Lower Gauley & New River Gorge

This weekend I successfully paddled the Lower Gauley twice and the New River Gorge once. It was a great trip with some awesome friends and I wanted to take this opportunity to make my first post here as an introduction of sorts.

This was my first time paddling my Alpacka Denali Llama with a spray skirt attachment down these rivers. I’ve paddled both of these rivers previously in a whitewater kayak. The Lower Gauley was beautiful as always and offered some especially challenging whitewater for my boat. I only had a water bottle and a throw rope attached to my deck.

The most difficult rapid for me was “Backender” which is a rapid that sees the river constrict to the right side of the river with 60% of the current pushing into a breaking wave above a large hole. The line is to stay left and I began to move left too late and hit the steep and fast breaking wave which turned me around so I was facing upstream and heading straight towards a very large hole. A quick sweep stroke and some frantic paddling got me onto the right shoulder of the hole into a seam that almost resulted in a swim. If you want to scout this rapid you can scout on the left.

The lesson from this is to always charge breaking waves perpendicular to the break of the wave. Never try to punch a wave at any angle other than 90 degrees!!

Koontz’s flume is just below back ender and and the approach is recognizable by the large outcropping of perilously perched rocks on the cliff walls high up on river right. I snuck the main drop on the left shoulder by pushing left over the waves and gravel bar before boofing over the beginning of the bottom hole after I found a seam to punch through. If you want to scout this rapid you can scout on the left.

Lower Mash is a tricky rapid in the packraft that I chose to sneak on river left. I rode on the left side of Lower Mash to avoid the breaking wave that is the main obstacle and an intimidating feature. Running down the left shoulder, eddying out on the left then ferrying across the wave train is a tricky move but far easier than taking the chance of running the meat of lower mash. If you want to scout this rapid you can scout on either side.

The only other real obstacles of note were large boil/whirlpool eddy lines and the occasional big water technical boof that isn’t strictly necessary but sure is fun.

I especially enjoyed the long continuous wave trains and boofing off of the tops with a solid forward stroke. Upper Mash and Pure Screaming hell were lots of fun and the general pace of read and run class III-IV big water is always a delight and thanks to the large stern on the Alpacka tall glassy wave trains are awesome.

The flatwater sections were a drag when the wind kicked up but that’s the same regardless of your craft.

The Lower Gauley release level for both days was 2800 cfs

The New River Gorge is a shorter run than the Lower Gauley and has more flatewater. It is big water with the characteristic occasional holes and wave trains and mostly class II-III read and run whitewater with a few class IV rapids thrown in for good measure.

Middle Keeney and Lower Keeney are by far the most challenging rapids on the river. Middle Keeney is preceded by Upper Keeney which is just a large and fast wave train running to the right of a large boulder in the center left of the river. The eddies on the left and right are a good place to get out and scout Middle Keeney.

Middle Keeney is an enormous gravel bar rapid on steroids with extremely chaotic breaking waves, sticky holes and even bigger holes mixed in. I ran center left to center right without encountering any nasty holes.

Lower Keeney is next and it’s best to get out and scout on the large sloping flat rocks on river left. Lower Keeney has two large glassy breaking rooster tails at the entrance which could easily flip a packraft. I ran down the right side of the center left line which put me on a boil line that runs to the right of a rooster tail and to the left of a diagonal breaking ledge hole then charged right through some big wave trains to avoid the breaking waves on the river left that the current is pushing towards.

Fayette Station is the final rapid and consists of a long wave train that is not technical and is best run straight down the center. If you try to sneak this one on the far left or right you’ll get stuck in a lot of ticky tack little holes and technical slots that will likely leave you wishing you had just run the meat.

The New River level was 1’ at the Fayette Station Gauge.

If you’re comfortable on Class III-IV whitewater I highly recommend packrafting the Lower Gauley and New River Gorge if you have the chance. With temperatures in the low 30s-50s during October when I ran it a dry suit is a must and it’s also necessary to find someone who knows both rivers if its your first time on the New or Gauley.

I also strongly recommend eating at Pies and Pints and The Cathedral Cafe.

Good report. I haven’t done those in a packraft, but I did do the Lower New and Upper Gauley on a guided raft last year. In 2013, I took my packraft down the Upper New from Hinton to Thurmond. It was mostly II-III bigwater rollercoasters spread out between flatwater. Pretty scenic, and no need to scout for the most part.