GIVING THANKS FOR SKETCHY CREEKS – Virginia’s White Oak Run. by TheDogg {aka Bobby Miller}

When I think of my favorite runs and some of the best days I have spent in a kayak, my mind always goes back to the times spent on those sketchy, steep runs that few paddlers ever venture to. Don’t get me wrong, paddling a long run with tons of great rapids has its place. There are reasons that “classics” are considered to be just that. However, I’ll pass up a run on a high quality stream to go on a long hike to chase a couple scary, dangerous drops any day! That is the style of kayaking that I am most thankful for. It takes a rare breed of paddler to put out a large effort in search of a few drops that can bring the ultimate thrill.  White Oak Run in Virginia is one such place. With its signature mile dropping around 1000 feet, it is chock full of huge drops, some which are runnable, some which are not, and all carrying a high level of risk.

Joe Stumpfel and I made the first descent of White Oak Run back in 2001, and we made two more runs down the creek over the years, always having a good time. However, a couple high speed crashes, injuries, and a bunch of fallen trees led to some bad experiences that soured the popular opinion about the creek. For a while, I could not find anyone to run White Oak with me. The years passed by and the creek seemed to have become as forgotten as One Eyed Willy and his ship, The Inferno. The specter of running this creek had gone bye, bye like American Pie. What? Who says stuff like that! Occasionally, someone would ask about it and I would recount my adventures from yesteryear. In 2013, Joe and I received the distinguished honor of being included on the list of the 100 Most Important People in the History of the Commonwealth of Virginia for our accomplishment of pioneering this run. Having my name up there with the likes of George Washington and John Smith seems only fitting for the Dogg, considering all I have accomplished in Virginia. Receiving this accolade rekindled my desire to go back and give White Oak another shot. 

White Oak finally got another chance to go ONE ON ONE WITH THE GREAT ONE after Hurricane Joaquin came through the area, flashing many creeks in Virginia to runnable flows and beyond. Newsflash, Walter Cronkite, the D-O-Double G is back! I assembled a good crew for this run, much to my delight. The beauty of having kayaked for a long time is, eventually, all the negative feelings about a sketchy creek will fade and a new crew of ambitious go-getters will always emerge to come test the ignorance of those who came before. Joining me on this new adventure were Sean and Ocoee Chapelle, Brett Mayer, Robert Waldron, and Jacob Siegel. I had a near disaster on the drive in when I stopped at a convenience store for a Baja Blast and a Moon Pie. While in line, I was distracted when the lady in front of me started twerking on me. I stood there amused, enjoying the display until her partner in crime snuck up behind me and stole my wallet. Dirty rotten thieves! Well, the joke was on them. I never bring my normal wallet on a day trip. They stole my backup wallet with its contents including two bucks, a condom with an expiration date of 2007, and a picture of my grandma. Ha! But I digress. 

Back on the road, I met the group at the lower parking lot to check the level, which was at a surprisingly nice flow. The runable window on this run is short; the creek can flash up and down faster than a jack rabbit in a prairie fire! If you see water, you need to act quickly because a runnable flow on this stream is about as trustworthy as a fart when you have a stomach flu!  We decided to go for it so we suited up and started walking. After about 2 miles of uphill hiking, we stopped at an unrunablefalls called Two Headed Reekazoid to discuss our plan. The creek drops at manageable gradient from here down and all drops, except one, have been run. Above here, the creek has a mix of unrunable sections of large cascades and continuous steep mank with a handful of runnable drops thrown in. Knowing that the decision made at this moment could make the difference between a fun day and a frustrating boat assisted hike, I encouraged everyone to start here.

We walked down to the creek but, unfortunately, the first short gorge containing two fun rapids was full of wood so we had to hike below here to put in. Sliding in to that water was a comforting feeling, like slipping under an old quilt on a cold day. The first drop is a sloping 10 foot spine that you can slide down into a pillow and off another small drop. Everyone had nice lines, skidding along the spine and lining up for the next drop. The Pinch is the next rapid and is a wild slide but it had wood that caused us to walk. We negotiated several fun boulder drops that were stacked together with only small eddies separating them. Because of the constant threat of wood in the drops, you need to be on your toes like a midget at a urinal! Soon, the creek disappeared off the face of the earth and we were staring at the trees. Minnie Moe, the first of the big three, was just downstream so we hopped out to get a detailed scout.

