The Upper Gauley Virgin no more!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

River: Upper Gauley, WV
Level: 2800 cfs (recreational release)
Paddlers: Me, Stephen, Kristin, James
Today was my first day on the Upper Gauley River. I joked that I was an Upper Gauley virgin.

Stephen and I met up with James at the take-out, and set up shuttle. We met Kristin at the put-in (Summersville Dam) and got our gear sorted out before getting on the river. Last year, I paddled a little portion of the Upper at the put-in up to “Initiation” rapid, where I thought it looked too scary, got hung up in a tree branch and convinced Stephen to hike out and call it a day. On Wavesport Open day, I ran shuttle, and hiked a mile up to Sweets Falls and ran the falls to the take-out. I had only been paddling about 4 months and Stephen thought that the river would be too much for me.

Today, I wasn’t sure that I was ready yet, as I had no idea what to expect downriver, but Stephen put me in a new Jackson Fun (which is a size too big for me) and was convinced that I would do fine.

I was really nervous, and after ferrying at the top of the river and feeling very tippy and out-of-control, I was very nervous, and upset and didn’t want to continue on. Stephen convinced me to run the first rapid, and then I could hike out if I wanted. Well the first rapid went fine, Initiation went fine, Pillow Rock went fine, Iron Ring went fine, Lost Paddle went fine (in fact I had a perfect line through the top part of this rapid), Sweets Falls went fine. I managed to paddle the whole 5 miles without mishap.

Just above the take-out, there was a little boof-slot that Stephen went over first, plugged and did a loop. I thought that it would be cool if I tried to do the same thing, and plugged over the lip and flopped over. I then was sucked back into the pourover and proceeded to get worked for about a minute. I kept trying to roll up only to get sucked back in. Stephen managed to get close enough to me at one point and was holding my boat up so only my nose and mouth were out of the water, but I couldn’t get out of the pourover. After swallowing a bunch of water and finding the water too powerful to get my paddle up to the surface in order to roll, I finally pulled-pole and swam out of my boat. HUGE mistake. I couldn’t swim out of the pourover. It kept pushing me way under and as soon as I would resurface, I would get pushed under again! Stephen came close and told me to grab his boat, but the pourover had me and I was pulling him into the pourover with me. He told me to let go and I kept getting recirculated. It was really scary, I started kicking really hard, and then Stephen grabbed me before the arms of death reached back out to snag me. He took me over to a calm spot in an undercut rock and we watched two guys in a raft spend another 20 seconds trying to get my boat out of the pourover. The managed to get the boat out, and pulled me onto the raft and took me to a safe place. It was so scary that I couldn’t help but have a huge grin on my face afterwards, simply because I was still alive! The raft-guys couldn’t believe that I held on for as long as I did and were really impressed. I was so glad that Stephen and those guys were there to rescue me.

The Panther Creek Trail was just as horrible as everyone has said it was, and I really shouldn’t have hiked it because of my knee. I had to stop a bunch of times. It was really as terrible as Clay had written about last year this time. Luckily, James parked his car along the road and it saved us an extra 30 feet or so of vertical climbing. Yeah!

I was so excited that (other than the slot pourover incident) my first day on the Upper Gauley went so well. I really had no reason to be so nervous.

A Short Summary of 'Jen Against West Virginia'

Friday, September 22, 2006

Those of you who know, West Virginia and I have had a "love/hate relationship" since I began paddling. Last fall for the Gauleyfest weekend, the Lower Gauley decided to show me who was boss when I had a fluke accident and flipped over above the last rapid, knocking myself out.
Later on, this past spring, I had a horrible run of Big Sandy Creek, a creek that was probably just above my skill level. I got beat down, swam twice, gashed open my knuckles and declared that I was "done" half-way down a gorge creek run (that I clearly couldn't hike out of).

This year, I was determined to change things, starting with a re-run of the Lower Gauley.

Lower G Trip Report:
This year I was determined to come back and run the river again, this time without an episode through PSH. My weapon of choice this year was my Jackson Star and we got up early, ran shuttle and got on the river. The lower Gauley was just as I remembered it. I had no problems down any of the rapids, had some fun surfs and enjoyed great company along the way. I did keep asking questions along the way about PSH and said I wanted to get out and scout it this year. When we came up to the rapid, Clay Wright gave the briefing about where to go and what to look out for, and we started on through the rapid. Stephen Wright, Emily Jackson and I were going to catch a river-right eddy at the top of the rapid so we could get a better look at what I was going to paddle through. The spot where I hit my head was above PSH 'proper', and I passed through the wave train without problems. I was really nervous though and felt very tippy and vulnerable as I went down. I was told later by Devon Barker that I tensed up and wasn't paddling very hard. She reminded me that when I get nervous is the best time to lean forward and dig in to get to where you want to be. I caught the eddy and experienced an emotional overload of tears for about 10 seconds before I peeled back out into the current after Stephen with Emily close behind. After running the rapid without even tipping over, I just want to let everyone know that PSH is not the scary rapid that people make it out to be. Yes it has a sieve to the river-right, a munchy pourover above the rapid, and a big scary hole at the bottom of the river. However, the lines through this rapid are wide and easy if you can stay upright - which is what I managed to do this year!

