Friday, January 13, 2012

SE USA Packrafting: Green Narrows

It's now clear why so many great boaters come from the SE: The Green River Narrows.

"The Green" is a steep, dam-release creek that apparently runs 300 days a year. It's about 30 minutes from the hip outdoor progressive town of NC, Asheville -- think Hood River but with a southern drawl and a banjo.

It was a bit of a drive from Elijay GA, Tim's adolescent home, to Bryson City where we met J.E.B. Hall, friend of Trip Kinney and an aweome boater in his own right. Jeb is like a fourth or fifth generation western NC native, who works as a fishing guide in AK during the summer and a rep for Pyranna Kayaks most of the rest of the year. A wonderful physical complement to Trip, his Southern accent would come out on the river.

We started on the Upper Green at 100%, the local measure of relative flow on the Green.

Apparently the Upper Green has two "Class III" rapids, the first a 15 foot slide that somehow I flipped midway down, barking my knuckles and pulling a short rib in a determined effort to roll at its base and regain some measure of dignity.

I could see the disappointment, nah, concern on Jeb's face. I felt like putting the clown nose I carried in my pfd pocket as a badge of shame. We were like a quarter of the way down the beginner run and I had already blown it in the name of packrafts, performing as all too many 'round the world expect.

But in this case it was the boater (me) and not the boat (sweet 2011 Alpacka Llama).

Fortunately, Luc and Timmy would show this downstream where it counted.

About the same time we put on, a solo, short-boat canoeist put in, but seemed to take out just below the same rapids we found another pair of canoeists scouting.

"This is typical of the Green's ledges. Just run down the middle and stay in the flow," called Jeb as he dropped down the second "III", something that felt very IV-ish to me.

Soon enough I was looking over the first drop of the Narrows, "Bride of Frankenstein" and while it looked straightforward enough, performance anxiety choked me up. Still, it was no problem and actually did feel class III, if rated Class IV.

Below it was Frankenstein and Tim took one look at the pile of f*cksticks jamming the sieve between two boulders and decided to walk. Luc ran the drop just above the sieves and made it past easily, but the fact that it was a dirty little set of drops that looked unappealing in the way that it didn't look challenging (looked like Class III) or rewarding, just dangerous, underscored the typical whitewater rating scale where somehow difficulty and danger are merged. Frankenstein is rated a V.

Downstream the river choked up with rocks jumbled in gradient and Jeb gave some instructions that basically sounded like "follow me".

By now we'd been passed by a couple of sets of kayakers. They were friendly and exuded little attitude/arrogance seen elsewhere. This could have been because we were with a local hardman/guide. Or it could be that the SE boaters in particular, and Eastern boaters in general, are more tolerant of a variety of craft. On this run we'd see short canoes and hand paddlers, and knew that inflatables had been down before, even hand-paddled through Gorilla, the biggest rapid on the run.

I got some of my groove back in Pincushion's rock garden and the drops below, down to the memorably named "Boof or Consequences." Here again I got out and walked, not because it looked dangerous, but because it looked tricky: a narrow steep slot to a sharp turn next to a rock wall. But Luke styled it. Tim and I began to wonder if Luc wasn't planing to try and run everything.

The next drop was one of the V+ rapids, "Go left or Die", I mistakenly though I heard it called. It's actually Go Left and Die. Needless to say I followed a woman down the sneak slot 'n' slide to the right (the Squeeze), also rated a Class IV but simple fun and more like a novel Class III in my opinion. But heh, what do I know?

"Yea, that is easy," said Tim, "a packraft just blubbers down." Indeed, there are many rapids that would be hard, even dangerous in a kayak that re just plain fun and safe(ish) in a packraft.

Luc paddled into the Go Left rapid without a good look at it, but with the usual expert beta offered up by Jeb, who was now getting cold, due to waiting around for us to look at and video stuff and his thin layer of clothes.

"Yea, I do it in 40, 45 minutes," he'd told me on the phone. Today it'd be 4 hours.

So we were waiting in the pool below the Class V+ rapid, one of the Green's "Big 3" as Luc slid down the entrance log, plunged off the eight (?) foot drop and pretty much got munched immediately in its river right hole and with me thinking the rapid is called "Go Left or Die", fearing the bad thing.

But Luc fought his way out and survived, got back in his boat and after scouting the next Class V rapid -- Zwick's (sounded like Swix, as in wax, when Jeb named it) -- ran Zwick's and the Class IV Reverse 7 footer above it cleanly, eddying out above the next Class V (again, it's an easy drop that just happened to kill someone and pin somebody else) called Chief.

Timmy also ran these clean but I boofed directly into the pocket at the base of the second drop in Zwick;s and got held for an uncomfortably long time and lost my boat, which washed down a couple rapids, to finally park itself in the Garage cave at the top of Gorilla.

It was there, below Zwick's, that I got to paddle the 2011 hull design with the 2012 cockpit (no spray skirt -- that was on Timmy) when I roped Timmy's boat back to cross to the portage trail. That stock cockpit was so easy to get into and out of compared to my heavily velcroed special production boat. And I had been noticing all week that their boats were just as dry if not drier than mine.

We all portaged Chief, Pencil Sharpener, the Notch, Gorilla's main event called the Flume, and then the two rapids below. Pencil Sharpener, the Notch, and the Flume together make up the Class V+ Gorilla, which looked doable to me in a packraft.