Minnie Moe is a complex cascade dropping 60+ feet where your kayak can reach insane rates of speed. The first part of the slide had a tree in it so to run it you had to slide in below. From here the slide slopes into a hole and then onto a wide shelf that cascades down before plummeting 40 feet into the pool at the bottom. The big danger is a crack in the bedrock on the left that 1/3 of the flow filters into. Dropping into this crack could result in a high speed impact with a rock wall that would rattle your ancestors and most certainly be accompanied by a trip to the hospital.  I decided to go for it and I told the crew to alert Kenny Loggins because I was heading into the danger zone! There was no reason not to run it, I had run this drop every time before. I know the shape of its rocks and the tendencies of its water so fear not faithful reader. After all, you can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs! Huh? What does that even mean! Brett stood at the bottom for safety in case I got pulled toward the next cascade just below. This was just a formality because I was going to crush Minnie Moe like an orange soda! Robert held my stern as I climbed in my boat, ready to slide in. I worked my way into the flow, sliding in left to right. As I rocketed down the slope, I hit the hole and punched through, heading straight onto the main shelf. As the pitch steepened, my boat accelerated to 327 miles per hour (using actual Aircraft measurements)! The first kicker launched me airborne. I reconnected with the slide and then launched airborne again, pancaking hard into the pool, landing with a loud WHAMMY! creating a splash that left my safety crew dripping like John the Baptist! Oh Yesh! Don’t act like you’re not impressed! I celebrated my successful run with some of my signature yelling and fist pumping before I realized that I had injured a rib on the impact of landing. I had hurt my rib in Colorado over the summer and the abrupt stop had reaggravated that injury. Sean and Robert gave this drop a long look but decided to walk in the end. While they portaged the rapid, I pulled out my flask and celebrated with a few gulps of Papa’s Recipe (for snake bite of course) that also helped with my increased rib pain.  

Immediately following Minnie Moe is All American Slam, a 50 foot two tiered drop with both drops landing on rocks. The first drop is ugly and falls 15-20 feet into a pothole shaped like a circle being compressed by a thigh master! This feeds directly into a 30-35 foot falls onto a rock shelf that reconnects at a nice angle but you will feel a significant hit under your seat. This drop has never been run and I had high hopes to run it on this day. However, after my rib injury at Minnie Moe, my breathing was strained and throaty like the sound a bulldog makes just before it throws up! I knew that two more hard hits probably wouldn’t help my ribs at all so I decided to wait for another day to try this drop. The other group members agreed so we carefully negotiated the slippery portage. 
A few more fun boulder drops carried us to the end of the super steep section, marked by Flaming Moe, a 60 foot cascade to freefall into a deep pool. In the past, this drop is has never brought me much happiness as the name would suggest.  The first time I ran it, back in the days before the Oregon Tuck, I aced the drop, entering the pool at a perfect angle but the impact to my chest and face removed me from the boat. I resurfaced upright, but sitting on the back deck of my boat and seeing stars. The second time I ran it, at way too low of a level, I bounced on the shelves up top and fell flat to an explosion of monumental proportions! For the footage of this crash, go to 3:14 at  Knowing that a major impact was imminent on this drop and not wanting to injure myself further, I opted to walk. I was bummed that this injury had cost me two SIK drops but, if there is anything that this horrible tragedy can teach us, it’s that a superstar kayaker’s body is a precious, precious commodity. Just because we have chiseled abs and stunning features, it doesn’t mean that we too can’t be hurt in a freak accident. Robert and Jacob scouted the falls hard but ultimately decided to pass because they wanted a little more flow. 

Below the falls, White Oak Run slows its pace and settles into a continuous series of Class 4 drops for its final mile to the takeout. Exiting the pool below the falls, a tight boulder drop feeds into a 12 foot cascade. The fun continues from here as the creek features lots of blind rocky drops with cool boofs and slots. If this had water more often, this would be a section that people would come to on a regular basis because the drops and the pace are incredibly fun. We did have to keep on the lookout for wood and had a couple portages along the way. Soon, the takeout bridge came into sight and our fun came to an end. The best part of the day was that everyone left the creek with a smile on their face. We got to run a creek that rarely has enough flow and has been overlooked for years. I am stoked with our run and have plans to come back and fire up more stouts!  In the annals of history, people are going to be talking about three things: the discovery of fire, the invention of the submarine, and the White Oak Canyon kayak expeditions! Until next time….

{Editor’s note: We asked various contributors to fire up tales of thanksgiving in honor of the holiday here in America this week. Bobby Miller aka THE DOGG stuck another stout!}

Some stills from the White Oak 

1 – Me running Minnie Moe
2 – Me running Minnie Moe – photo by Jacob Siegel
3 – Me running the boulder drop below Flaming Moe – photo by Ocoee Chapelle
4 – Brett Mayer on the slide below Flaming Moe – photo by Sean Chapelle
5 – Robert Waldron on the slide below Flaming Moe – photo by Sean Chapelle
6 – Jacob Siegel in a typical boulder drop – photo by Sean Chapelle
7 – Sean Chapelle on the rock spine in the first drop – photo by Ocoee Chapelle 
8 – Ocoee Chapelle on White Oak taken by Sean Chapelle

“Training is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.”

Fresh edit from the mission-

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