Thursday: We left on a beautiful fall morning with a 3-car caravan heading Eastward towards West Virginia. After a few stops, 64 ounces of Dr. Pepper, a pound of beef jerky and one long delay we pulled into River Expeditions, met up with the rest of the crew and checked in to our cabins. Then, as Nomads tend to do, we found the closest watering hole and put a few back before heading to bed.
Friday: It was a fairly early start for the day, we woke up at 7am to the cool and crisp West Virginia air. The sun hadn’t quite risen over the hills yet when we grabbed a cup of coffee and some muffins. We checked in and met our guides. Carla was our trip leader for the day with Jonathan and Chaz guiding the other 2 boats. 11 Nomads and a handful of other adventurers loaded up for the hour-long bus ride to the launch. Along the way we crossed over the New River Gorge with a spectacular view 876 ft to the bottom. After that we crossed the Summersville Lake Dam that feeds the Gauley and got our first look at the river. They are releasing 2,800 cubic feet of water per second down through the gorge which provides a thrilling whitewater ride over a 25-mile stretch. The bus winds and bounces down some backroads into the gorge. Finally, we get to the launch site for the Lower Gauley, 13 miles of class III, and IV whitewater. We set float in a calm stretch and begin our journey. The river starts off easy with a few little splashes and the guides go over some instructions with us before we get to the first rapid. ‘Chainsaw’ is a class III rapid with a nice wave train that gave us all a good splash. The guides kept us straight an in the right line, a good warm up for what’s to come. On the calm stretch after Chainsaw the guides give us a little talk about the next rapid coming up. “Back Ender”, a steep class IV rapid with a big wave and some dangerous rocks along the right side. A few hard paddle strokes and we’re safely through. After that came a big and technical rapid named “Koontz Flume”. A big class IV+, we punched through the big hole at the top and worked our way down the wave train avoiding the big hole at the bottom that has a knack for flipping boats. Next was “Canyon Doors” a relatively easy class III rapid next to a big, beautiful sandstone cliff face. One of the most scenic spots on the river. Another class III, “Junkyard”, leads us around to a long calm stretch before crux of the day.
“Upper Mash” would provide an exciting ride for the Nomads, but not quite exciting enough for 3 of us as they wanted to test their swimming abilities. Kathleen, Jim and Phil got washed out in a big hole in the middle of the rapid when the raft went in a bit sideways. Fortunately, all were safely helped back into rafts and made a clean exit. A nice pool leads right into “Lower Mash”, a huge class IV wave train that was one of the most fun rapids of the weekend.
After the excitement of Upper and Lower Mash, a calm stretch lead us to a nice beachy area where we had lunch on the side of the river, talked about all the excitement and reenergized for the second half of the day. We packed back into the rafts and set off for the second half of the day. Several fun class III rapids followed lunch, “Diagonal Ledges”, “Rocky Top”, “Upper and Lower Staircase”, “Roller Coaster”, “Rattle Snake”, and “Rooster Tail” all provided lots of splashes and fun preparing us for the last major rapid of the day. “Pure Screaming Hell”, a long, technical rapid with a dangerous sieve along the right side if you make a mistake. Do everything right and the river leads you right into “Hell Hole”. A churning pile of water that requires precise guiding to navigate safely. We were paddling hard because coming into this one slow would lead to a sure swim. All of our boats made it through, and we warmed up in the sun for the last couple of miles to the take-out.
After rafting we enjoyed a nice steak dinner at River Expeditions base camp, shared some stories, enjoyed the company and had some drinks around the fire.
Saturday: A very early morning, up at 6:30, coffee, breakfast then on the bus at 8. We had 9 Nomads rafting today along with several other groups of people. 2 busloads of thrill seekers that would fill up 11 rafts. Today is the big day on the Upper Gauley, one of the best stretches of whitewater in the world. We start the day off blasting through some class III rapids with some good waves and fun holes. We had a fun little surf in one of the holes and Heather got washed out briefly and tested her swimming abilities. The first class V rapid we come to is ironically named “Insignificant”. There was nothing insignificant about this rapid. This was a big, pushy rapid with a big rock at the bottom that we rode up on for a few style points. The adrenaline got pumping on that one. That lead to a couple fun class III’s then a technical class IV rapid, “Screaming S-Turn”. A few hard strokes and some clever steering by our guide got us through without incident. Up next is one of the signature rapids on the Upper Gauley, “Pillow Rock”. The guides all get very serious about this one. Lots of instructions on what the plan was and what the plan is if you fall out. The first couple rafts go through without a problem, but it wouldn’t last. Several people took a swim on this rapid but the instructions and swift response from the guides got everyone back in boats safely. Both Nomad boats made it through clean. Over the next few miles there are a few class III rapids, “Bubble Rock”, “Scales” and “Hungry Mother” which has a strong hydraulic that can surf rafts pretty good. “Meadow View” rapid provided some excitement for the rafters with another outfitter as they got their raft pinned on a rock and they were working to get it unstuck. The next rapid we came to is the longest class V on the river, “Lost Paddle”. This rapid required a precise line and our guides did a wonderful job, especially when Sean and I nearly went out of the raft and we were floating through a nasty section out of position to paddle.
