Information on Stepp Cr.
Location: Take-out is reached by turning north onto County Rd. 8,
a gravel road leading from Swain at Hwy. 16 to the low water
slab over the EFLB near the Murray Community Center. The turn at
Swain is about one mile east of the intersection where Hwy.
21 turns north off of Hwy. 16 to go to Boxley - look for a sign
that advertizes for "Pottery and Gifts". Follow this
gravel road for a while until it it forks. Take the rougher
looking, steep dirt road downhill to the right. Continue
driving through the beautiful country until the road turns
left alongside the East Fork of the Little Buffalo R. (a
possible takeout point for that run). If the water is high,
the East Fork may be up over the road - please don't block
the road parking as several folks live down in this valley.
If the EFLB is not covering the road, there is room for
parking on the opposite side of the road from the creek
just before you reach the creek crossing. The best put-in
for the lower gorge is to drive a bit more than 1.5 miles
back up the hill and look for the turnout to park in on the
right (again, don't block the road and irritate the
landowners!). Carry your boat downhill on the road about a
third of a mile to the second culvert funneling water
under the road and then start angling downhill away from
the road. It's a steep, tough brushwhack, but it's only
about a quarter mile long. With some luck you should reach
the confluence of Gum Br. and Stepp Cr. (hopefully with all
of your limbs unbroken!). It's an excellent idea to consult
a topo map (Murray quad) and explore this little hike
before the day of your run to work out the logistics.
IMPORTANT NOTE: a small road near the takeout follows the
EFLB upstream and crosses Stepp Cr., but this is private
property and the landowner doesn't want visitors - please
respect his privacy and DO NOT DRIVE UP THIS ROAD. Thanks!
Topo Quad(s): Murray, Swain
Gradient: 150 fpm
Length: 1.5 mi.
Gauge: Stepp Cr. can generally been run with the EFLB at optimal
levels or higher. If rain is widespread, a level of 6 feet
or higher on the USGS Buffalo at Boxley gauge can be a good
indicator. The National Park Service's Swain and Deer rain
gauges are great indicators for this run. Look for 1 to 2
inches in a couple of hours. A quick walk up the road that
follows the EFLB upstream from the takeout will take you to
the Stepp Cr. confluence. If there's enough water to run
this last rapid before the EFLB, then there'll be enough
water to get down the lower gorge. Don't drive up this road
or walk any farther than the confluence though as it runs
through private property.
LINK BUFFALO NATIONAL R. GAUGES (UPDATED HOURLY)
Hazards: Continuous severe rapids, undercuts, trees, and sieves.
Description: The difficult access to Stepp Cr. led to it being first
run somewhat accidentally on November 29, 2004. Bill
"Fish" Herring and Ryan Center hiked in with boats
thinking they would drag down the creek at sub-minimal
water levels only to be pleasantly suprised. Stepp Creek's
lower gorge starts at the Gum Br. confluence and the
action doesn't let up for more than a mile. With a
relatively large watershed and long, rocky drops, Stepp
compares to its eastern cousin, Bobtail Cr. Both creeks
have good rapids even at low levels, and such levels on
these creeks happen surprisingly often. In fact, not much
more rainfall is required to run Stepp Cr. than for the
EFLB itself. At higher water levels, Stepp's gorge
ratchets up into the class IV+ range in a hurry. With
enough water the nearly continuous, big drops will challenge
even the most experienced steep creek boater. The first
drop in the gorge is called "Double Bubble" - a blind
chute on the right leads to a boulder that can be avoided with
a hard cut to the left. Those new to the creek may want
to scout this drop and possibly several more below it.
The water doesn't stop moving for the next quarter mile.
Next is "Thighmaster", named for Ryan Center's bruised
upper leg after swimming the log-choked river-left
sluice on the first descent. This one can be snuck
with a good ferry to the far right slot. The left
side is a Z-shaped slot that features a wicked hole
that tends to backender anything that passes through it.
The hole recirculates under the rock on the right and
then the backwash kicks out into another undercut
straight ahead. If it sounds bad, it typically looks
and boats even worse! Scout this one carefully and set
good bank support on the left before trying the sneak
or a run of the main slot. The creekin continues with
a couple of long drops followed by another slot drop
into a surging, boxed-in hole. This is "The Chute"
and it is another great spot to set a rope. A short
pool leads to a ledge hole that is the start of Stepp
Creek's biggest rapid: "Eight Seconds". Like riding
an angry bull, a good run in this class IV+ drop will
take about 8 seconds. A bad line will take considerably
longer trying to escape from holes and pin-rocks! Runs
tend to disintegrate here about four or five moves down
from the top hole. A number of folks have been thrown
off the bull and had some rough rides to the bottom.
The next major drop is called "Pac Man":
a big boof that kisses the rock is possible on the left or
take the twisting route through boulders on the right.
Look back upstream at this one - a very cool looking drop!
Several more class III+ and IV drops follow, but the pace
slows down to a more managable speed after Pac Man. The
scenery is fantastic if you can take your eyes off the
rapids! If you can find it, there's even a wonderful
creek boat ender spot near the bottom of the run - a
great way to finish your trip! When you see a field on
your right, the banks are private property, so don't
get out of your boat and float through quietly so as
to not disturb the landowner who lives there. At the
confluence with the EFLB, hang a left through the bushes
(it's quite possible to swim here!) and paddle 100 yards
to your vehicle. Another run on Stepp is possible (known
as "doing the two Stepp"), or you can head up the EFLB
or over to Thomas Cr. for some more creekin' action!
Stepp's lower gorge is a great creek run that has serious
hazards, especially when the holes are churning at
higher levels - all paddlers need to be able to handle
continuous class IV+ water and organize bank support.
If you're not prepared, it may give you more excitement
than you want!
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