Guest, Virginia, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||100 fpm|
|GUEST RIVER AT COEBURN, VA|
|usgs-03524500||300 - 1100 cfs||IV-V||01h03m||166 cfs (too low)|
The Guest River Gorge is the final half-dozen or so miles of the Guest River before it enters the Clinch River in the Upper Tennessee Watershed.
The Guest was originally called Guests River and is named after Christopher Gist, an early explorer in the Appalachian area.
The Gorge flows through the Guest River Gorge Recreation area, which also contains a Rails-to-trails style bike trail, which is wide and slightly sloping, and visible for much of the run. The trail is on River Left for all of the run with the exception of the first quarter mile of easy class I-II. Most of the run is visible from the trail or a short walk from it. The more difficult section (after putting in from 29 down to Whorehouse) is not visible from the trail, but can be accessed with a little bush-wacking.
FYI, there's also good rock climbing, trad and sport, on the cliffs you can see from the river/trail. Currently climbing is off limits in the summer months due to falcon nesting.
Overview of the Run:
The Guest has a “Bell Curve” style gradient: it starts out with easy class II-III rapids, moves into a consistent and sustained series of class IV rapids with one solid V, then slows back down to Class II and III rapids before hitting the flat water on the Clinch.
There is one mandatory portage on the river and wood is nearly always an issue. The run is easily navigable by experienced paddlers, just be sure to scout. It is also a great high water alternative to the Russell Fork Breaks section (about 1.5 hours away); and with a proper guide + scouting + portages, it can be a great step-up run for beginning creekers.
On the whole, the river is comparable to other river runs in the area, including the Powell and the Russell Fork. However, it is much longer and has more rapids than both of those runs put together. There is nothing quite as distinct and difficult as, say, El Horrendo or Triple Drop (on the Fork), but it is a long, chunky run with funky, creeky rapids. In general, I think it can be a mean river, especially to swimmers, and I don’t think it has completely mellowed out from when the railroad bed was blown into the river in the early 20th century. At high water, it is a formidable run with serious consequences (it is also fun as heck at those levels, just be careful).
There is a great video guide to the river on YouTube. I was not on this run, but it looks to be about 15-18 inches (450 - 600 CFS) in the video.
We are slowly compiling a correspondence between the relatively new USGS gauge and the painted gauge on the center piller of the US. 72 bridge near Coeburn, VA. Please check the level on both when you boat the Guest and post the correspondence in the comments, or email them to me. Actually, better yet, email me before you go and we'll paddle it together!
200-300 CFS = 0-6 inches on the center pillar: LOW
This is bare minimum for getting down the river. It is pretty difficult at ELF levels, and is not very fun. On a pretty summer day, though, it might be worth it.
I look at moving to the Russell Fork at these levels. If the Guest is a possibility, there should definitely be water in the Fork.
300- 400 CFS = 6-12 inches : Medium Low
These are low but still fun levels on the Guest. A good level to combine with the Russell Fork for a long but very fun day since the Fork has a probability of not being too high at these levels.
400-590 CFS = 12-18 inches: MEDIUM
These are some fun levels, and are the most typical for runs on the Guest. I will describe rapids below at this water level. Not a lot of push, but clean lines through most rapids. (*clean in terms of the Guest we should say, which is relative)
590-720 CFS : 18- 24 inches: Medium High
Very fun levels, but starting to get pushy. Pins (though always present) become less of an issue at this level, but holes start to get sticky. For an experienced, IV-V paddler with a guide and/or some lower water runs under their belt, these are GREAT levels.
720-1100 CFS : 24 – 42 inches. HIGH.
Starting to get quite pushy, and is scary in places. Holes are a big issue, and beatdowns are likely if you end up in one. A swim would totally and completely SUCK, and would be very dangerous.
That said, I’ve run it in these higher levels and it is a blast. I usually walk “28 and 1/2” at these levels, though.
Start looking for Little Stoney Creek to be a run at the mid to upper end of these levels.
1100 +: 42 inches +. VERY HIGH.
I’ve never been on the Guest at these levels, but I’ve walked down it. It looks quite scary when it gets to about 5 feet on the center pillar. I think it's somewhere around 10 feet that the sieve at 29 gets covered up.
It is definitely doable, though, for a team of solid Class V paddlers. Personally, I'd rather run Little Stoney.
Just a thought: It would be possible to set shuttle for both Little Stoney Creek and the Guest at the same time at these levels. The mouth of Little Stoney is only a few miles downstream from the Guest on the Clinch and at these very high levels, the Clinch is flat booking it so the distance between takeouts is negligible. Just watch out for floating cows, trailers, etc. on the Clinch.
The AFWS Fox Gap rain gauge has been out of service for a while and just recently came back on line. If it continues to report data then that's a good thing. An indicator of rainfall is the Divide Ridge rain gauge which is located one ridge over from the headwaters of the Guest. If it recieves a good amount of rainfall, the Guest is likely a go.