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Difficulty III-IV
Length 15 Miles
Gauge NORTH BRANCH POTOMAC RIVER AT KITZMILLER, MD
Flow Range 3.70 - 7.00 FT
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 3.27 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 08/23/2017 8:39 pm

River Description


This is a nice bigwater run while it's running. Lotsa holes and waves to have fun with. When it's high, a fun run is to begin with the Stony River. Like a slightly tougher version of the Middle Fork / Tygart run, this combines a technical creek with a bigwater river. Fun fun fun!

A put-in downstream of Gormania, WV on river left at Steyer, MD will shorten the distance paddled by 2 1/2 miles.


From Jonathan Mayhew 2004-08-26 23:50:00
This stretch, a 15-mile long class 3-4 wilderness run, is one of the best advanced runs in the area. The North Branch provides the paddler with an excellent "big water" playground as well as a place to practice advanced river running skills. This run has very few eddies or pools, making it feel like one single rapid at times. Paddlers with marginal rolling or self-rescue skills should not attempt this run due to the risk of flush drowning. However, for those possessing the confidence and ability to handle non-stop, western-style flush whitewater, this run is easily one of the best stretches of intermediate water in the region.

The best putin is at Steyer, MD, a short distance downstream from Gormania. From Steyer the run begins with a half mile of continuous class 2 shoal rapids, continually growing in size until reaching the first class 3 ledge, a broken-out 3 foot drop with a nice roostertail and squirrely wavetrain below.

At this point, the run picks up to class 3. The paddler should begin looking for the second island that splits the river into two channels. At levels of 5.5 feet and above, the paddler should go to the left of this island, which leads into a 5-foot horseshoe ledge called Corkscrew. This class-4 ledge should be run in the center with righthand angle. From here the river continues to drop over uniform 2-4-foot ledges for several miles to the mouth of the Stony, providing hundreds (literally) of excellent play spots.

Below the mouth of the Stony, the run picks up speed and changes character, becoming less technical and more powerful as the run rockets through huge waves and holes. When the river bends to the right and the railroad crosses the river, be prepared for 3 large class 4 ledges. The first ledge, Rattlesnake, is the most difficult of these ledges. It is marked by a distinct horizon line and drops a total of 6-7 feet. Paddlers should drop in center left, heading left of a large roostertail and working further left to avoid a large pourover, Lady Kenmore at the base of the ledge. Above 5 feet, a sneak opens up on extreme river right, and above 7 feet, a terminal keeper hydraulic develops at the base of the ledge.

A short distance downstream is the second ledge, a steep 8 foot drop down the center of a distinct horizon line. This drop, while being the largest on the river, is actually the easiest- just paddle down the center and bust through the large wave train at the bottom.

A few class-3 rapids lead into the approach for the third, most technical, ledge. At lower levels, the best line is on the extreme river left along the bank. This line consists of a 5-foot boof into a right-hand turn to avoid an undercut rock in the runout. At levels over 5.5 feet, several lines open up in the center and right side of the ledge. In addition, the pourovers in the ledge's lead-in become very sticky, forming terminal keepers at 7 feet and above.

For the next 6-7 miles, the run flows along at a furious pace through wide-open class-3-4 rapids, blasting through numerous holes and wave trains. Keep an eye out for a deceptive ledge near the top of this stretch; a series of waves and smaller holes lures the unsuspecting paddler out into the middle of the river only to drop into two huge offset pourovers. When you reach a set of irregular, abandoned bridge pillars crossing the river (one of them looks like a pillar from Stonehenge), be sure to run the rapid on the extreme left along the bank--this rapid consists of a pillowed right-hand turn dropping over a 6 foot ledge. The other chutes over this class-4 ledge contain strainers and rebar, so make sure you run the correct channel. Not long after, the second of two large, distinct rock cliffs appears on the lefthand side of the river over a pool; this cliff can be recognized by the manmade masonry wall built into the top-center of the cliff.

