Whitetop Laurel
March 2011
SF Holston gauge = 1600-1800cfs

This is how I, later that evening, explained my day to my wife and kids.  "You know that little roller coaster that we liked so much at Disney World, the Barnstormer.  Not too big, not too scary, but just a heck of a lot of fun.  Well imagine riding that for 4 hours except that instead of circling round and round, the coaster kept changing the whole time.  Well that is how I got to spend my day"  Dang, Whitetop Laurel is a fun ride.  The most continuous creek I have been on to date and the most fun I've had on the water in a long, long time.  Really appreciate Kevin meeting me for an impromptu return trip to Whitetop.  Ever since my abbreviated trip last year, I have really wanted to return to run it under better circumstances.  The level was falling and was probably in the 1600-1800 range while we were on it.  The water was clear, cold and simply awesome. 

We met at 11 at the Caboose Park in Damascus, then dropped Kevin's vehicle on the road ahead of the normal takeout due to river wide wood in the trestles.  From the very outset I knew that it was going to be a good day.  Kevin was excellent company and paddled his L'Edge exceptionally well.  Back when I first started paddling, almost all my trips were with just myself and my buddy Jeff.  It had been a long time since I paddled with only one other person and I really enjoyed the pace.  It meant that I took less photos than normal because I didn't have another boater to rely on for Kevin's safety, but the leapfrog flow of running the creek was really cool.  Somewhere along the way, Kevin had to make a quick lean to the left to miss a low hanging tree branch, then just before he hit the water, he grabbed the limb with his right hand and pulled himself back up just in time to slip past it, still upright.  We dubbed it the Monkey Maneuver.  Those open boaters have to be a little more creative if they want to stay in their boats.  Having been on the water more than normal during the past few weeks, I was feeling pretty good about my paddling when I reached the slot.  Kevin explained the line, which matched what I had already mapped out in my head when I checked it out last fall at low flow, so I gave it a go.  After the top drop, I caught an eddy on the left, ferried to an eddy in the middle, then again to the river right bank, which was one of Kevin's tips.  It had me lined up nicely for the run through the slot, except that I paddled a little to gingerly, as is usually the case when running something technical for the first time, and I erred a little too far on the side of caution by staying too far right, which caused me to stall just before reaching the drop.  That would have been a problem if a strong boof had been required.  Instead it just meant that I slowly slipped over the edge, plugging that hole as deep as I've been in the Rocker, then shooting back up like a cork.  Fun I'm telling you.  Funny and fun.  My highlight of the year so far.

From there it was boogie, boogie, boogie to the takeout.  There were simply more boof rocks than you could count and I had a lot of fun with those as we made our way downstream.  With the water on the low side and with wood scattered in a few spots, Kevin had to manipulate his Esquif through some tight corners.  In one spot, he had to step out of the boat and work the L'Edge through some branches.  I climbed out of my kayak and positioned myself about 30 feet downstream.  Kevin threw his paddle to me and when I stepped into the water to get it, I also grabbed his throw bag which was floating to me as well.  I put the rope around by waist and got in position to haul the canoe in after Kevin pushed it free.  As I watched the boat drift downstream I continued to take up the slack in the rope until I reached the other end, which was not, as it turned out, tied to the boat like I had thought.  Apparently the rope had gotten away from Kevin before he could get it clipped to his canoe.  So I was standing there, holding both ends of the rope, watching the Esquif float slowly downstream.  Funny stuff.  Luckily the boat stopped on a rock and since it wasn't terribly deep or fast at that spot, I took a few steps, then jumped to the boat, clipping the rope to it and riding with it back to the bank.   Once the wind picked up and the air temps dropped, not having a dry suit on and being wet started having an affect as I was getting a little chilly.  By the time we reached Big Rock, I was downright cold.  Kevin was planning to portage it, so I got out with him to take a look.  Kevin had ran the rapid before and tried to explain the line to me, but I just wasn't seeing it.   If I could have watched someone else run it, then I might have given it a go, but standing there shaking like a leaf from the cold, really tired from all the boogie and totally unsure of what to do on the rapid, I made the quick and easy decision to skip right past that one.  After six years of paddling, that was the first time I walked a rapid.  I thought it would bug me if and when that ever happened and I certainly didn't start the day thinking that I would be walking a drop, but as it turned out, it didn't bug me at all.  The day was just too awesome and I didn't want to spoil it.   It was, in fact, just the best day ever.  It has been a while since I said that, I used to say it after every single trip to a river.  Thanks again to Kevin for meeting me on short notice, hope to paddle with him again more in the future and definitely hope to make the short 2 hour trek to WTL more often.  What a creek.

Video from the Slot

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