Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Visit to the Narrows

In western North Carolina, whether you are a local or a visitor, there are certain places that should go on every outdoor adventurer's life list.  Some examples might be Dry Falls near Highlands, Whiteside Mountain (also near Highlands), and Linville Gorge.  These places are typically characterized by unique location and some type of ultimate reward, usually involving superb scenery or something to that effect.  The Green River Narrows is no exception.

The Narrows lie in the heart of Green River Gorge and begin just upriver of the Henderson/Polk County line on the Henderson County side just below the Green's confluence with the Big Hungry River.  The Narrows has a reputation as one of the most extreme kayaking destinations in the eastern United States and has 11 major class IV+ to V+ rapids.  The Narrows section is approximately 3 river miles long, dropping an average of 178 feet per mile.  The middle section (where all the fun is) drops about 342 feet over a half mile.

The Narrows is tough whitewater kayaking and has been the site of numerous injuries and fatalities.  It's extreme nature is what makes it so attractive to world class kayakers who compete every year in the Green Race, which is run on the first Saturday of November every year.

I'm not a kayaker, so for me the Narrows offers something besides extreme whitewater.  The Narrows is a a place that rewards you for the effort you take getting to it.  The first time I went to the Narrows I was truly amazed, but my sense of reward was diminished by the fact that I climbed out of the Gorge via an incredibly difficult route that left me tired and frustrated at the end.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy the adventure, but sometimes it's better to keep things simple.

I called up my good buddy Chris to see if he wanted to go on an adventure.  He was of course happy to go.  We had started an adventure to the Narrows a couple of years ago that more or less went awry because we never got where we were going (not for lack of trying) and we got wet (had to cross the river to get to the vehicles).  The problem with that trip was we tried to do something easy the hard way.  Hey, I learn from my mistakes.  This trip would be different.

Winter time hiking offers its own set of challenges so you always have to be prepared, particularly for ice, frozen ground, and slick areas where thaw has occurred.  Chris and I were certainly up for the challenge.  We arrived at the Pulliam Creek Trailhead off of Big Hungry Road (this was not the way we went on the failed attempt).  We hiked in about two miles until we came to the trail (more like a goat path) that leads down into the Gorge.  This is the main route people take when they come to see the race in November.  There are handlines strung from tree to tree to assist with getting down the very steep hill to the river.  At the bottom of the hill, you find yourself at the confluence of Pulliam Creek and the Green River.  A quick scramble and a leap across Pulliam Creek and you are met by the awesomeness that is The Narrows.

Falls on Pulliam Creek at confluence with the
Green River

Green River Gorge is not the deepest gorge in western North Carolina, but it is fairly narrow which is what makes the Green river so spectacular here.  Imagine trying to shove a lot of water through a tight space.  That's what it's like at The Narrows.

Once you cross Pulliam Creek at the bottom of the hill, the river is on the left and you then begin making your way up river, enjoying each huge rapid as you go.
Groove Tube is the first rapid you see when you reach the river. 
It's also the last rapid for kayakers who choose to take out
before taking on the toughest rapid of The Narrows called Sunshine
Rapid Transit reminds me of one of those log rides you might
 get on at an amusement park.
This rapid is known as Power Slide.
Here's Chris standing at the top of Power Slide.  The rapid series known
 as the Gorilla is in the background.  This picture serves as a scale for
the size and power of these rapids.

Known as Nies' Pieces, this rapid is the last in a series of five
 called the Gorilla.

Scream Machine is the fourth in the Gorilla series.
The signature rapid of The Narrows, this rapid is the third and most iconic of the Gorilla series.  The Flume is the 16 foot waterfall which drops into the Speed Trap.  The distance across the Speed Trap is approximately 6 to 8 feet across. 
The Notch is quite possibly the coolest rapid of Gorilla.  The span from
rock to rock is 4 to 6 feet.  The entire river is flowing through this extremely
tight section.  This spot is the namesake of The Narrows.

Pencil Sharpener is the first rapid in the Gorilla Series.  Just upstream is
the take out for those who don't want to challenge Gorilla. 
Once you're committed, you pretty much have to run it.

As I said, The Narrows is one of the coolest places you can ever visit.  I've only been in the winter so I'm sure the place is even more spectacular with leaves on the trees, especially in the Fall.  Chris and I had a great time on this adventure, but let me provide a few words of caution.  The Narrows is a seriously hairy place.  It is not easy to get in and out of and is really not a place for the inexperienced hiker or outdoorsman.  You need to have some basic survival skills knowledge in case something goes wrong.  Broken legs from falls are not uncommon here.  Not to mention, one slip on some slick rock and you're in the river in very swift, dangerous water.  Getting out is a tough climb, so you need to be in good enough physical shape to get in and get out.  Watch for black ice and slick rock, especially near the water's edge.  One wrong step and you'll be floating down the river.  After about 2 o'clock, the sun goes behind the south wall of the Gorge so the temperature can fall rapidly.  Again, be prepared for anything.  Most importantly, don't hike The Narrows by yourself.  You never know what can happen, plus it's always fun to have a good friend along to pontificate about life with.

Get out there and have fun!

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