Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Summersville, W.Va.
Visited: October 10, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 255 of 353
NPS Website

One of the world’s top ten most challenging white-water rivers.

Early Morning FearBEAUTY (8/10)
Uh, scenery? We barely had the time or the notion to look around and appreciate the gorgeous fall colors, the shimmering water surface, the churning rapids, steep waterfalls and school bus-sized rocks we were about to attack. Most of our Gauley River memories involve steely glares into the coming rapids, determined rowing and raging waters engulfing our persons. We had to wait until watching the video of our trip to see the beauty of our surroundings.

The Gauley NRA exists solely for a month’s worth of early fall whitewater rafting, or at least that is what we gathered. The Gauley River’s borders do not teem with remnants of coal mines, ghost towns and notions of the past. Heck, all those things are under the lake created by the Summersville Dam. Oddly, the Gauley was not a navigable whitewater river until AFTER the dam was built in 1966.

Unlike our trip on the nearby New River, our guide spared us history lessons and geography stories; we had more important things (Class V-VI rapids) to worry about. Maps show that the Gauley River borders the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, a Civil War fight. Who knew?

CROWDS (9/10)
The fall Gauley run brought a more practiced, younger crowd than most Appalachian whitewater runs. Our boat included a family of four and the eldest son’s two friends from Appalachian State. The parents and the App. State students had all run the Gauley, one by himself on a kayak! The family’s fourth member was a 17-year old girl. She had never been rafting before and was really scared; almost as scared as us.

The other boats consisted mostly of 20-35 year-olds hailing from all the surrounding states. The Gauley season also draws River guides from the entire United States. We overheard a few say that they would not miss this River for the world; it is just too fun. The amount of collective adrenalin among the Gauley boaters is astounding.

The Gauley River is located in south-central West Virginia, about an hour and a half drive southeast from Charleston. It is not the Gauley’s location that makes it inaccessible; in fact, it is a 4-7 hour drive from a host of major cities (Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; Lexington, Ky.; Asheville and Winston-Salem, N.C. and Richmond, Va.).

No, the Gauley’s diffidence comes from its short season and its eight Class V+ whitewater rapids. The rapids run because of a dam release. The Corps of Engineers release the water on a very limited basis: Sat.-Mon. from Labor Day through the third Saturday in October. The Class V+ rapids are especially prohibitive and should be attempted only by highly experienced kayakers or on a hired raft trip.

The NPS has no official Gauley NRA facilities. There is not even a Park brochure. The Corps of Engineers runs a VC at the Summersville Dam. We were too tired to drive there. The New River Gorge NR operates the excellent Sandstone VC and Museum, located where I-64 crosses the New, about 10 miles east of Beckley, W.Va. You can also get Gauley related info and books at the New River’s Canyon Rim VC.

The outfitter we chose, Appalachian Whitewater, has a terrific bookstore filled with T-shirts, souvenirs and myriad trip mementos. They also operate a base camp from where your trip departs. The camp includes a campground, overnight cabins, an on-site bar where you can watch the video of your trip, a pool, a free breakfast room, a hot tub for relaxation and a nice outdoor patio. In addition, their mid-trip lunch barbeque is terrific.

COSTS (1/5)
Running the Upper Gauley River ain’t cheap, generally costing about $140 per person. Check around for the best rate. We got lucky and found a 2-for-1 Monday special through the superb Appalachian Whitewater outfitter. There is a range of Gauley River rafting packages. Do your research.

If there are no NPS facilities, then there cannot be any NPS Rangers although the Sandstone VC Ranger was very nice. “You running the Gauley tomorrow? Ho, ho, ho that should be one heck of a ride.”

The whitewater outfitters standard boat carries eight. You can pay additional monies for a smaller boat and the resulting crazier ride.

We are alive and owe great thanks to our guide, Kevin. Before our trip started, he asked the boat what kind of run we wanted. We conferred and agreed that we wanted to go all out. Kevin obliged. Our boat flipped twice. The first time was the scariest. Kevin warned us that if we capsized in this Class V rapid, we might be underwater for 10 seconds or more. He was right.

After our untimely boat ejection, Kevin somehow mustered the strength to pull all eight of us out of the battering rapids and into the boat in record time. He then had the steadiness of mind to get us quickly back into active rowing position before the boat flipped again. We had faith in our guide to both save our lives and give us a ride so fun that our lives might need to be saved. A perilous but perfect combination.

FUN (9/10)
We could not help comparing our Gauley run to our New River whitewater trip. The Rivers are just a few miles apart, we used the same outfitter and they are our only two rafting experiences. Our conclusion:

Just because the Gauley was bigger, faster, scarier, more death defying, more insane, more non-stop with better food, better weather and done in cool wet suits does not necessarily make it more fun. We had an unbelievably spectacular time but we were also very sore and completely drained. Drained from adrenalin loss, intense concentration, life-sustaining paddling, fear and the absolute battering inflicted by the water. Was the New River more exciting? No, but it was more fun.

The Gauley is the ultimate eastern whitewater trip. Ultimate as in the last, as in the nth degree of anything you can do east of the Mississippi. It is not going to get any (insert superlative) than here. We can see how the Gauley is the most fun a skilled, serious whitewater enthusiast could ever have. However, for the neophyte here is definitely not the place to start. The Gauley is the extremest of the extremes. “What’s it like?” we asked our New River guide months ago. His response: “All I can say is gollllllly!”

