Lick Fork, Virginia, US
|Usual Difficulty||V (for normal flows)|
Below is an account of what the writer believed was a first descent of the Lick Fork Gorge in
2003, but according to www.steepcreeks.com "Mason Basten and friends first ran Lick Fork in
2002." There is also video of this run at:
"About six years ago Bryan Kirk and I were both students at Virginia Tech and during a day off from class we went over to the Bottom Creek area with some saws for cutting trees and to check out the Lick Fork gorge. Long story short, Bryan and I got to cut out some of the logs in the drops in the Lick Fork gorge but we also had a small encounter with a landowner and his buddy while they were deer hunting. The encounter went over better than expected for a situation where they had guns and Bryan and I had nothing. Lick Fork is in the heart of private farms and nature conservancy land and anyone interested in boating in that area must take that into consideration. All I can say is that when paddling Lick Fork, be careful not to disturb the landowners.
Lick Fork is a creek located in the mountains just south of Roanoke near Floyd, VA. This river's gorge/watershed is just to the river left of Bottoms Creek, and both rivers drop into the Roanoke River. The Lick Fork gorge is a short but very steep gorge that climaxes with a very large drop. The gorge has five major rapids before the large waterfall at the end. The large drop at the end is called Lick Fork Falls and the nature conservancy calls the area Twin Falls. It is called Twin Falls because there is actually another creek that comes in at the bottom of Lick Fork Falls that has a waterfall at the confluence that is well over 200 feet high. Lick Fork Falls is probably a little over a 100 feet.
This (personal) first descent took place a couple of weeks ago during the heavy snowmelt and rains that created the high water that is still in Virginia and West Virginia. Bryan, Matt, Eric Rob, Joey, Jimmy, and I all hiked in and scouted Lick Fork Falls and the drops above Lick Fork Falls. Once we were satisfied with the way the river looked we hiked out of the gorge and back to our car where the boats were. Jimmy, Rob, Joey, and I decided to make our first descent of Lick Fork and hiked back in with our boats. The first drop of the Lick Fork gorge is a ten foot high cascade that lands in a pool that is backed up with a extremely hard to miss undercut rock. The rock is directly in the middle of the path at the bottom of the rapid. This drop is deceptively hard. I bombed down first and got rejected from the left line by a rock flake in the cascade that I didn't see and deflected all the way to the right and went through a slot to the right of the undercut. After this happened the rest of the group opted to walk this drop.
This drop is a large drop and is the second drop to look out for. Cool World is shown in the videos below: JimmyJoeyCW and LukeCW. As you can see that the drop is around 20 feet high. The drop starts with the slide entrance into the small curler then into another cascade slide that goes over a large pothole and then down the rest of the cascade. When going down the drop it is hard to keep from hitting the back rim of the pothole in the middle of the drop.
This drop follows Cool World about fifty meters downstream. Grand Slam is shown in the videos below: JoeyRobandJimmyGS and LukeCloseCallGS. In the video is says Lower Cool World but should say Grand Slam. Grand Slam starts with a slot which drops into a long crack where it is best to hold your paddle over your head. Once the crack opens up it drops down a small cascade that is about 6 feet tall, and then into a slide down the right or a short slide into a 15 waterfall on the left. The waterfall on the left lands in a pothole so be extremely careful and try to make the right line if possible. Rob had a perfect textbook line. Joey went down the middle, Jimmy went down the left and penciled the pothole, and I went down the left and boofed the pothole. Grand Slam is a long rapid and once you drop into the crack at the top you are committed to the rest Grand Slam. Take a close look at the "LukeCloseCallGS" and you will see me hitting a rock in the second part of Grand Slam. This small imperfection in the cascade made an awful sound when I bounced over it. If you listen you can hear the sound of my boat hitting the rock. It did not hurt my H:3 but it did knock me off balance and I flipped in the wall on river left. When I was upside down I should have been paddling to the right to make the right line. I pretty much rolled up entering the last part of Grand Slam on the left and committed myself to boofing over the pothole at the bottom. Needless to say, I was happy to be at the bottom and intact.
The next rapid we had to portage because of the wood debris. Following that there was a nice cascade that would have been really fun but it had a log in the drop that kept Joey, Rob, and me from running it. Jimmy ran the rapid cleanly and only bumped the log. Following this rapid was a slide rapid then the entrance to Lick Fork Falls. The Entrance to Lick Fork Falls is a long slide that picks up more and more speed before shooting out of the gap. The picture above shows the main drop of Lick Fork Falls after the entrance. Nobody in our group ran Lick Fork Falls, being that is it a 100+ feet high and the water is crashing down a not-so-smooth cascade of bedrock.
Lick Fork and Bottoms Creek are some beautiful gorges that have some amazing whitewater. Virginia Tech, a nearby university, is a great school for paddlers seeking higher education. Even with all the boating Bryan and I did while at Virginia Tech, we both manage to get degrees from this acclaimed university. Take care and have fun on the river. -Luke Hopkins"