Whitewater Kayaking Progression Journal: PADDLE DAY 7 - Nantahala River - Paddler Trapped, Boat Lost
Free kayak movies and whitewater photos documenting progress from absolute beginner on paddle day 1 to advanced big water paddler.
NOTE: Though there are a few photos in some of the early entries, beginning on Paddle Day 10 the quality and quantity of photographs and videos picks up dramatically. From that day on in the cockpit of my kayak, I began carrying a high quality digital camera with video capabilities. The camera is used every day I paddle to document new experiences for this site.
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Paddler Trapped, Boat Lost - Dramatic Day on the Nantahala River

Waiting in fog to surf left of this Nantahala River eddy.
nantahala river surfing photos
We woke to a rainy, cold, and foggy day.
The Nantahala River’s flow comes from a dam, with the water being released from the bottom of the reservoir. This can make for a very chilly river.

The put in was a little scary looking to say the least. With fast running cold water, cool air, and a horror movie fog bank hanging over the river, you could say there was not a lot of joy on our faces as we geared up to enter the Nantahala.

The previous night’s incredible downpour had raised levels in the river higher than our instructors had ever seen. Most of the rapids on this run are only Class II with one rapid at the end that is typically considered a Class III, but the whole river had a bigger feel than normal according to the local boaters we encountered.

It turned into a very fun day. I did one wet exit at the beginning of the day after crossing an eddy line into a shallow eddy. I was surrounded by underwater rocks and had difficulty moving the paddle to execute a roll. I knew I was in shallow stationary water, so I ejected quickly which allowed me to stand up, right the boat, re-enter and continue on. That was the only "swim" of the day for me, but I had several combat rolls.

My most notable roll came when one in our group collided with me from behind as we went through a rapid. I was spun around backwards and she was flipped. I had just enough time to see both instructors heading for her rescue as I went backwards over another drop and flipped myself. It was interesting because I knew I was on my own and felt a roll was mandatory. I was very exuberant as I rolled up right away, but then I realized the other paddler was still in trouble.

She had one open toe sandal stuck on a foot brace adjustment knob inside the kayak which trapped her partially in the boat even though she had performed a wet exit. She was able to get her head up for air and in time she was able to free her foot from inside the cockpit.

She was a little shook up by the event and elected to get out of the river and hitchhike to the takeout. There was a road close to the river and many boaters were coming and going. She got a ride for herself and her kayak quickly enough.

After witnessing this event, I would definitely recommend buying appropriate footwear if you intend to kayak. Sandals with straps are to be avoided.

Nanatahala River Seal Launch.
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Later in the day we were given the chance to try a seal launch from a convenient rock formation. I flipped as I landed, but I have reached a point today where I am happy to be flipped. It feels very satisfying to execute a combat roll in a river.

At the end of the run we faced the one semi-big Class III rapid on this section of the Nantahala River. We got out of our boats to scout it. Our instructors were debating whether or not to let us run this drop. It was a notch or two above its normal difficulty because of the unusually high water. There were 4 guys left in the class and we all wanted to do it, despite our admitted fear. In the end it was agreed to let us try. I made it to the bottom before being flipped, but I rolled successfully. I was happy again to have been flipped because the turbulence under the water was stronger than any I had felt thus far, and it was confidence boosting to be able to roll in it.

Today's second turn of misfortune came after the run was completed.
Everyone started playing in some features beneath the final drop. There were warning signs about falls shortly downstream with a bridge you should not go beyond.

Because of my limited abilities, I decided to be safe and not play too much in the small features here at the base. Everyone else had better rolls and more days in rivers than me. They were much more aggressive in attempting to enter and surf on the tiny recirculating waves.

One in our group missed a few roll attempts and had to swim. Unfortunately, his boat was too close to the falls when he finally bailed, and there was no way to save it. A thousand dollars disappeared in an instant.

Later in the day while the rest of us packed for departure, one instructor and the dejected paddler went to Fontana lake to look for the lost boat, hoping it had flushed downstream out of the Nantahala River.
It was not to be found.

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