Below this pool lies Maytag, a powerful class 4 rapid that is the toughest one on the run. This rapid is very deceptive, appearing to be just a straightforward wave train down the right-hand side of the river. However, this wavetrain drops through two ledges before plunging into a massive hole which is more than capable of trashing an unlucky paddler. The proper line involves staying to the left of the waves, negotiating the ledges and sneaking the large hole on the far left of the channel. From here, one can catch a large eddy on the right to watch the carnage and set up for the rest of the rapid.


Below this eddy, the rapid drops through 2 more powerful ledge holes before dumping into a wavetrain with a hidden hole. At moderate levels, this rapid compares favorably in size with Pure Screaming Hell on the Lower Gauley, with large trashy holes and 6-8-foot breaking waves. The best line is to continue down the left, avoiding the ledge holes, then line up in the center of the river to avoid a nasty hidden hole on the left of the wave runout. For the expert playdog, this rapid has the best bang for your buck, providing several bigwater play features that rival playspots on the New River Gorge. From here to the takeout, the run slowly winds down, becoming channelized class 3 as it passes by the town of Shallmar. Take out here, or another mile downstream in Kitzmiller.


SHUTTLE: Some people choose to put in at the bridge in Gormania, but putting in at Steyer, 2 miles downstream along river left (go across the bridge from WV, turn right, then turn right onto Steyer-Gorman road) cuts out some flatwater. Put in at the bus turnaround where the road veers left away from the river. Takeout at the bridge in Kitzmiller, or, if school is out, take out at the school about a half mile upstream on river left--park in the bus turnaround just past the school if you are driving upstream. While in town, it helps to be discreet; while the town locals don't necessarily mind paddlers, some of the surrounding inhabitants have been known to hassle boaters in the past. Don't leave anything in direct sight in your car at either the putin or takeout.

Rapid Descriptions

Comments

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Daniel Smith
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12 years ago

Last weekend a group of us drove from Baltimore to run this because the gage read 6.2. Once we arrived at the take-out were the visual gage is we found out that it was only 4.2 Beware of this problem before you drive the long distance. We did score the number to the local gas station. They informed us that if you call them they will run across the street to check the gage. The new owner is very boater friendly. If you’re in the area make sure to thank him and also support his store. He also plans to open shower houses for the boaters along with a deck for grilling burgers and dogs. Heck Ya.

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Brandon Thompson
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1 year ago

If anyone is curious about the challenge of this section, I put together a pretty extensive video showing just how continuous the rapids really are on this river at 5.0 feet on the Kitzmiller gauge. https://youtu.be/TJBvq3_0KEE Our run was about 4 hours long, and I've managed to trim the video down to about 45 minutes. I left it that long for those who are uncertain about what to expect. River reading skills and bracing are probably the most important skills, although a rock solid roll certainly never hurt anybody. Watch those gauge forecasts to make sure it's not gonna flash high on you while you're out there.

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Carin Tinney
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4 years ago

We ran the river at 4.56 on the AW gauge yesterday. There is a partially submerged log on the left pillar of the third set of the bridge abutments. It covers about 35% of the far left channel and its not seen from upstream. It may be out of play after next big rain.

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9 years ago

There is a strainer at the remains of a railroad bridge toward the end of the runnot very far above the Maytag rapid. There is a strainer blocking the left and middle channnels completely. The right channel was also almost completely blocked. There is an undergwater log (not easily seen) and an above ground log blocking the right channel. We walked this section. 12 of us just ran Kitzmiller today and had a great run when most boaters would have stayed away. We put on at noon and at 6 PM, after we took off, the bridge gauge read 4.2 feet while the USGS Internet gauge read 4.0. We had at least 2-3 inches of boatable water when we took off. The run was not scrapey at all and there were plenty of surf waves at this level. I think the USGS Internet minimum should be 3.7 or 3.8 and the bridge minimum should be 3.9 - 4.0. I think 4.0 - 4.5 would be a good first time level for open boats with 4.0 - 5.0 being a good beginning level for decked boats.

