A Day on the Nantahala
July 20, 2011 by Don Gentle
Pictures from July 20, 2011 (password required)
Yesterday I was lucky enough to wheedle my way onto our paddling trip headed for the Nantahala River and the annual Camp Cup. Armed with a camera, and accompanied by our real photographer Bryan Ham, our mission was to record the excitement of the day as our guys raced through class three rapids and negotiated a whitewater slalom course. When we arrived, our paddlers had already walked their boats to the top of the downriver race section. For the first race, paddlers attempt to finish nearly a nearly half-mile stretch of whitewater including the biggest rapid on the whole river, Nantahala Falls. What would already be a challenge is made even more difficult with the nervous excitement of being timed as well as the crowd of people gathered to cheer at the Falls. Fritz Orr, Chris Hampson, Zach Nichols, Will Johnson, and Rob Pingry were all busy checking in with each boat to make sure that lines had been picked, questions answered, and tension diffused. Bryan and I had just found our vantage points on boulders along the river when the first of our crew rounded the corner upstream. The next 20 minutes were consumed with trying to capture the High Rocks boats as they flew by. I think the pictures will show the intensity that every camper was feeling as they approached the drop into the Falls, caught a load of freezing whitewater in the face, and then slowly realized that survival was imminent. The joy, relief, excitement, and then refocusing on the remainder of the race was awesome to watch.
After the rush down the top portion of the race, it was time for all of the camps to gather for a big pizza lunch. In between mouthfuls all the campers took time to both socialize with other groups and to scout out the harder parts of the upcoming slalom race. The bank was lined with young paddlers debating the merits of ferries over peel outs or running in faster water through a big hole compared to slower currents over safer shallow rocks. Once everyone was confident in their lines, they again carried their boats to the start line and began the afternoon. This section of the day was a much different focus from the race straight down the river. Boats had to pass through gates going downstream, coming back upstream, and sometimes ferrying directly across the currents. All while handling themselves in the same water that will host the 2013 Freestyle World Championships. Needless to say there were strokes of brilliance and abrupt learning moments that had everyone watching intently. It was great to see campers and counselors from every camp cheering each boater on in succession, offering pointers as they passed or just providing loud encouragement. All of the racers did an excellent job of pushing themselves against the river, but not once creating an atmosphere of competition between camp groups. By the end of the day, our guys were exhausted, happy, wearing new shirts, and psyched for a dinner out before getting back to camp. Another year, another Camp Cup, and another very successful day on the river. Hope you enjoy the pictures!