Out of all the places in the southeast that have been on the list to explore in a kayak, none have been as high priority as a small creek hidden from view, yet a stone's throw from one of the more popular mountain temples in the region. Linville Gorge is truly the standout locale in the area for west-esque grandeur and scale, and being protected and laced with outdoor opportunities, it is a mecca for climbers, kayakers, hikers, and fishermen. If you want to get "down in it" in the south, the 'Ville is the place to be immersed.
While hikers/grovellers have truly scoured the main gorge, and paddlers frequent the Linville River at the bottom, the east flanks of Table Rock and Hawksbill, which bring up the river left side of the gorge, have remained relatively untapped from a paddling perspective. While all the creeks to the east of NC181 have been thoroughly explored, Upper, Harper, Lost Cove, Gragg, and Wilson, the headwaters of Upper Steels Creek have been sitting right in the shadow of Table Rock all this time. A new world lies within the shadows here, in the way of two incredibly steep and impressive gorges.
We found out about this place the same way we have found out about most other remote pockets in North Carolina. Rich Stevenson's awesome website, http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/, is no secret around here, and is probably the number one tool I have used to locate many of the obscure places I have explored in the mountains of Western North Carolina. There is a picture on this site of the last falls in the lower gorge of Upper Steels Creek, and immediately upon seeing this update, we headed over shortly thereafter to scope the whole scene out.
Epic.There are two rapids in this gorge separated by a completely walled out giant pool. The first drop is a vision quest of moves and features, and is most certainly runnable. It starts with a 10 foot boof and a must make turn in the air to 8 foot clap. Then the bedrock rushes into the final tier, where the flow breaks right into the inside of the turn where potholes await. A crisp popping drive over the left brim will deliver the crazy person who is first to run this down a nice 20-25 foot slide into the halfway pool above the next huge drop, The Fringe.
We are calling the next drop "The fringe" quite simply because it is. This drop didn't look good years ago at base flow, as it slides steeply and chaotically down into a wall, with no crossgrain options to remove one's self from harm. In the flow is the only place to go.
With even the small volume of water we had, this lower gorge was stout, with The Fringe building a nice cushiony boil on the wall, and a raised pool level. It goes! Sitting below this gorge is, along with sitting at the top of Windy Falls, and in between Landbridge and Wintergreen, the most epic of spots in this quadrant of the country.
Stacked and jacked, this gorge needs to be paddled. But with dinner plans, being short staffed, and not feeling so "fringe", we took the Mountains to Sea trail around and then dropped to the base of The Fringe.
Below The Fringe, the creek still had one more long set of solid goodness. It starts right up with a nice series of stacked ledges amidst an intense backdrop.
Then after a short pool there was a nice and fluffy 10-12 foot waterfall.
This waterfall then led into a football field length slide in the wall kind of affair, with some interesting features at the bottom. We performed the volleyball net maneuver right above the last short stretch, which looked a little abusive, but the rest was "right proper" as some would put it.
This butt crack of a canyon dropped us into an immeasurably deep pool, where we exited the hidden confines from above into the more open and typical nature of the lower.
There was still one good long, blind slide that was fun, before the creek gentled to Wilson Creek type boogie to the takeout.
Looking back, this place is a must see for any paddler or hiker that doesn't mind a little bit of work for a seldom seen reward. The section we paddled was right up there with the more substantial places in North Carolina. Also, while we did walk the bottom stretch of insanity, it is certainly runnable, and considering people have run Garden of the Gods, this stretch is much more appealing, satisfying, and runnable for that matter. With a solid crew, unlimited time, and the right attitude, I am interested in going back and running the rest. Everything on the run is runnable, and if the whole thing was run top to bottom, I would say that it is maybe the hardest and most impressive creekboating in the southeast.
Mission accomplished, but there are still scraps left on this dinner table. Big, full course, where are the tums kinda scraps.
Can't wait to go back in!