TOTAL 50/80


Read Full Post »

in southern West Virginia from Fayetteville to Hinton
Visited: July 27, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 67 of 353
NPS Website

New River GorgeWHAT IS IT?
53 miles of protected river that cuts a profound gorge into the mountainous countryside. The New River boasts both excellent fishing and challenging whitewater. Alongside the river’s borders lie the remains of once great railroad towns and abandoned coal mines.

BEAUTY (10/10)
The most beautiful place we have ever seen in the eastern United States. The trees are lush; the water is a warm 75°, the gorge dramatic, the river intense. Mist hovers above the water, exposed sandstone rock juts out from sheer cliffs, every bend in the river brings a stunning view. The New River Gorge Bridge, America’s second highest bridge crosses the canyon just south of Park’s northern River border. The man-made structure spans the River with a regal presence.

The New River Gorge feels like the tropics. Our entire boat vocally wondered if we were in a jungle. Maybe it was the three inches of rain the previous night or perhaps it was the inch that fell during our trip’s first two hours. It could have even been the hundreds of vultures sunning themselves in trees alongside the riverbank or even the intense greens of the flora. For us it was the smell, a smell of sticky growth and untold excitement. We all felt like we were in an adventure movie and a treasure was just around the corner.

Reminders of King Coal emanate everywhere along the River. You see abandoned mine shafts and black veins on the exposed gorge rocks. Still-working coal-carrying trains roar through the valley on the river’s edge. A once-thriving resort town and coal center, Thurmond, lies within Park boundaries. The town’s grand brick structures stand in ruin along the banks lending an eerie historical charm to the adventure.

The New River also enjoys a significant natural significance: it is the world’s second oldest river, junior only to the Nile.

CROWDS (9/10)
On the ride to the departure spot, a river guide stressed to a busload of eager rafters, “Get to know the person next to you. Make friends. They could be the one pulling you out of the water.” Once we launched into the New River, our guide, Wriston, introduced our boat of nine whitewater neophytes to the basic rafting techniques and to each other. Both introductions were equally important.

Over the course of our six-hour trip we would get to know each other real well. We paddled together, worked through difficult technical rapids together, ate together, swam together, pulled each other out of the boat together and after the trip was over, drank soda and beer together.

Our nine ranged from ages 13 to 60 with wide ranging geographical and life experiences. We quickly bonded as a team, faced difficult challenges and had a rip-roaring time.

Can You Sense the Fear?EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Park, while close by Interstates 64 and 77, is demonstrably prohibitive. To fully experience the River, you need to be on it. Unless you are an experienced kayaker, the difficult Class III through Class V Rapids (VI being the most difficult) must be tackled with an outfitter and on a whitewater raft. If you are just fishing, road access to the New River’s banks is challenging. Once you leave U.S. Route 19, the roads pare down to a narrow tortuous unmarked one lane. Be very careful if you are driving at night.

Scenic views from above do exist at and around three of the Site’s four Visitor Centers.

The NPS bookstore was not too unique.

COSTS (1/5)
20 different whitewater outfitters operate nearby the New River. Full-day trip prices range anywhere from $75 to $95 per adult. We stumbled upon a $62 Tuesday-only rate from Appalachian Whitewater and left ecstatic with the product we received. If we were to return, we would use the same company. Half-day trips are available from some outfitters.

The National Park Service takes a backseat to the many outfitters at the New River Gorge. It is probably for the best. There is no way that the federal government could offer a whitewater rafting excursion. This is not to say that the Park Service exists sight unseen at the New.

There are four Visitor Centers which provide information and give cursory explanations of the New. Our biggest complaint about the NPS Visitor Centers is their hours. They are all open from 9-5. Sounds fine, right? Sure, if you are just driving through the area and only want to look down into the Gorge. However, the full day rafting trips take place roughly from 9-5, making a VC visit impossible.

The NPS offers free camping at four separate campsites. We stayed at the Stone Cliff Campsite, a few miles from any VC. We arrived at 5:30 and were dismayed at the lack of any Ranger presence, especially since we were along the New’s riverbanks, it rained over three inches, there was no cell-phone service, the roads to and fro were extremely narrow and we were in the middle of Appalachia.

If the Visitor Centers stayed open a few more hours, they would greatly increase the numbers of people who need to use their services.

We could not have asked for more from our Tour Guide, Wriston. He gave us a great trip, a comprehensive West Virginia and New River Gorge history, plenty of corny jokes and an intensive lesson on how to whitewater. Our safety and well-being lay in his hands and on his commands. We never felt in danger.

We have gained a burning desire to whitewater again as well as the confidence to attempt more difficult waters. Like the nearby (and much more difficult) Gauley River in September. It is a National Recreation Area and consistently rates among the Top 5 whitewater trips in the world.

New River Gorge BridgeFUN (10/10)
Non-stop, roller-coaster, keep coming back for more-fun. And not just the rafting. We jumped off 15 foot high rocks, swam through a Class III rapid and relaxed in the 75° water underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. Here’s another example:

Wriston asked for a volunteer. Of course Gab blindly offered her services. Her mission: Sit on the front of the boat through a Class IV Rapid, hold on with one hand while waving with the other. Pretend you are riding a bull. She succeeded, screaming and yelling through the entire thing while the entire boat wished they had volunteered first.

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.

TOTAL 58/80

Read Full Post »