Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon (Ramsey's)
|Stretch:||Ramsey’s Trailhead to Porters Creek|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to V|
|Flows:||No gauge (Greenbrier bridge gauge at ~2.0’ to ~3.5’). Look for >1,100 cfs on American Whitewater's gauge.|
|Gradient:||308 fpm through Pinball then 183 fpm|
|Put-in:||Ramsey Cascades Trailhead|
|Take-out:||Middle Prong and Porter’s Creek Confluence|
|Shuttle:||1.7 miles on dirt road|
|Season:||Winter and Spring, rain (and occasionally off of thunderstorms)|
|Featured in A Wet State #109|
A few months ago, during the summer, I had driven out to the regular Ramsey’s section in hopes of boating it on a summer thunderstorm. We had 2 ft on the gauge, but the river was too low to be good. So we had to table it for another day. So as I returned from Christmas and saw the Smokies had water, I suggest a Ramsey’s day to John Trmebley and he was keen. He suggested a top to bottom run and I agreed… not fulling knowing the details of either run, to tell you the truth. I was surprised as I looked in the various guide books and found that the hike-up was rated as hard or harder than Upper West Prong. I was also surprised that the regular run was rated IV to V, as in that previous visit this summer I didn’t see things that jumped out to me as class V. But the Smokies will do that. The continuous nature of the boulder gardens with the ever present threat of wood add at least a half step to the rapids. Plus, this time around we did not have low water. As we finished the Hike-up and entered the first rapid of this section, instead I felt myself getting pushed around by a healthy flow. Certainly not high, but also certainly not low.
In total I would say this run really only has three standout rapids. The first, the wood choked rapid, and Pinball. The rest of the run is a mix of boogie and boofs over sticky holes, which are sometimes aligned in deviously close proximity requiring a strong boof and a quick ability to replan!
At the end of the day, I was glad we settled on doing the Hike-up as well. Though the Hike-up was harder than I had actually wanted to boat for the day… I thought this section was easier. The 1.7 miles took us less than 30 minutes top to bottom and that was with a scout and portage at the rapid that Collects Wood. That would have been a bit anti-clamatic if that was the highlight of the day. But… if you are looking to step up onto harder whitewater and have gotten tired of Tremont, I think this run would be perfect. It is short, there are only a couple of rapids that are harder than Tremont, and the road is alongside the river the entire time in case you decide you bit off more than you could chew. For that purpose, this section has developed its strong reputation. And heck, paddling out through Greenbrier after was a hoot as well… so bring your class III friends and have them run your shuttle for you!
We had 2.7/2.8 on the gauge. I thought this was a nice medium flow, maybe a tad on the healthy side of medium. But keep in mind, the correlation all depends on how much is coming out of Porters Creek which vary’s… so look at the first or last rapids and decide for yourself.
- Bridge Boof (IV+). A great boof to start the run with. Boof the right side of the middle ledge. It is obvious from the bridge at put-in… just walk up river 100 yards and get it! So good.
- The Stacks (V). Another reason to walk up and run the boof… at least it is some warm up for the Stacks. This is a not overly friendly rapid that begins immediately below the put-in. We ran the right side and worked back to the middle. There is one kinda f’d-up rock half way down that all the river slams into and fans off of. John went left of it by threading the needle above it. I didn’t make it and boof off of it to the right. That is fine. Just finish further left below as it gets junky on the right.
Boogie (IV to IV+). Below is a great section of boogie. Lots of ledges to boof! And all of it is read and runnable.
Death Cave (IV+). I think this is the rapid that we had to walk because of wood. Though the cave didn’t look bad either… just not sure.
- Collects Wood (IV+ to V). A short ways downstream the river begins to bend hard right, before it bends, get out and scout. This rapid collects wood and once the river starts the bend it is committed. It in fact had several pieces of wood in it necessitating a walk for us to the halfway point. The line at the top would be left through a large horseshoe hole. Below, we entered and moved hard left away from the junk in the exit on the right.
- Pinball (V-). I don’t think my memory is failing… I believe this was just below the collects wood rapid. And then left a quick half mile and change to paddle out. AW has very different mileage though so perhaps I will have to check on this again. Anyways, this is a lot like the first rapid. Lots of holes, we ran down the right and back to the left half way down. The crux is to be far left when you get to the bottom move as the right side is sieved out (and also had wood for us). You should scout this on the drive up. It is the first major place you can see the river directly next to the road. Oh, and it is on the right channel of a split in the river.
Boogie (III). As I recall, the boogie mellowed out in a big way down to the take-out. We took the left channel as we hit the confluence with Porters Creek.
Take-out: From Gatlinburg, take US-321 East for 6.0 miles, just before the bridge over the Middle Prong, turn right on Greenbrier Rd. Continue up to the confluence of Porter’s Creek and the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon. Park here.
Put-in: Cross Porter’s Creek and continue another 1.7 miles. You will cross a bridge and the river will leave the road briefly. When the river comes into view you might as well stop and scout Pinball, this is before you cross the second bridge over the creek. Continue to the parking area the end of the road. Park here.
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