Friday, February 08, 2008

DeSoto Falls First Descent...

Whats up Everyone!

Well, I'm still in a bit of an afterglow from an incredible day of paddling in Alabama yesterday. There have been a number of waterfalls and rapids in my life that I've considered big stepping stones for myself as a whitewater kayaker, and the waterfall that I ran yesterday has kind of been the pinnacle goal for me over the past four years.

This is DeSoto Falls.

This picture has been on the desktop of my computer on and off for two years. Every time I turn on my computer to do schoolwork, edit video, or check levels this is the first thing I see, and I've literally spent hours just daydreaming and staring at this beautiful drop, and wondering about its runnability.

DeSoto at a runnable flow.

I first discovered DeSoto four years ago, while on one of my obsessive Google image searches for waterfalls. I researched it online pretty thoroughly for a while, and Spencer Cooke and I finally went to look at it three years ago after the North Alabama Whitewater Fest down near Birmingham. It wasn't running, but it was sick to just stand at the lip and think about the possibilities. Since then I've been in touch with Adam Goshorn, who is fortunate enough to live 5 minutes from the drop... and I've kept a pretty close eye on the gauge for the West Fork of the Little River, hoping to some day time it at the perfect flow of 300-600 cfs.

The past week has been a good one in the Southeast, Saturday was a sick day out on the Raven's Fork of the Oconaluftee, and after a morning run of the Green on Wednesday, and an intense afternoon run of Big Creek at 4 ft., I realized that I was paddling as well as I ever have, and with the West Fork gauge at 1100 cfs, well above floodstage, the stars might just be aligning for that incredible waterfall.

Raven's Fork... such a beautiful place to find yourself in a kayak.

Credit: Clayton Gaar

One of my favourite people to train with, Daniel Windham, and myself in Caveman.

Credit: Rob Tompkins

So early Thursday morning Chris Gallaway and I loaded up my Subie with our sights set on Alabama. After a 4.5 hour drive that seemed to last an eternity we rolled into the DeSoto Falls parking lot, and immediately saw a wall of brown water rolling off the big dam upstream of the first drop of the monster. Adam Goshorn took work off and met us up there, and after about 40 minutes of scouting and discussing with the boys, I decided that I was ready to get into the flow and paddle off it. Adam was very cool to hike all the way around and down to set safety for the drop... cheers man! Can't thank you enough.

So this drop has always appealed to me/scared the shit out of me because of the commitment of running a 15 to 20 foot drop directly above the 70-80 foot main waterfall. I chose to run the top drop down the far river left side, and knowing that the landing was only about a foot or two deep, I had to roll off vertical, and then hit a late boof off the shelf halfway down. This was also made a bit more stressful considering the two gallons of water sloshing around in my boat waiting to take me safely into the vertical plane on the big drop, rather than boofing out.

Top drop without water.

Credit: Chris Gallaway

So when it finally came time to go for it I made eye contact with Chris on the bank to make sure everything was ready, cleared my mind of all other thoughts, and reached a state of focus that I have only felt once or twice before in my life. I rolled off the first one and boofed into a stomp just as I had hoped, and then I set up really close to the left wall to keep from being pulled towards the center of the river, and the abrasive, shallow crack/shelf thing that would send you into a pitchpole or spiral into green water off the big drop.

Working out the first drop. The curler in the foreground is at the lip of the big one...

Credit: Chris Gallaway

Moment of truth.

Credit: Chris Gallaway

I took a right sweep as my left edge connected with the curler coming off the left wall at the lip, and then placed my left stroke in the water as the world opened up, and I rolled off to vertical. I have never fallen that far before and it was surreal slowly pulling my left stroke into a tuck, and staring at my landing for what seemed like an eternity as I accelerated towards it, with all the solid water around me exploding in the air and turning into spray. About fifteen feet above the bottom I finally closed my eyes, clenched every muscle in my body, and prepared for what I thought was going to be a gigantic hit.

Trying to lock in the angle... you can see the lip of the entrance drop in the very top of the frame.

Credit: Adam Goshorn

Tucking up and preparing for impact.

Credit: Adam Goshorn

I was ripped out of my tuck on impact, but DeSoto was merciful with me, it was not nearly as hard of a hit as I had anticipated, and I let out a big victory scream as I resurfaced upright to the left of the boil, staring back up at where I had just come from.

All in all, it was probably the most incredible drop I've ever done, and I feel honoured to be the first person to run it. Adam, Chris, and I finished the day off with a great run of Little River Falls and the Canyon at a great level of just over 12 inches. Thanks again for showing us the lines Adam!

Signing off from cloud nine,
Chris Gragtmans


Lee Timmons said...

Congratulations, Chris! That really is something to be proud of. :) Can't wait to hear about it first-hand.

JB said...

Nice, Chris! I remember you talking about this drop last year in class.

Dan Ruble said...

Chris - Looks like you have a new screen saver! Unbelievable. Thanks for sharing the excitement and accomplishment. Great photographs, too. - Dan

RiotAJ said...


You are a crazy gragtmans, you know that? That thing looks huge! Nice. Way to get after it.

If you are planning on heading back up to Canada this spring, let me know. I am probably game.