Last Month Daniel and I took a long awaited trip down the Gauley River. Why long awaited? Well this is not just any rafting trip. It is more expensive than the creeks and rivers around us, and the drive would have been a little much for our overworked jeep. Still we've been wanting to do this for a few years and this seemed like the right time to do it.
I love rafting. White water, and speed gives me a thrill. I've enjoyed every trip down the white water rafting trip that I've taken. It is great. Daniel also loves rafting and he is a thrill seeker. So when we heard about the Gauley River's class five rapids, 2nd most powerful river in the nation and 7th in the world we knew we wanted to go.
We rafted down the Upper Gauley with River Expeditions rafting company. We left around 7:30 Monday morning Oct. 4th, in the cold weather. We'd rented wet suits and jackets. Then we were told by a fellow rafter to go buy some extra warm shirts and stuff. We did just that I was very grateful, because I would have frozen without the extra clothing.
The water was 60 degrees and the air was 45 degrees. We ended up in a yellow raft with our guide and two other people. The trip was five hours long.
There were over thirty rapids on the upper Gauley, five of them were class 5 rapids. Each rafting company have their own names for the smaller rapids but the big 5 are all called by the same names:
1. (Insignificant) While this is the first of the big five, but it is hardly insignificant. They call it a highly technical entrance from a rafting perspective because there are limited ways to enter this rapid, most people enter from the left at the widest part of the channel.
2. (Pillow Rock) We had to paddle straight towards an enormous rock and the force of the water swept us on buy. I thought we were going to flip on this one but we made it. We did end up rescuing a couple of people after this rapid.
3. (Lost Paddle) I think this one was my favorite. It was a long rapid with four different drops. Called Lost Paddle because so many people lose their paddles on this one.
4. (Iron Ring) This one has an interesting history dating back to the logging period in West Virginia. It is a class 5+. They used to classify it as a class 6 (which means unrunnable) but they finally figured out how to run it so we went down instead of walking around it. This is the rapid we flipped on. This was not a good thing as there is a big eddy to left and a strong undercurrent to the right.
When we flipped Daniel and I were momentarily trapped under the boat. Daniel worked his way out and headed downstream where he later hit a rock. There is a reason for required helmets! In the meantime I was still trapped under the raft and breathing in water. I thought I was going to drown. When I finally came up I don't really remember what was happening other the coughing up water. I started to get some thought process going when Chris (the safety kayaker) came up to me and told me to grab onto the end of his kayak. He then guided me over to the raft. I grabbed the raft, but I could hold on. I felt like I was being torn in half, since the raft was pushing me one way and the undercurrent was pulling me another way. My back was in incredible pain, so I let go. I was sucked under the raft again, and that is when I lost my right shoe. I was however able to get a breath before I went under so I did not breathe in water.
I came back out on the other side and Chris found me again and told me to grab his kayak and kick. I did and then he told me to swim towards the rocks. I would not have done this if he had not told me to, because I'd been warned beforehand that swimming towards the rocks could be dangerous because of the strong undercurrent. When I got up on the rocks Chris took my paddle and gave it to a group of rafters nearby. Yes that is right, I'd managed to hold tight to my paddle the entire time that I was out of the raft. This was not a good thing because it was hindering my swimming abilities. I guess I just kept holding on because I wanted something to hold on to. The group who rescued me was the same group we had rescued earlier after Pillow Rock. I was the last one to get back to the raft. Daniel had been rescued earlier after being sucked under the raft 3 more times (that was four times total for him). It was just that hard to hold on. He was rescued by another rafting company. I believe this happens all the time. They have each others backs and try to make sure that everyone gets home safely. Trust me when I say this was the most exhausting and frightening experience I have had so far.
After we all got back in the raft, we stopped for lunch. We had to hike up a rocky trail holding onto a rope that had been tied to trees, so we could have support. I did this with only one shoe. Other people saw me and made fun of me on the way up. "Hey there what happened to your shoe?" "I fell out of the raft and lost it" "Ha, Ha, great story." These people were crazy.
After a lunch of hot tomato soup and hamburgers we went back to the river for another hour of rapids. Getting back into paddling really helped the pain go away. You know walk it off? Instead it was paddle it off.
The Last of the big 5 was
Sweets Falls. This is a powerful rapid that we were given a lot of instructions on running. All I really heard was if we go to far to left we'll die and if we go to far to the right we'll die, so we are going to make it. Well all right. Sweets Falls is a fourteen foot waterfall. We did make it, and we did not tip at the rock waiting for us at the bottom. I was very grateful for this. I did not want to have to be rescued twice.
There were a few other rapids after this (class 3 and 4). One of them called Bloody Fingernail or Fingernail, but I can't remember that names of all the others. I just know that I had a good time. I'm really glad that Daniel and I did this. I don't think I'm ready for more right now, but I know I would have regretted not going down the Upper Gauley while we had the chance.
Edited to add: We were very sore for the next couple of days, five hours of paddling will do that to you.
I found a Video Tour of the Rapids of the Gauley River here. We are not in these videos, but this is the river we rafted down.