It was a cold clear day after a snow, and Leland and the gang were headed out for a nice winter creek session. I just happened to be hanging out in Asheville, and at that point I had been whitewater kayaking for many years and had all the right equipment for a wintertime run. The trail down to the put-in is a narrow dirt road that turns to a trail, and it had enough snow on it that the efficient way to get down the hill was to sit on top of your kayak and sled it down. We had so much fun just getting TO the river.
I also have always been very comfortable and happy hanging out with Leland. He's one of my favorite people, and a favorite boater to float with also, because he is alert and ready to act, humorous and laid back, and also good at communicating about what is just around the corner using WORDS. You'd be surprised how many boaters can't tell you how to run a rapid because they just aren't that fluent in the English language. But Leland is fluent in the language of water and in the English language. When he tells me "go over the horizon on the right side angled left" or "wait until you can see a little wave folding to the left and go just left of it" and I do what he has said, I have good runs. So I was happy to let him lead me down the mighty Narrows.
Many people wear elbow pads when paddling the Narrows. I had a pair that I wore sometimes, but rarely needed them.
I don't remember much about the run....he had me scout where he thought it necessary, but mostly I just followed verbal instructions and applied my creek boating skills to a new creek. It didn't seem too difficult at one tube (a low, relatively easy water level) with good instructions. When we got down to Gorilla we all portaged on river left. Leland ran it sometimes, but he wasn't running it every time, because it is a huge monstrousity of a waterfall. Here it is: the drop we didn't run:
This image is actually me, on the day that I am writing about in the winter of 1996.
I am in the green boat making my re-entry to the river after portaging Gorilla. It was a faster slide than usual down the ledge to the river, because of the snow. I was going so fast when I went off the edge that I nearly hit the other side of the river. As you can see from the image, there is a drop immediately below where we slid into the river, and another just below that. Those two drops are called the Green Scream Machine. (There's a story about those coming in the near future.)
We portaged Sunshine as well, and finished the whole run in about 1.5 hours. It was too cold to hang out. I repeated this run a few more times with Leland, and then when I was working on the Chattooga, I began to make regular trips to paddle it with an electrician I knew from down there. He always took the same routes, whereas Leland and his crowd tried new routes nearly every time they were down there. I have always loved waterfalls and "creekin'" and this run, with its continuous steepness and many large drops, was one of my favorites anywhere.
Eventually I got comfortable enough that I could lead others down it, but I never did. I guess I felt as if this section of river was risky enough that only highly skilled and knowledgeable people should attempt it, and I wasn't going to decide for anyone if they were ready or not. I would let other people make that decision, and other people do the leading.
Before I ever ran this river, a friend of mine was paralyzed from the waist down trying to run it. Another friend of mine hit his head hard enough on a rock to split it down to the skull and cause him to projectile vomit. Many people have broken limbs, especially elbows trying to run Gorilla. It is unforgiving because of the speeds at which you go when you are falling 20 feet or more. And the power of water is greater than any of us really comprehends. We think we know, but we can all be surprised when the power works against us instead of for us.