10/15/2015 at 5:06 pm #3505
As I have said before, I enjoy reading other peoples trip reports. Although it appears to be a lost art these days as there are fewer and fewer of those to read. I like to reflect over my trip and highlight the good times and exaggerate the bad times. In reality, I’m hoping that on some future trip some folks from MWA will join in on the fun. I really get a sense of satisfaction when taking any paddler down a new river for the first time. This is my 3rd time paddling the Gauley river and it truly is a beautiful place that any competent paddle should enjoy. So here is my latest attempt to get some new paddlers to join us for some fun next year. Don’t get me wrong. I had the best time with the 3 paddlers who joined me. Lee Harmon, Brandon Grimel, and Mike Copeland from Arkansas. The combination of vivid memories, epic scenery, puckered muscles and one-liners are the things that will stay with me until I paddle my last stroke.
The basic concept of this year’s Lower Gauley trip is not new. With proper guidance and supervision, most any intermediate paddler will survive with a smile and become a fan of the Lower G. Many a groups before me have gathered aspiring paddlers for a first time Lower Gauley trip to show them how epic it really is. So the plan was to paddle the Lower G on Saturday and Sunday. Two of us were considering the Gauley Marathon on Sunday but fate would intervene to squash our plans. We camped at Battle Run state park near Summersville dam. We drove to the putin Friday afternoon just to have a look. I wanted a peek at entrance rapid to see if I could do a slot move like I saw Dane Jackson do on youtube. The water was hair below normal release and the slot move was more of a sieve move. Canceled that idea.
We drove to Carnifax Ferry Battlefield state park for a hike down to Pillow rock. I’ll say this. That hike down is not for the faint of heart. It was straight down. We got to Pillow late in the afternoon. The water was slightly low. I only know that because almost 2 feet of Volkswagon rock was visible. Normally water is just running over the top. Everyone was getting excited for our Lower G run the next day. We grudgingly hiked out back to our cars.
From there we drove over to check out the New river. It was running at over 23,000 cfs from Hurricane Joaquin. Many people have driven over the New River bridge, but none in our group had driven under it and down to river level. There is a one way road starting at the visitor center on the north side of the river that goes all the way to river level and crosses the river on an old refurbished bridge. Low in the canyon on the bridge at high water with Fayette Station rapid just below us and the massive New River bridge above us was pretty awe inspiring. We got out on the bridge to take some pictures and enjoy the view. We then drove down the take out for the gorge section and hiked down to Fayette Station rapid. It was massive. I don’t think I have the balls to put on at that level. It was huge. On our way out we stopped at the Ace outfitter store on the drive back out of the gorge to spend some frivolous money on useless stickers and things. Had Dinner at Pies and Pints in Fayetteville and set plans for tomorrows run.
We got up early Saturday and set shuttle at Swiss and got ready to put on the river at Woods ferry by 11:30. There is nice long warm up on the Middle Gauley before the action starts. As soon as we put on the river an Ace raft paddled by and all the paddlers had green weeds sticking out of the top of their helmets. I yelled out, “TEAM WEED”. I knew this because I was once in that raft. I rafted the Gauley Marathon back in the late nineties with the same guide. He has everyone put weeds in the helmets so it is easier to identify yourself on the video that they sell after the trip. It really does work. And he appropriately calls his group Team Weed. That was funny and inspiring that after all these years I was back on the Gauley river paddling in my own kayak. I never would have guessed that 16 years ago.