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Jonathan Mayhew
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14 years ago

This stretch- a 15 mile long class 3-4 wilderness run- is one of the best advanced runs in the area, providing the paddler with an excellent "big water" playground as well as a place to practice advanced river running skills. This run has very few eddies or pools, making the run feel like one single rapid at times; as such, paddlers with marginal rolling or self rescue skills should not attempt this run due to the risk of flush drowning. However, for those possessing the confidence and ability to handle non-stop, western-style flush whitewater, this run is easily one of the best stretches of intermediate water in the region. The best putin is at Steyer, MD, a short distance downstream from Gormania. From Steyer, the run begins with a half mile of continuous class 2 shoal rapids, continually growing in size until reaching the first class 3 ledge, a broken-out 3 foot drop with a nice roostertail and squirrely wavetrain below. At this point, the run picks up to class 3, and the paddler should begin looking for the second island that splits the river into two channels. At levels of 5.5 feet and above, the paddler should go to the left of this island, which leads into a 5 foot horseshoe ledge called Corkscrew. This class 4 ledge should be run in the center with righthand angle. From here the river continues to drop over uniform 2-4 foot ledges for several miles to the mouth of the Stony, providing hundreds (literally) of excellent play spots. Below the mouth of the Stony, the run picks up speed and changes character, becoming less technical and more powerful as the run rockets through huge waves and holes. When the river bends to the right and the railroad crosses the river, be prepared for 3 large class 4 ledges. The first ledge, Rattlesnake, is the most difficult of these ledges; it is marked by a distinct horizon line and drops a total of 6-7 feet. Paddlers should drop in center left, heading left of a large roostertail and working further left to avoid a large pourover- Lady Kenmore- at the base of the ledge. Above 5 feet, a sneak opens up on extreme river right, and above 7 feet, a terminal keeper hydraulic develops at the base of the ledge. A short distance downstream is the second ledge, a steep 8 foot drop down the center of a distinct horizon line. This drop, while being the largest on the river, is actually the easiest- just paddle down the center and bust through the large wave train at the bottom. A few class 3 rapids lead into the approach for the third, most technical, ledge. At lower levels, the best line is on the extreme river left along the bank; this line consists of a 5 foot boof into a righthand turn to avoid an undercut rock in the runout. At levels over 5.5 feet, several lines open up in the center and right side of the ledge; additionally, the pourovers in the ledge's lead-in become very sticky, forming terminal keepers at 7 feet and above. For the next 6-7 miles, the run flows along at a furious pace through wide open class 3-4 rapids, blasting through numerous holes and wave trains. Keep an eye out for a deceptive ledge near the top of this stretch; a series of waves and smaller holes lures the unsuspecting paddler out into the middle of the river only to drop into two huge offset pourovers. When you reach a set of irregular, abandoned bridge pillars crossing the river (one of them looks like a pillar from stonehenge), be sure to run the rapid on the extreme left along the bank- this rapid consists of a pillowed righthand turn dropping over a 6 foot ledge. The other chutes over this class 4 ledge contain strainers and rebar, so make sure you run the correct channel. Not long after, the second of two large, distinct rock cliffs appears on the lefthand side of the river over a pool; this cliff can be recognized by the manmade masonry wall built into the top-center of the cliff. Below this pool lies Maytag, a powerful class 4 rapid that is the toughest one on the run. This rapid is very deceptive, appearing to be just a straightforward wave train down the righthand side of the river. However, this wavetrain drops through two ledges before plunging into a massive hole which is more than capable of trashing an unlucky paddler. The proper line involves staying to the left of the waves, negotiating the ledges and sneaking the large hole on the far left of the channel. From here, one can catch a large eddy on the right to watch the carnage and set up for the rest of the rapid. Below this eddy, the rapid drops through 2 more powerful ledge holes before dumping into a wavetrain with a hidden hole. At moderate levels this rapid compares favorably in size with Pure Screaming Hell on the Lower Gauley, with large trashy holes and 6-8 foot breaking waves. The best line is to continue down the left, avoiding the ledge holes, then line up in the center of the river to avoid a nasty hidden hole on the left of the wave runout. For the expert playdog, this rapid has the best bang for your buck, providing several bigwater play features that rival playspots on the New River Gorge. From here to the takeout, the run slowly winds down, becoming channelized class 3 as it passes by the town of Shallmar. Take out here, or another mile downstream in Kitzmiller.

