For the Curtain Bridge to Webster Springs run (the classic race course) between 5.5 & 7 ft. is ideal for the intermediate boater. Between 4.5 & 5.5 ft. this section begins to look boney; however, The Elk below Webster, where the Back Fork (a scenic creek with waterfalls and a hiking trail) enters, is navigable at these levels, & in many ways offers a very fun 'read & run' ride.
Above 7 ft. the Elk truly begins to turn into a class IV-V river. I've came really close to drowning in this river above 8 ft. in a huge pour-over in th race section between Curtain Bridge & PX ... head over heals, no touching the ground, no swimming out (I don't know who came up with the "turn into a ball" rule, but I had to 'make like a stick' & gracefully pull th "Jesus pose").
Robert Farmer---Hi, I did this on April 4, 2009. The level was about 6.6/2500 on the telemetric/internet gauge at Webster Springs, which I've been told is 3 feet higher than the visual gauge on the right side of the island in WS. I was told erroneously by some other kayaker on the river that there were no significant rapids on this section, but, fortunately, I pretty much never believe people who tell me that, anyway. I ran the big ledge just right of center, largely because I was too tired, lazy, cold, crampy, and whiny to scout---this is usually a perfect recipe for disaster. Well, it worked, and the left side didn't look too great to me, anyway. It felt a lot like the Gauley at high water---a serious rapid, for sure! This was quite a large, exciting rapid at this level. There appeared to be some extreme ugliness in the middle of the river to my immediate left. Definitely be careful; this was a kind of scary rapid, although the level is apparently considered to be kind of high (it was low where I started, at Slatyfork). Upstream, a good Class 4 rapid started underneath a bridge (Curtin Road, perhaps?) That might make a good put-in to cherry-pick the hardest section down to Webster Springs. This section was definitely better than expected! I'm certainly glad that I did it.
----------- The following is a summary for levels between 5 & 7 ft. on this section. Between 5 & 5.5 ft. a 14ft. raft will seem to be too big for the river. Above 7 ft. the river begins to change dramatically & should only be ran by experienced boaters, and scouting should be involved. The river can rise fast.
---------- There is a put-in at The Curtin Bridge. From here to the “The PX Rapid” it is a very ‘read & run’ river: It is a great intermediate section: You often shift from one side of the river to the other once you learn it. Pour--overs are out there, so watch out for the frowney-faces. & As always, look out for strainers, as it is pretty much a wilderness section until you get into town. There are several smiley-faces & some runnable ledge drops if you know where to look for them.
-------------Before the "PX Rapid" there is a tightly grouped series of (very small at 5ft.) type-writer curlers on river right (surfers left). It is easy to eddy out & scout the PX Rapid just down-stream from this on river-right. If you ask locals you might find assistance in scouting the rapid in Parcoal pre-trip (advised).
On race-day during The Webster Wildwater Weekend there is a crowd of locals gathered on the right bank at “The PX,” & if you ask the right people, you can put-in just below “PX”.
----------- With the PX Rapid it is often the case that people are most scarred of “The Crack” at the bottom right, which in it’s own right consist of water which flows through “Don’t Become a Crack-Head Rock” (5+ft. the ‘rock with the crack’ should be covered up with water: The current will suck you ‘right’ to it, and through it; and you may go through, as I once did, upside-down … raft running through sideways & on top of me, lol.)
----------------- However, The scariest hole (the hole that caused me to go through the crack on my back) in the PX Rapid is top center: It is affectionately called “Jim’s Butt Hole” (Our friend Jim Casey lost his shorts there one day.) I do not see this hole pictured on the AW site. It is a very munchy hole: It is like two curlers/reactionaries feeding in on each other: It is marked by a series of reactionaries up-stream; however, it is harder to read them coming in from up-stream than one may think by simply scouting. … I have been square as can be, guiding a raft, my crew in sync & all forward & have still been flipped in this hole … & The River Gods will take your cloths. From this hole 75% of the river heads towards the direction of “The Crack.”
----------- There is also a fluffy & more friendly hole in the middle of the rapid, right of center, just upstream from “The Crack.” It is possible to hit this fluffy hole I have always called “Don’t Become a Crack-head Hole” & still miss “The Crack” by immediately cutting a hard ferry angle & powering yourself towards river-left: There is also a sneak line along the far-right river bank. Some kayakers like to go ahead & throw their paddle in the air & glide ‘right’ on through “The Crack.” I have even fit a mini-me raft through it square: it was a very narrow fit, but it was square (oops.)
Going back to the top of “PX”, there is a big ledge drop at the top-left: Trying to dodge everything this way could be a mistake (I have ran every possible rout, whether purposeful or not.) At 5ft. it is very rocky: If you run this be prepared for a scrapped up boat or a very jerky ride in which someone can easily be thrown from an open boat.
----------- The best ‘sneak line’ through “PX” is to the right of “Jim’s Butt Hole,” & to the left of “Don’t Become a Crack-head Hole.” … & keep going hard left, there is a channel where the remanding 25% of the water flows. … & of course, you can walk around the entire rapid on the river right bank.
----------------- When the river rises towards flood-stage what you see at PX becomes almost indescribable: A HUGE pyramid wave forms at the bottom: At the top of the pyramid wave it looks like 4 different breaking waves are crashing together.
-------------- After PX there is a decent recovery pool … (at a “runnable” level.)
