Whitewater River, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||150 fpm|
|Max Gradient||250 fpm|
Mile by mile gradient: 35, 102, 210, 205
The Whitewater River is the quickest run in the area, as the shuttle is only around 12-15 minutes and there is no hiking involved at all. There are only 7 big rapids and other than the boogie below the last few down to the takeout, the rest is mostly flatwater. The boogie is fun class 3 and easy 4, so assuming one has the ability to scout well, set good safety and make good decisions, this run can be done by most competent class 4 boaters. There are some components to this run that require extreme caution though, and therefore the overall feel of the run is more in the class 5 realm.
Shuttle: The takeout is located on the river right upstream end of the 281 bridge over the river. There is enough room for 3 cars parked single file. This is 7 miles south of the US 64 intersection near Lake Toxaway. To reach the putin drive further south for a few miles and then make a right onto a connector that goes a few miles over to 107. Upon reaching 107 drive around 4 miles to where the river comes right next to the road. Put in as far down as possible, as there is an unrunnable slide along the roadside section. There is a pullout 200 yards after the river comes into view that has a faint trail that descends 50 feet down to river level.
To run Silver Run Falls, continue another mile to the signed parking area for Silver Run Falls. Take the trail 1/4 mile to the base of the falls and then hike carefully up the river right side and to above the entrance slide. It should be noted that Whitewater should be running at least at a medium to medium high level for Silver Run to be padded out enough for a safe run. People have run it real low but the risk of a green landing is high. More water brings about different issues though, so know what you are doing before taking this drop on. Either way, if you are paddling the Whitewater run below, take back out after running the falls, as the unrunnable slide is just a short distance below the confluence of Silver Run and Whitewater.
After puting on there is basically 1.2 miles of flatwater with frequent logjams to deal with. At low water most are duckable or boofable, but higher flows may necessitate some annoying portages. After a mile of this, a short putin is reached at a small bridge across the river.
This putin cuts out the flatwater paddle in. There is a system of roads just south of the standard roadside putin that lead a few miles or less into the river right corridor of the river to several cabins and homes. There is one spot where there is a bridge that crosses to river left to more houses. This makes a nice putin that cuts out the first mile of tree ducking/portaging. Try to park out of the way on USFS land and be discrete. If you putin here, you will float a few hundred more yards through an area with a number of nice cabins to your left. After the last of these the whitewater is about to begin with a serious bang.
The first drop is a large and deadly sieve. Here the river flies down a bedrock drop into the river left wall some with some 15-20 feet of vertical drop. Missing the eddy would be the end here for sure. This is the most critical spot on the river and deserves respect. Most boaters catch an almost non existent eddy on river right immediately above the drop and scramble down the right bank along the bedrock and seal launch back in below. This eddy is dangerous to attempt with high water due to a strong rejector current coming off the top of the eddy and pushing into the portage, and even at low water it can be tricky to get out above the drop. Pile ups could be disastrous, so try to stage up further upsteam and go one by one with the prior person helping people get out safely. The problem below here is that the river goes only about 200 feet before the next big portage at the mini gorge.
For almost anyone the mini gorge of the Whitewater is a must portage, and it is one of the most committing drops in the SE for sure. There is no way to set safety either. The mini gorge consists of a long lead in slide that lands on a rock. The river then drives off of a 10 foot spout with a nasty pocket and wood in the landing. The river then surges through several powerful hydraulics all with disgusting pockets and wood. The mini gorge ends in a beautiful 25-30 foot waterfall. The waterfall itself looks very easy and straightforward. Contact is kept with the drop as it is not quite vertical, and then a convenient little kicker 6 feet from the bottom angles the boat out a little so there is no hole and a perfect landing angle. The left can be run for a bigger and higher kick off of the boof flake halfway down, but the middle is more straightforward. Stay away from the right. The problem here is trying to get in above the waterfall but below the mini gorge. Seal launching off a sketchy spot on river right after portaging on the right is currently the method to run the falls, and due to the risk involved, most boaters portage on the left.
To portage left, get out on the left immediately above the entrance slide, being extremely serious about not missing the tiny eddy. At higher flows this is one of the most crucial moves you will make as a kayaker. Take the little trail 100 yards up to a faint intersection, where another fisherman's trail that parallels the creek heads downstream. Take a right and follow this trail untill it breaks off slightly right and down a very steep slippery ditch to the base of this section. Put back in below and enjoy the view of the falls.
Though I have not tried this yet, a better way to deal with the mini gorge and the portage above would be to get out a hundred yards or more above the first portage on the left and simply portage the whole set on river left. This would cut it down to one longer but easier walk, with no risky eddy hopping. The fisherman's trail on river left does go all the way up to the cabin area at the short putin but I am not sure how far you would have to walk away from the creek to reach it. It would not be more than 150 feet or so though, and would be quite flat going. I am almost certain too, that once someone further explores this option a connector path will be found that will make this the preferred method of portaging this section. Once this occurs this stretch will not be as exposed and risky as it currently is, and the new portage routes will be clearer, easier, and safer. It would also be nice if there was a path down to a lowering point on river left, where someone could be lowered into the pool right above the 25 footer. There is a small pool here to set up in above the big drop, and this would eliminate the need for the hell portage on river right, followed by the scary and risky seal launch into the river above the exit falls.
