We will not discuss the first section that we ran or how we ran it, but here are a few photos:
Just point straight and brace for impact... A Large Oceana with no "Thing", but nothing to slow you down.
...or fly it.
Below this rapid you enter Gorges State Park and you have no worries about scouting or taking your time. The first rapid that is typically run is called Turtle Back. people typically hike into Rainbow falls and walk about 250 yards up stream to run this slide into a ledge. It is a no worries fun-type of rapid.
Take out right below this rapid, and don't even think about eddy hopping to make the walk shorter. Its just not worth it. From what I understand Rainbow falls has seen several deaths in the past. I'm not certain if any were involve in whitewater sports. Take the relatively easy walk down to Rainbow falls and enjoy the vista. People come from all around the SE to view this single waterfall. You are about to get a VIP pass into the gorge.
The "Ugly Stuff" rapid below the falls was... well ugly at the level it was at (.1-.12). So we continued our walk down to the pool below Ugly Stuff and ran Slab Falls. Slab falls is basically an 8-10 foot clapper that hits harder and harder the further right you go, however going too far left will result in playing with a sieve on the river left wall. So take the hit about 15 feet off the left wall.
Below this you run into a rather tight and complex boulder drop section.
The pace was going kind of slow, so two people from our group decided to hike out below this section, as this is the last place you can hike out until you're right above Windy Falls unless you have some climbing gear.
The river abruptly changed character as we entered the steepest part of the run.
Stairstep is the first of the big rapids and the least consequential. it drops about 80 feet over 5 drops. Talk about a horizon line! My second favorite on this run, and probably my second favorite all time.
After this there is some boulder boogey that was less junky than the section above, but faster. Before you know it you are at Corner Pocket it is the first scary looking rapid. There was a tree in the bottom drop that would not allow anybody to run it. Oh and the portage requires moderate bouldering skills and putting in in a crack that is rather deep. Portage on the right and use teamwork. There is wood in the small ledge drop below as well, so paddle across the pool and walk again.
Almost immediately after you put back in you are at Side Pocket falls (Exit A and Exit B). Exit A is a clapper into a sluice into a 12-15 foot boof or melt... dependent on how cold the water is the day you're out there. I choose boof because it was about 25 degrees.
Exit B did not go at the level it was at. Its about an 18 foot clapper into a slide into a big hole. I'd equate it as running Gorilla at 3-4". We walked it on the left and its a rather sketchy walk on exposed granite.
At the bottom we dropped our boats and went down to scout Highway to Heaven. This one is a personal favorite. The walk to scout it is physically demanding without a boat. The rhodo is thick to say the least.
Highway to Heaven is a two-staged, large and long drop. The first drop is a long, steep slide that cuts hard to the left before entering a feature very similar to Hammer Factor at a high flow. Then there is one more hole to punch and then a micro pool between the drops. At .1-.12 we were able to eddy out.
The second drop on Highway to heaven looks like something miniature off of Toxaway. The crux move is to enter right and head hard left to avoid a decap rock half way down and head back straight to punch the hole. The hole is ugly and curling against the right wall and the right wall is undercut and has another dacap rock about a boats length from the hole. So punch the hole with the slightest left angle.
Below this rapid you are done with the main drops if you don't run Sieve rapid. There are still large and manky drops left. One of these sections (a boulder section) resulted in a swim in our group. Know where you are at above Windy Falls. Windy Falls is marked by a large cliff on the left side. The drop right above the Takeout is Sieve Rapid... its teeth were showing that day. We seal launched on the right.
The hike out was not as bad as I had expected. It got spookey as the clouds rolled in on the hike out. At the parking lot, fun was had at the swimmers' expense.