Upper G Trip Report
Then Stephen told me that he thought I would have fun on the Upper Gauley if I paddled it in a bigger boat. He put me in a new 2007 Fun and we paddled the class IV-V river on Saturday and then again on Sunday. I was REALLY nervous the first time I got on the river and didn't start having fun until after running the first couple of smaller rapids. Well, I practically aced every line on the river, and didn't run into any problems! That is, until we had passed the last major rapid and found a little slot boof right before the take-out. I had boofed it last year (walked in and paddled the last rapid) without any problems. This time Stephen went ahead first, plugged over the edge and did a loop. I don't know what I was thinking, but I went after him, plugged and tried to loop also (a move that I already know that I can't do) the pourover at the boof was not very big, and I didn't even imagine that there would be consequences to it. Anyway, I ended up getting destroyed in the pourover for about a minute, with me trying to paddle out, Stephen trying to pull me out, and I eventually had swallowed enough river water that I pulled my skirt and swam. I spent another 20 seconds getting recirculated in the pourover; every time I would come up, the pourover would pull me back in and push me under again. Finally I kicked my way out and waited in an eddy with Stephen while 2 guys on a raft went in after my boat. I watched my boat pinned up against the pourover for another 10 seconds or so before the rafters were able to get it out. It was a really scary experience. The worst part of it was that I got beat down on the easiest section of the river, in a relatively insignificant spot. (I found out later, that a lot of people have gotten beat down there)

Sunday's Upper Gauley run went well, I ran a few rapids better than before, and another few upside down due to fatigue I imagine, but I was psyched that I made it down the river twice! The best part about Sunday's run is that I got to paddle with Lauren Burress, who has got to be the most amazing 10 year old kayaker I have ever seen. She barely batted an eye on the whole run.

Learning to Squirt

River: New River Gorge, WV
Level: 2400 cfs (-0.5 ft)
Paddlers: Me, Stephen, Jeremy, Steve

Today the Jackson crew were arriving and going to paddle the New River Gorge. At the end of the summer Stephen bought a used squirt boat and wanted to play with it at Halls of Karma and then run the rest of the river with the Jacksons.

We met up with a famous local squirter, Steve O’Keefe and spent a couple of hours goofing around in the whirlpools. I was in my Star and managed to get vertical a few times, and even submerged once. It was lots of fun! One of my favourite spots on the Ottawa River is the whirlpools below Butcher’s Knife because you can just play there all day and have a great time. I enjoy it more than park n play at a hole or wave because it doesn’t matter what level paddler you are, everyone can have a good time (and you don’t have to know how to do McNastys!).

I eventually got into Stephen’s squirt boat and as awkward as it was, I actually enjoyed it. I flopped over in the whirlpools a bunch of times before I decided that I wanted to get a squirt boat of my own! The Jackson clan came through and we had been playing for so long that we decided to skip the rest of the river run.

The worst part of the day was that I was FREEZING! For some reason I decided to wear just a paddle top and rashguard instead of a drytop like I did yesterday and I paid the consequences….

All-in-all it was a fun day on the river!

New River Gorge, low water

Thursday, September 21, 2006

River: New River Gorge, WV
Level: 2800 cfs (0.5 ft)
Paddlers: Me, Stephen, Jeremy

The local favourite for boaters in Fayetteville is a place called the Cathedral CafĂ©, which aside from having amazing breakfasts, also has free wireless internet connections for use. We love to go there, have breakfast and as Stephen would call it: “internetify”.

Today we arrived and saw at least three tables of boaters that we knew. Some from Fayetteville, and others from back home on the Ottawa River. Stephen, Jeremy and I had a great breakfast and made plans to paddle the New River Gorge later that day. After discussing shuttle options with some others and searching for neck gaskets, we ran shuttle and got ourselves on the river. The put in has a really steep stairway from the parking area down to the river, and Stephen declared how much fun it was to slide down the staircase in your boat. I was hesitant, but after watching him do it once and head back up for a second ride, I decided to give it a go. It was fast and fun!! I flew down the stairs and across a concrete part before hitting the water. Tomorrow I will do it again, but with video.

Today I paddled my brand-spanking new green Jackson Star, and we practiced drills that would help me conquer the Lower Gauley. Stephen had me practicing moving between rocks, leaning into rocks and paddling on edge. Jeremy decided to paddle his open boat, which we were excited about the possibility of a swim or some similar carnage. The river-run went very well. We took easy rapids, and made them harder by manoeuvring between rocks and catching eddies. Stephen would occasionally point at undercut rocks halfway down a specific rapid and freak me out. The worst, however was when he went halfway down a rapid to a horizon line, then turn around and look at me and shake his head vigorously. I interpreted it to mean that I wasn’t supposed to go that way, but it was too late for me to change my course. It turned out that he was shaking his head to tell me not to try a wave-wheel, and not because the rapid was scary. I told him never to freak me out like that again.

We didn’t see a single other person on the river, played in the whirlpools at Halls of Karma, and chatted with some locals standing on a bridge and aside from the cool air and wet clothes at the take out, was an overall good day on the river for me. Jeremy has this awesome Airstream van, and cooked us up some hot chocolate when we got off the river. The day ended with dinner at the local favourite for dinner in Fayetteville called “Pies n Pints”. We went there in the spring when we were here, and enjoyed Tuesday nights all you can eat Pizza. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever had better pizza (except maybe that awesome place in Vail, CO). I didn’t have pizza though as my stomach’s been bothering me, and ordered a horribly boring salad instead.