4-5 feet wide. Catch the eddy if you can, or go straight into the 7foot slot below.

Big tree is a wonderful ending to the Class V and marks the beginning of lots of shallow class III-III+. The picnic area begins here along with several islands and lasts for a 1/2mile. With low water, don't bother paddling this. Higher up, the shallows ain't so bad.

Overall, the Trailhead is a wonderful section of the West Prong that should not be taken lightly. It drops close to 650ft from the trailhead bridge to the highway 441 bridge, with mad gradient from Dinosaur on. So, if you are not comfortable with the section above Picture Perfect Boof please get out! Few accidents have ever happened on this river and we need to keep it this way. Know your limits. This is non-stop, boat-meeting-rock whitewater.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-05-28 15:51:10


Rapid Descriptions

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