|Stretch:||Staircase Falls to Windy Falls|
|Flows:||0.3’ to 0.6’ (0.45 was optimum medium) (gauge is located on “Upper Whitewater Rd upstream of the run).|
|Gradient:||376 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Rainbow Falls Trail – Staircase Falls|
|Take-out:||Windy Falls Trail|
|Shuttle:||0 miles. ~1 mile hike in (easy downhill) and ~2 mile hike out (~1,000 ft elevation gain).|
|Season:||When it rains… winter and spring, but occasionally fall etc. Need +1.5".|
|Featured in A Wet State #107 and in A Wet State's contribution to World Kayak's Video Guide|
The Horsepasture is in the famous Jocassee watershed. This area is known for its steep and clean slides and includes rivers like the Whitewater, Horsepasture, and the king of the area… the Toxaway. Our first year out east, North Carolina did not get much rain at all, instead the rain fell mostly on the west side of Appalachia meaning that Tennessee got the bulk of the rain. That coupled with a working man’s schedule that also balances parental visits and of course the fact that Jocassee is approximately 3 hours away from Knoxville, the opportunity had not yet presented itself for me to be able to get out and run any of these rivers. My opportunity came via an invite to paddle with Zach Dean on his 30th bday.
The day was certainly not idea for a tiring section of river. I had been in San Francisco all week for work, working no less than 12-14 hour days. While flying home on Friday I remembered I had bought concert tickets for the night. Landing at 5:45 I went home, showered and we headed downtown to see the Shakey Graves not returning until around midnight. Due to Zach’s bday plans, the plan was to meet at 9 am… necessitating a 5:45 am wake-up to drive out to North Carolina for Diane and I. I am still surprised that I didn’t hit a wall hard while on the river or hiking out. I did sleep super well though that following night!
The river starts with a mellow hike that is about a mile or so down a gentle hill to the river. Once on the river, there is a simple 100 yards of warm up prior to staircase. Below staircase, the rapids are unrelenting until the conclusion of the run. The in between, although not as big and intimidating as the main drops should still be approached with caution, the majority of our carnage happened on in between rapids. Be especially cautious of the double boof just above Corner Pocket! Once you hit Sidepocket Falls, the action is nonstop with big and intimidating rapids until you are at the bottom of Highway to Heaven. Below, keep your game on as the boogie is fun and a few last bedrock rapids will keep you occupied. Keep an eye out for wood and for the last rapid which has a nasty sieve in it. Once at the lip of Windy Falls, take some of your gear off and begin the trudge up the side of the canyon, climbing ~1,000 in just under 2 miles. For the people who are in great shape, they can get it done in 30 minutes. For most people you will need to allocate an hour.
We had 0.45 feet (on the stick gauge). I thought this flow was a great first time flow. It felt like more than enough for Corner Pocket, Exit B, and Highway to Heaven. Staircase and Exit A felt perhaps a smidge low… but not low enough to mind. I think that is a challenge of this run, there isn’t an ideal flow for all the rapids. And the worst spots for carnage occur in rapids that don’t want much water. Next time I will hope for the same flow… overall it felt ideal.
- Staircase (IV+). The first poster drop of the run comes just below the put-in option that we used. This impressive but surprisingly easy set of slides and falls will get the heart going if you are not use really steep sections of river. The drop consists of 5 main moves. The first is a slide that can be run anywhere, easiest far right. The second move is the tallest and probably most consequential. It is a near vertical slide that has a nice kicker on the left… however there is also a stickier hole over there. If you find the kicker it is sweet. I missed it by a foot or two and plugged through the drop. Not a place for a side surf! The next part was a two tiered drop that we ran left of center, both parts dropping a few feet. The fourth part was a fun few foot boof on the far left. This led to the final part which was a easy shallow 10 foot boof left of center or far right. Overall, this falls drops some 60 feet. Scout right.
Easy Boof (IV-). Just below was a nice fun mellow boof that we ran on the left. This led to a short section of boogie before we eddied out above a double ledge drop.
Double Ledge Drop (IV+). Not overly hard, but it caused our group some carnage. The first drop can be boof far right on a great launch rock. Below, the key is to be straight and take a boof stroke. If you are left of center, carry speed… or grind the right wall to clear the hole.
- Corner Pocket (V). This is probably the hardest rapid on the run, though not the most intimidating. Several entrances exist. Some went far left and boof the meat of the top hole… doing this makes the rest of the rapid much easier, though one got too much of the hole and was rejected left and back into a cave. I had to climb down to vertically extract him. Another common option is the go far right down the slide which avoids the top hole, but makes the bottom harder. The bottom consists of a 90 degree turn to the left with a cave/sieve on the right that the top hole feeds hard into. One in our group went middle down the top and got a nice skip over the hole with little consequence and then was set up correctly to avoid the river right cave and line up for the exit alley and boof over the final hole. He sold us on it and we followed suit. Scout left and portage right.
