Craig’s West Prong story
I threw some gear in my truck the other evening and met Joe Ravenna, Joe Barkley and Steve Matz to run up to West Prong in the Great Smokies.
We met Caleb Paquette at the takeout for the lower; because, as usual, he wanted to paddle some 324 miles of gnar that evening. Then, we headed to the alternate put-in about a mile above the Chimney Tops, called Alum Cave. I assured Ravenna that this was a pretty mellow section. After all, the twenty feet you see from the road isn’t that steep. Neither is the few miles above where we put-in. Note to self: Never use a creek section above you to judge a section below you, unless you’re in Kansas.
We put in with a hefty level and headed downstream, eager to see the unfamiliar section. There was nice 3-4 warm-up stuff with tourists watching, gorgeous fall colors etc…beautiful. How do I describe the next section at that level… absolute class-five, don’t pin yourself or piton, hang on for dear life Jesus-give-me-an-eddy type water. Apparently, there is a correlation between the road doing a full corkscrew under itself, and the gradient there. There were several hundred yards of rapids that were harder than the crux rapids on normal West Prong, into a ten footer and curling ledge hole. Good stuff. It was definitely a rare moment to look forward to Chimney Tops because it would allow us to ease up and relax. I kept an eye on Ravenna for the run, as it was his second time there and first on the Alum Caves section. Sometimes Ravenna looks like he is headed to the guillotine; this was one of those moments.
The rest of the run was as usual, a super-fun bicep burner. I was very careful to describe the line at Big tree, where I crashed last time. I had a great entry, a huge stroke, and “Bam!!!” My chin was practically hooked on my bow. “Why can’t I get that right?” “Whabamm!!” Ravenna had matched my crash perfectly. We finished the tricky end section without incident and crawled shivering into the picnic area. Caleb and Joe Barkley opted to continue into the lower, but the rest of us were quite satisfied.
It was a great last run before Costa Rica travels begin, and further evidence that Ravenna shouldn’t trust my infinite knowledge of local creeks.