This article about canyoneering and waterfall rappelling in Brevard was originally published in the Transylvania Times.

I have to come clean and admit that I haven’t always used the best judgement around waterfalls. Before I moved to Brevard, I came here several times on vacation as your average, run-of-the-mill, outdoor-loving tourist. Don’t hate me; I tried to be a good visitor, but I didn’t know a lot about the terrain I was exploring. I came here from the flatlands of northern Indiana.
I had no idea people had died exploring the waterfalls of Transylvania County. I had no idea how slippery the rocks could be. I had no idea the best place to view the waterfalls was at the bottom. I didn’t realize some of the things I did back then were risky. I’m a pretty careful person when it comes to keeping myself alive. I was uneducated and inexperienced.
Over the years, I’ve become both educated and experienced. I’ve heard the stories about good people, young and old, having the time of their lives, making one wrong move and falling to their deaths. I’ve watched the local Tourism Development Agency campaign hard to help educate people and build awareness of the dangers. It’s certainly made me a better user of the resources and a better example for others.
But I still want to explore the waterfalls in a way that’s up close and personal. That’s where Joe Moerschbaecher and Pura Vida come in. They do this thing called canyoneering. I know what you’re thinking, “We don’t have canyons in the southeast.” The term canyoneering is a technical term that describes a very specific way of moving safely over narrow, steep, rocky terrain using harnesses, helmets and ropes. As Joe explains, “Our canyons here have a wider watershed, more like Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.” In the Southeast, our canyoneering involves much more water than the slot canyons in the American Southwest. Joe and the guides at Pura Vida are not only trained in swiftwater safety and rescue techniques, Joe is certified to teach it.
In 2003 Joe earned his Bachelor’s in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education from Brevard College and went on to earn his Master’s in adventure recreation from Ohio University. He’s a certified guide with the American Canyon Guide Association and has been teaching and guiding for over a decade. His list of accomplishments and experience are rich and deep.
Joe has a passion for teaching. He wants to give people the tools we need to be able to spend time in canyons in a way that’s both safe and fun. One of the things Pura Vida focuses on is teaching people the technical canyoneering skills that will then give someone the ability to go into the canyons out west or in other countries as safely as possible.
Recently, my husband, Clyde, and I were able to go canyoneering at Cove Creek Falls in Pisgah Forest with Pura Vida. As we put on our harnesses and helmets well away from the top of the waterfall, Joe went down to the water to set up the anchor for the rappel. Daniel Ligon, a senior in the Brevard College WLEE program, made sure our harnesses were on correctly and then took the time to explain the finer points of both body position and controlling the rappel speed and brake. There was time for practice and soon we were ready to go.
I went down to the water first. At the water’s edge, 50 feet above the bottom of the falls, there was a rope where I clipped in. This would provide a safe way for me to cross to the other side of the creek where Joe was waiting to get me rigged up for the descent. He rigged my rappel device, gave me some last minute instructions, reminded me to take my time and enjoy the views, and sent me over the edge. I could see Joe watching me from above, and soon I could see Daniel tending the fireman’s belay from below. I felt so comfortable that I was able to really enjoy and savor the experience.
The sun felt warm on my skin and the white water danced over the rocks to my left. There were bright green mosses and ferns dripping with sparkling droplets of water. The sound of the waterfall pushed out all of the other clutter from my mind, and I was completely caught up in that moment. It was beautiful and awe inspiring. I lowered myself a little at a time, taking frequent breaks to soak it all in.
Arriving safely at Daniel’s side, he and I traversed across a flat ledge to the other side of the waterfall where we rappeled another short stretch to the bottom of Cove Creek Falls.
Joe wants people to understand that canyoneering is the safe way to explore waterfalls, and I’m here as living proof that he’s telling the truth. I left the forest after my afternoon of canyoneering without a single scratch. What I did leave with was a better appreciation for the activity of canyoneering, an understanding for what Pura Vida can offer, and a desire to do it again.


Canyoneering waterfall rappelling brevard

Canyoneering and waterfall rappelling Brevard

Photos Courtesy of Ellen Cressley
Jayne Fought soaks in the view as she rappels off Cove Creek Falls in Pisgah Forest.

While we were standing at the top of the waterfall preparing for the rappel, I asked Daniel what he enjoyed most about guiding people on canyoneering trips. He thought for a moment and said, “It’s really awesome to see how the demeanor of people changes from before the experience to after.” He went on to describe the contrast between the nervous jitters and superficial conversation that happens at the top of the waterfall, to the relaxed, nothing-else-in-the-world-matters-at-this-moment euphoria at the bottom. I certainly felt it. Connecting with the natural world is good for the soul. Do you need to disconnect from technology and the stresses of this modern world? Would you like to get an up-close and personal look at one of Pisgah’s beautiful waterfalls? Would you like to learn more about the technical side of canyoneering? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, give Pura Vida a call. I’m glad I did.
Jayne Fought is an outdoor educator, backpacking instructor, and guide. Email her at, or through her website,

More information
about Pura Vida Adventures can be found at, or by calling (772) 579-0005. Contact us to experience canyoneering and waterfall rappelling in Brevard.