Ladies on the Lower Gauley

Trip Start Feb 17, 2011
Trip End Oct 23, 2011

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whitewater kayaking

Flag of United States  , West Virginia
Friday, September 16, 2011

I signed up to do the Girls at Play "Ladies on the Lower G" fundraiser for American Whitewater after speaking with Anna about the trip. This was my first time running the Lower Gauley. I have never rafted the Lower Gauley so I did not know what to expect, I was just hoping it was nothing like the Upper Gauley!

Girls at Play holds their "Ladies on the Lower G" trip as a fundraiser for American Whitewater every year on the Friday of Gauleyfest which is the largest whitewater festival in North America. 

I made the 6 hour drive to Summersville from my home on Thursday morning and got into town late in the afternoon. I booked a hotel room in the Best Western Summersville Lake Motel because it was absolutely freezing outside and calling for rain most of the weekend. I also knew I would only be in town until Saturday morning because I had to return home for exams

I picked up some food to eat and ate in my hotel room while watching tv and playing around on the internet, the hotel has free wi-fi. I barely slept that night!

I woke up early the next morning to get something to eat at the hotel's continental breakfast. I then went back to my room and changed into my river gear. It was freezing and very foggy this morning. I put a ton of base layers on! 

I booted up my gps and tried to make my way to the Swiss take-out for the Lower Gauley which I had never been to before. Needless to say I got lost several times and had to stop to ask people. I also got no cell reception so I was on my own! After several turn-arounds I finally made it to Swiss and it looked like I was one of the first few people there. Anna, MaryFrances and Emily where there to greet everyone, so were a few ladies from the ACA. After awhile everyone managed to get there. 

There were 12 ladies on the trip including our guides, many were experienced boaters and had run the Lower Gauley many times before. I was one of only 2 people making their first trip down the Lower Gauley that day. We got changed into our river gear, left dry clothes at the take-out and loaded boats and gear into Brynn's dad's huge work van to make our shuttle even easier. We took my car and one other to the put-in to get people to the top.

The roads to and from Swiss are windy, narrow and are not well marked, its easy to get lost. The muddy pot-holed roads to the Wood's Ferry Put-in were even worse. Its a long shuttle that takes easily an hour. 

At the put-in we unloaded the boats and gear. We found out that we were putting in on the Middle Gauley so we would have some rapids to warm-up on before hitting the meat of the Lower Gauley. We did some yoga, and stretching and Anna talked to us about how the trip was going to run before we set off. 

We also had 3 guys join with us. Scott and his friends were with AW and they were doing a photo-journal of the whole weekend so they were there to photograph us since this was a fundraiser for AW.

We put-in in a large flat pool and did some warm-up strokes and rolls. It was a typical 2,800 cfs release on the Gauley but I could feel the size and power of the river even in the smaller class II rapids on the Middle Gauley. I think having done the bigger water in Idaho a month prior prepared me to deal with the size of the Lower Gauley.I was a little nervous at first but I quickly settled into a good rhythm and felt like I was going to have a good day. 

We passed through class II+ Ender Waves rapid without any incidents and quickly came up on class III Backender rapid which is the trickiest rapid on the Middle Gauley and comparable to many of the rapids in the Lower Gauley. It is very hard to scout and a little chaotic so we ran it blind by playing following the leader. Well we must have gotten a little off line of the leader because several of us ended up in the large hole in the center of the rapid. Me and Kelsey were getting back surfed in this hole at the exact same time. We worked like hell to get out of it but the river won and flipped us both almost simultaneously. I managed to roll and she swam, thankfully there was a large flat pool below because we were not the only casualties of Backender rapid.

Once everyone was collected we continued down river through some mellow class II water before rounding a bend which signaled that we had just entered the Lower Gauley and that we were at class III+ Koontz's Flume Rapid. Koontz's Flume is a high end class III rapid mainly because of the large sieve and undercut in the rocks on the river-right line. Its easy to avoid if you don't screw up the entrance line into the rapid or it can be snuck by going left. I decided to go left and not play near the sieve for my first run. The left hand line was pretty easy after sneaking past some holes, you just had to make sure to punch 5 Boat Hole really hard. Someone swam here so after everyone was back in their boats we continued down river.