GAUGE: Most paddlers go by the North Branch Potomac gauge at Kitzmiller, MD. A good low level on this gauge is 4.8ft, although its still runnable down to about 4.4ft- inches make a huge difference here. 5.0 ft is a good level for first timers, with the run becoming progressively more difficult up until about 5.5 ft. At 5.5 ft the run is solid class 4, slightly easier- but alot more continuous than- the Lower Gauley. At 6-7 ft the run is class 4+ with no eddies, large waves, and massive holes. Above 7 feet the run develops alot of terminal keeper holes (supposedly), so its best to stay away. When its running, the Stony tacks on an extra 4 miles to the total run, removing 3 miles from the beginning and adding 7 miles of technical class 3-4.

SHUTTLE: Some people choose to put in at the bridge in Gormania, but putting in at Steyer, 2 miles downstream along river left (go across the bridge from WV, turn right, then turn right onto Steyer-Gorman road) cuts out some flatwater- put in at the bus turnaround where the road veers left away from the river. Takeout at the bridge in Kitzmiller, or, if school is out, take out at the school about a half mile upstream on river left- park in the bus turnaround just past the school if you are driving upstream. While in town, it helps to be discrete; while the town locals don't necessarily mind paddlers, some of the surrounding inhabitants have been known to hassle boaters in the past- don't leave anything in direct sight in your car at either the putin or takeout.

Gage Descriptions

Minimum levels have been corrected (8-22-2017) from previously faulty memory. Maximum levels have been left alone as before (from perhaps faulty memory).  The NWS sets flood stage at 9.00'.

GAUGE: Most paddlers go by the North Branch Potomac gauge at Kitzmiller, MD. The bottom level on this gauge as a class III-IV run is 4.0 ft. (back in the 1990's Oci-One Kanubi [and later Steve Ettinger] discovered that at low water [below 4' down to about 3.7'] it can be paddled by intermediates who might like to see the run without big water and with only 2 or 3 or so scrapey places). The run becomes progressively more difficult up until about 5.5 ft. At 5.5 ft the run is solid class 4, slightly easier--but a lot more continuous--than the Lower Gauley. At 6-7 ft the run is class 4+ with few eddies, large waves, and massive holes. Above 7 feet the run develops a lot of terminal keeper holes (supposedly), so it's best to stay away. When it's running, the Stony River tacks on an extra 4 miles to the total run, removing 3 miles from the beginning and adding 7 miles of technical class 3-4.

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Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

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No Accident Reports

Alerts

News

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North Branch Potomac (MD) Report Links Water Quality with Recreational Economies

2011-01-06 00:00:00-05
Kevin Colburn

A report released today links acid mine drainage remediation on the North Branch of the Potomac River with significant regional economic benefits of angling and paddling. The report reveals a compelling and cautionary case study of the economic benefits of protecting and restoring rivers.  

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Tow Tether Danger Highlighted by Recent Accident

2019-02-25 19:53:07-05
Charlie Walbridge

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)

 

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Gauley Fest - September 13-16, 2018 - Summersville, WV

2018-09-04 07:58:00-04
Mark Singleton

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.

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2018 Letter To Gauley Boaters From The NPS (WV)

2018-08-21 10:07:00-04
Mark Singleton

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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Cheat Canyon Settlement Reached; Land Set Aside for Endangered Species

2007-02-13 00:00:00-05
Charles Walbridge

After two years of intense negotiations an agreement reached to protect endangered species in the Cheat River Canyon. Allegheny Wood Products acquired roughly 5,000 acres in the Cheat Canyon below Albright, WV in 2003 for $9.75 million. When they began building roads and cutting trees the following year the government took no steps to enforce the Endangered Species Act. A lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Friends of Blackwater Canyon, the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Cheat Lake Environmental and Recreational Association. Although American Whitewater was not a party to the litigation we are gratified that an agreement was reached and commend both parties for their efforts.
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Mark Anderson

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Matt Muir

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Thomas O'Keefe

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Tony Allred Jr