Virginia Whitewater, Roger Corbett
Ed Evangelidi testifies:
This stretch of mild whitewater was formerly a heavily industrialized river and there are many man-made obstacles to be aware of, including dams in various states of disrepair, rebar, sharp rock, etc. There are also terminal hydraulics at high water. It is best to go with someone who knows the river. There are also many miles of very flat water way above Lake Chesdin that are paddleable.
Paul Clemmer says:
Runnable levels: On the upper end, 8’ is my absolute cutoff, and to run at 6.5’ or higher I would require a more experienced group. The Matoaca bridge RC gauge says NO WAY between 4’ and 4.5’ (corresponds to 6.5-7’ on the USGS gauge). I have heard that this section has been rafted as high as 14’. Takeout is before Campbell’s bridge at high levels. RC gauge shows a “canoe zero” level that corresponds to about 2.5’ on the USGS gauge at Matoaca. It can be run lower than this if you are careful about selecting the deeper channels and don’t mind occasionally dragging your boat over rocks. I have poled my 17’ canoe a quarter mile past the abutment dam and had no problem finding enough water at 190 CFS (2.05’), so that is my lower comfort level. At that level this section is more of a nature/history float than a whitewater trip, but (to me anyway) still worth doing.
Other features: many Class I and II rapids and play spots, braided channels through islands, wildlife, strainers in island area. Alternate access points at Abutment dam, Ferndale Park, river trail in Pipeline/Target Rock area. STRONG whirlpool under Campbell’s bridge at higher levels (if you’ve always wanted to do a mystery move in your canoe, this is the place). Harvell Dam (100 yards below the takeout) is a potentially lethal hazard, so don’t miss the takeout. A short distance below Harvell dam the river is tidal and can be paddled to the James River confluence in Hopewell, and beyond.
About a mile below Chesdin Dam, you will come to a clear horizon line. The dam is broken out in the center and can be portaged/scouted from either side. To run it, follow the leftmost green water and work left after the drop to avoid a couple of rocks. There is a log parallel to the flow and a HUGE rootball on the right. This can pose a significant hazard at higher flows.
To run Jughandle, stay left when the river divides and has a clear difference of gradient between the two sides. The left will be a calm and quiet channel until the main drop, which is a pretty straightforward wavetrain that is usually run just left of center. It can be scouted from the left by walking upstream and using an I-beam footbridge to reach it. Watch out for possible log strainers here. Several excellent playspots below this rapid as it rejoins the main flow.
Most trips avoid Spiked Dam by staying left when you cross under the power lines. The wood has rotted out of this old dam, leaving behind only rocks and metal spikes. To run it, stay right at the power lines and try to stay with the deeper water. At the main drop (a visible horizon line), this seems to be just left of a large rock. Keep an eye out for the spikes, especially if you're in an inflatable!
Here you will be see a sharp horizon line with a pedestrian bridge over a channel on the right. This is easily scouted from the right using the walking path. You will pick up speed as you proceed under the pedestrian bridge (a bit left of center). Be prepaired to make a sharp left turn under a second pedestrian bridge (center to right of center). Now you will hit the main wavetrain and runout to the right. Huge recovery pool *IF* you've already made the left turn before you flip.
To avoid Target Rock rapid, simply stay far right and run along the bank parallel to the walking trail. This is a Class II line called either Seven Drops or Girl Scout (depending, probably, on whether you ran it or your friend did).
To run Target Rock, proceed just left of the island that separates the river through a small wavetrain with a big eddy. Now move to the far left and run the rapid about 10 feet off of the left bank. You can either A) be prepared to catch a hard left eddy after the main drop, then ferry out and around the rock, or B) be prepared to move right after the main drop to avoid the rock. Either one is fine, but decide ahead of time.
Took a packraft here in early April 2020 (at 1,000 cfs) and used the river right portage trail to "set shuttle". You can find more details, including photos of key rapids here: https://easternpackrafting.com/packrafting-the-falls-of-the-appomattox-virginia/
My son and I ran this on 31 Aug 08. It was running at 4.68 and was a fantastic run. Minimal scrapes, great surfing holes, and 3 foot standing waves. There was a strainer about 200 yards above Jughandle on river right that did a good job swamping canoes. Numerous other strainers here and there. Be cautious.
this was a fun summer time run. I have a friend that lives in Petersburg and the take out is right near his house so it was an easy run for us. The first part of this run is real calm and a good place to have some brews, fish or whatever....It didn't seem too shallow in any spots and we just cruised for about two hours.....the river picks up some with some mild rapids further downstream but as stated above becomes frustrating with several dams that have to be portaged......seemed like our portage spots were all river left for anyone travelling without people that have done this run before......the best spot on this run is the pipeline rapid at the end which is river right (maybe an old canal?) with a sharp 90 degree left as the last section of rapid......we hadn't seen anyone all day but when we shot out of the end of this rapid there were police everywhere! Apparently a guy had drowned swimming in the river or something and his body was floating face down on the opposite bank! Pretty gruesome but makes for a good story.....now after that rapid there seem to be some good jumping rocks if you want to swim...I have heard the river (which gets very narrow at this point) is almost 45 ft deep!!! at the bridge....most of the jumping rocks seem to be upstream from the bridge but I would be very careful as I have heard that several people have drowned here from a whirlpool under the bridge. Thats why I mentioned the rocks upstream as it seems a little less sketchy and still quite deep.....use caution as people have died jumping from the bridge.....At the end of the run it is easy to visuaize how prominent Petersburg once was from all of the old factories and abandon buildings.....rumor is the City will dredge downstream from here to establish a city dock for travellers from the Chesapeake so it may be a revival area soon!
9 May 04: Ran this stretch at about 3.0 ft with my daughter in a kayak and her boyfriend, beginner, running open boat tandem with me. Wouldn't want to run this at a lower level, as it was a bit scrapy. Left some green vinyl from my Mohawk XL15 on several rocks! Pipeline and Target were fun, though. Caught the eddy river left of Target Rock, ferried out above the rock and continued down. Was a fun maneuver. All in all, a good river, mostly Class I-II at this level, with Pipeline and Target a good II+ or III.
10 years ago
by Jason Cubbage
11 years ago
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Busted Dam = Fun
Canal above pipeline
Kevin Running Pipeline
Kyle Running Jug Handle
Strainer above Jug Handle
Matacoa Bridge Gauge
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