We were coming up on our first class 3 rapid of the day called Backender. I had run it last year and didn’t remember much other than there was a hole at the bottom at Center Left. I told our crew I was paddling down the right side and led the way. About half way through things got real pushy. I was throwing some hard strokes to stay upright. As I got to the bottom and turned around two out of three in our group were upside down. At first I smiled and then started to paddle upstream to help if needed. After a couple of attempts they both rolled up. We were all a little surprised at how pushy that was. I guess that was our wake up call for the day. Koontz’s Flume was just shortly downstream. We planned to get out and scout. It was good to give everyone a look and comfort level for this big rapid. It was the biggest of the day. We got back in our boats and ferried out to the middle. Our lines were good and everyone did well. The gist of the rapid was that it was HUGE. Much bigger than anything my fellow paddlers had paddled before. There is not a lot of danger on this rapid if you’re on the right line and a big pool below for recovery. Nobody flipped but the excitement level was growing rapidly. Everyone loved that rapid and the adrenaline was pumping as we paddled down to Canyon Doors. I gave some direction on the line and possible escape routes and we paddled in . It’s only Class 3+, but its still pushy. Everyone did great. Junkyard was next. We took the far right line with a nice boof. I remember the water pushing hard into the rocks after the boof. I warned everyone, but we all were still surprised. 5ft after landing the boof, the water pushes you hard into the rocks on river right. We all managed but again it took some hard strokes to stay out of trouble. Then there is a long pool maybe ¾ of a mile before we get to Upper Mash. As we got close I knew Upper Mash was coming and I explain to everyone what to expect. Down the middle had a big hole and the easier line was to river left of the main channel. The next rapid coming up didn’t look familiar. I told them not to worry that this was not Upper Mash. As I paddled into the rapid, I realized it WAS Upper Mash. I thought to myself, “Sorry Guys, I hope you can read and run”. Brandon followed me and did fine. Uncle Mike is bomb proof in his big Karma. He did fine. But Lee paddled right down the middle and through the big hole. Not expecting such a big rapid he ended up on River right, while the rest of us had made a hard left turn to catch the big left eddy above Lower Mash. I signaled for Lee to Ferry across. After a little while he started over. His line looked fine and I looked back to see where the rest of our group was. When I turned around, then next thing I know is Lee was heading down river leading the charge without any beta on what to expect on Lower Mash. Although not the biggest rapid of the day it has probably the biggest hit of the day. Lower Mash hole is more of a massive standing wave. The exciting thing is to paddle straight through it and then get right to avoid the rocks below. I quickly peeled out and headed downstream to catch Lee. He did fine and actually found a cheat route on river left I didn’t even know existed. Brandon followed me through the hole and had a huge smile on his face. We headed down river to Diagonal Ledges. As we got close we could see some surfers. No boats. Real surf boards. A father and his daughter and son had hiked in to surf there for the day. It was really cool to see them actually surf on that standing wave. They were good too.
Next down river was Heaven Help you Rapid. I remember this rapid well because there is a well hidden hole center right about half way down the run. It’s easy to unsuspectingly paddle right into it. Just ask Slim. Although no one saw it last year, it caught him by surprise as he paddle his raft downriver. This year I gave fair warning and our group did well. Now everyone was really loving the day and the river. The rapids are huge wave trains that are just a blast to paddle. I was getting a little excited because the biggest wave train of the day was fast approaching. Upper and Lower Staircase. But first a couple more class 3’s Rocky Top, and then Picture Rock. Both a lot of fun.
Now on the Staircase duo. The rapid is harmless huge class 3-4 wave train. There are no obstacles anywhere in the flow, but there are a couple of big holes to avoid. I decided to give Lee the option to lead us down. I was going to bring up the rear and try and get the run on video of all 4 of us. I told Lee about a the holes on center right. They are all visible from above. All he had to do was avoid them and we would all be good. As we headed down, the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. Everyone had a smile on their face and expectations were high, because I had told them about this rapid weeks before. Again the wave train was haystack waves back to back, but I notice Lee paddling right down the center of the river. Again I wasn’t worried about the outcome but was anticipating some carnage if he didn’t start paddling left soon. He never did. He busted through some massive holes and everyone followed him including me. We were all laughing, hootin’, and hollerin’ when we got to the bottom. I quickly yelled to get back to the center of flow as Lower Staircase was fast approaching. Lee was far right and there is a curler at the very top. As he paddled through it caught him by surprise and he flipped and we all were quickly sucked into Upper Staircase. It’s really hard to roll in Haystack waves and this rapid has some of the largest I have ever paddled. Lee apparently was trying to time his roll with the crest of the wave because he stayed inverted for quite some time. He tried a couple of times to roll up and was 99% there at one point as I was cheering for him but ultimately the river won. We quickly got to shore and we regrouped. We were all still laughing at the fun of the rapid itself and how long Lee can hold his breath.