Center Slot (IV+). Just below is a consequential rapid. You want to enter far left in a micro channel and stay left. As the channels recombine it falls off a 10 foot tall drop, you want to be carrying left to right to avoid a piton. Scout right.
Boogie (IV). Some fun boogie heads down the main right channel. However, there are two that should be noted. The first has a sieve in the main channel, so you want to cut hard right halfway down and exit off the right of the slab of rock (pic). On the second, be prepared to catch an eddy and ferry back to the far left to follow the main channel. Catch an eddy again after ferrying as the exit is really pin-y. The exit is just a class III move, but should be run boofing over the most upstream submerged rock of the exit.
- Exit Ramp A (AKA Sidepocket Falls) (IV+). This drop is straight forward. Intimidating and steep, sure. But hard, no. Enter in the small left of center chute (there is one more channel that is micro left of it), this ramps to a nice boof before starting down the slide. On the slide, you want to be just right of the flake on the slide. This lines you up to boof ~8 feet down and enter the main drop in a nice somewhat padded spot. You are boofing onto a slab, so don’t over boof! Once you boof, hold on as you accelerate down the slide and launch off the 10-12 foot ledge at the bottom. You can boof the exit anywhere or plug it. A small recovery pool exists before the next drop. Scout left.
Exit Ramp B (V). This is the most commonly carnaged spot on the river I have to imagine. Scout from the rocks in the middle of the river, portage on the left… and it is worth setting safety for the first person using the shore on the left. To enter, slide in from the right and drop some 10 feet into a fast moving slide with some large reactionaries that push you right. You want to exit far left for the bottom hole. However, if you are middle, straighten it up and you can get through. There is also a large piton potential if you are far right… however there is also a window over there if you find yourself heading that way so you can use it to escape from a bad line. A very small recovery pool exists before the next big drop.
- Highway to Heaven (V). Scout on the left or just follow your friend’s beta… but be aware of the bottom hole! The top is a river wide few foot ledge. We boofed it on the left. You then enter the slide and there is no stopping! At the top, go through the entry hole and then stay generally right. The first 100 feet is mellow and then it bends slightly left and picks up speed, combining into a small chute which then pillows up on the left before sluffing off on the right. You want to get some penetration on the pillow so you don’t fall off into the funky water too early on the right. Just below it pools up ever so briefly. I would eddy out here to make sure the eddy below is free of carnage as the speed trap down there is notorious for holding people and boats in a calm swirl. You can also exit here on the right to scout the final drop if you didn’t from above. The final drop should be run right to left at the top so you can punch the curler as you accelerate, but then turn back to carry left to right through the bottom holes. There is a piton on the right wall in the first hole, but the eddies are strong on the left. Keep it straight and keep paddling! If you get stuck, use the current against the right wall to exit! Our group required 5 or 6 live baits to get it sorted out!
- Boogie (IV to IV+). Just below was a fun boogie rapid. We entered far left and then boofed in and ran a bunch of read and run holes wherever.
Double Drop (IV+). This drop is ok as long as you are straight. Run the entrance down the right of center, it ramps off and boofs over a good size hole, keep it straight. Then 10 feet later it goes off a 10 foot drop. The right is best as there is a bit of a kicker to help boof. We got one stuck at the base who went too far left and ended up swimming.
Slide (IV). Just below is a fun slide, you want to enter far left in a small channel and then land and move back right.
- Sieve Rapid (V). Just below is a rapid you will want to scout and or portage. For us it was mandatory to portage as there was a river wide log in the rapid. It is still commonly portaged due to the sticky hole above a dangerous sieve. We portaged and seal launched back in on the right. Immediately downstream we exited the river on the left before the next rapid.
Trail Parking: 2.7 miles south west of Lake Toxaway and the famous Toxaway rivere, turn off of Highway 64 and onto NC-281S. Follow this for 0.9 miles before turning left onto Grassy Ridge Rod and into Gorges State Park. Continue down the road, you will continue pass the visitor center and after 137 miles get to a second parking lot on your right. Park here. Note, there is no drinking allowed and the ranger is strict about not leaving pets in the car while you boat… even if the weather is temperate. So be warned!
Put-in: The trail for Rainbow Falls leaves the far side of the parking lot (as you drive up to and into the parking lot). Follow the trail for about a mile or so. Similar to the Green Narrows hike in. Once you are along the river, cut left and walk to the river. This is just above staircase. You can continue up to the base of Rainbow Falls for more action if you want. There are other put-ins higher up as well that add even more action and a portage around Rainbow falls.
Take-out: From just below the Sieve Rapid, exit on the left and follow the base of the wall… at one point using your boat as a ladder up a crack. This then opens up and you can lay your gear down and look at Windy Falls while you strip off some layers. The trail goes straight up the hill from the opening… climbs extremely steep for the first third before then climbing only moderately from that point forward. It then hits a road, if you have more than 8 inches of clearance on your truck you can set your boat down and walk out and return for your mates and boat. Otherwise, continue walking on the road for an additional half mile that continues climbing. This kicks you out right at the parking lot.
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