Russell Fork Gorge
The gorge section of the RF is run at flows from 100cfs-1400cfs. The traditional October release levels are 800-1100cfs. Because the river is runnable and easier at lower flows, we'll describe release lines, then low flow lines where different.
From the traditional Garden Hole put in, the run starts with a mile of Class III boogie water getting more technical as you near 'Let's Make a Deal', the entrance rapid to Tower Falls.
Let's Make A Deal
This rapid is created by an island of boulders at the end of a pool almost directly under the tip of the Towers formation above your head on the left. There are three 'doors', ideal for different water levels. Door 1 is at the top of the island river left, just below the entrance ledge. Its the class II sneak at any level, and only non-pinny line on sub 250 runs.
Doors 2 & 3 are in the jumble of boulders at the bottom of the island running center and right to left. Door 2 is a straight slot between 2 boulders. Run off the right hand slanted boulder, punch through the hole and out the funky water.
Door 3 is the next slot, but run from a river right eddy ferrying back left and between two boulders (door 2's right hander and another pile). Watch out for 2 pinny rocks on either side of the bottom of the slot. Keep the nose high and either boogie straight on out or catch the eddy behind the river left boulder and chill a sec.
Door 2 can only be run above 400cfs. Door 3 is good to go at 250 & above.
Lets Make a Deal has deposited you into another large, deep pool with high cliffs above a cave on river left. At the bottom of the pool is a huge boulder in the center with several smaller to its right. A horizon line is just beyond the boulders. This rapid is nearly impossible to carry.
There is a sneak (Class IV) line on the right. Snake between the boulders into an eddy above the first part of the drop. You'll see a large overhanging boulder (decapitation rock) on the right. From the eddy run right to left over the ledge, just next to decap rock the paddle straight on over the rock jumble of the main drop into the pool at the bottom.
To get to the main line (Class V-V+), get into the large eddy on river left above the lip of the drop. From this eddy, you'll paddle hard toward the river right edge, boofing hard over the lip. If successful, you'll land on a boil of water between a)a huge hole, b) a large clam shaped boulder and c) a micro eddy that sucks to be in. Paddle hard to the right of the boulder punching a couple of holes to get out.
This line only works above 700cfs. Between 500-700cfs, just go right. But from 200cfs to 550cfs you can run the DOUBLE BOOF.
The Double Boof is the MOST FUN line on the river when you nail it. It is not fun at all when you miss it. This line is run exactly opposite of the release line. There is a 3 boat eddy above the right side of the drop. From there, ferry hard right to left boofing hard off the left edge onto a ledge where the flow is running hard right. You'll have time for a stroke to setup for the boof stroke over the big boil in the middle of the drop. Upon landing, exit the toilet bowl on the left side of the oyster shell, avoiding the undercut house boulder at the bottom left and into the pool. Exit the pool below Tower on river left into a short funky pool to setup for Fist.
Fist (Class V) is often referred to as a Class IV rapid with Class VI consequences, so we'll split the difference. The good news is this rapid has several lines, including a great dry one on river left.
It's a 3 parter, beginning with an angled ledge drop, navigating against flow past a hole, then dropping over a small ledge past the fist rock in the center and a deadly undercut on the left. Standard line is to start river right above the opening drop, ferrying toward the middle of the ledge to the bottom then clipping the left side of a hole river center and angling back right toward the right edge of the explosion caused by the fist rock. Keep a river right angle and slip past the undercut on left where about 1/3 of the flow is going. NOTICE: The mainline has changed for Fist. The fist rock has moved and the explosion is gone. A ledge wide hole has developed that pushes everything into the crack. The new line is to run the final drop far left with a good 1:00 angle, moving left to right against the flow. THIS RAPID IS EVEN SKETCHIER THAN BEFORE. SCOUT!!!
This standard line is good above 800cfs. The opening ledge can be missed on far river left by snaking through a few slots. This will deposit you in the boogie water between slots where you can either a)run the main line, b run clear across the river to the fire escape on river right (only good above 900cfs) or c) curve back left between boulders and slide into the big eddy in front of the undercut below the last drop (the Harry Ferry).