We soon got back in our boats and headed downstream. Lots of class 3 rapids to come, Rollercoaster, Cliffside, Roostertail, and few others. Then we came to Pure Screaming Hell. The last Class 5 of the day. No one has ever showed me the line down this one. I just start Center and work my way left to make sure I miss Hell Hole at the bottom. I had told everyone that was the plan and to eddy out on river left after this rapid so we could get out of our boats. The run went without any issues. Its long but not that difficult on river left. We eddied out below and climbed up on some huge house size boulders to get a look at the entire rapid and watch some rafts paddle through Hellhole. Lee broke out some mini whiskey bottles and we all celebrated with a drink. Our day was essentially over. Just a mile or so to the take out. It was an awesome day, and everyone was looking forward to Sunday’s paddle.
Sunday’s plan was taking shape. Uncle Mike and I were going to paddle the Marathon. We would put on the Upper at 8 am and meet Lee and Brandon at Wood’s Ferry again for the lower around 11:00 a.m. I am not going to give you a rapid by rapid summary of the upper but I will say this. Every year I paddle the Upper it seems WAY bigger than the year before. This year did not disappoint. It FELT huge although it was normal Fall release. I had great lines on all the rapids but I have to confess, I was legitimately scared when we got the 2nd drop of Lost Paddle. I swear it was bigger than before. We got out to scout and yes there was some serious pucker for me. I was a little left of my normal line as I dropped in. 20 yards later I was celebrating my run when I should have been paddling. I short pause and I was headed straight for Six Pack rock below. I dug deep by to no avail, I was going to hit it head on. I was momentarily pinned. Talk about pucker. It let me go off the left side as I headed down river left. I knew those rocks were badly undercut and I was quickly slammed into them. I was leaning hard left with my paddle dragging on the rocks fearful of flipping and getting pinned. It was only a few seconds but seemed like a lifetime and it was over. That was too close for me. Lost Paddle always gives me the willys. No pun intended. We finished the run and got Woods Ferry by 11:20. We were both stoked to do the marathon and finish our run.
We met Brandon and heard Lee was working the shuttle. The only problem was we had lost out second vehicle on Sunday and Lee had to hitch a ride back form Swiss. We all laughed. Lee could hitch a ride on Air Force One if needed. The guy has some serious social skills. We all knew it was just a matter of minutes before he returned and we paddled down river.
To make a long story short, we waited on the edge of the river for 3 hours. Saw countless kayakers and rafters put on and paddle downstream. I had told everyone our cutoff time to put on was a late 2:00 pm. When that time had come and gone I started to get worried about Lee. He had been gone since 11. At this point we had canceled our plans to paddle for the day and were just hoping that Lee and the suburban would return so we had a way to get home from WV. I had contacted one of the outfitter bus drivers to ask him to call his home base and ask the Park Service rangers if they could come to Woods Ferry to help us find Lee and get back to the campground. About 30 minutes later Lee came driving down the hill. I was relieved he was ok and that the Suburban was not crashed in a ditch. He proceeded to tell us that by the time he got to Swiss everyone was gone. He had started to walk back to the putin. It is probably 20 mile drive. He was hoping to hitch a random ride and it never happened. Late into his hike he decided to turn around and was able to hitch a ride back to the vehicle. He was immensely disappointed that none of us got to paddle the Lower a second day. I was just happy that he was ok. We started to load our gear as we all cracked open a beer. Driving by, heading home, was a Russian guy that could barely speak any English. He had just had an epic day on the Upper G and was still riding high. He saw our license plate and yelled out Miss-OO-ree in the best Russian accent we had ever heard. We all started laughing. It was like a signal that everything was going to be ok even though half our group had gotten skunked. On the long drive out of Panther Mountain road we saw the park ranger driving in. We all smiled and laughed. We will all definitely be coming back next year. In fact I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Maybe you could join us and add to the fun. Until next year. Gauley 2016.
Will, Willie, Willy
10/15/2015 at 6:10 pm #3506
10/15/2015 at 6:32 pm #3511
10/15/2015 at 6:44 pm #3512CJW4DParticipant
- Total Posts: 313
Sounds like a great trip Will! I was bummed I couldn’t join you all! Thanks for the write up; keep em’ comin!
10/22/2015 at 9:28 am #3541CoMoBillParticipant
- Total Posts: 8
10/22/2015 at 1:52 pm #3543DaggerDanParticipant
- Total Posts: 413
Always love reading your stories. I may try it the next time I go with a group somewhere new.
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