7 of the Scariest Kayaking Descents

The biggest challenge (and likely the thing that’ll keep you from the most physical harm or even death) of descending over a waterfall in a kayak—besides, you know, psyching yourself up enough to do it—is staying in once you’ve gone over. And when you’re dropping over 100 feet, it’s no easy feat. But some skilled kayakers have the guts to run tall waterfalls regularly. Here are some of the scariest descents they make:

Palouse Falls, Washington
The home of the current tallest kayaking plunge world record holder, Tyler Bradt’s, run, the Palouse Falls are located in the heart of Palouse Falls State Park in Washington. Though the Palouse is definitely one of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls, it is also really, really tall. At 186 feet, this is a kayaking descent not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for anyone but a skilled expert.

Big Banana Falls, Mexico
Imagine dropping 128.6 feet in 3 seconds. Sounds scary, right? Well that’s what a descent down Mexico’s Big Banana Falls is like—it’s scary. But at least the scenery is great, what with the dark canyon suddenly opening up to the beautiful falls and giving you a chance to briefly get a glimpse of the Amazon greenery and blue-green water before plunging down into it.

Rainbow Falls, Hawaii
Running tall waterfalls in Hawaii may very well have been the dream that started the sport of running tall waterfalls in the first place. That said, the weather has the potential to drastically change how the rivers run in a very short period of time. So, depending on water levels, Rainbow Falls can be as high as 120-feet, like it was recorded when Pedro Oliva plunged over in February 2013.

Ozone Falls, Tennessee
Ozone Falls has only been run once and that’s for good reason. There’s no real standing pool at the bottom of the falls, as the stream extends underground after this point. And there are rocks. So when Pat Keller did the 100-foot drop earlier this year, it’s a miracle the only casualty was his helmet cam.

Natural Bridge Falls, Montana
Near Big Timber, Montana, the Boulder River flows over a 100-foot precipice, creating the Natural Bridge Falls. It takes a lot of gusto to take on a plunge like that, so maybe that’s why there’s only one recorded descent on the books. When Ian Garcia took on the Natural Bridge Falls, his group recorded the height at 105 feet.

Puma Falls, Chile
When Aniol Serrsolses made the first descent of Puma Falls in 2012, he was running the tallest waterfall ever plunged in Chile. But there’s a reason other skilled kayakers have steered clear: there’s a dangerous pocket wall on the right and the speed of the lip is terrifyingly high.

Alexandra Falls, Canada
Alexandra Falls is a towering behemoth on the Hay River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. At around 107 feet, kayakers who choose to attempt the waterfall face serious consequences: if your kayak lands flat or if you over-correct and land on your head, you may very well break your spine. If that’s not a scary thought, what is?

By Sarah Esterman

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