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Pat Keller Makes First Descent of Linville Falls

Pat Keller, 24, boldly made the first descent of Linville Falls last Tuesday, August 24, 2010. The triple-tiered waterfall has been eyed by many experienced kayakers over the years, but the intimidating upper drop had been, until now, thought to be un-runnable. During Keller’s descent the upper waterfall (partially obscured in photo) proved to be the most difficult and nearly ended with disastrous consequences. Here’s Pat’s description of the descent:

In the entrance slide, i thought to myself, “You’ve wanted to do this you’re whole life, you better get it right.”

I boofed into the chasm and caught the set up eddy. No time for any thoughts but good ones.

Peeling out of the pocket, i wanted to stay as low as possible, so i could generate enough drive to get the ramp i wanted. Taking my boof stroke, i knew i wasnt going fast enough. I yanked on my Right blade of my Werner as hard as i could, but my boat still turned and pointed down, launching me into the protrusion off the wall. My bow pitoned into the wall with a huge slam, turning my boat to the Left in the crack. My Nomad 8.5 had the rocker to allow the bow to shank off without sticking, but my Right elbow and wrist slammed down on the same protrusion that caught my bow, popping my paddle out of both hands. As my brain was processing this new BIG problem, the death cave went by on my left side. No time to reach out and grab for it, possibly knocking me off balance. With determination but in a calm state of consciousness, i hand-backferried into the safety eddy on river Left, between Jones and Murf. Both were ready with ropes in hand, about to release if i were to miss a beat. I smiled at both of them, giving them the thumbs up – big hit but im ok. Five seconds later, my paddle floated past the cave and directly into my hands. It was like a dream.

Not waisting any time, i grabbed excalibur from the waters, smiled at the Billys through my mouthguard and started paddling for the big falls.

Lining up just Right of Center, i paddled in to this unreal view of the horizon line. Just past my big red bow, the explosion came into view and i was at damn near the perfect angle. Boofing as hard as i could, i got my bow out and past the nasty part of the bounce and to my amazement, my brand new shiny kayak combined with the angle of landing and the angle of the rock underneath me – gave me the most spectacular bounce i’ve ever felt. Up until this point, i was expecting to get bucked over the bars, but visualized the clean line anyway. Soaring out away from the explosion and past the horrible second shelf, i was extatic. I knew that i was going to land flat and it would be a huge hit, so i slammed my upper body forward to try not to let my spine stack up – thus breaking my back.

Weight forward, a little heavy on my left edge, time slowed to a near standstill. I was watching the far wall go up and up and up, waiting for the hit that i knew was coming. An extra mental two count went by beyond what i was expecting (a testament to the bounce, and the size of the drop itself) and BOOOOOM!

Pat Keller Dropping Linville Falls

Landing on my Left edge allowed the surface area of my kayak to slow my landing by about 2 feet, as opposed to the approx 6 inches that my boat would’ve gone into the water, had i landed dead flat and balanced. Although the hit was large, and my ribs were a bit bruised from the water’s impact, i was stoked.

As stoked as Keller and many others in the outdoor sports community of Western North Carolina were when first hearing of his descent of Linville Falls, the National Park Service isn’t feeling the same way. Keller’s descent violated several laws and he has been charged with multiple misdemeanors, all of which, if convicted, could result in up to $5000.00 fines and the possibility of jail time for Keller.

For Pat’s take on the story, click to

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