This section of the James at normal and lower levels (7ft and under) is great for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking to hone their skills.
At higher water (above 7ft) a variety of play features start to come in. The difficulty increases with volume, but the rapids are manageable. Due to the considerable width of the river, boaters are cautioned that swims can be long and tiring. If you are a good class III boater with a solid roll, you should have no problem paddling the upper at higher levels. As the water level exceeds 9ft, go around the bigger holes, avoid strainer piles upstream of bridge pylons and avoid eddy lines and whirlpools behind them.
Depending on water and skill levels, paddlers may putin at the steps below Pony Pasture rapid or walk upsteam to putin and play the features in Pony Pasture. Additionally, at water levels above 14ft, advanced paddlers will often putin at the Huguenot Flatwater to add the play wave at Z-dam to their Upper run.
The channel to the takeout at Reedy Creek is indicated by an orange, black and white sign on the upstream end of an island near river right below Mitchell's Gut rapid. Be sure to start working your way over there early unless you plan to run the considerably more difficult Lower James section that follows immediately thereafter.
Z-Dam is upstream of the normal put-in at Pony Pasture. There is no parking allowed at Z-Dam. Typically boaters drive their equipment to the dam then park in the Pony Pasture lot and walk the .8 miles back. Make sure someone is watching your equipment or secure it when parking your car, equipment has been stolen here in the past.
There are two distinct river levels that provide different play features at Z-Dam:
Z-Spot is a fish ladder cut into the river right side of Z-Dam (right side of Williams Island low-head dam). It's a great play spot between 5.2ft and 5.5ft. Below this level, it gets pretty sticky and at higher levels, it becomes flushy and hard to stay in the hole. At the right level this is one of the best play spots in Virginia, Loops and cartwheels are the major moves. There is eddy service on both sides of the hole. Be very careful of the low-head dam when in the eddy, it will try to pull you in.
At high levels around 13 - 15 ft, a taller wave develops with a foam pile, but there is no eddy service. The best play at high water is on river left near Williams Island. Boaters typically put-in at Huguenot Flatwater access to make the ferry to the left side. You can use the portage trail to get back to the top for this great wave. Make sure your crew is heads up to alert surfers of the inevitable wood traveling downstream as the trough is deep enough to block line of sight.
Stay away from the middle of the dam at all levels.
Here is Dane Goins sliding down to the James
These are actually the steps just below the rapids. To run Pony Pasture walk up the road and look for a good spot to launch.
At 7ft - 9ft Pony Pasture rapid rates a class III, and a 20ft wide 3-4ft tall glassy wave forms in a channel right of center that you can surf all day. Just below, a shallow, flat, sloping rock forms a 35ft wide comfortably sticky hole with a great foampile primed for spins - the exit is to river left. This one is best at 7.2 - 8ft and gets increasingly sticky as the level increases.
To take full advantage, park in the parking lot and walk your boat up the road about a tenth of a mile and find a easy spot within the rip-rap rocks to put on above Pony Pasture rapid.
An easy ledge system that can be broken up by eddy hopping. Around 4ft, there is a good surfing wave river center about 2/3rds of the way through the rapid. This wave has a great river left eddy from which to get on it and the runout is deep, so it's great for learning and refining front surf skills.
At higher levels, larger wavetrains and standing surf waves (Hawaii 5-0) develop on river left at the top of the ledge series.
At low levels, there is a surf wave under Powhite Bridge. The wave is found around 3.5-4.0 feeton river left directly under the bridge. Another good beginner surf spot, but it is very shallow so tuck tight.
As with many man-made structures, the bridge creates hazards that come into play at higher water levels. Most notably the log strainers that are piled on the upstream side of the pylons. Also, the pylons create strong, uniform eddy fences and whirlpools at high levels. Avoid them both.
As the paddler passes under the arched railroad bridge and moves to river left of center, they will find the remains of an old bridge in the river and a large island on the right. From 30 yards upstream, there will be a horizon line and the paddler will be able to hear Choo Choo rapid. This rapid is a wavetrain best run right of center. There is a large eddy on the right with a strong eddy line. Be sure to keep that left edge up and pierce the eddy line if you want to catch this one. The wavetrain is deep and relatively unobstructed making it well suited for practicing combat rolls in current and waves.
Chew Chew lunch beach below Choo Choo rapid The shore of the river right eddy mentioned above is a primo sandy beach with dry rock for grabbing a mid-trip snack. The eddy is a great swimming hole and is also well suited for roll practice.
