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Open Canoeing Waterfalls: The World Record Progression

Glenn MacGrady

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In 1994, Steve Frazier ran 55' Compression Falls on the Elk River in North Carolina. He landed flat and compressed his spine. I don't know whether that injury gave the falls its name, but it seems more than coincidental.

In 2013, Jim Coffey broke that record by canoeing 60' La Cascada de Truchas on the Alseseca River in Mexico. Here are an article about and video of that run:




Six months later, NOC guide Brad McMillan ran a 70' waterfall in Alabama. Here are an article and very short video of that run:




Not sure if anything bigger than 70' has been run open since.

I can't recall running anything much bigger than Seven Foot Falls on Section IV of the Chattooga River in South Carolina with Tom Ploski and Nolan Whitesell in 1987.

Any other pictures or stories of waterfall runs, big or small, welcome in this thread.
 
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Here is a photo of a rather audacious friend of mine in his Old Town Disco tandem (with no flotation and no outfitting) running 13-14' Baby Falls on the Tellico River in NC.

I have run Baby Falls a number of times in open boats and kayaks but it is the highest I have gone over. As for open boating, I decided that dropping 14' onto my knees was high enough.
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I was about 1 for 10 running small water falls. Ran the 5' falls on Muddy Creek 3 or 4 times and ended up swimming every time. The other times were on Baltimore's Jones Falls. There is a six-footer called "the Flume," which I never managed to run and stay upright, and at the take out there is Round Falls, where the drop ranges from about 8 to 15 feet, depending on how much timber is stacked up at end of the pool. I think it was 10-12 feet the day I ran it. I stayed upright, but my boat was completely swamped, and you know how precarious paddling a boat full of water is. I never ran it again, since it is at the end of the run, the carry out is a class III steep pitch, and taking out above the falls keeps the gear dry and cuts the elevation of the climb by however deep the drop is that day. To me, the work of paddling a boat full of water and the climb out wasn't worth the thrill, which lasts less than a second. Sadly, due to County/City politics, there no longer is a scheduled release for boaters on the Jones, and I've given up whitewater anyhow.

It seems like falls boaters go to a lot of work for a very quick stunt that serves little purpose, other than to say they did it. I guess that is purpose enough, and certainly has driven many men to accomplish extreme feats, or to die trying. Stories about the Niagra Falls jumpers come to mind.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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In 1988-89, I taught for a year as a visiting professor at the Florida State University College of Law. I brought with me from Woodstock, NY, five canoes atop my old Ford van conversion, including my Whitesell Piranha whitewater solo canoe. I brought the Whitesell for just one reason: To become the first known open canoeist to run the highest waterfall in Florida.

I had no idea what that was. There was no internet then for me. But, I figured, how high can any waterfall in the two-dimensional flatland of Florida be? Piece of cake!

Well, it turns out that Falling Waters Falls in the Florida panhandle is a 73' drop . . .

falling-waters-state-park.jpg

. . . that plunges into a sinkhole . . .

Falling Waters sinkhole.jpg

Needless to say, I passed. The wages of shoddy research is loading and unloading five canoes—one completely useless—atop a high van all by yourself for a 2,500 mile round-trip drive.
 
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Reminds me of a line from Bob & Ray's classic "world record low jumping" skit. "If you jump from a high place and get killed, that jump doesn't count."

 
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