New River in Flood Stage

New River in Flood Stage

The late summer and early fall 2020 saw excessive amounts of rain in north west NC.  I had three river canoe trips cancelled by outfitters Zaloo's Canoes and New River Outfitters due to high water levels making being on the water dangerous.  On the Sunday of September 20 Michael Brown, MIchael Cooper and I tried again.  We carpooled to New River Outfitters on the South Fork of the New River where it crosses US 221 in south east Ashe County.  The river was way high but NRO agreed it was runnable. 

On this trip we parked at the NRO lower lot and were shuttled upstream to the put-in.  I had my solo canoe outfitted with flotation and the two Michaels rented sit-on-top kayaks. After a round of photographs, Brown and Cooper got in their boats.  They politely waited in the water near the put-in for me to get in my boat.  But the current quickly carried them away down river, under the tall bridge and out of sight around the curve. 

I slid my boat down the steep, rocky and muddy bank to the water.  There was no convenient place to stand, and from my location I was too high above the water to actually hold on to my boat.  I stupidly did not hold onto a rope tied to the boat to keep it under control.  As I lowered the boat the last foot into the water it pulled out of my hand.  As I squatted lower to reach down, my foot slipped and I fell forward onto a rock.  In one second the strong current pulled the boat away from the bank and out of my reach.  When I turned to look down stream and tried to grab the boat I lost my balance and fell again.  For the first time in my 57 year outdoor career, I had lost my boat and was stranded on the shore with no way to get it.  All my gear was in the boat, including my wallet and Jeep keys.  I was fearful that the empty boat would snag on a rock or tree, sink and never be found.  I was truly up the creek without a paddle and semi-panicked. 

I jumped in the river and half-swam, half-waded after the boat.  The heavy current shoved me forward and the muddy water kept me from seeing the large rocks on the river bed.  I was constantly knocked off balance, stumbled against big rocks and sank up to my neck.  My canoe kept moving away faster.  Soon it was at the river curve and almost out of sight.   So I turned upstream and tried to get back to the put-in.  This move engendered more banged knees and shins on big, invisible rocks.  I switched paths and tried to walk on the bank.  Steep, rocky, muddy banks caused more falls.  When I got to higher ground, I was wading through poison ivy and briers.  Finally at the put-in, both my legs were streaming with mud and blood and I was breathing as hard as if I had run a mile at top speed.

Luckily, I had my phone in my life jacket pocket.  Further fortunatelly, it was in a water proof case. I called NRO and requested the shuttle driver to come pick me up and take me to the next bridge about three miles down stream.  Then I called Brown but his phone was in his dry bag and he could not hear it ring.  Most fortunately, he was wearing an Apple watch and heard it buzz.  Eventually he dug out his phone; we connected and agreed to a plan.  I directed him to pull over to the side of the river and wait for my boat to drift down to him.  Actually, he is a strong paddler from years of rowing crew in college.  So he paddled back upstream until my boat came into sight. 

Brown corraled the loose boat, tied the painter (the rope atached to the bow (the front of the boat)] to his leg and wrangled it down stream.  He was careful to pull my boat in close while going through rapids so it did not get stuck on a rock and pull his boat out of control.  We finally met at the middle bridge.  I was able to get back in my boat and paddle together to our next stop.  At the New River State Park, US 221 Access, we pulled over and ate lunch at a camp site. 

The rest of the day was uneventful and we had a pleasant paddle to the take-out at the NRO lower parking lot.  A good time was had by all.  


GPS Coordinates: 36 27 31,-81 20 25

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.