Below Choo-Choo, you can follow the current to river right upstream of an island in-line with the runnout. Paddling along the right side of the islant will bring you to a low head dam. Run this dam on the river left side of the channel. You might want to scout by getting out on an island on river left of the channel to make sure you don't hit a rock just below the dam and get broached.
Alternatively, when the water is 5.5ft and above, you can work down toward the left side of the island and thread your way through a fun boulder garden mid-river that's perfect for catching eddies and practicing ferries.
After passing under the Nickel Bridge (green metal), work toward right of center to enter the final rapid, Mitchell's Gut.
River right rapid. This route ops you out of Choo Choo or what has been the traditional route originally posted here on the Upper James AW page. Runnable from 6 feet on upwards. You can run into the lower 5 foot level, but you see why its called Thor's Hammer as things narrow, and you really get pushed onto the rock leading size. After the Powhite Ledges work river right and under the Powhite Parkway bridge (Route 76) between the third and forth set of bridge pillars off the right bank. Here you will come upon many play-spots, little rapids, and a resting spot. Over all good place to practice ferrys, surfing, etc as there is something for really anyone still developing skills. Also between the Parkway and the railroad bridge is 10 Boat Hole; a high-water play-spot that's in play starting in the 9 foot range. Keep working river right and go under the railroad bridge between the first and second railroad bridge pillars. 150 yards down river from under the railroad bridge will be a large rock that most lot of water is flowing towards. Nearing 10 foot most of this rock is under water, at lower levels it easy to see. Approach the large rock and typically in the last 10 yards you can have your your spot picked out you want to punch through/over the recirculating wave at lower level and wave train at higher levels. Right after another resting spot with lots of shade and sometimes trash (beer cans) from non-river lovers!
Again a non-traditional line that ops you out of Choo Choo rapid and well worth knowing about to give yourself options. As the name suggest its to the far left. Runable from the low 5 foot range on upwards. Take the traditional line as if going to Choo Choo or Pin Ball. If going this route its best to just keep left all the way from the Powhite Parkway (Route 76) to this rapid. You will come across a handful of play-spot if that's your thing. Go under the railroad bridge keeping left along the bank and you will come to a divide in the river. Keep left at the divide and at higher water levels you will start to see the whitewater within this far left channel calling you down to play. Once in the divides flow 100 yards down is the main drop called Left Left. Left Left has a slightly deceiving horizon line right of center that you don't want to let trick you getting you to far right. Its best to be center of the two rocks that direct the channels water through this rapid or left of center more so than right of center. At level appraching 9 foot the rocks are just about all underwater. Exit this channel thereafter in the first cut you see that joins you back to larger part of the James. You will now be in the tail end of Pin Ball. Between here and the next bridge before the Gut are a few rapids all of which offer waves and holes for play.
A long boulder garden that ends with a wave train straight down the middle of the river. Enter right of center. Eddy hop your way through making your way back to the middle of river. Line up for the roller coaster wave train finish.
After the wavetrain, look for the boulder field on the right to end. Look downstream to find an orange, black and white "TAKE OUT" sign at the upstream end of an island. Work right to get to the channel on the right of the island.
Paddle down the channel until you see a building on your right. Paddle toward the channel (Reedy Creek) entering just upstream of the building (Reedy Creek Park HQ). Paddle up Reedy to the takeout platform and stairs.
Map of rapids from a boating group in the area: http://coastals.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=3808#3808
The gauge most commonly used for this section is the USGS 02037500 JAMES RIVER NEAR RICHMOND, VA
A pretty good predictor of water temperature is available from the upstream gauge at Cartersville, VA.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Dagger Paddle with the Pros
Pony Pasture Cover
Upper James Cover
Scooter at Z-Dam
Chew Chew Beach
Z-Dam High Water 15th
Sick Roll Dude
Check out this flatwater cartwheel
Z Damn with New Tree
Monster at Pony
Looking Up Pony Pasture
Jeff laughs at the high water
Z-Dam Local Hacks
Z-Dam High Water
Z-Dam High Water
Putin Pony Pasture
Karl at Z-Dam 5.3ft
Dave Myers - Pony Pasture
Pony Pasture Parking Lot
Pony Pasture 10 Feet
Surfing near Pony Pasture
Reedy Creek Putin
Playing near Pony Pasture
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