Linville in the Fall

Dewey Gibson in Jailhouse

I really enjoyed reading Rush Sturges’s recent account of his autumnal trip down the Middle Kings (check it here,, and I was inspired to do a photo blog about a trip we took down the Linville gorge this past Sunday. California may boast grueling, multi-day expeditions and 11,000-foot snowy passes, but down here in the South we’ve got deciduous trees!

Linville Gorge in Fall

On Saturday, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself for having to miss this year’s Russell Fork Race (due to a sprained wrist); so when Ben Blake messaged me that he’d be going to Linville Gorge on Sunday, I checked my sore hand and gave myself Dr.’s approval to get out and have some fun. We met up with a good group of guys (Jonathan Absher, Mike Patterson, and Dewey Gibson) and found the Babel Tower parking lot packed with the cars of people out to see foliage colors. The gorge was brilliant with fall beauty as we hiked down to the river. It seemed that the leaves were peaking a bit early this year and that we chanced to get out on one of the prettiest days of this fall.

Linville Gorge in Fall

When we got down to Babel Tower rapid, Ben and Mike guessed that the level was just over 2 feet: a nice, controlled volume with enough flow to make the rapids fun and not too scary. Everyone did some comparison of their Linville River experience level: today would be Jonathan’s first run, it was run number 3 for Dewey and I, Ben had been down about 10 times, and Mike had logged some fifty plus runs on this river (so he says!). Regardless of how familiar one is with the Linville, I always sense a strong undercurrent of nerves as everyone suits up at that put-in. But maybe that’s just me.

Dewey and Ben Put On

On this day I was pretty intent on building a mental map of the river, memorizing as many lines and rapids as I could in order to return without a guide in the future. This went pretty well for the first six to eight rapids, and then my visual memory maxed out and I was no longer able to log away any of our directions. That’s the way it is with the Linville: it’s a long, consistently good river with one horizonline after another, making it a tall order to remember anything beyond the major rapids. Ben was usually at point in our group, and whenever he couldn’t recall which way to go on a rapid he would consult Mike, who generally responded, “I’ll probably know once I’m halfway down.”

Jonathan in Jailhouse Rapid

Mike in Jailhouse

Jailhouse Eddy


What a day it was to be out in the gorge. Fall is the season of beautiful colors, comfort food, and also of creek races and competition. I often find myself getting wrapped up in the drive to perform at my best and to get down any given river as fast as I can; so it’s really good to get out for days like this–to remind oneself of the core of kayaking. You’re out in the heart of nature, flowing down the river with good friends, and every few minutes you drop into another exhilarating rapid and give a whoop and a holler for sheer joy of being in this awesome place.

Mike Patterson, Cave Rapid

Ben, Cave Rapid

Ever notice how the Linville bares a colorful variety of rapid names? You’ve got your standard, foreboding/correctional-facility imagery (Jailhouse, Drunktank, Fight Club), a bit of childhood nostalgia (Dr. Seuss), a nerdy, gamer reference (Donkey Kong), and the reverent language of the church (Cathedral Gorge). I think this pretty well covers the range of emotions one experiences while descending this river. Here’s a glimpse of my favorite spot on the Linville: Dr. Seuss Gorge. This stretch is also known as the Bob Ross Gorge . . . “we’ll just add a happy tree over here with its leaves burning red, and some nice, gentle cliff walls, and a pretty, little class five rapid as you leave. There we go.”

Mike, the Straggler

Dr. Seuss Gorge

What can you say about the Linville? It’s truly a southeastern gem, and on days like this, there are few places I’d rather be. A few more pics from the end of our day:

Ben, Cathedral Falls

Jonathan, Leaving the Cathedral Gorge

End of the Day

That’s all, folks. Thanks for taking a look and sharing the experience. To see larger versions of these photographs, you can visit my flickr stream here: Enjoy what remains of the fall paddling–it’s about to get cold up in here!

Focus on the Water

  1. Nice words Chris…even better visuals! The Ville changes character so drastically depending on the flow, weather and crew. Looks like ya’ll nailed a dandy of a day on the head! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very cool pics my friend. You are definitely lucky to have been on the river that day at all! What a beautiful day! Any river would have sufficed, but the Linville…

    I have yet to run the river, but everything I see and read keep confirming what I already know, that I must get on it one day. Hopefully the first time I do it will be a beautiful fall day like that, and I’ll be camping riverside somewhere that night.

    Peace my friend, great share!


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