Gauley, West Virginia, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||36 fpm|
|Max Gradient||48 fpm|
|Gauley at Summersville (cfs)|
|virtual-8515||400 - 5000 cfs||IV-V||01h03m||1021.3 cfs (running)|
Fun Fact: Every fall, the six weekends of Gauley season provide the biggest whitewater party of the year. American Whitewater's GauleyFest, is held on the third weekend of the month of September, is the world's largest whitewater festival.
Hazards: There are several dangerous pinning spots on the Gauley. Three of the most famous are the sieve on river right at Initiation, Shipwreck Rock, and Conestoga Wagon.
From Charleston, WV:
Take I-64 East to Chelyan. Take the Chelyan-Cedar Grove exit, cross the river, and head East on Rt. 60. In Gauley Bridge, take a left onto Rt. 16 / 39 North. In Drennan, head East on 39. In Poe, head East on 129. Just after the Battle Run Campground on the Left, turn Right where the sign says "Gauley River National Recreation Area." If you cross the dam, you've gone too far. Head down the paved road to the water. This is the only public-owned access to the river.
From Morgantown, WV:
Head down I-79. Take WV-19 South. In Summersville, watch your speed on WV-19! Local police are aggressive with enforcement; if you are stopped, your car will very likely be searched! After Summersville, Take Rte. 129 West. Just after the dam, turn left where the sign says "Gauley River National Recreation Area." (If you see Battle Run Campground, you've gone too far). Head down the paved road to the water. During the peak of Gauley season be prepared to walk down the road or use the shuttle service as parking fills up.
To the Panther Mountain Takeout near Mason's Branch: From the put-in head west on Hwy. 129. In Poe, at the white church, turn left onto Road 11/1. The road will turn unpaved soon. Don't worry about it. At the T intersection, turn left. When you see a field on the left, turn in and park. American Whitewater has leased this private property during Gauley season since 1990. Please behave yourself here. Please pick up after yourself. Don't camp overnight. Don't build fire rings. Don't allow your dogs to run free. The owners are very kind; let's not abuse their kindness. Continued use of the field is subject to annual renewal of the lease agreement. After many years of effort by dedicated volunteers and American Whitewater the National Park Service was able to acquire public access at the river. Unfortunately parking is limited so during busy release weekends you still have to park your car at the field and hike up (NPS has been providing a boat shuttle during times when they are not allowing personal vehicles down to the river). Incidentally, according to the topo map, the climb from the takeout to the parking area is roughly 400 feet. It's very steep, and with your boat on your shoulder, it feels like 4000! There are alternate take-outs downstream if you continue paddling the Middle Gauley or Lower Gauley.
The Gauley is a wonderfully busy river with an outstanding number of high-quality rapids throughout its 24-mile length from the Summersville Dam to Swiss. The character of the river is pool-drop and on the upper 9.8-mile section from the Summersville Dam to Mason's Branch, the most challenging rapids are at the lower limit of class V. Several other rapids on this river come in just a hair below this and are rated class IV+. The implication is simple. A paddler will need excellent endurance and very solid skills to prevent trouble on this long, powerful river. Bomb-proof bracing and 2-sided rolls, along with big water skills and precise maneuvering, are required to have reasonable assurance of a safe and an enjoyable run.
While many paddlers have the skills to enjoy the Gauley safely, there's still the occasional paddler who will have a great day until a certain point and then run out of steam. It seems that this point is sometimes reached about half way down Pillow Rock. Watch out for your friends. Once this level of fatigue is reached, mistakes and trashings occur much more often. Your friend may require some watchful assistance (and perhaps a few more rescues) before the day is over. PLEASE be careful! And remember, there's no shame in walking. The rapids won't be going anywhere.
The rapids on the Gauley are legendary. Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet's Falls are world famous and deserve the notoriety. They are big, steep, demanding, and can have a serious bite for the paddler in the wrong place. But these aren't the only places where care is required. In fact some of the most dangerous places on the river are not as well known because the hazards are not immediately obvious.
A couple of simple pieces of advice can make the difference between a tired paddler and a beaten one at the end of the day. First, if you see a horizon line, go around it. There's usually a hole there. If you see a slot and nobody who knows the river well is going there, then don't go that way (until you scout it and consult with others for hazards at the bottom). And if you should swim, be extremely careful of the undercut rocks which are responsible for many of the fatalities that have occurred on this run.
