Despite the frantic reverse paddling, my eyes were locked on a rock the size of a house that our raft was approaching at breakneck speed as it descended through walls of churning whitewater! Having never experienced a raft full of people slamming full tilt into such an immovable object, my brain was telling me that we wouldn’t survive the collision. As I looked back toward our guide, Brian “Squirrel” Hager, for some kind of help, I couldn’t believe my eyes! He was smiling. The big Avon raft slammed straight into the huge boulder called “Pillow Rock” and slid vertically up it to the point where I was sure we would soon be flipped unceremoniously into the rest of this mean, Class V rapid. However, “Squirrel” screamed, “Lean into the rock!” As the extra weight shifted toward the rock, the force of the rushing water slid us smoothly back into the current, and we went bobbing downstream toward the next challenge.
The day had begun with a mouth-watering breakfast at Smokey’s On The Gorge, which is owned by Class VI River Runners. After which guides, raft teams, and bus drivers assembled in the middle of the Class VI complex for loading. Everyone was fitted with the best safety equipment, and during the trip to the river via bus, all were given a thorough indoctrination about safety, equipment, and whitewater tactics.
Less than 15 minutes after rafts and crews were unloaded into the Upper Gauley River below the Summerville Dam, hard paddling through the Class III “Initiation” rapid was underway. The first real test, however, comes less than 2 miles from the start at a mean-looking, Class V rapid known as “”Insignificant”, which it isn’t!
If one survives “Insignificant” and the nearby Class IV rapid referred to as “Iron Curtain”, the reward is “Pillow Rock”, which is said to be the most difficult rapid on the whole river. Though some river guides might dispute that statement, it is 80 yards of some of the wildest whitewater in the world that terminates directly into a house-sized rock called “the pillow”, which is followed by another drop between it and a car-sized rock known as “Volkswagen”. However, after obeying the orders of “Squirrel” Hager and still being in the raft, one soon believes that Mr. Hager could easily navigate Niagara Falls, so the rest of the trip is pure fun! In fact, Class IV and V rapids with names like “Lost Paddle”, “Iron Ring”, “Sweet’s Falls”, “Mash”, “Heaven Help Us”, and “Pure Screaming Hell”, seem to just pass in stride. If one runs the whole 28 miles of the Upper and Lower Gauley, more than 100 Class III to Class V rapids are traversed. It is an awesome trip!
In addition to the world class whitewater trips on the Gauley, Class VI River Runners offer fantastic fishing and easier whitewater trips on the New River. During any of these trips, one is surrounded by majestic cathedrals of rock and trees that tower more than a thousand feet above the water. One might observe ospreys, peregrine falcons, kingfishers, herons, beavers, minks, and other wildlife on any excursion.
With enough time for a long weekend drive, anyone in the Atlanta area can experience the excitement of the West Virginia mountains. Class VI River Runners are recognized as one of the best whitewater outfitters in the world, and they offer a multitude of options including fishing, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, kayak clinics, corporate team building, fly casting clinics, and other experiences. They provide everything needed to perform all of their offered activities plus a great restaurant and several lodging options. For more information, call toll-free 1-800-252-7784.