Big Laurel Creek
|Stretch:||Hurricane Creek to Hot Springs NC|
|Difficulty:||Class III to IV-|
|Distance:||3.6 miles (+3.35 miles on the French Broad)|
|Flows:||Visual gauge, 0” to ~3’. Runs often off of rain|
|Gradient:||55 fpm average on Big Laurel, then 39 fpm on French Broad|
|Put-in:||Access off of US-70 near Hurricane Creek|
|Take-out:||NOC Access in Hot Springs, NC|
|Shuttle:||5.0 miles, less than 10 minutes one way|
|Season:||Fall, Winter, and Spring from rain.|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #145|
After our morning lap on Brush Creek, we headed back over to Big Laurel Creek and found that the water had risen 0.7 feet to 2.7 feet. For the average Big Laurel user, this flow would be considered high and for many, too high. But, the run is only class III to IV-, so, friends of ours have raved about the high flow experience on the run, so we were stoked to see it bump up and quickly set our shuttle.
Diane had technically done this run, at a very similar flow non-the-less, but that was while she was interviewing for residencies out east so that puts it at 5 years ago. Anyone that knows Diane knows her memory of rivers is not super dependable so we approached the run with fresh eyes and somewhat cautiously. The action starts pretty quick with a ledge drop that had a few lines. It was around this time we started to notice large trees. We knew that Suddy Hole was somewhere downstream and packed a dangerous hole. We quickly found the rapid, which was tricky because the lead in needed to be run on the right and the eddy was far left immediately below. We caught the eddy and scouted the far left channel, which was clear so we ran it. There is a line in the middle, but it also had a tree in it our day. Below the river constricts into a few nice gorge rapids. This section feels the stoutest, certainly has the biggest waves, but also was clean with no real hazards to dodge. Below, things open up and get easier before you quickly find yourself at the French Broad confluence. At the high flow, the miles on the French Broad went quick. We went left of the island at Needle Falls as with the high flow a weir just didn’t sound appealing. What we found was fun class III. Another nice class III rapid not far below then led to the mellow last mile to where the car is parked.
Overall, I thought this run was great fun, especially with the high flow. If we had gotten a little earlier start, or had ever done the runs, we would have then done Spring Creek which takes out in the same town as this run. But, we were cold and getting tired, and would have been pushing daylight to add that 8 mile run onto our day. So instead, we went home and took hot showers.
We had 2.7’ at the put in gauge, which was high but certainly still super fun for a solid class IV boater. And for more info, we got ~1.75” of rain in the previous 24 hours on well saturated ground. Ivy River had risen from nothing to ~2,700 cfs and had begun to drop, leaving it at 2,600 when we were on Big Laurel.
- Pinball (II to III-). At low flow apparently people run left of center through this ledge. At high flow, the river was a huge ledge hole. Diane boofed far left which was successful but I wouldn’t recommend everyone doing it, as if you found yourself in the hole it would be hard to exit and hard to reach with a rope. I went far right down a mellow ramp.
- Stairstep Rapid (III+ to IV). At high flow this was a powerful rapid with several ledge holes on the left, and some ramps into sticky holes on the right. Diane and I booked the more defined ledges on the left. Kristian hugged the left side of the right half of the river. At lower flows, the only line is down the right with the main flow.
- Suddy Hole (III+ to IV+). At normal flows the lead in is mellower and the final ledge is more benighn, just avoid the pocket hole on the far right that causes problems for people. For us, I thought the rapid was by far the hardest on the run at the higher flow. But not where you would think the difficulty would lie either. We entered the lead in on the right, there was a large wave hole that we had to stay right of before we could jam hard over to the left to catch an eddy. We didn’t know the lines and all we could see was a big horizon below. At our flow, we ran down the left channel which was a fine line with a small boof over a small hole at the bottom. The main ledge was a significant drop with powerful hole, though perhaps some windows did exists, we didn’t actually scout. The part that I would call harder than standard IV is the ferry from right to left, after the entrance wave hole, above the ledge. Blowing this ferry couldn’t be disastrous at the high flow. It is just a ferry, but a high consequence ferry. Call that IV if you want… for me, I would call it borderline IV+.
- Prelude AKA Upper Narrows (IIII to III+). The river narrows and you get tall waves and powerful eddy lines. We ran down the left of center the whole way. At lower flows, some rocks start coming out and folks start to work more into the right of center side.
- Narrows (III+ to IV-). At high flow this rapid starts 200 yards above the crux but is read and run, mainly with strong eddy lines as the walls tighten. We ran down the middle of the crux, the main thing is to avoid being on the right third of the river at the top of the crux as that is a bad hole at high flows. Once below the entrance, just mind the eddies that form off of each wall throughout the remainder of the rapid, stay center to be safe.
- Humble Pie (III). After a brief mellow section you get a few more easier rapids, on one of the final bends is this one, which we ran down the left through some seams amongst some sticky holes.
- Confluence with the French Broad. If you have high flow, you can expect 7,000-10,000 cfs to greet you here.
- Needle Falls (III- to III). So, you get to a very picturesque island splitting the river, the right side looked like a completely uniform ledge at the high flow, so we stayed away from a weir dam scenario at this flow and ran to the left of the island. This was a pushy but fun big water rapid. I would only call it class III, but as with big water, eddy lines are tricky and flipping can happen to anyone. The key is to keep trying to roll as big water swims are long affairs and this one may go for a mile before your friends can get you to shore, and your gear may be long gone. At lower flow, people do run the right side of the island which is where the rapid gets its name.
- Frank Bell’s (III- to III). The last big rapid on the run, we ran down left of center and punched a few medium sized wave holes. It was a shorter rapid and more straight forward I thought than the left side of Needle Falls.
- Small Drop (II+). One last drop is formed by a shallow shelf that slides into a river wide reactionary. It isn’t a big deal but looks sorta intimidating from above at the high flow.
Take-out: In the town of Hot Springs, NC, take US-70 east across the French Broad immediately outside of town. Take the first left onto Silvermine Rd. In 500 ft, take another left to head upriver, and under the bridge. Park at the NOC parking lot along the river.
Put-in: Get back out to US-70 and continue east away from Hot Springs. In 4.7 miles, you will cross Big Laurel. The gauge is on this bridge. But the café asks that you don’t park as river access. Instead, turn right to stay on US-70 and park 200 yards later on the right. There is a trail that heads down river and hits the river in 200 yards.
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