Personally I didn't find either Go Left and Die appealing, nor Sunshine, the other V+, safe-looking, but carnage videos, Trip's stories, and the raw beauty of Gorilla drew me, and if I'd had a third day, yes, I would have given it a try. And after ten days of paddling down there, I think with the right boof I could land it, although the Speed Trap wave/hole below would likely stop me and flip me.

Anyway, we put in just above the last two slides between Gorilla and made those (Power Slide and Rapid Transit, two IVs). I took a beefy left hand run following Jeb on the Rapid Transit and felt my mojo return.

"Just run it blind and follow me," he'd said and we did and it was super wild and exhilarating.

Next was the third V+, Sunshine with its lead-in Groove Tube, another rapid with a disconcerting swim below it, so we portaged and put in below Sunshine and its deadly center rock. I got tripped up by a little side hole/wave, and then was dissuaded from going to Linville by Jeb's description of Linville Gorge as hard as the Green but with much less friendly mid-stream boulders. That and my lousy day on the Green so far.

Below Sunshine the river lets up and is just fun Class IV and III slots, plops, and drops all perfect for packrafts until the long III leading into Toilet Bowl's IV hole where I flipped but made a very satisfying combat roll and preventing an uncontrolled entrance into the Class V Hammerfactor.

Luc ran Hammerfactor clean. Tim had to brace and came closer to swimming than at any other time I'd seen him on this trip. And I tried to roll in the pool below Hammerfactor but couldn't get it and swam.

The rest of the run was fun but uneventful, and I felt like I didn't really "do" the Green Narrows. Tim had done better than I, of course, although we both walked the same rapids, and Luc had run a couple we walked and tried Go Left, but he'd lost his momentum after I swam Zwick's. Except for Toliet Bowl/Hammerfactor he never recovered it, really, that day.

So the next day Gordy showed up and lead us to eat breakfast at a hip breakfast joint in Asheville ("Pretty Girl?") and run shuttle.

We put in for just the Narrows and got a bunch of "those boats are badass" from the 20-somethings and snickers and sneers from the older guys who couldn't wait "to see those boats in some holes".

This time everything went so much better. I had no performance anxiety. We paddled at our own pace and got good video and had fun. Until Zwick's.

At Zwick's I tried to boof right and did but got tripped up on landing (too sideways without enough brace). There was a crew of kayakers hovering all around us and I missed one too many rolls and pulled out too late, getting swept into the lethal Chief right before everybody's helpless eyes with their hands full of paddles, throw ropes and in Gordy's case a long stick (he'd hiked down to watch) and me upside down in my boat deaf to their cries to bail.

You see I thought I had time to roll and did if I'd nailed the first, or even the second. But I bailed after the third and shouldn't have been surprised when surfacing to find myself getting washed into the first drop of Chief.

The night before I had spent twenty minutes reading stories and watching video and looking at pictures of low water Chief, and as I headed toward the second drop I turned headfirst to fend off its pin rock and went over the drop and struck my chest on it. That was better than going feet first and getting my legs stuck, I reckoned.

A hot kayaker, rightfully miffed that I hadn't got out sooner, bumped my boat down to me and I swam to shore with boat and paddle. One more drop and I would have slid through the Notch to be swallowed and punched by the Gorilla.

Feeling good to be alive, I filmed Luc as he waited for a gang of hardshellers to sail off of Gorilla's Flume. They eddied out and chatted him up before he pulled out to run the series of slides below. It was neat as they hollered and hooted as he made the boofs and drops.

From there down we had a great run to the take-out and while I got flipped again at Hammerfactor, I managed to combat roll out of it, so it was OK.

Yep, we packrafted the Green and I'd do it again, maybe even give Gorilla a try. Tim almost ran it but preferred Sunshine's straightforward boof (although he didn't try that either). It just looks doable to me.

Yes, we'll have to go back, maybe with boats outfitted with the whitewater package that Timmy J is designing for Alpacka. Not sure when....

That night we spent some time on the town with Gordy and Adam Griffith, a local scientist and kayaker we met on the Chattooga. We soakied up the gaming, music, and food scene in Asheville. The food at a Caribbean style place called Salsa was really tasty. Gordy got a huge lav pot of boiling pork fit for Fred Flintstone. Later that night we heard the band in the video below live. Good times.

The next day didn't rain enough so we headed back to Georgia paddling a bit of the middle Cullasaja River on the way.

Luc posted some photos and words at things to luc at and there are a handful of videos that Tim, Luc, and I have put together.


  1. Moderate creeking? The Green is the real deal. Nice work! This trip has been a large step for packrafting! Packrafts have been tried and tested in the AK wilderness, and have now shown that they can handle the runs that try and test kayakers and kayak designs. Packrafts are the real deal!

    1. That's encouraging to hear from you Paul. I changed it to "steep creeking"!

      Looking forward to your reports from patagonia.

  2. I think you meant "Early Girl". :-) Never the less, 100% inspiration and I've met more than a few hard boaters recently (while out in my pr) that had seen your videos or heard about you guys.

  3. Wow. I googled "southeast packrafting" and didn't expect this...I ran the Green Narrows last summer, hand paddled my hard shell...walked a few, swam a few...running a packraft in there is BADASS. Just ordered my packraft today...looking forward to doing some backpacking/packrafting trips on some remote runs in the southeast, nothing too hard. I've vome up with some trips that I'm sure haven't been done with a packraft, hope to break new ground and spread the word about these crafts down here on the good ole south. Keep charging...


/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */