Hunting down Hanging Spear Falls in New York State

World-class kayakers Steve Fisher and Pat Keller take on New York’s steepest mile of whitewater.
By Eric Adsit

When a river drops over 950 feet in three quarters of a mile, it stops looking like a river and starts looking more like a cliff with water pouring over it. So when Steve Fisher and Pat Keller saw the Opalescent River and its Hanging Spear Gorge in upstate New York they never looked back. Watch their expedition unfold in "Hanging Spear: Headwaters of The Hudson" in the video above.

The Hanging Spear Gorge represents all that is difficult in New York whitewater exploration. It is remote. The gorge is located in the centre of New York state's 300-square-mile High Peaks Wilderness. Though hiking trails traverse the ridgelines and rim the many alpine lakes, the mountains rise ominously around the gorge. Visitors to this place are dwarfed by the 5,000-plus-foot peaks as they leave all signs of civilisation miles behind them, save for the occasional bridge or lean-to.

Flows are fickle. The difficulty in predicting flows has thwarted trips before, and forced Fisher and Keller to make their approach in early spring, while the trail is still covered in snow.

And that's not all – navigation of the gorge may very well require every bit as much knowledge and skill in rock climbing as it does paddling.


But Fisher and Keller represent all that is capable in whitewater exploration. They're experienced, with over 40 years of paddling under their belts, much of which has been spent on some of the most difficult expeditions around the globe.

They have done their homework – Steve flew a powered paraglider over the gorge, and closely monitored flows over a two-week period before committing the team to the trip. Finally, they work as a team. They trust each other with their lives, and can communicate non-verbally and their diverse skill sets balance each other out. Safety is their priority, and they will support each decision the other makes.

What happens on their trip? You'll have to watch the video to get the whole story. But we can tell you this – Fisher and Keller are already planning their next adventure.

For more, check out Steve Fisher and Pat Keller on Facebook, and see additional photo and video content on Steve's athlete page.

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