The Trip Home
With things wrapped up for our summer trip, it was time to point the van east and make our way back to NC to catch up on work and get some rest. Here's Andria's report on our drive home in early August.
Big South starts off in a flat high alpine meadow. It begins to lose gradient going over small rolled boulders (the continuous mank section) and then it descends into a granite walled gorge with pool drop class IV/V rapids. The first real rapid was my one of my favorites, "Starter Fluid" a blind ten foot tall boof into a pool. But noone ever takes pictures of this fun stuff early on!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Frank (who was along for this trip as well) took a picture of Leland's first run at Starter Fluid in '99. Quality isn't great, but here ya go:
And entering Barroom Brawl on the same '99 trip:
Leland and I ended not running any of the biggest rapids on the run because of the elevation sickness, but they will be there for another day. We both felt like if we had good lines it would be no problem, but if we had bad lines, we wouldn't have the energy to deal with it. Personally, when I am on a committing run in the wilderness, I like to plan carefully. Now I have to go back in there one day! Anyway, the run is so long and committing and has plenty of class IV and V rapids to keep one busy, that many people portaged. Thankfully we had Forrest Noble on this trip with us to show how to run the big ones (and the stuff in between). Forrest is one of those people like Kevin. He is calm, encouraging, and confident on the river and he inspires confidence for the group.
Forrest is also crazy, likes to fire it up and styles class V rapids as if he levitates over them. One of the first bigger class Vs you come to is "Fantasy Flight." This rapid appears to have no good line through it, but I guess good is relative.
The next bigger class V is "Cool World," with a long and technical lead in that culminates in a boxed in hole at the bottom.
As we descended deeper and deeper in the gorge, the sky clouded up and it began to rain a cold and harsh rain. I began to shiver. Elevation sick and not able to eat, tired from swimming, a few tiring portages, and now I was shivering cold. I began to feel as if I wasn't going to make it. I could feel all of the muscles in my body quivering from fatigue and oxygen deprivation. I asked if there was a way out and was told it would have been way too difficult--go figure. The only way out was down, and some of the hardest rapids that I would run lay downstream. I wanted to cry, honestly, I did. But I didn't want anyone to see me, so I quickly wiped them away and put my skirt on and continued downstream with an attitude of survival.
There are a few flat sections on the run, so its not class IV/V the whole way. There were several miles of class II/III in the middle where you can look around, relax, and converse with fisherman and female hikers. You also get really tired from paddling all that class III right before you drop into some serious shit called "Prime Time Gorge." This is a long, continuous, walled-in, unscoutable, unportageable, but totally manageable class IV/V series of rapids. It had awesome boof, holes, and slots and was acton packed. It was awesome and cheered up my spirits tremendously.
The next portage for some is "Doulbe Trouble," an infamous steep technical rapid that ends in a horrible terminal hole.
After Double Trouble, there is one more big class V, "Slideways." Then there were a few more miles of "read and run" class IV/V slots and drops that noone ever takes pictures of either. Then you get into some mank for the finale and take out and walk down a trail on river right about 1/4 mile to your vehicle and well deserved beers. I was totally exhausted--probably the most I have ever been in my life, and I used to be into endurance sports. Paddling at high elevation coming from sea level is one of the hardest things I have ever done physically. Thank you so much to the Colorado and Wyoming boys for showing us down the river, getting my boat, and helping me to deal! Sometimes paddling a river is just about the fun and sometimes it's to see what you're made of. I feel stronger (although lighter--I lost 5 lbs in one day!) for having had to deal with the elements and surviving the Big South wilderness. Life is that much sweeter.
Now we're making the best of the tail end of summer in the dry South.
See Y'all at the Gauley!