Below the mini gorge the river passes through pleasant rhododendron groves and class 1-2 rapids for a short time before arriving at the next rapid. Bedrock Betty is a fun and long slide that is best scouted on river left. You can run the first 3 foot ledge far left and then get out and scout the rest. Most of the rapids have scouting/portage routes, you just have to know which side to get out on. This rapid is not hard and has no huge consequences. There are 3 drops here in the slide, with the last being a sloping shelf that steepens down to a final vertical drop of anywhere from 6-8 feet depending on where you decide to run. The top drops through a wide and shallow series of sliding ledges before fanning out more. Stay center to avoid drying out on the left and then cut back left right near the bottom for a sweet slide into a fun boof. This is just too much fun. From here it is a short distance to the next fun rapid.
Merge lane is next, and though it is not real hard, there is a BIG hole at the bottom that at low flows can be menacing and at high flows can beat the crap out of you. Scout/portage on the left here. The line is to start far right on a shallow slide that angles to the left. The left side of the river is where almost all of the water is, and this side piles into the shelf on the left, and then channelizes and drives back to the center for the last 12 feet of drop into the pool below. Starting right, drive back left and merge into the flow continuing to drive left to avoid the meat of the hole. Invariably most boaters get thrown into the meat anyway, but its worth it to at least try, right?
Below here are class 2-3 rapids for a little ways before the big boy of the run, 55 mph. Right above 55 mph is a 10 foot sliding drop above a big turn to the right in the gorge. Get out on the right after this, being careful not to flush into the rapid below. Here the river turns right and enters a super steep and tight gorge. Scout/portage 55mph on the right. Here the river flies down an awesome and sizable entrance bedrock slide that is very fast. The crux is where it flies off of a 15 foot drop into the chaos below. A few boaters have boofed into the eddy on the left, but most hit the big drop center and then keep driving right, away from the logs and undercuts that exist on the left. There is a hole on the right and an undercut there too though, so wait till you are past them before driving right. There is also rumor of a nasty piton rock in the landing, and several of the river's pioneers had run ins with this rock in the early days. This drop is similar to Stairway to Heaven on the Bear in Georgia, but not as big, yet more consequential.
Below here the gorge opens back up for a few hundred yards, but quickly gains momentum into the next big drop. This ledge drops around 20 feet total. There are two lines, far right and far left. Far right is a big tricky boof into the pool below, and left is a little safer but more interesting as well. Left requires a tight line on the bank driving straight down off a ledge clapping right onto another ledge. No matter what the line here, a large boof is a great way to do it. The runout below here has some fun but sticky hole punching, and then after another few hundred yards the next rapid begins.
Wheelchair Accessible is on a big bend to the left in the river. The horizon line is obvious. Get out on the right to check it out, though at high water it can be hard to walk down and look. The whole left side of the river here falls off a big 15-18 foot ledge onto rocks and trees. Luckily this rapid is wheelchair accessible down the ramp on the right. Just slide down far right and at the turn either rocks spin clockwise into a clever ferry back to the left or plane into the wall careful to make the turn into the runout ledge of 3 feet. Think of this as a giant version of Razorback on Wilson Creek. Below here a short boulder garden leads into the last big drop.
The last big one is scouted/portaged on the left. Here the river drops an honest 20 footer into a pool that has rocks in the vicinity of the landing. There is a simple boof lip at center that is about 6 feet wide. As long as you come off here and know how to boof you will not hit any rocks. Anywhere else and you will get hurt. However, boofing 20 feet into a flat landing into relatively unaerated water tends to hurt sometimes, so many people do the quick portage on the left. At higher water the drop should be better padded.
Immediately below is a fun class 4 twisty bedrock sluice which forms a nice beginning to the pleasant class 3-4 paddle out. The river has lots of fun boogie through here, but do be aware of a 5 foot ledge about 200 yards above the takeout that is terminal at most levels. Portage left or run it correctly. It is easy to set safety here. Just below is the Hwy 281 bridge. Get out on the right at a little side creek and take the trail up and back down, then across the ditch where the trail switchbacks back up to the back of the parking area. This is only 200 yards or so.
If you haven't had enough you can go past the bridge for one or two more class 3-4 rapids, but immediately below these last drops lies the biggest waterfall in the SE at around 400 feet. The rapids consist of a long low angle slide leading into a bouncy twisty slide of about 15 feet called Twist and Shout. Don't miss that last eddy. If you want to run this last few hundred yards, don't park at the bridge, park at a pull off on the south side Hwy 281, just half a mile east of the bridge. Here a trail switchbacks a third of a mile down to the spot right above the last rapid above Whitewater falls. From the river you can just get out on river left and hike back up this trail to your car. If you are doing this option, be careful, you are playing with your life.
Though it is good to scout for wood and changes on a first run, this run can be lapped with relative ease. The whole thing can be done in 2 hours or less quite easily, though first times can easily take as long as 5 hours or so. Another good run to combine in the day is Overflow Creek, as it runs often at the same time as Whitewater.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Putin at Hwy 107|
|3.8||Low angle slide rapid||III+|
|3.9||Twist and Shout||IV|