At the risk of looking like a bonehead i'm putting this one in, as a favor to other boaters. We ran this so you won't have to.
One day when the Chattooga running about 2.4, and the rest of the Cullasaja was running at a good level a paddling companion and myself were looking for something new to do. After taking a look at the DeLorme Gazzatteer, and remembering a drunken Gauley Fest rumor we headed to the Cullasaja headwaters. On the topo a Highlands Falls was indicated. Along with some gradient....well it looked like something new....
We took a look at the river where Hwy 64 crossed it north of Highlands. Looked low but do-able. Nice boof move on the downstream side of the bridge culvert. From there we headed down to what the topo indicated was the take-out. Looking at the marsh in the Mirror Lake headwaters we were starting to have doubts about this venture - but nothing ventured nothing gained.
On the map it looked like we were going to have to put in on Ravenel Lake. We were able to find a road with good lake access, but this was when things started to go downhill. For the record there are not a whole lot of runs worth doing in the southeast where you start by paddling across a lake. Finishing on a lake is usually good, starting on a lake is usually bad.
We paddled across the lake into a cold headwind. Eventually we came to a nice horizon line. This was the dam at the end of the lake. It was a portage. There was a million dollar house on either side of the dam. Time to trespass. We picked the rhododendrum on the right.
Below the dam it looked like the gradient was starting to pick up!!! Our spirits were starting to pick up.
There was not a great deal or water going over the top of the dam. What water was going over went about 15 feet vertically onto the river bedrock. Not runnable.
Below the dam was enough water to float us, so we continued on. About 100 yards below the dam we came to a good looking slide. Big enough that it required getting out of the boats and scouting. It was probably 40 or 50 feet tall and about 100 feet long. Looked fun. Too bad it was too low to run. We both tried, but the boats ground to a halt due to low water.
We should have turned around there because at the base of the slide was a beautifully manicured golf course. A flat golf course. Lacking gradient. But this was an exploratory trip so we soldiered on.
The stream meandered thru the golf course, under low bridges, with the occasional portage where rocks had been dumped in the river to build "natural" stream bridges. We eventually came to another nice slide, and once again too low to scrape down. The stream, while low would float us, but the slides got too shallow and we would grind to a halt on them.
Eventually we got to the far end of the golf course. The streamside folliage picked up.
Before the run, while setting shuttle, we were talking about what could be the worse we could find on a run we knew nothing about......
My answer was "if the stream suddenly cliffed out, started down a slide with no eddys, and then ramped off into an unrunable falls." We found something close.
The stream started to slowly tilt downhill. At this point the river was still bedrock, but we could sense that there was something up ahead. We beached the boats and got out to scout. This was just before the horizon line. The guy I was with was ahead of me - giggling. He got the first look at the drop ahead of us. I asked him how it looked, as i was about 25 yards back. He had a one word answer "death". I had to take a look anyway.
Highlands Falls drops about 75 feet onto a rock sieve with an undercut on the left, and then proceeds to drop about and 50 vertical feet thru a series of twists and turns.
While it was pretty to look at, we were over this run. Not seeing any good way to get to the bottom of the falls, and not really in the mood to extend this low water debacle any further we hiked off. Or more accurately we hiked up. Carried back across the golf course (and I only got lost once) back up to Ravenel Lake and paddled back to where we put in.
So the paddling community should thank us. Someone had to paddle this. Someone had to find out that its not at all worth doing. Someone had to waste a day of good creeking water. We did it. We did it for you. So ya'll owe us a beer at a take-out sometime.
We did look at some rapids between Mirror Lake and Sequoia Lake. Big ones.....wink wink nudge nudge.
See also: Other sections of the Cullasaja:1. Upper (Lake Sequoyah to below Cosmic Crunch) (Class )2. Middle (Below Cosmic Crunch to Above Cullasaja Falls) (Class IV(V+))3. Lower - Base of Cullasaja Falls to Peeks Creek Bridge (Class IV-V(V+))4. Peeks Creek Rd (NC-1678) to Peaceful Cove Rd (NC-1677) (Class II(III))5. Peaceful Cove Rd (NC-1677) to Fulton Rd (NC-1668) (Class I-II)
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certain death (Highland Falls)
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The recent death of Chris Clark at Python Rapid on North Carolina's Cheoah River is the third at this site in the last six years. In each case, the person who died was an expert paddler and their paddling partners did not see exactly what happened. Let's take a close look at the Cheoah below Bear Creek Falls and develop strategies for future runs. The river here is very fast and continuous. After a fast lead-in (Chaos), the river drops over Bear Creek Falls, a 12' drop. Below, most of the flow pushes toward the river right channel (Python). Ferrying over to the easier river left channel (the West Prong) requires careful boat control. Python itself contains several nasty holes and sieves, with a bad hole blocked by a boulder at the bottom. There is a good route through it, but paddlers need to plan their route carefully. Scouting is a good idea for first timers, although catching eddies and getting out is not going to be easy. Groups need to stay together.. The rapid is tough enough that you can't watch your buddy all the time, but you can be ready to help if needed. Click through for links to the accident reports, photos, and comments from expert Cheoah River paddlers. (Photo above by Boyd Ruppelt)
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