Rafting the Upper Gauley - Gauleyfest 2009

Trip Start Jun 06, 2009
Trip End Oct 10, 2009

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Where I stayed
Songer Whitewater
What I did
Whitewater rafting

Flag of United States  , West Virginia
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gauleyfest rolled around once again this year in mid-September, as it always does, and I once again found myself on one of Darrin's trips at Songer Whitewater.Crystal, Brook, Jen and I left for WV on Thursday morning and arrived in the afternoon to set up camp. As usual we started drinking and played many games of flip cup with trips to the High Water Lounge in-between. Some people in Darrin's group rented out the cabins at Songer for the weekend so since they weren't arriving until Friday we stayed there on Thursday night. The cabins are really nice and have multiple rooms, a bathroom, kitchen, entertainment area and a porch with a hot tub. Its a great alternative to dragging camping equipment along.
On Friday we got up late and went over to the Summersville Dam to lay out and swim. It was hot but overcast but we went anyway. We laid out for awhile and got hot so we decided to go swim in the dam but unfortunately a hot summer produced alot of the disgusting pond scum/ seaweed that grows from the bottom of the lake. Everyone was too grossed out to swim so we went back to Songer to shower and get something to eat. On the way back we saw members of team Wavesport stopped at a local ice cream shop, it's so awesome to see professional kayakers all over the place, but that's Gauleyfest for ya!

