Mike and Bone had flown in the night before into Charleston WVA and made it a relatively easy night in light of the challenges of not fallin' out nor throwin' up on the River known as the Best of the East !! Rising at 6:00 AM they drove into the Heart of the Beast!
Getting Revved and Ready !!
This section of the Gauley River is home to 50 major rapids including the infamous BIG FIVE, Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring and Sweet Falls. Considered one of the top ten whitewater rivers in the world, the Gauley is West Virginia's legendary run. Each fall, Summersville Dam opens wide to unleash this "Beast of the East." Over 22 days of high adventure and fun, thousands of gallons of water per second begin their roaring, pounding journey to the sea... dropping 650 feet over 26 miles, thundering and frothing over thousands of boulders, and creating steep drops, massive holes, and colossal waves. Technically demanding, the Gauley offers more than 100 major rapids, 56 of them Class III-V+.
The Engulfing Gauley !!
The Gauley River begins in Pocahontas County, West Virginia and measures 107 miles from its source. Flowing generally west-southwest, the Gauley meets the New River at Gauley Bridge and forms the Kanawha River, a major tributary of the Ohio River.
"Fill'er Up with Unleaded Please !"
As the Boys pulled up to the Put-In, the power, volume, and sound of the water being released from the Summersville Dam was breathtaking! The Gauley is run year-round by recreational boaters and from spring to fall by commercial rafting companies. During the majority of the year, boating is dependent on water level, which fluctuates dramatically depending on rainfall and the level of Summersville Lake. However, starting the Friday after Labor Day, the Army Corps of Engineers provides a series of twenty-two controlled releases for the express purpose of downriver recreation. These releases are collectively known as "Gauley Season" and are scheduled on six successive weekends, the first five of which are four-day weekends (Friday through Monday) and the last of which is just Saturday and Sunday. Typical release levels during "Gauley Season" range from 2,400 to 2,800 ft, hence the tremendous volumes and noise ! However there was another noise and that other ominous sound was that of a Copter !?!
A Bad Omen !
As the Boys were introduced to their Guide for the day, a Helicopter was just leaving the Put-in with the first casualty of the day, a lady in the first trip of the day fell out and broke her leg ! This River was for real. So with a renewed appreciation for listening to the Guide Mike and Bone intently listened to how first timer to river rafting were not allowed on this Tour, only those with two or more trips on another river were brought down the Upper Gauley ! The boys learned that there are dozens of rapids on the Upper Gauley; the most notable are the "Big Five":
Insignificant (Class V - ironically so named because the first expedition reported "nothing significant before Pillow".)
Pillow Rock (Class V - an extremely powerful and intimidating rapid.)
Lost Paddle (Class V - a long, treacherous rapid consisting of four sub-rapids: First Drop, Second Drop, Third Drop, and Tumblehome.)
Iron Ring (Class V - so named for a large iron ring which had been anchored in a rock near the rapid by loggers many years before. The ring was cut and removed by vandals in the 1980s.)
Sweet's Falls (Class V - named for John Sweet, a canoeist and pioneer of Gauley rafting in 1972 [formerly known as "The Devil's Backbone."])
And with that every jumped in their rafts with NO intention of horsing around like they had so many times on the New River !
The Fairly Significant Insignificant !!
Gettin' into the river, all the Guides were all business, unlike on the New were they horsed around sometimes worst than the guest (but not Mike and Bone !) They had already one injury for the day and did not want another. And then, there it was, the first Class V, Insignificant ! Man oh Man ! it wasn't ! This first rapid was a magnitude more intense then ANY of the two class IV's on the New ! Mike and Bone were riding a Tiger that day !
No Sleeping on Pillow Rock !
For the next big rapid, Pillow Rock (pictured above) the Guide stopped and told the Team "under no circumstances" were we to allow the raft to get close to the rock and if we got close we would all have to paddle our brains out to stay away. Apparently a 1/3 of all the drownings on the Gauley were rafter that fell out and were pinned under Pillow Rock. With that as motivation, Mike and Bone did all they could to make sure that their raft stayed safely in the middle of the river and well out of the clutch of that dangerous, dangling participle !
They DID lose a paddle in Lost Paddle !
The next rapid, Lost Paddle was really a series of rapids that each on its own was an intense experience. The problem was as soon as you came out of one, you really needed to be set up for the next one, or it was highly likely that you would get to swim any of the remaining one ! After Mike and Bone's raft made it safely ("whew!") through they pulled off to seen many, many rafts go swimming in the treacherous and turbulent waters as shown above!
A Well Earned Lunch !
What felt like 45 minutes of intense action, was really 2 and half hours of intense action ! and the Boys stopped for a much need break for lunch and a chance to change their underwears since they pee'd their pant at least 5 times !!!
Gettin' rung by Iron Ring !
After lunch, the Boys surfed through Iron Ring which fortunately was the mildest of the Class V's but still jarred everybody's teeth! However the next one, even scared the feces out of the Guide !!
The Ain't So Sweet Sweetwater Falls !
The Devils Backbone or Sweets Falls is very simply a 32 foot drop in the River, with a 16 foot wall of water you got to get through. The Boys Guide looked very serious and said "DO NOT fall out here," so as they entered the Falls everybody grabbed the lines (after securing their paddle !) on the Raft, put their heads down like a airline crash, and held on for dear life, as this incredible wall of water wash around and over them !
Good fortune smiled on the Boys and their Raft because no one did fall out. Unfortunately other rafts were not so lucky, got dumped in the drink, and were pretty banged up ! After Not so Sweets Falls where the Boys broke the Devils Backbone by the simple fact of surviving, it was anti-climatically over...... They did it !! The rode the Beast of the East with all arms and limb intact, and they were not ready to quit, time for more high-end antics,,,,, 60 feet high antics that is !!!
"Dam it is Fun to Jump off of Cliffs"
Mike and Bone's Diving Board (really !!)
What better way to relieve the stress of worrying about getting maimed or killed then repeatedly jumping off of a 60 foot cliff into a Lake ! The Gauley ride started as a cold morning with ice-cold water, however later in the afternoon it had gotten quite toasty. Since the Put-in was right across the street from Summersville Lake (that fed the Gauley) the Boys knew of a great swimming hole, where the water was over 100 feet deep and had 60-80 foot cliffs over looking it that were easy to rock-climb, what better way to relax !?!
As the boys took there first jump off of the 60 foot ledge shown above, they noticed that there was actual hang-time on the descent and when they hit the water, it felt like hitting a brick wall with your feet, all the more reason to do it again and again !
After while they starting doing stuff in the descent, for example on one jump they where able to do a high five and low five in the air ! Of course any time they landed with their arms out, they stung for the next 5 minutes ! Finally after and hour of climbing and jumping, the Boys decided it time to grab some food and beer at Crazy Charlies before they "put-in" for the night around 11:30 after a very loong and fulfilling day !
Getting up early the next day, they boogied back to Charleston and caught a flight back with a mind full of unforgettable memories and two duffle bags with soiled undies from the Beast in the East !!