Russell Fork (Gorge)
|Stretch:||Golden Hole to Above Elkhorn City|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to V|
|Flows:||~300 to 2,000+ cfs. Current AW gauge|
|Gradient:||69 fpm (The gorge is 99 fpm for 1.4 miles)|
|Take-out:||River Access near Elkhorn City|
|Shuttle:||7 miles, 15 minutes One Way|
|Season:||Year Round (rain) (October weekend dam release)|
|Featured in Video A Wet State #53 and in A Wet State's contribution to World Kayak's Video Guide|
If you are anywhere near this area in the Fall, with water in the river… hit it up. I think this run was the highlight of our trip to the East Coast. The scenery was superb, really quite nice with towering cliffs and a dense brightly colored forest surrounding you throughout the entirety of the run. The only downside is that it is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, out deep in Coal Country with the put-in in Virginia and the take-out in Kentucky.
During the release weekends in October, flows of 800-1000 cfs are released. The last weekend release is higher at 1300. Despite what the AW site says about that flow being hair boating, if you are a solid class IV-V boater, the 1200 cfs flow we had was by far the best and most fun flow. I am however glad that we had laps at 430 and 770 under our belts so the lines were fresh in our minds. Several sections do get pushy and continuous so it is nice to not worry about your channel dead ending. At the lower flow of 430 I felt the run was a class IV run with a few class IV+ but plenty of hazardous spots. At the Higher flow I don’t feel that it was worse than class IV+, but now there were hydraulics to push you off line or worse, swim you if you messed up. The highlights of the run are Triple Drop, El Horrendo, and Foreplay/Climax. Those rapids are enough to put a smile on anyone’s face…
During release weekends camping at the take-out is allowed despite the no camping signs. Any other times you have to camp closer down to town near the bridge. Be aware, that if you want some adult beverages, head back up towards put-in a mile to Virginia as that part of Kentucky is dry… and to that affect, if you are caught drinking at take-out they may ask you to dump it out or even to leave the campsite. Also, if you happen to be there while it is raining, you could do Grassy Creek which comes in a mile above take-out and marks the Virginia border. Other options are the class III-IV (?) Upper run or the class II-III(?) Lower run, neither of which I did while there.
- Pre-Tower (IV). The first bed rock rapid has several channels. We always took the middle bed rock channel. The right channel went at the higher flows but was sievy at the low flows.
- Towers (IV+). At low flows we drove right to left and then avoided the undercut. The right side was rocky. At higher flows we boofed the edge of the right ledge and ran out the exit on the right as all the mank was under water now. Be aware there is an eddy to catch you if you are over aggressive boofing right.
- Fist (IV-V). OK, so this is one of those rapids, it isn’t hard at low flows… but if you mess it up you may die. At low flows run center driving left into the eddy, then ferry out in front of the sieve. At medium flows we snuck down the far left channel and then ferried out which was sketchier now. At high flow, we wanted nothing to do with the ferry and walked the rapid. There are flags marking a “trail” around the rapid. Short walk.
- The Maze (IV to IV+). We ran down the left side staying middle when things got constricted then moving back left in micro channels. The hazard here is that at bottom on the right is a massive undercut/sieve/tunnel. It wouldn’t be fatal I don’t think as it is plenty big for a person and a boat to fit through, but damn it would not be fun…
- Triple Drop (IV+). Just below is a series of ledges. The first is really hard to scout. We ran middleish at low flows and then proceeded to sneak further and further left as flows came up. At high high flows I believe folks portage this ledge. Below is a ramp into a flushy hole which is then followed by an off angle ledge with an obvious boof right of center. At the lower flows the holes actually get bigger…
- Boulder Garden (IV to IV+). A really fun bolder garden with a large hole in the middle and at the bottom, we stayed left the whole way down. Really good rapid.
- El Horrendo (IV+ to V). At low flows we entered the main channel boofing through a good size hole and then ferried across from the main hole which we ran far right. As flows came up we ran a micro channel into the eddy to then ferry out of and run the far right again. Be aware, lots of the water flushes into undercuts on the right. They all flush through, though we had a swim due to extended submerged time. A good line is to boof it and point right so you eddy out in front of them and can then ferry away from them.
- Ledge (IV). I don’t think this one has a name, but it was so sick. A drop into a 90 degree turn with a huge cushion to climb before boofing a sizeable hole. So fun!
- Foreplay (IV+ to V). So I think this rapid is easy if you are in control. However it is very long, and very sievy. Multiple moves and boofs must be made to get to Climax. Furthermore, at the higher flows there are no pools to rescue folks in… in fact, there are only a few eddies. Climax is the exit of this rapid.
- Climax (IV+ to V). The boulder choke that is Foreplay opens up to a “pool” maybe 50 feet across but fast moving water pushing out of it. Climax is the far right chute which is sick and fast moving with high water. At low water it was a rocky flop. Other lines exist but are harder and more dangerous due to sieves. Just downstream is a boof right of center called Cigarette that was fun… from there it is just a paddle out…
For more details on the run, see the AW write-up...
Take-out: Get yourself to Elkhorn City, Kentucky. From there, head east out of town on KY-80 (Patty Loveless Dr. In 2 miles, look for the road dropping quickly down to the river with a nice parking lot and whatnot.
Put-in: Continue East on KY-80 for 5.4 miles. Look for a dirt road on the right marked “Golden Hole” and turn right. Follow this dirt road for about a mile down to the river…
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