We paddled a few mellow rapids and pulled in just upriver of class III Canyon Doors Rapid. Anna talked us through the easy line but told us that we would pulling in on a small beach on river right at the bottom of the rapid. We ran the rapid without incident and pulled into the beach which was our lunch spot for the afternoon. Canyon Doors is really pretty, I think one of the prettiest spots on the Lower Gauley. As we ate a water snake swam up to us and Scott and the boys had a fun time trying to catch it on their paddles. 

After lunch we continued through class III Junkyard rapid. I somehow managed to get flipped in some small hole but combat rolled anyway. You can see some video of the Ladies on the Lower G here:  at about .57 seconds you can even see me combat roll in Junkyard Rapid! LOL!

Next we approached class IV Upper Mash Rapid. The Mash set of rapids are some of the most boulder choked and technical on the Lower Gauley. We pulled in up river to get an explanation of the line. We stayed away from river left because the are some sieves in that area. We went slightly right of center and boofed over a large rock in the middle of the river and pulled some of the small micro-eddies and waited for the rest of the group. Boofing that rock was fun!

Now we had to content with class IV Lower Mash Rapid which is even trickier than Upper Mash. There are large sieves on river left in Lower Mash as well. There is a huge wave-train that you must ride but in the middle of it lurks a large wave-hole that will kick your ass. The line is to run the wave train but to cut hard right when you see the pyramid shaped rock. I must have missed that last bit of directions because I rode the wave-train out, flipped in the huge hole and couldn't roll so I had to swim. I wasn't the only casualty of Lower Mash, there were a few abandoned boats. Once everyone was back in their boats we continued down river.

Next we came to class II+ Diagonal Ledges Rapid. This is a famous surfing spot on the Lower Gauley. And there was a huge line of men lined up to surf it. The looks on their faces as we ran the rapid was priceless! I don't think they've seen a large all female team of paddlers coming down the river at the same time. We def. turned some heads! I got flipped in a diagonal wave here but managed to roll without a problem. I was so glad because about 40 people were watching!

Afterwards we were faced with class IV+ Heaven Help You Rapid. I think this was the hardest rapid on the Lower Gauley, even worse than Lower Mash. It is a long, blind rapid that is filled with holes and boulders. You really need to follow someone who knows the line on this one, it can get rather confusing. The top is really shallow and technical and you have to constantly dodge rocks and holes. There are two large holes that you must thread your way through before coming to the Gates where you must almost hit the rock to avoid the nasty pour-over on river right. I think we had a swimmer or two here but we git things straightened out rather quickly.

We then passed through class III Rocky Top Rapid without problem and continued into class III Upper Staircase Rapid. This is another long rapid on the Lower G with alot of rocks and holes but for the most part it can be run on river left to avoid a gigantic hole of river right. 

Next up was class III Lower Staircase Rapid which has one of the best wave trains I've ever been on. I got flipped and just couldn't manage to roll because of the size of the constant wave trains so I had to bail and swim. Thankfully this was my last swim!

Once I was back in my boat we passed through class III Roller Coaster Rapid which also has some fun wave trains. Next we entered class III Cliff Side Rapid, there are several lines to choose here but I went right as it looked easier and I was getting tired. 

Next up we ran class III Rattlesnake Rapid and class III Rooseter taile Rapid without incident before approaching class IV Pure Screaming Hell Rapid. We pulled an eddy and the girls attempted to explain the line but PSH is a complicated rapid and its best to just follow someone. The line seemed to be mainly left of center and threading between some large holes and paddling through huge wave trains. This is the rapid everyone talks about, mainly because of Hell Hole, the huge hole on river right and maybe because of the rapids name but I liked PSH and found it easier than Heaven Help You!

Once we passed PSH we were homeward bound with a few small riffles to pass through and some flatwater to paddle to the takeout in Swiss. I ran into some friends from PA at the takeout. We took some photos of the whole group and drank a beer before loading the kayaks and gear, changing into dry clothes and reversing the shuttle. 

It was a great day on the Lower G and a fun first time run for me! I'd recommend kayaking the Lower G and checking out Anna's Girls at Play Ladies on the Lower G if you're a woman who is hesitant to run the Lower G for the first time

Lower Gauley info:

Girls at Play info:

Video of Ladies on the Lower G 2011:

Gauleyfest info:
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