By Richard Hopley

Well, I wouldn't say we were lossssst... we just, uh, didn't know where we were, exactly.

It was the only time I've ever run the Watauga; four, maybe five years ago, and I had decided before we got on the river that I would walk Hydro and Stateline Falls. I was with Bob, Andreas, Joe, Howard, and Julie. Julie was the only one of us who had ever run the Watauga. Now, Julie is a sweetheart, but, sometimes, she doesn't quite get all the details right...

So anyway, we had put on and gone a quarter mile or so downriver, around a sharp right-hand bend and into a boulder-garden rapid with many narrow or shallow channels -- no real good obvious line as we came boat-scouting around the bend. I was paddling sweep and as I headed for what looked like the cleanest, deepest channel Howard bow-pinned, completely blocking it, so I scratched and scraped down some other line while Howard got himself sorted out. Ol' Howard's a nice feller, living in Wyoming now. He was a good boating buddy and I'm sorry he moved.

We got through another rapid or two without incident, and Julie told Bob -- our probe -- that the next one was just an eddy hop down the right. Bob went. Joe and Howard went. Andreas and I went. Andreas and I eddied out high on the left as the river swept to the right and then back to the left out of view, dropping fast and steep over bedrock. Andreas and I were debating a *very* hairy ferry across to an eddy in the elbow of the left bend, that had a lot of wood in it, when Julie came swimming by.

Well! Nothing to do now but read'n'run as we chased her. As the river bent back to the right, finishing an "S", there was a bit of a pool -- maybe 20 feet, moving fast, into a very distinct horizon line where the river narrowed to about 15 feet dropping over a ledge to end the rapid. No sign of Julie or her yard sale. I was trying to guess which corner to boof when I saw Joe gorilla-walking his boat over the dry ledge left of the channel next to the horizon line below, and my mind was made up! I took it a little closer to the hole and hit it fast where there was a little water pouring over, so I didn't have to do the ignominious hand-walk thing. Thanks, Joe, for the tip-off! I dunno what Andreas did, but I suspect he followed me. I dunno what Howard did, either, but I soon learned that Bob had spent a lot of time in the hydraulic we skipped over, ending with one of his rare swims.

As we tried to get Julie and her gear reunited, I started to wonder if we weren't just a little over our heads, here. Bob and Julie had each been for a swim, Howard had been bow-pinned, and I was working as hard as I ever had to keep clean lines. Then Julie looked upstream and piped up: "Ohhhhhhhhhh. That was HYDROOOooooooo. I've never seen it from the river before; they always made me get out and walk from up around the bend...."

"!..." I repeat, "!..."

So, we had inadvertently run one of the two hardest rapids on the river blind. (One of the two rapids that I had promised myself I would walk...) The carnage ratio was high, two out of six, but we decided that on the easier rapids we could do better -- could have done better on this one with a warning and/or a scout. And, sure enough, we finished the day without incident. Julie recognized the Falls in the approach, and I got out and started carrying before even taking a look at it, the only way to be sure I'm not tempted into a change of plan. Bob was the only one to run it, and he ran it clean...