November 3, 2019

#197 West Virginia's White-Water Rafting

"With some of the largest thrills per rapid ratios anywhere in North America, West Virginia's rivers are regularly ranked among the top ten white-water runs in the world, passing through a landscape so rugged (and so similar to that of Idaho and Colorado) that it's often referred to as the West of the East.  Most outfitters suggest getting your feet wet in the poorly named New River (actually the second oldest river in the world after the Nile), which has as many calm stretches as white water pools. A 53-mile stretch at the upper part of the river's full 230-mile length has been named as a national scenic river, and in summer is so calm you could even bring Grandma [or Cortney] along."

"In the south-central part of the state, amid deep gorges and rough, wooded Appalachian terrain, the intimidating Gauley River is the state's most challenging - narrower, longer, and twice as steep as the New River.  During "Fall Release," when the dam is opened for twenty-three days in early September to lower man-made Summersville Lake, the powerful river is the place to be for steep drops with names like "Heaven Help You" and "Pure Screaming [Hell]" and nonstop back to back class IV and V rapids."

I did the Lower Gauley on the last day of the Fall Release and rafted both the rapids mentioned in above.  It was amazing.  Also, rapids always have the best names. On this site you can check out the rapids and watch videos of them all.  ACE was the outfitter I went with and they put this together.

Our guide was really good about giving swim direction before we entered a rapid.  Swim direction means if you get tossed out of the boat which direction is safest so you don't hit rocks or get injured.  Swim directions are: right, left, center, to the boat.  So as we were headed into Pure Screaming Hell he said, "above the Hell Hole (holes are just that - big holes in the river that you drop in to) swim direction is right, below it is left. [it could be left, then right I don't remember for sure] Either way, you're going through Hell."  

I have absolutely zero pictures.  I planned to buy the photo package that they offer (they have a pro photographer set up to take pictures at one of the Class V rapids), but somehow they messed up and didn't take any of our boat. So, yeah, nothing but words to describe the insanity that is a Class V rapid.  Especially immediately following a Class IV.  

5 Things About My Gauley Trip:

  1. Someone got thrown from the boat.  He was fine, a strong swimmer, and had expressed a desire to get tossed before we started.  I had, also, started the day in that spot and absolutely knew if I stayed there I'd get tossed - and I wasn't going in the river - he was kind enough to switch with me.
  2. Someone "lost" a contact on the trip.  Well, he didn't lose it because it popped out of his eye and his wife (sitting behind him) saw it teetering on his eyelashes and snatched it up.  He was able to get it back in, but a) this is why I didn't wear my contacts, and b) he closed his eyes tight through all the other hits.
  3. At one point we hit a WALL of water.  After we emerged our guide said, "The whole front of the boat disappeared; I wasn't sure I still had you guys for a second."  One of the very front of the boat guys responded, "I could hear you yelling forward, but could only think "I'm underwater, does it really matter if I paddle?"
  4. The Lower Gauley has some really technical rapids and I was super proud that our team of strangers (9 guests, 1 guide) really worked together as a team to get through some of those rapids.
  5. Our Guide was super chill, he mostly in super calm and quiet voice give us the paddling instructions, but there were a couple of times when he would start YELLING them and I could only think, "shit's about to get real".
  6. [Bonus Thing] The Upper and Lower Gauley together is 26 miles.  If you do them together you've completed the Gauley Marathon.  Lower Gauley is 10 miles of rapids with 3 miles of flat water.
  7. [Bonus, Bonus Thing] I did a full day trip and it was amazing. We stopped about halfway through for lunch, but honestly, I would've rather we stop to hydrate and keep going.  All it did was make everyone cold and take us out of the groove.  But by all accounts, the lunch was good. (I didn't eat anything, but it was pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches.)