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Float #86: Nantahala River

26 Sep

Nantahala Gorge


Nantahala River
Swain County, North Carolina
Thursday, August 15
6 Miles

After leaving the Tuckasegee River we headed over to the Nantahala Gorge for our second float trip of the day. We stopped in at NOC, a large outfitter for the Nantahala and surrounding area, to inquire about a shuttle to get us up the river. They suggested we just drive to the put-in and hitch a ride back when we’re done. The Nantahala runs right next to the highway and there is a large number of river guides and outfitters driving along the gorge all day long. As with most whitewater communities, if you wear your life jacket and stick out your thumb, someone will give you a ride pretty quickly. That wouldn’t work so well in Missouri and would definitely take much longer!

We drove upriver to one of the upper access points and scouted the river along the way. One of the last rapids in the gorge is Nantahala Falls, a class III drop. As we passed it we noticed the water was much higher than we’d ever experienced it before and the Falls looked pretty daunting. I immediately said, “Nope, I’m not running that.” So I planned to exit the river at a take out above the Falls. DW was all over it and ready for whatever the Falls would bring. Jake was hesitant, but decided to see how the rest of the trip went before he decided to run it or not.

It was getting kind of late in the afternoon as we geared up with life jackets and helmets to enter the swift waters of the “Nanny”. We put in at the confluence of a small creek in a nice calm pool of water. I took a deep breath and paddled into the river, knowing it would take quick thinking and a lot of paddling strength to muscle my boat through the rapids.

Accessing the Nanny

Accessing the Nanny



The water was pretty choppy and I had to paddle constantly to keep my boat from bouncing all over the place or running off course. The Nanny is a pretty narrow river and there are a lot of eddys on the edge of rapids that will grab you and spin you around if you aren’t careful. It is a beautiful river and the scenery of the gorge makes for a unique trip. Unfortunately, I was too busy paddling and trying to wrestle my boat into the correct lines to take many photos. The water was pretty cold and the waves were big and splashy. I got hit full in the face with a wall of water several times!



Nantahala Falls

Nantahala Falls

Rapids always look much smaller in photos than they do in real life. The waves don’t look so impressive on camera, or when you’re looking down on it from above. When you are in a boat on the same level as the water, getting rocked all over the place and drenched with each new rapid it is quite the experience!

When we started this float I told Jake to follow my lead, as I usually take the less exciting route. DW is always looking for a challenge and will often take the harder route. Jake followed my advice most of the time, but when he didn’t he soon found himself exiting his boat! There was one rapid that was a nice little drop with a big wave at the bottom. I paddled just to the right of the main course to avoid the big wave, which I was sure would flip me. Jake ignored my course and followed the route DW had taken. He flipped his boat for the first time and swam his first rapid. While DW helped him bail the boat I furiously headed downstream to catch Jake’s paddle.

After we got reorganized we continued downstream toward the Falls. I was getting pretty tired at this point. I had already done one whitewater trip that morning and was quickly running out of steam to paddle hard on this trip. I opted to pull out at one of the many convenient access points. I thought it was the one right above the Falls, but it proved to be a couple of miles above that.

We decided to take a break. DW hitched a ride back to our put in to fetch the car. It took about 3 minutes for him to get a ride and about 10 minutes until he returned with the car. Jake decided to keep going and run the Falls. We loaded my boat and gear and I drove down to the Falls to wait for them and get some photos of them attempting the rapid.






By the time I parked the car at the take out and hiked back up to the Falls, I only had to wait about 15 minutes for DW and Jake to arrive. I positioned myself just below the Falls to take some photos as they paddled through. DW had a little change of course as an eddy right at the top of the Falls grabbed his boat and spun him around. He then had to reorient the boat to a less optimal line to go over the first drop. He made it down the Falls alright, but at the bottom he nearly rolled the boat over. All you could see was the very top of his helmet in the waves as he made a quick snap to right the boat. He then paddled down to calmer water to wait for Jake.







As you can see, Jake somehow managed to flip his boat before he even entered the Falls. So he got to swim his second rapid of the day, and a big one at that! At least he held on to his paddle this time. I was laughing the whole time he was swimming, and I laughed again while editing these photos. His boat bobbed along gently beside him, full of water. Eventually it snagged on a rock, right in the middle with the full force of the water bearing down on it. DW and I both winced and hoped the boat would hold and not fold in half! DW quickly paddled upstream to the boat and was able to give it a gentle nudge that dislodged it from the rock. It was a great testament to the quality of Liquid Logic boats. Most cheaper boats would have folded in half right away with the pressure of that much water against a rock.

When Jake emerged from the rapid he was able to stand up and walk over to the shore. The Nanny isn’t very deep and the water only comes up to your knees in most places. I practiced my rope rescue skills and threw the rope bag at his face a few times, just for fun. We then bailed his boat and carried everything down to the car. By this time it was after 7pm and dusk was beginning to fall. We headed back to our campground to dry off and recount the stories of the day. Jake learned a lot about his kayak, his paddle skills and reading the water. We all had a lot of fun and stories to tell when we got back home. I would definitely do this trip again, but I would rent a whitewater boat! Our last day of vacation was spent on relaxing activities; floating Fontana Lake and tubing on Deep Creek.