Nolichucky Gorge, Class III-IV


The River


Nolichucky Gorge
Read a description and view photos on


The Date


Saturday, January 26th, 2002


The Level


High!!!  at 4,750 cfs


The People


Randy Pasqua, Jason Onks, and Me


The Story

Once we reached the put-in at the gorge, I walked down the RR tracks to decide whether I was running or not. It looked bigger than usual, but not extreme. I decided to run before I talked myself out of it. I was hot when we put on. There were no clouds in the sky, plenty of sunshine. Too many layers!

We started out with Entry Rapid/Last Chance. I came out of it fine. But, after that last huge wave I went over - I'm guessing 5 or more feet - I looked at Randy and said, "It didn't look that big from above."

On the Rocks was ok. I pretty much just followed Randy's lines, although I was also trying to read the water, because I couldn't always get where he was. It was faster and pushier than I remembered. Looking back on the rapid later from the RR tracks- I can't believe we ran that one where we did. From the tracks looking upriver - it looks HUGE!

Jaws was ok. I was SO close to being in that hole, though. I think I broke through the very edge of it.

Then, there's this little rapid down below there that probably doesn't even have a name. It should be called Anti-Roll or something along those lines. I got flipped pretty near the top, and the river did not want me to roll up. I set up on my left-side (I'm trying not to call it an off-side anymore, because it's better than my "on"-side), but I couldn't get my paddle out of the water. I waited forever - well, it felt like forever anyway - trying to push it up. *I randomly remember brushing up against some rocks with my shoulder - the left shoulder I think.* Finally, I tried a roll. But, I don't think I swept far enough - well, anyway, I don't want to be critical of myself at this point. So, I switched to my right-side. When I set up my right hand slipped off the paddle. So, I had to go fishing for it. Finally, I rediscovered the paddle shaft, set up, and rolled! That, I do believe, is the longest I've stuck it out. They cheered for me - for less than half a second before yelling at me to PADDLE! Oh yeah, did I mention that when I rolled up I was facing upstream - still in the middle of this not-so-little-or-inconsequential rapid? So, I turned around and tried paddling. I did say how hard it was to get where I wanted to be, right? Yeah, I just about got munched by a very large hole. I could feel it trying to suck me back in. It could almost taste me. I don't know how I escaped that one. Jason asked as we're paddling to the eddy if I was ok. I just shook my head. I was a little shook up - but not as bad as I have been on other occasions.

So I sat in that eddy for awhile trying to catch my breath, relishing in my new appreciation for AIR. Randy asked how I was feeling. I told him, "I feel like I'm out of my league." So, he said, ok I could either hike out or run the rest - walking anything big. I finally decided to go down to Quarter Mile and take a look at that. It was a better place to get on the tracks anyway, they said.

So between there and Quarter Mile, there's another little rapid, right? No, nothing is little about this river today. I start down and flip. So, I roll up on the first try. :-) I got my wits together better/faster this time and paddled on. Three/four/five strokes later I get....yeah... you guessed it, flipped! So, I set up and rolled again. Luckily this was on the first try, too, because I must have forgotten to breathe between the two rolls. I had NO air. Luckily there was a small eddy close to the tracks there, and it was pretty much the end of the rapid, although Quarter Mile was right there. A swim there could have been really bad. Again, I was way calmer than I should have been. As I pulled into the eddy, I just said, "I'm done." They agreed. I took those flips as a big neon sign from God saying, "Get off the river!"

So, I climbed the bank to the tracks. Randy carried my boat up for me. I watched them run the part of Quarter Mile I could see. Then, started back to the put-in. I devised a system that worked pretty well. I put the boat perpendicular to the tracks so it would slide on both rails. Then, tied part of my throwrope to both grab loops, with me in the middle of the loop pulling. It took me awhile to get back, I waited for several trains, rested a few times, watched kayakers come down (And 1 raft, and 1 cataraft thing). The second train came only five minutes or so after I got off the bridge that over the river. I'm just glad it wasn't five minutes the other direction! Then, within sight of the parking lot I had to wait for an engine and another train.

I hung out at the put-in for awhile (Jo drove shuttle for us, so there wasn't a car at the put-in), watched this dude try to get his truck unstuck. He'd just dropped his son off and drove too close to the river with all that rain we had. He had to get someone with 4wd to get him out, blamed it on his tires. Then I caught a ride down to Chestoa, but we met Randy and Jason in between. So, we switched stuff there.


The Wrap Up


Well, that was the extent of my trip.  I felt like I was being a big pain to Randy and Jason, but I'm glad I went.  I'm glad I tried itI got through some pretty big stuff.  I rolled up every time I was knocked over.  I am glad I know my limits and now I know them even better.  I am amazingly glad that I have a reliable combat roll.  I am also extremely glad to know that I can control my emotions and not panic even when underwater for unusually long amounts of time.

Randy said it only got bigger after I got out.  They were talking about waves they usually skirt and couldn't, and an eddy line that suddenly tried to suck Randy down to the bottom of the river.  Yeah, I'm glad I got out.

I found out that the key to not swimming is to set your mind to "I am NOT swimming!"  I decided this awhile back.  And, I told people before we started that day.  Then, I said it to myself every time I rolled.  I really didn't think all that much underwater, though.  My initial thought each time is, "Oh dern." - or something along that lines.  But, I don't remember ever panicking or thinking "Oh my gosh, I'm gonna die."  It was total focus on "Ok now, set up and roll."  The thought of swimming never entered my head underwater.  I'm really happy about that.  I think that this trip was the climax to all those hours of roll practice in the last few years!


Take me home.