Further down the river we come to a section with massive, distinct rocks that give the rapids their names. Heather thought it was a good time to put a hex on our other raft when she asked if anyone had taken a swim yet. “Conestoga”, named for the boulder that looks like a Conestoga wagon, was a fun class III with some good waves and a couple technical moves. A miscue on one of these moves put the Nomad raft into a boulder and bumped Ron and another rafter out. He floated down a way and was picked up by another raft before we got to the class IV “Shipwreck”. This house sized rock in the middle of the river has an easy maneuver but dire consequences if you make a mistake. The guides navigated us through, and we prepared for the next big one. “Iron Ring” is the most dangerous rapid on the river. This class V rapid has one safe line. Miss it and you are in for a bad day. Get it right and it’s a fun ride. The guides lined us up, called out the paddle strokes and we were in it. A big steep entry leads to a massive wave that if you hit too slow can push you offline. After that the river bends left and wants to push you into “Woodstock”, an enormous, undercut, churning hydraulic that you want to avoid like the plague. Hard paddling and expert steering from our guides got all the boats through this one safely.
The river doesn’t let up much from there, “Keegan’s Falls” provided a really good class III surf for several of the boats and a couple us played bumper boats for rights to play in the hole. Class IV “Double Dilema” lead us into a few more wave trains then a calm stretch before the highlight rapid of the day.
The river is slow and calm with a big sandstone cliff off to the right. We can see the horizon line on the river, hear the roar and see the mist rising from “Sweets Falls”. This is a big class V, 14 foot waterfall with a high carnage rate. This is where the videographers make their money. We watch as the first raft approaches, bounces down through the first few waves and approach the horizon, then…….whoosh…. over the edge they disappear. The adrenaline starts pumping as we watch more rafts go over the edge, occasionally followed by the familiar whistles that mean there are swimmers in the water. We approach the edge and see the frothing water at the bottom, over we go and power through the bottom. Both Nomads boats are through intact. The swim on this rapid is pretty easy as it dumps right into a calm pool just down river. We paddle to the shore and have some lunch while we watch several boats go over the falls. Some clean, a lot of swimmers but all make it safely out of the river.
After lunch the river mellows out a lot. There are a lot of class III rapids and some fun spots like jump rock where several of us got out and jumped off the cliff into the river. Some fun chutes and play holes provided some surfing opportunities but after the big rapids upstream these all seemed like a walk in the park. We got back to the buses, grabbed a couple beers and headed back to base.
We closed out Saturday with a group dinner at The Station and ice cream at The Stache. The food was delicious, and the conversation was lively. The memories from this trip will last a long time. Thank you to all the Nomads who made this trip possible. I had a truly wonderful weekend and hope to do another trip like this in the future.
A big thank you to River Expeditions and our wonderful trip leaders Carla and Tyler and our guides, Jonathan, Chaz, Dawn and Chris. We all had a great time.
While the more daring among the Nomads bounced on wild rapids and rocks in small rubber boats, a
few gals took another path…literally. The Gauley River is in a national park with plenty of hiking, rock
climbing, zip lining, bungee jumping, etc. to keep everyone moving upwards, downwards or sideways.
Paths of varying lengths and levels of difficulty were abundant in both the national park and the
surrounding state parks. Yes, lots to choose from.
Day one, we chose to walk down (and up) 178 stairs to get near the bottom of the river to view the
amazing New River Gorge Bridge with its 1700-foot-long arch from the bottom to the top. An
architectural sculpture, it is a central monument for the area that proudly celebrates Bridge Day, a
festival with parachuting locals and visitors jumping off this bridge, which is the fourth longest single
span arch bridge in the world. Nearby Fayetteville, which also carries the title of America’s “coolest
small town,” hosts the festival which takes place in early October. It is also the town where I had two
lunches and a dinner because it was so darn cute and quirky, and boasted best sandwiches on the East
Coast, farm to table restaurants, and 4 breweries, plus some rather interesting shops. What’s not to
Day two, four of us, including two brave gals who rafted the lower Gauley the day before, took a ride to
Hawk’s Nest for a boat ride on New River. Now this is the place I want to raft next time, as it’s family
friendly, much slower in pace, and lets children as young as 6 get on the boats. I figure if a 6-year-old can
handle it, so can I.
Brad provided a wonderful description of the trip, its activities, and the area we travelled to. I can only
add that we just scratched the surface of places to go and things to do in the rolling hills of West
Virginia. It is a place of great beauty and a playground for active adults like the Nomads. Thanks to Brad
and Heather for doing such a great job of organizing this trip, and if they do it again, you may want to
join the fun…whether or not you like the thrill of rafting!