Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bonas Defeat

Last Saturday Edmund and I scratched another item off my To Do List: a trip through Bonas Defeat.

Located in the popular Highlands district of the Nantahala National Forest the Tuckaseegee Gorge Trail #438 might just be the most difficult trail in the region. Over the course of two miles the trail follows the course of the most rugged and unique stretches of the southern Appalachian mountains and rewards those adventurous enough to traverse it a singular experience. It has been referred to as the most wild place around as well as the most dangerous. It is frequently cited as the only real opportunity for canyoneering in the southeast (but we all know that simply is not true).

There is no trail. The Tuckaseegee Gorge trail is simply, as far as I can tell, the watercourse. At the start and end of the trail you encounter signs warning against entering due to the chance of flash floods due to dam releases. You cannot miss these signs and their message is clear: Do Not Enter If You Want To Live. And to think this is an official trail. I told you it was a singular experience. Heed the warnings well - this a very dangerous place. Rescue is days away so come prepared if you dare to enter.

I did the research and found the dam release schedule, which is unreliable at best, checked the weather and decided it was as good of time as any for Bonas Defeat.

Our route took us up the gorge instead of down it and included a hefty warm up through the Wolf Creek Gorge. We started from highway 281 at Wolf Creek and hiked down to the creek A quick swim down the waterway and then I was standing a top the 120'  Paradise Falls - a place I have been before.


Then a fun rappel down the waterfall.


Followed by a nice down climb through the biggest pothole in the state. And then a class C squeeze.


Followed by a jump.


You'd think Wolf Creek Gorge would end there and Bonas Defeat would be just around the corner but you would be wrong. There was still plenty of technical terrain ahead. Lots of swimming. Lots of log jams, lots of everything.


It is a hefty distance down Wolf Creek. If you come this way be prepared for a big day. We stopped to have the lunch we planned to have half way up Bonas Defeat half way down Wolf Creek. When we finally reached the confluence we were quite relieved to be finally starting our journey.


At the confluence we were greeted with a hundred yard long stretch of deep stagnant water. It was a big swim that had me concerned about what might lay ahead. I was surprised to see two hikers on their way down the canyon. I swam over to them and we chatted for a few minutes. They were glad to be out of the gorge, a little jealous of our route, and assured us it was all doable except one boulder problem that would require a walk around. When one of them lit a cigarette and I was truly impressed. These guys were wearing cotton shorts, no shirts, and carrying just a single simple book bag.

"How did you keep your cigarettes dry?" I asked. We had already spent half the day swimming through pot holes and everything we had was wet. The sandwhich I had for lunch had been kept in a tupperware inside a dry bag and was a soggy mess.

"Held them over my head," he responded.


We went on our own merry separate ways and a short while later Edmund and I entered the most technical part of the canyon. This sight had us both excited about what was to come.


Things got very narrow and following the watercourse seemed impossible. This was the boulder problem we were warned about.


Edmund swam in and when he came back was stoked about what he saw: a way through the madness. I followed him into the cave and was blown away by the majesty of it all. I was treading water of an unknown depth in a cave looking up at a single shaft of light illuminating a technical rock climb that would provide the only way out. It isn't easy to take pictures under such circumstances but I managed to capture the moment nicely.


This was a very difficult problem. We were treading water and had to up climb onto a platform where there was only room for one person to stand. Edmund made the climb up and I treaded water while waiting. He then had to make a second move onto a second ledge so that I could climb up onto the first ledge.


Getting out of the water and onto the ledge was a welcome relief but we still had another ten foot upclimb to make. The water was high and the rocks were very wet and there wasn't much to work with. After a few feeble attempts at free climbing, it finally occured to me to use the ropes we were carrying. I pulled some rope out of the bag, tied it off, and did a pack toss to anchor the rope for a hand line. A partner assist later and I was on top of the problem.

Break on to the other side.


We were only a quarter mile up the two mile canyon and a whole other world lay in front of us.



I don't know how to describe the next mile in a half other than it is unlike any other place you have ever been before. Pot holes that pop up like popcorn, boulders the size of box trucks perched on top of peas, swimming holes that lead to log jams and squeezes.






And then the canyon walls appear. Bonas Defeat.


And then it just keeps going on. After six hours traveling through mountain streams on foot we were getting quite tired. The four hardest miles I have ever done. And the canyon just kept going and going and going.  More and more and more. Too tired to take pictures until finally concrete entered our line of sight and the exit was in front of us.


And then it still wasn't over. We were spit out of the canyon onto some weird duke power service roads and had to do way too much walking and navigating until we finally found our way to highway 281. Then we proceeded to hitchhike our way back to the truck at Wolf Creek. We stuck out our thumbs and the second truck that passed stopped. the driver said to wait a second for him to move his guns out of the seat before we jumped in and then two miles later we were back where it all began.



  1. Back when I was a student at WCU(1981-1983) we made numerous trips through the Tuck. Gorge. One time I, along with a group of Parks & Rec students, the Highlands District Ranger, a couple of PRM instructors, and the curator of the Mountain Heritage Center spent an afternoon trekking up the gorge. This was for a planned exhibit on the Bonas Defeat area. Lots of fun, interesting rock scrambles, and amazing potholes. Good stuff for sure! One note, there are, if my memory is correct, several very rare & endangered ferns living within the rock faces of the waterfalls within the gorge.

  2. Cool story bro. I was the non-smoking local you met at the bottom of the gorge. That was our first successful trip all the way through. I found this blog entry while searching for trad climbing routes up the Bonas Defeat Wall. Do you think anyone in your tribe has any beta on this? If so, email me brother! Keep up the adventures, digging the rest of the blog.

    1. Luke shoot me an e-mail i have been looking for beta as well.

  3. Check They have beta for two routes on Bonas Defeat.

  4. what are those socks you are wearing? Are they particularly helpful for bushwack hiking and such? Thanks