The first run of the Gauley for whitewater recreation took place in 1957 when John Berry navigated the river by canoe prior to dam construction. The first decked-boat descent occurred in 1968 when John Sweet, Norm and Jimmy Hilcolmbe, Jack Wright, Miha Tomsic, and John Stuart explored the river during Labor Day weekend on a flow of approximately 1200 cfs. This was shortly after construction of Summersville Dam. John Sweet was the lone member of the party to attempt each of the big rapids that day, and they paddled the entire 26 miles from the dam to Swiss. In the following few years only a handful of boaters followed and the Gauley was known as one of the most challenging rivers in the east. While the river is still a challenging run with serious hazards, thousands of skilled boaters now paddle this river every year--making it one of the most popular runs in the country.
Description and Rapid Summaries with contributions from Sam Lindblom, Lee Belknap, and John Kobak.
The Army Corps of Engineers operates Summersville Dam as a flood control project on the Gauley River so flows are dependent on dam release. Good flows can happen throughout the year depending on the weather and reservoir operations. One way to tell what the next few days will bring is to check the trend on the Craigsville gage. If Summersville Reservoir is at summer pool level (1652.5'), then what comes in, must go out. (Outflow = Craigsville * 1.25.) Check the Huntington District Reservoir Summary for current pool level of Summersville. You can also call for recorded information at 304-872-5809.
Summersville Reservoir is a center for powerboat recreation during the summer months; at the end of the season the Corps must lower the lake 75' to make room for next spring's floods. The dependable flows from fall drawdown attract thousands of paddlers to one of the country's most popular runs at a time when many other rivers across the country are running low. These scheduled releases begin the first Friday after Labor Day. The Army Corps provides a release schedule every year that typically includes 5 four-day weekends (Fri-Mon), one regular weekend, and one Sunday release for a total of 23 release days. The typical fall release is 2800 cfs which is considered ideal. As flows get up around 5000 cfs, the river cranks up another notch. Everything is bigger, faster, and swims will be long. The play, however, is still outstanding if you have the skills to negotiate the river safely. If you have absolutely no problem with the normal 2800 cfs release, and routinely play your way down, you'll have a great time and likely discover some new spots. Alternatively, the Lower Gauley is always an option with great play if you're nervous about the idea of a bigger Upper Gauley. The Meadow River comes in just above Lost Paddle, which is about halfway down the run and can change the character of the run significantly or not at all depending on recent weather. For the level for the second half of the run add the Meadow Flow to the flow given above.
Note: USGS stopped reporting discharge in October 2003. The virtual gauge above is based on the old rating curve.
|Gauley at Summersville (cfs)|
|virtual-8515||400 - 5000 cfs||IV-V||01h03m||1021.3 cfs (running)|
|/Gauley-7 (Upper). Summersville Dam to Mason Branch [WV]||Sitting Pretty on a Pillow||2800 cfs||Kurt Williams|
|Gauley7 (Upper). Summersville Dam to Mason Branch [WV]||pillow wipe out||n/a||brett finkleman|
|Gauley [WV]||Wetless||n/a||Tyson Hazard|
|upper gauley [wv]||striding pillow||2800cfs||bob heckler|
|Gauley7 (Upper). Summersville Dam to Mason Branch [WV]||ahhhh Summersville.....||n/a||Maggie Snowel|
|Gauley [WV]||pillow rock||apx 3600||chad akins|
|Gauley [WV]||Lamp for Gauley silent auction||n/a||Mark Singleton|
|Gauley [WV]||Pillow||2800cfs||Tripp Culbreth|
|Gauley [WV]||Gauley Festival Aerial Map||n/a||Bill Kirby|
|Gauley [WV]||PILLOW ROCK SPLAT||release||Matt McMillion|
|Gauley [WV]||Put In Above The Dam||n/a||Sam Baudoux|
|Gauley [WV]||Woods Ferry; Public Access road work||NA||Jeff Macklin|
|Gauley [WV]||ELF upper Gauley @ Geeks||ELF||Brian Rahall|
|Gauley [WV]||Pillow||2800||Paul Butler|
|Gauley [WV]||Top of Iron ring||2800||jim leutenegger|
|Upper Gauley [WV]||Pillow Rock||2800cfs||Jamie Smith|
|Upper Gauley River [WV]||Pillow Rock Run||n/a||Hill Harman|
|Gauley [WV]||Gordon Byrd and friends rafting the Upper Gauley||3,000 cfs||Gordon Byrd|
|Upper Gauley River [WV]||Swallowed by Sweets||2800-3000||Julie Black|
|Gauley7 (Upper). Summersville Dam to Mason Branch [ ]||2002 Gauley Fest Volunteer||n/a||Michael Phelan|