Thursday, June 21, 2012

Laurel Fork, Doe Gorge, and a Marginal Monster

Mark Taylor controlling the first reconnect on Laurel Falls, photo by Chris Baer, NC
Mark Taylor controlling the first reconnect on Laurel Falls

Home on the kayak tour


Kayak homesteads take on a myriad of different shapes, mine is a 1984 Ford F150, The Boone North Carolina homestead was a classic rambler only inches above a creek that regularly flooded. We awoke on coaches with plenty of empty PBR cans strewn about. Our concentration quickly swung to a strong batch of coffee, and the rain that pummeled the surrounding county the night before. Every one hoped on there internet tools and started blurting out levels of different local runs.  


Laurel Fork

Ty Caldwell, Mark Taylor, Clay Lucas and I set our sites on the Laurel Fork. The flow looked spot on, and the rumor was, there was a "marginal monster." A 60 foot cascading water fall in the middle of the run. The car got loaded down with kayaks and a quick stop at the local fast food joint got us in the mood for some class 5 creek boating.

Once we reached the put in, we instantly realized we were in the right place. There was a myriad of other kayakers roaming around. Most of the other boaters were complaining about the high water... High water sounded like a ton of fun to our crew, and we quickly suited up and put on.
The run starts off with a bunch of fun class 4 moves that are interspersed with a ton of overhanging bushes and downed trees. There was wood every where, I got to the point that I wasn't worried about the rapids but was concerned about where the next ill placed tree would be.

Ty Caldwell launching off of the first ledge at Darwin's Hole, photo by Chris Baer, NC
Ty Caldwell launching off of the first ledge at Darwin's Hole
A few miles into the run we came to the only "hard" rapid of the "normal" run. Darwin's Hole, there was kayakers everywhere. The kayakers were trying to scout, and wondering how they might be able to portage around what our group thought was a "damn good rapid." One by one our team made the "hard" rapid look like another class 4. It started with a fun off angel boof into some swirly water, then another 5ft boof that landed in a protected hole.

A random paddler finding the flake at the top of Darwin's Hole, Chris Baer, NC
A random paddler finding the flake at the top of Darwin's Hole
Heading down stream I started to get lost in the drops, all of the lead-ins looked very similar. Then we came around a corner and saw what we were looking for, a gigantic horizon line. The lip was a hundred feet wide and the old growth trees growing below looked very small.

A long scout ensued, it was definitely a "marginal monster." Mark Taylor set his eye on the center line, a bouncing, reconnecting, slope to vert to slope. After watching his very clean but bouncy line, my concerns were reconfirmed. I really didn't think I would have much control on the third reconnect. The speed and violence of the reconnect looked like it could be a career ender. So... I contemplated a far right line. It was a triple drop jumble, the first two drops looked like the tea cups on the Paralyze rapid of my local run Lake Creek. The third feature was a 40ft drop with a light reconnect half way down.

Mark Taylor sending Laurel Falls on the Laurel Fork, photo by Chris Baer, NC
Mark Taylor sending Laurel Falls on the Laurel Fork
Standing above the drop visualizing my line I looked down at my new friends, Ty gave me a hand jesture that made my 80% certainty turn to 100%. I was going to paddle this marginal monster, and I was going to make it look good.

Sliding into the water I looked down at the the beyond tricky lead-in, my hart was beating heavy. Two inches off my line at the lip, meant I fell eight feet onto a rock shelf. Quickly resetting my angle I fired off the second drop and was again a couple inches off line and fell another ten feet onto yet another rock shelf. My ankles were sore and the front of my boat was disfigured. Worst of all I was stuck in a micro eddy inches from the 40 footer and way off angle. The next three minutes were filled with cursing and trying to figure out how to regain the angle I needed to paddle the finale big drop. Contemplating my fate, the decisions was made to turn around in the tiny back yard swimming pool of an eddy. Fate was being tested, there was a decent chance I would fall off the 40 foot drop backwards. The stern of the boat was extended nearly a foot over the falls, as I turned around a smile finally came back to my face. My ankles no longer hurt, and I was super excited looking at the final horizon line. A couple set up strokes and a huge weight shift, I was air borne one more time. Seconds later I was at the bottom of a truly Marginal Monster with a gigantic smile.

Doe Gorge

Upon finishing the Laurel Fork our group received an invitation to check out the Doe Gorge. Our beta was that it was an absolutely beautiful gorge filled with some fun class 4. Our group was pretty fired up after the Laurel fork, and put in antics quickly followed. We gave Mark Taylor a huge shove off the put in bridge, he sailed through the air landing supper flat off the 12 foot put in bridge.
The Doe Gorge lived up to expectations, the scenery was top notch. We traveled through an old gorge filled with gigantic trees and classic south eastern beauty. The white water was fun class 4, and the only down fall was the fact that the local red necks still think the river is there trash can. We dodged propane tanks, tires, and the occasional basketball while paddling a river that truly needs a good clean up day.

Boone NC has inspired me to revisit northern NC again and again, thanks Boone Boys.

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