Below 500cfs, the standard line changes drastically. After the initial ledge, punch through the hole, then paddle hard right to left to boof off the left edge into the eddy in front of the undercut. Watch the mean eddy line! Finally, run the hairy ferry back in front of the undercut into the main flow and out.
About 100 yards of boogie water, Skunk Beach, and another deep pool separate Fist from Maze (Class IV). This is a huge boulder garden with sieves and a house boulder undercut (Hole in the Wall) at its bottom. Of course, the main line takes you 3 feet from the undercut.
The entrance drop is run at river right, ferrying back toward the left to avoid a boulder on the right. Get through some funky water into river center to setup for the main maze. The ride begins with a little left to right move over a ledge and setting up for a drop over a rock pile directly ahead into a 6 foot wide channel with boulders on either side. At the bottom of the channel, a boulder splits the flow left and right. You can go either way, so go with the flow. If it takes you left, great! You'll punch through a couple of slot/holes and skip past just to the left of the hole in the wall at the bottom of maze. If it takes you right, you'll punch through a slot and be deposited into an eddy right in front of the hole in the wall. Ferry right to left to avoid the undercut and get out of the Maze.
Many people run this line clear down to 200cfs, but below 500cfs, I suggest the low water line. Run the entrance and first ledge as before, but instead of going over the jumble of rocks into the channel, ferry hard right above the drop and keep going to the far river right side into a room created by boulders on 3 sides. Leave the room through the v at the bottom of the left hand wall and snake back into the main flow about 50 feet in front of the hole in the wall. Work right to left, ferrying in front of the undercut and out.
You'll leave Maze in some fast moving water that will take you river left and over a ledge. You are now at the top of triple drop (Class V).
At release, triple is 3 distinct drops about 20 feet apart. The first drop is a river wide ledge that creates a terminal hydraulic, the second drop pinches the entire river bed down to about 10 feet wide creating a violent and dynamic hole, and the third drop is a ledge angled 45 degrees to flow that creates a toilet bowl into a monster hole. There's a long pool at the bottom to catch loose items.
First drop is run over a distinct hump just right of river center. Go over it with a 12-1:00 and slide over the hydraulic. DO NOT be too far right or you'll be in a terminal hole. It's tempting to sneak this drop on the far left side of the ledge. If you do, be aggressive! The hydraulic/hole is very, very sticky. Either catch the river left eddy or keep on trucking into second drop. Start left and paddle hard down the tongue and bounce over the right or left side of the hole into the river left eddy. Follow the eddy line down the ledge on third drop and boof off the furthest point you attain. This will drop you just above the punchable bottom hole.
The drops take on varying levels of difficulty depending on flow. The line on first drop is thin at any level, but ridiculous above 1000. Second drop develops a wicked rooster tail and hole between 500-700 cfs. Third drop is toughest below 350cfs.
The low water lines are quite different for first & third drops. Below 400 cfs, run first drop from the river right eddy above the ledge. Ferry right to left to hit the hump area of the ledge and rock slide over into the eddy at the bottom. Second drop is basically the same. Third drop is run from the river right eddy. Ferry hard right to left as far as you can get on the ledge, then sliding over into the toilet bowl. From here maintain in the funky water until you can work your way out, preferably on the left side of the last drop.
The dry line is the ledges on river left.
Dave's Rapid (SIB)
At the bottom of the pool below triple, you'll enter about 100 yards of boogie water ending with much of the flow going left. I like to enter Dave's on the far right side, boofing off a slanted rock into a big eddy. From here, ferry work your way left into the main flow, staying to the left and out of the holes. Watch the big explosion toward the bottom which is followed by a hole and then a very scrapey 5 foot ledge. Stay to its left if possible.
At low water, a great pourover hole develops in the middle of Dave's. To get there, follow the high water line about half way through the rapid, then bust a hard move river right avoiding the pinning boulders at the center of the river. Best at 200-300cfs!
