Big Sandy Creek, West Virginia, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (varies with level)|
|Avg. Gradient||79 fpm|
|Max Gradient||110 fpm|
|BIG SANDY CREEK AT ROCKVILLE, WV|
|usgs-03070500||5.00 - 7.30 ft||IV-V||00h31m||5.49 ft (running)|
|Low but paddleable|
For a Go Pro helmet cam video of Wonder Falls, Zoom Flume, Little Splat, and Big Splat, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRcwW2Bs-rU
For those coming from the West, there is now a better road that goes South to Rockville from Morgantown Road. Turn under I-68 at Laurel Run and follow to the NEW put-in parking lot. See the Keel-haulers' map.
From the East or South, you can still head south from Bruceton Mills(I-68) or north from Albright on WV 26 to Valley Point (just about 6 miles from either direction). Look for the turn-off to Hudson Road (WV 15), take it west for 4.8 miles, and turn right down towards the river. Continue another couple miles (bear left at the next fork) to the bridge across the river. This access ends with a mile of rutty, muddy road to the Rockville Bridge and parking is limited on busy weekends. Those who don't have good 4WD often carry or drag their boats down to the bridge. To reach the takeout, head back up to Hudson Road and continue 2.3 miles west down to the Cheat River at Jenkinsburg.
Charlie Walbridge pointed out on 2005-05-04:
"Mountain Streams and Trails, the new owner of the Jenkinsburg Access, asks that private paddlers running the Cheat and Big Sandy use the Upper Parking Lot during Cheat Fest Weekend. The Lower Parking Lot must be kept clear for outfitter trucks and buses. Vehicles parked there make maneuvering these big rigs difficult or impossible. (This is good advice for any high-traffic weekend.)
"So please park right and give a big THANK YOU to any MS&T employees you see on or off the river!"
Another option if you don't want to torture your car's suspension is to call Glenn Miller (304-379-3404), whose shuttle service is reasonably priced and very convenient. Show up on time, and whatever you do, don't stand him up! Glenn is a famously nice guy, and he and his service deserve respect.
The Big Sandy is becoming more popular every year as the jewel of the Cheat River watershed, the largest undammed watershed east of the Mississippi. The run includes two waterfalls--Wonder Falls and the more challenging Big Splat--along with several technical class IV rapids. Big Splat is an AW Standard Rated Rapid with a difficulty of 5.1 when the Rockville Gauge reads 6.1.
At higher water levels (> 6' at Rockville), it's often fun to run the Upper Big Sandy or the Little Sandy before the Lower. This gives a longer run including good play and scenery, and it gives those who don't want to tackle the Lower a good opportunity to enjoy the Sandy without fear. You'll find a nice surfing wave at the Rockville putin, and a great view of the beautiful Sovern Run Falls.
The mileages given for the rapids, described below, are pretty much guesswork. We'll nail that down with a GPS thingie...someday.
Here's Bob Gedekoh's description of alternate high-water lines on the Sandy:
Here are some "High Water" Sandy Tips
If you are nervous about the approach rapid to the falls it is possible to run it on river right if the river is above 6.3 or so. Scout this line first if you dont know it. At the bottom you will drop over a five- or six-foot ledge. When the river is above 6.8 most folks go this way.
Actually the recycle at the bottom of Wonder Falls can get nasty if you miss the boof at levels greater than 6.6. (Editor's note: some swear that the recycle gets nasty at 6.5.) At 7 feet you really need to be on line and make the boof correctly... or risk a dangerous thrashing in the recycle at the base of the falls. When the river goes above 7.1 or 7.2 there is another completely different way to run the falls on river left... not far from shore. But don't try it any lower than 7.1 or you will piton. Even at 7.2 you need to paddle off the lip fast and keep your nose up to use that river left line. I have run this river left line as high as 8 feet.
Another high-water line opens up at Zoom Flume at 6.5 on river left. It is a slide into and over an eight foot ledge. If you try this make sure you don't get pushed into the pin spot about five feet to your right at the brink of the ledge. The recycle at the bottom of this ledge gets nasty at about 7.3 and will recycle you if you don't clear it. This recycle is hard to escape. So if the Sandy is above 7.4 or so, consider going back to the usual Zoom Flume line (which is explosive), or scout the center and try to find another route.
When the river goes above 6.7 or so it becomes very hard to portage Big Splat on the right because you can't get back into your boat on the launch ledge. An alternate high-water Splat portage is available on river left.
At 7.5 and higher, there is a nasty hole at the bottom of the first rapid below Big Splat. I got caught in it a couple of weeks ago at eight feet and had to abandon ship. The worst part of that experience was that I had to be rescued by the son of a keelhauler. Oh, the shame of it!!!!
The Big Sandy above seven feet can be fun, but it is serious business. If you attempt it, make sure you are with a strong group.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|4.7||Bridge Pier Rapid||III+|
After Big Splat is some more of the Class-3 boogie water that makes the Sandy such a joy. The paddler has to keep his eyes open, as there are pinning spots to avoid (especially at low water) and some play holes to enjoy, but for the most part, it's a fun slalom adventure. About a mile downstream, soon after a good play hole, comes First Island. This is a pair of narrow slots separated by a narrow, deceptively short and fast "pool." The second slot requires a solid right boof against the flow that tries to land the paddler into a very unpleasant rock.
Coordinates from Jeff Macklin (verified by GPS). The coordinates of the end of this rapid are 39.60871, -79.73970.
Soon after First Island, when you see a rectangular concrete wall on River Left, you've come to this rapid, which has a big-ol' ledge-hole at higher levels.
Thanks to Jeff Macklin for the GPS coordinates for this rapid!
Another mile below First Island is...Second Island. Not normally counted among the Big Sandy "Biggies," this one is a fun, straightforward Class-3+ boulder hop--unless you go left! If you go left, it's a blind, screaming drop with only a couple of feet of leeway. Call it a Class 5; this is a good rapid for elbow pads, as even a good line can give the paddler an unwelcome shot.
Just a few short yards below Second Island is the takeout, the confluence with the Cheat Canyon, and the beginning of the scariest experience of the day: the shuttle out!
Lat/longitude coordinates, verified by GPS, are courtesy of Jeff Macklin. Coords of the endo this rapid: 39.59684, -79.74444.
The Jenkinsburg Project is a partnership between a private landowner, two river-oriented non-profits, a state environmental agency, five canoe and kayak clubs, and hundreds of donors from West Virginia and the surrounding states.