Bonas Defeat(ed), NC

When the mark of your adventure begins at a sign forewarning, “Welcome Ryan and Friends! Enjoy Your Day Through This Pothole Paradise! “, then you know you’re in for a real treat.

But this point alone was already over a mile into our journey – that which required a creekwalk and full body river crossing in classically cold mountain waters. This channel is merciless because what lies at the other end, a little more than a half mile away, is a gated dam that makes regular releases.

If the geology isn’t enough to intimidate you, imagine being caught inside the gorge when a raging torrent of water floods it from the inside out. They say your best bet is to go river right, but I can promise you that there is no escape. Before any outing here, I tripled check every schedule of the dam release that I can find to ensure I never make the mistake of a mistiming. Although it’s not too complicated to find your way through, I do implore people to very carefully asses their abilities before deciding to take on something like this. The anatomy down there is an extensive labyrinth of massive boulders and potholes. An injury – or potentially worse – would not be a quick nor easy rescue.

My close friend Lauren preparing to execute a wet crossing to reach the “beginning”.

Not long after the “beginning”, we entered an ancient slot canyon. The vibrant green moss contrasted against the water dulled rock is truly unlike anything I have ever seen; and I’m willing to bet it is geologically unique on a global scale. As we continued to go deeper into Bonas, the boulders only became larger as the potholes descended to depths of 75-ft (or more) in places!

The opening of the slot canyon.
Lauren in the mouth of the canyon. I’m pretty sure a snake jumped at her moments after this shot!

After a small stretch of the slot canyon, we came to a deep pothole where the surrounding walls come together to form a shallow water cave, complete with a small waterfall coming through it! We swam through the unknown waters into the cave, where a shallow rock gives footing and allowed us to stand surface to the water. Once inside, the rocks formed a tight keyhole about 12-ft above us. It’s pretty dicey in here because the slick rock makes the relatively easy climb precarious. With a little motivation, the reward is worth the effort of going through. After we ascended the keyhole climb, the slot canyon opens back up. The image below is what I first witnessed after the keyhole, and it left me with a feeling of awe that I have seldom experienced before or after.

Bonas’ Slot Canyon, after the keyhole climb. Available for purchase here.
Looking down on the swim into the shallow cave. Available for purchase here.

Check out some photos looking out and up towards the keyhole.

After the slot canyon, we entered my favorite part of the hike – Granny’s Kitchen! Not only is the name deliciously awesome, the pothole based waterfall – spanning three distinct pothole tiers – is a spot that words alone could never do justice for. The pure wonderment that fills me every time I see and swim in it is a personal experience that I could never fully articulate.

Instead, enjoy these photos that I have of friends at this location! It’s always a wonderful opportunity to capture another’s sense of curiosity and enjoyment – expressed through play and exploration!

Granny’s Kitchen
Close friend, Austin, at the brink of the middle drop.
Eliza swimming in the potholes of Granny’s Kitchen.
Austin hit a handstand at Granny’s Kitchen.

Above Granny’s Kitchen, on river right, is a gigantic boulder that overhangs the top and middle tiers of the waterfall. On one of our outings there, Austin and I jumped the gap from standing. Being that high above the waterfall and confidently executing that jump quickly made it one of my favorites ones to date.

Immediately beyond this, the river gets calm and flat once again. In fact, it gets so tame that one might think adventure is over, especially when we came to the small beach just upstream. But I personally like to consider this stretch the calm before the storm. Ahead, the boulders re-emerge; but this time they nearly double or triple in size as the canyon walls encase you deep within. Next stop, Conundrum Rock.

Here comes the mind-bottling large boulders.

This impressive boulder got its foreboding moniker for a reason. It’s huge, lies center in the canyon, and appears to be insurmountable. The route that looks the most obvious is wrong. During my first swing at it, I successfully climbed over on river right but not everyone in my group was able to do so. So then we found the Mossy Keyhole that circumvented Conundrum Rock. Crossing over to it required a fun walk on a spine above the plunge basin, giving an excellent view of the towering formations.

Conundrum Rock.
The Mossy Keyhole – used to circumvent Conundrum Rock.

After climbing through the vibrant keyhole, it’s truly nothing but pothole after pothole after pothole – all surrounded by massive boulders and walls! We worked our way upstream via the path of most fun boulder hopping (at least for Austin and I) and probably the path of least resistance for everyone else I’ve brought down there. Shortly later, we reached the next major waterfall – Grandma’s Pantry Falls.

Dana emerging from the Mossy Keyhole, followed by some mossy caves we found.

Grandma’s Pantry Falls

Onward and upstream, through the precarious river rock hopping, it’s nothing but mind-blowing formation after formation. Eventually we made our way up to Talus Cave Falls – the next significant waterfall in our journey. This one was unique because two flows come together through a small cave / overhang that you can wade out into. Although some parts got deeper than I was willing to find out!

Talus Cave Falls

I think the main attraction of Bonas Defeat is when you reach the 400-ft stream bed cliff, accompanied by a beautiful waterfall adeptly named Bonas Defeat Falls. When I first arrived here, it struck me with this oasis type of vibe against the rocky terrain. To this day, I still get that impression when I see it. This area as incredibly fun to navigate! The boulders in this section are absolutely massive. Moving onward required finding various scramble paths through several keyhole / wedge climbs.

Bonas Defeat Falls
Dana, Lauren, and I with Bonas Defeat behind us.

Here is probably my favorite photo I’ve ever taken down in Bonas Defeat – it’s a reflection shot of Austin, inverted.

Available for purchase here.

I’m not quite sure the order in which these photos were taken from this point, but here’s the remainder of the gorge before arriving at the dam.

The final, rocky ascent before making our way back to the highway.

Once out of the gorge, we took some photos of the dam, then made our way back to our cars on the highway. For me, this adventure is a top personal favorite. I could write all day about what fascinates me down there, but none of those words could do it justice. All I can ever really say every time I successfully makes it through there is: Bonas Defeat(ed).

Reflections inside a Gorge. Available for purchase here.

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