June 24, 2018: Day 2/7
The four of us were sore and exhausted from yesterday but renewed with anticipation to hike straight down the Bonas Defeat section of the Tuckasegee riverbed. Leaving our boats at camp we traded paddling gear for hiking gear. With stout hiking sandals, backpacks, water bottles and rope we stealthily made our way to the dam where the Bonas Defeat section begins. It always feels a little “sketchy” walking down a driveway and bushwhacking through private lands to reach a wilderness destination. Local land ownership and history must be respected. The online resource American Whitewater has done a good job highlighting private lands and making recommendations regarding put-in and take-out.
Bonas Defeat has been described as the wildest terrain and best canyoneering in the Southeast, and its dangers cannot be underestimated. “Its like hiking through the barrel of a shotgun” according to one hiker. Standing on the dam we looked down and saw a wide rock depression holding a shallow reflective pool. Dark silhouettes of trout congregated in one corner as a bald eagle rose from its nest and circled the gorge as we climbed down. The riverbed made a quick turn to the right and the gorge narrowed. Trees and rocks towered above us. Luke and I casually explored overhanging rock caves and grottos, observing sunlight reflecting in pools of water as the canyon steepened. There is no trail. The dry riverbed affords a rare opportunity to analyze river geology and the boulders and slabs that form rapids. There was an ever lingering fear that a sudden dam release could sweep us all away.
Suddenly, a 400 foot rock wall appeared to our left! The granite rose straight up like a skyscraper with trees visible on the flat grassy rim……. Bonas Defeat! The name Bonas Defeat is clouded in mystery and seems fitting for such a surreal place. One version has it that early settlers named it after the fiddle tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat”. The more common version has it named after an old hunting dog named Bony Ass. The legend is that ‘Bonas’ would chase deer off the 400 foot cliff and his owner would collect the carcass deep in the valley below. One day Bonas came too close to the edge and fell to his demise immortalizing the name Bonas Defeat.
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch of sandwiches, chips and cookies (I had learned my lesson!) and played in a swimming hole. Luke flew his drone for some aerial footage and provided us all with a bird’s eye perspective of the enormity of the river basin. The skies darkened. Still with some distance to go we packed up and headed downstream. Rain can quickly bring an end to this type of “hike” making the rocks slippery and climbing impossibly dangerous. In some sections we chose different routes. John favored the sneak-crawl-bushwhack, while I preferred solving a puzzle climbing around the convoluted boulders. The boys chose the shortest distance climbing straight over the ledge down a steep garden of potholes lowering one another by a rope connected at the hip, symbolic of a bond they shared as brothers. The steepness subsided. Taking a side trail through the forest the rain began and quickly turned into a downpour. We finished the Bonas Defeat and took the obligatory picture under the flood warning sign…..DANGER!
Austin and Luke helped us carry our paddleboards and gear back down to the river and said their goodbyes. It was early afternoon as John and I paddled a small remnant of the East Fork of the Tuckasegee before it opened into Bear Lake. It was late afternoon and the skies had cleared. It was nice to relax and simply paddle. The once mighty East Fork has been truncated into sections by controlling dams and we still had two lakes and dams to traverse. Stopping at a small island we camped with Jimbo Cottam who paddled his kayak up from the boat access. He was working behind the scenes supporting us moving gear and shuttling people and equipment. We swam and fished and it was nice to relax and fellowship with him around the fire.