The Gauley River

Note: These images are captured off of dubbed VHS and therefore are of dubious quality.
Once a year, when the Ocoee shuts down for a weekend, guides from most of the outfitters pack up buses and rafts, invite their friends and travel 10 hours north (Much less in a car, but you have to take long trips in crowded old school buses to truly appreciate how much less) to play for a weekend on the Gauley River in West Virginia.

Standing on a Saturday morning at the base of the Summersville Dam, the ground shaking under your feet, and your head spinning from a hangover and far too little sleep (It's very difficult to sleep sober on a moving school bus) is an experience everyone should have, and it does make sure that you don't have to get out of your wet or dry suit to go to the bathroom for most of the rest of the day.

The put-in is a challenge. After blowing up the rafts and waiting (and watching), you set the boat down in a bucking and heaving eddy, with water that feels cold enough on a brisk October morning to make you reconsider the whole thing.

The trees are usually a brilliant red that we don't see down here in Tennessee, but that's the least of the things you notice. With hard strokes and consumate guiding, the boat lumbers through the eddy line and into huge waves. And that's the easy part.

When people talk about the Gaulley, they usually aren't talking about the 119 named rapids as much as they are the 5 "big ones".

Insignificant, so named because an early USGS survey team wimped out when mapping the gorge and wrote "No significant rapids above this point" starts the real rush, with a sharp right and a sweeping left-hand turn, terminated by a big undercut rock upon which the video boaters perch to get pictures and lend safety for the commercial trips.

[a raft dumping people] Pillow Rock is next, and a bad entrance here can mean that a fully inflated 16 foot Avon Ranger will get sucked completely under water, crew and all (Seen it happen, wasn't part of the crew). In this case, it's just me nailing the Pillow rock itself, dumping a group of (former?) friends into the Toilet Bowl, with some monster flushing action just below, and leading eventually to the raft perched on top of Volkswagen rock at the bottom.

In Lost Paddle they can't hear you scream. And it's a long scream. A quarter mile of class V+ water, to be precise. From the drop into the Hawaii Five-O waves on, it's non-stop adrenaline.

After several years, Iron Ring still gives me the willies. The result of blasting for logging operations several years back, it consists of some large hydraulics coupled with the sharp tailings of that blasting, which let water (but not bodies) flow through them. To my chicken self more fear than fun, but also a fairly straightforward run if you don't let the fear get the most of you.

Sweet's Falls is a 14 foot drop followed by some instant maneuvering. A common mistake is hitting the hole at the bottom too straight, catapulting the guide over the length of the boat, and, without that expert assistance, sending the crew through the Cracks of Doom. If they're lucky. Many a crew has spent the day waiting for the water to go down so they could peel their boat off of Postage Stamp rock. (The picture is of another Dan punching the hole at the bottom) [kayaker punching the hole]

I love to hear from my readers, but I get a lot of mail. If you're writing to set up a rafting or other outdoor adventure trip in the southeast Tennessee area, contact the folks at OAR , my favorite outfitters.

This is a part of the Dan's Whitewater collection in the home pages of Dan Lyke , reachable at