Then you will see small mini-cliffs to the left, possibly with little water-fall like things coming in on ‘em. When the water is emerald it makes for nice scenery. Around the bend is “Log Cabin Rapid” & the “Jack in the Box” Hole. It doesn’t look like much from above but there is a fluffy & flushy : ) hole At the top of the rapid dead-center of the river called “Jack IN The Box”. I always just lined up for the middle & let my boat drift into this-one, its not very legible until you get right to it. If you can get a camera down here, there are nice spots to take pictures of people hitting it square from above & catching the immediate eddy for a surf. It is a fluffy & flushy hole, about just as long as tall, but I still got the mini-me raft in there many times long enough to flip & laugh at everybody.) There is a small but decent eddy immediately down stream & to the right & “Jack IN the Box” is basically surrounded by rock-gardens. There is not too much room because the river quickly bends left, (a log cabin up on the hill river-right appears btw) , & there is a decent wave train to the right … watch out for branches in the wave train & watch out for rocks to the right just below the wave-train: As the water rises riding the wave-train can smack you right into something.
----------------- The 4 “Cherry Falls Ledge Drops” appear soon, and sometimes spectators line the guardrails of the road river-right & cluster river-left. At decent water surfing gets bigger here. … They are not huge ledge drops, but Keep in mind they are still ledge drops.
--------------- For the 1st & 2nd drops look for the dips : ) in the ledges center & center-right. After the 2nd drop you will want to cut right in order to line up for what is often everybody’s favorite, the 3rd ledge (we always called it “Aqua-Lung ” because it’s the longest of the ledges & it often has at least one wave that can give you a mouth-full of water), which starts you off right of center & has you angle left to hit the wave/hole at the bottom. … I have seen more people flip in the 4th ledge than in any other … by far: Just hit the tongue in the middle. The curlers/current to the side of the tongue can suck you in, kick you sideways, and force you to surf it. If you are looking for a cool surf, look at the other ledges first, the “Cherry Falls Ledges” can be seen from the road.
--------------- The trip mellows out through the rest of the section if you are taking out at Baker’s Island. As you go past the school-bus lot to the right; though, there is a ledge drop representing the remains of an old dam or something. This thing is stupid. The good thing is that sometimes you can creep along the top of it & find a shoot: The obvious shoot has a *%$ rock just below it.
------------------ If you are going to continue past the Island you can take out at the sewer plant. This gives you a chance to run “Heroes In A Half-shell” rapid (get it? Ninja turtles lived in a sewer … boats are a half-shell … locals will sometimes just call it “Sewer Plant Rapid”) … you know you are approaching this when you see the above ground pipeline lining the river. The rapid is often a long frothy white thing (rocky yet still frothy at low water, just ask my butt) and can be followed by a big (& possibly dangerous) hit at the bottom. Scout this rapid if possible!
------------------ If you are going past that I don’t know anybody that has bad things to say about the very read & run, very scenic & very fun, ‘rapid-pool-style’ “Down Elk” leg which continues (when it is runnable & the water is nice & emerald … if the water is muddy you might want to re-check the gauge.) This section can sometimes be ran when the section from Curtain to Baker’s Island is too low.
The Webster Springs gauge is located 29 river miles downstream of the put-in. There is a major tributary(Back Fork)that flows into the Elk between this gauge and the put-in. Thus this gauge can only be used as an indicator.
There is a visual gauge painted on a bridge pier on CR 15/4 at Cherry Falls. At recommended paddling levels it will read 4.0' lower than the Webster Springs gauge.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Mike Surbaugh on the Elk
Open Season on Kayakers?
Elk River Festival, Webster Wildwater Weekend
PX bottom view
PX from the top view
What a group
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Nancy Kell, a very experienced Mid-States kayaker, died on February 24th after flipping in a Class II rapid on West Virginia's Red Creek. There were a number of strainers in the vicinity above and below the water. One of them snagged her tow tether, pulled her out of her boat, and held her under water. She was with a very experienced crew but they could not reach her quickly enough. Equipment snags are a real risk. In the light of this accident I strongly urge anyone using a cowtail, pigtail, or tow tether to recheck your setup, and to consider whether wearing a tow tether makes sense. Be certain that your tether releases cleanly at both ends. Do not attach the front carabiner to a non-releasable point, like a pocket or strap. Ms. Kell did this, and it may have been a contributing factor. Apparently many current rescue PFD designs to not feature a front release point! Do not attach a tether to the rear of your PFD with a non-locking carabiner, as that may inadvertently clip into a rope. The tether should fit very snugly, without sagging, but as the photo shows Ms. Kell did that, and it did not protect her! The harness release should be quick and foolproof. Practice harness releases under pressure before using it on the river. Finally, remember that any additional strap is a potential snag hazard. Ask yourself if the usefulness of a tow tether is worth the risk, especially on small, strainer infrested creeks. Carry it in a PFD pocket or dry bag if necessary. Click for a link to the report in the AW Accident Database. (Jeff Macklin Photo)
Get your groove on baby! This year Gauley Fest is a 60’s themed event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. To memorialize that historic event we are flashing back to another era for a 60’s throwdown. Started in 1983 to celebrate the derailment of a hydro-electric project that would have disrupted the flows on the Gauley River, Gauley Fest has grown to become the largest paddling festival in the world.
American Whitewater received the following open letter to boaters from the rangers and staff of the Gauley River National Recreation Area. This letter will keep you up to date on important management actions of the National Park Service on the Gauley River. Enjoy your paddling season on this classic whitewater river. As in past years, American Whitewater has leased the field above Masons Branch, also known as the Legg field, for overflow parking.
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