Back at Songer we showered, hung out, and watched videos of the trips taken that day and Darrin ordered pizzas for dinner. Tonight we had "graffiti t-shirt night". We brought plain white t-shirts and markers and you could write anything you wanted on anyone else, needless to say this got a little out of hand! After a marathon of drinking we went to bed late and had to get up very early for rafting the next day.We had to be at breakfast between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. and we had a 6:30 a.m. call for rafting. It is so hard to raft when you are hung-over! Ofcourse it was freezing in the morning, gray and overcast. I was so happy to have my dry-top and wet-suit bottoms with me since the water in the Gauley is usually cold.
This trip it was me, Crystal, Beth, Jamie, Brooke, Josh and two other girls we didn't know that well in our raft. We picked a cute southern boy named Tait to be our guide, he looked strong enough to pull us back in if we fell out. As always we dressed up for the Gauley, it's an odd tradition that most rafters do. I had a pirate hat on, Jamie and Beth had witch hats on and Crystal had a pumpkin mask. Since the raft was mainly women and we had two witches onboard we named ourselves "Team Bitchcraft"!
Absolutely no one wanted to sit in the front of the raft since it takes the most abuse so Crystal and I were elected to sit upfront! Hooray! We had a video boater on our trip again this time which is always nice!Our first rapid was class IV Initiation and nothing of major consequence happened here. Since I have started kayaking I've found myself really studying different rivers to see if I have the skill to run them. I think I could handle most of the Upper Gauley except its class V rapids. After Initiation there is a long stretch of class II boogie water with some surfing spots and some eddies to catch.
Up next was class V Insignificant, which is not so insignificant! We ran a clean line through Insignificant and did a rock splat at the bottom on river right. Our guide Tait would give us directional calls and whenever he wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen he'd tell us to just improvise. We continued on to class IV Iron Curtain rapid where some of the rafts did "high side" practice. High Side is a call give by a guide when one side of the raft is being sucked under the current and the people on that side of the raft need to climb up to the high side so the raft doesn't flip.
We meandered through more class II-III whitewater and came across a huge horizon line with the sound of rolling thunder, it meant only one thing, Pillow Rock! Pillow Rock is probably the best known of the Upper Gauley Rapids, its featured in most photos and videos of the river. It's fantastic fun and rafts often end up flipping here. Since we were with the sweep guide our raft went last though the rapid. We got pushed sideways by Inertia Wave and knocked of our line a little. We managed to pull it together but couldn't hit Pillow Rock and came crashing down on top of Volkswagen Rock! Our raft got stuck right on top of the rock. We had to move around and try to free ourselves from the rock before the next raft came through the rapid and hit us. Thankfully we were able to get off VW before that happened but the impact of hitting the water sent Crystal flying into me and we both almost fell out of the raft. Everyone was laughing hysterically and our friend Brett got great pictures from on-shore. It was a good thing we freed ourselves when we did because a N.A.R.R., another rafting company, trip came down behind us and all 5 of their rafts flipped. We helped rescue their swimmers and pick up equipment before heading down river.
After Pillow Rock is a nice class III surfing wave called Hungry Mother. You can always see kayakers here surfing and the wave is big enough to side surf an 8 man raft. We all tried to get into the wave but she wasn't having it, the water was just a little too pushy to catch the wave today.As you come across the next rapid you will see the Meadow confluence with the Gauley on river left. As we crossed this spot we saw a camp set up on the beach and no one was there. People left a large pirate flag flying at their camp. We pulled over and people on one of Songer's other rafts stole the flag and attached it to one of their paddles. Up next was class V Lost Paddle Rapid. I think this is one of the more intimidating rapids on the Upper Gauley. Lost Paddle consists of 3-4 big drops, depending on water level, in the river with huge diagonal waves and holes. You can not see the entire rapid and must run each section before you can see the next. In the second drop of the rapid is a fantastic but huge wave known as Hawaii 5.0 swims here are legendary and shallow, its best to stay in the raft! The bottom or 4th drop in Lost Paddle has its own name and its class IV Tumblehome. Its a confusing mess of boulders and holes everywhere. I believe there were only a few swimmers in this area of the river on our trip.
After Tumblehome are two smaller class III rapids called Conestoga Wagon and Shipwreck Rock. Although they are smaller rapids both have been the sites of near fatalities. The rocks in the Gauley River are severely undercut which is what leads to its class V-V+ rating, even the smaller class rapids on the Gauley are more dangerous than other rivers because of the undercuts.Once we passed through Shipwreck Rock it was time to tackle class IV+ Iron Ring Rapid. Iron Ring is another of the Gauley's monster rapids where very bad things have happened. An old logging operation at this rapid has caused bedrock to fall in the river and make some dangerous underwater sieves. Its another rapid that you want to stay in the raft. With that being said its a fun rapid and has some great five foot drops into a large fun wave train with massive holes on either side.
Up next is the Gauley's most fun spot on the river, Sweets Falls. Also known as the Coliseum of Carnage, Sweets Falls is a class IV rapid which is actually considered a waterfall due to its 12 foot drop. Sweets Falls can be accessed from the road and many people hike in to watch the carnage unfold on this rapid. There is a large boulder, named Dildo Rock, in the middle of the waterfall slot that causes alot of flips and swims. There is also a large rock at the end of the rapid called Postage Due Rock that many rafts attempt to splat off of. There is also a featured called the Box Canyon, which is illegal to take the rafts into. Its a tricky maneuver that requires a splat off Postage Due rock and a tight turn to get into the Box Canyon, otherwise you end up going down the Poop Shoot which is a rocky ledge that traps rafts and rafters. The whole area is alot of fun and the rafting companies often hang out here for awhile to watch the nonsense unfold. My raft did the splat off Postage Due Rock and entered the Box Canyon, we were able to run the clean slot and get out without a problem. We pulled over for lunch and watched other rafts for awhile before continuing down river.
We did the mandatory pull-over at Jump Rock so some of the rafters could climb up the cliff and jump down into the Gauley. It took awhile because one girl was too scared to jump and we waited around for about half an hour for her to come down. Up next was class III Fluffy Box of Kittens, also called Guide's Revenge. Crystal asked Tait to try to flip the raft here since its one of the safer places on the Gauley to swim. As we pulled into the wave Tait quickly put in a back stroke and the left side of the raft lifted up and only Crystal got dumped from the raft! Too funny!
We picked her up and continued through some mild riffles and class II whitewater before hitting our last rapid for the day, class III Wood's Ferry. Wood's Ferry is a fun ride with a near river-wide pourover called Julie's Juicer. We sailed on through to the takeout and cold beers on the bus!Back at Songer it was our usual routine of quick showers, viewing the rafting video and buying pictures before more beer and dinner time. After dinner Beth, Jaime and I decided to go over to Gauleyfest since they have never been there. Gauleyfest is about a 15 minute ride from Songer's camp. We paid the $10.00 admission fee which raises money for American Whitewater. We walked around and looked at all the things on sale from the different vendors. We saw Eric Jackson raffling off a boat and lots of great videos. I saw a few people I know there and even ran into Anna who was there with her company Girls at Play and Kokotat. We walked around and both Jaime and Beth found some small items to buy before we left. Back at Songer we played more flip cup and ran in and out of the bar all night long. It was another fun weekend in WV and at the Gauleyfest.

Things learned on the Gauley River:

1. Gauleyfest is always held in mid-September and is the largest whitewater festival in the U.S. info: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/aw:events_gauley

2. Songer's website : www.songerwhitewater.com

3. Darrin's Group: www.paddlespolesnmore.com

4. Upper Gauley River info : http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/2378/#tab-rapids

5. Lower Gauley River info: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/2379/#tab-rapids

6. The water in the Gauley is usually cold since it is released from the bottom of a dam. It's best to wear wet suit gear.

7. High Side is a call give by a guide when one side of the raft is being sucked under the current and the people on that side of the raft need to climb up to the high side so the raft doesn't flip.
8. The rocks in the Gauley River are severely undercut which is what leads to its class V-V+ rating, even the smaller class rapids on the Gauley are more dangerous than other rivers because of the undercuts.9. A drop must be atleast 12 feet to be considered a waterfall.
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