A long pool separates Dave's from El Horrendo (Class V). This is the 3rd most over-photographed rapid on the planet and far easier than it looks. The traditional release line takes you into an eddy on river left at the top of the rapid. At the back side of this eddy, scrape over the ledge into a very dynamic boiling eddy on the main drop level. Ferry hard from left to right, punching a hole, then on to river right to boof the lip over a meaty hole and stay out from under the right hand ledge.
There are several alternate routes at release. If you don't want to run the ferry, but do want the big drop, simply scrape over the top ledge on river right into the eddy above the main drop. If you don't want to run the main drop, stay on river left from the boiling eddy on the 'race line'.
The low water line for El Horrendo begins in the river left eddy. From there, ferry across the ledge/plank to its far right side and boof off. Either follow the flow to boof off the right side of the main drop, or catch the eddy above the big drop and hang a while.
Walk the Plank
After the pool below El Hydraulic is Walk the Plank (Class III). The release line here is often called ski jump. Below 500cfs, a plank move develops that is one of the more fun moves on the river. Boof into the eddy on river right. From here, point your nose into a seam and walk a 4 foot wide plank about 20 feet from right to left then drop off the ledge into the pool at the bottom. If you're really cool, hang out in the micro eddy at the end of the plank before you boof off.
About 50 yards of boogie water separate the pool below Walk the Plank and Foreplay (Class IV). The long rapid begins with a great lefty boof (Get it Up/Ski Jump) into a dynamic boil. Work your way downstream out of the bowl and boof off the center of the next short drop over the hole, working your way downstream. The flow will begin working toward river left, so go with it. Drop through a wide slot working left and downstream. After the hard turn downstream, a slide drop sets you up for the 2nd Base, a very tight lefty boof through a narrow slot into an overhanging room. Slide out over the ledge below 2nd base and setup to ferry all the way across the river, left to right. The last drop of Foreplay is a sliding move over a slab on river right into the eddy above Climax.
This is just one of a dozen possible lines through Foreplay. Each 'level' on the rapid has at least two, usually three entrances and exits. The holes get really sticky with more water, so always stay to the edges of pourovers. There can be surprises!
Its all the same at lower water, except you must go through the center right slot on the last drop above Climax below 300cfs.
There are 3 legitimate lines to get past Climax, not counting the dry one on river right.
The traditional release line is a slot down the middle over a pile of boulders. Begin in the river right or center eddy, and follow the flow into the slot just to the left of the big boulder. Keep your nose up and over the boulders and BIG hole (Hungry Jack) in the runout. This line is very very sketchy below 800cfs.
The current popular line is the far right slot, the Box. This is a 6 foot pourover onto a flat slab that hurls all the water at a rock wall (Braille Rock), then out a pile of rocks at the bottom. Come out of the river right eddy and get a good righty boof off the left side of the slot. If you boof far enough, your bow will be on the slab and you'll slide right by Braille Rock without a stroke! This line is good down to about 400cfs.
The third way to go is into the Black Box, a 5 foot scrapeover into a cave pool on far river left. Water flows right out behind the sieve rocks below main line. Requires at least 900cfs, but is a great bailout if you find yourself on river left and don't want to face the HARD ferry clear across to the box.
There is another slot to the left of the main line that is being run again. Scout before running this blind slot. Things change after high flows in Climax. It's a tight move, but not as sieved out as before. Proceed with caution.
At flows below 400, run the Ruth Line™ at the Box. This line is good down to 200 cfs (short boats!). Start center eddy and come at the slot angling right (1:00). Just before the slot get up on your left side and curl your boat through and drop into a micro-eddy on the bottom left. Back out of the eddy in front of the pour over and paddle out. Easy as pie!
Cigarette (III) is the drop at the end of the pool below Climax. At release, go either right or left of the huge boulder in the center of the river. Below 600, go right. You've now got a mile of III boogie and play stuff to the Ratliff Hole Takeout.