On
Wednesday night at 10 PM, Arthur, Scott, Byron and I loaded up a
Blazer and a Bronco and headed north towards West Virginia. By the
time we reached our destination 12 hours later, everyone had a least
an hour of shuteye. We were ready for our warm-up to West Virginia
white water.

Tygart
River (Arden section)

Scouting
the Tygart by car on the way to the put in, we stopped at some of the
major rapids. It was a little higher than when Arthur had run it the
previous year. We dropped off the boats, ran shuttle and put on
about 1 PM with Arthur, Scott and Byron (R-3) and me (Kayak).

With
nothing major to worry about until after passing Laurel Creek, we
played a little to warm up. After passing Laurel Creek we hit
Undercut Rapid, running it on the right to avoid the undercut shelves
on the left. Next up the first major pour-over hole to avoid. I
skirted it on the left by boofing a rock and landing in the eddy
below. The R-3 ran another slot down the right. Time to scout Moats
Falls, a very impressive looking 15′ waterfall, similar to Wonder
Falls on the Big Sandy.

Arthur
and Scott (R-2) ran first with Byron and me holding throw ropes and
snapping pictures. Although they were awfully quiet while in the
air, their line was picture perfect. The raft flew out a few feet
before pitching downwards, going vertical and taco-ing as they hit
the water. They ran it like old pros, remaining in their seats the
entire way. This was followed by a couple of hoots and howls that
could be heard throughout the canyon. Yes, vertical addiction in a
raft.

It
was a hard act to follow, but I was next. I turned a little sideways
just before the drop, corrected and came off just fine. Anticipation
and adrenaline have a weird way of mixing while falling through the
air. I went under and up to my neck in water before resurfacing, not
even getting my hair wet until I tried to eddy out below (flip).
Time for a lunch, a break from the action and a chance to cool our
jets.

The
area beside the road was obviously a hang out for the local party
crowd and litter bug association. We decided to come back and
collect trash here on our way out the next morning. Perhaps we could
set up a river cleanup trip for this section. It wouldn’t take long
to fill a pickup truck or two.

After
lunch we had little room to warm up before Classic, a nice big wave
train on which I tested out my rolls unintentionally. A few nice
play spots and holes below before the final rapid, Wells Falls.
Wells Falls deserved a scout from shore, so we made our way over the
boulders and poison ivy to check it out. The hole looked awful
nasty, the line awfully tight and squirrely, the approach full of
waves, the current directing you toward the hole, and then Arthur
told us of the underwater undercut shelves. We all opted for the
sneak.

A
mile of flat water, followed by dinner, some beer and bed. Although
they told me a storm blew through, I slept like a rock.

Upper
Youghiogheny

Arthur
had made arrangements to meet a group at the put-in at 1 PM. We
arrived a little early and set up. By 3 PM the group had not shown
and we decided to put on with another group from Colorado, Eric and
Karrie (Kayak). Eric had been waiting for Karrie to get a ride from
the take-out and we had been talking to him for a while and asked to
go down with them. Karrie got a ride from Charlie, a local in a
Kayak. Arthur, Scott and Byron (R-3) and I (Kayak) proceeded down
to the gauge. The reading was at 1.9′ with the release far ahead of
us. That was when things began to go astray.

The
Colorado boys and Charlie paddled hard for the first 2 miles of flat
water. I struggled to keep up with them as the distance between us
grew. I occasionally looked back to check on the raft, and after a
few turns I did not see it again. What’s going on? I assumed we
were going to a play spot and would wait for the raft. That was my
first mistake. I should not have assumed anything, especially on
this river.

As
we hit the first of the class III rapids, the Colorado boys continued
their slalom race pace. I finally caught up to Eric and asked him if
we should wait for the raft. “I don’t know,” he said as he
peeled out of the eddy. Rather puzzled and concerned, I continued
the pace and caught up to Karrie and asked him if we should wait for
the raft. “This is Bastard,” he said as he peeled out and
disappeared down the drop.

A
fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into Kevin!!! Here you are on the
Upper Youghiogheny for the first time with a couple of yahoos from
Colorado who’s idea of showing you the river is to race down in front
of you, have no idea of safety or staying with the group. You’ve
left your friends in the raft at least a mile upstream above these
class III rapids, not knowing what they’ve done and if they’re still
on the river. You don’t even know how to get out of here outside of
blazing a trail back upstream and you’re in your bare feet. What do
you do now???

As
the group disappeared down another drop, I tore out of the eddy after
them. I didn’t take the time to stop and analyze the situation.
What I should have done was blown a whistle, got everyone over to the
side and made them wait while I hiked back up to check on the raft.
Another mistake.

Although
I hadn’t talked to Charlie at this point, he was staying back and
playing a little while the Colorado boys blew down. Now what do I
do? I tried to keep my eyes on both, knowing Charlie might need a
hand if something went wrong. Charlie and I each began to sense we
didn’t belong with the Colorado boys. We both caught up with them
and Charlie asked them if they had been down the river before. “No,
but you’re the tour guide,” one of them said.

By
this time we were down to Heinzerling, and now I’ve got Charlie who
knows the river like the back of his hand, can show and tell me the
lines and help me out if I get in a pinch. The River Gods sent me an
Angel, and I needed one at that point. The stress level was high
enough, even without the rapids at this point.

The
one rapid I recall is Heinzerling, because I never saw much of it
even from downstream. I recall the entrance having a nice drop,
which rear endered us all. The main rapid contains a 10′ slot,
surrounded by pillowed rocks, dropping a few feet into a nasty hole.
In order to avoid the hole, you run high on the pillow of the rock on
river right. I flipped on the pillow, made the drop, bypassed the
hole and rolled up a few feet before the next rapid. What instantly
came to my mind was voices hollering “paddle hard, paddle hard”.
Where have I heard those voices before? I caught the next eddy, but
couldn’t see Heinzerling from around the rocks.

We
ran the river straight through and I don’t remember much of the
details. Running a river like this in the fashion we were running it
demands your attention. You become so focused on the river, drops
and turns in front of you that you develop tunnel vision, ignoring
the seemingly unimportant peripheral. The only things I’ve seen to
compare this to would be the harder rapids of the Upper Two’s of the
Little River Canyon without the pools and covering over 4 miles.
Technical Class 4+ and lots of it.

At
the end we paddled straight through the flat water again, ran
shuttle back to the put in. No raft!!! Worried, I raced back to the
take-out. No raft!!! I begin to really worry, and quickly changed
and stashed my gear. Just then a familiar voice called out. Thank
God, It’s Arthur, Scott and Byron.

A
load of tension had just been lifted as we begin to swap stories. We
hadn’t seen each other since the put-in and had no idea what happened
to each other. Before leaving Friendsville, I bought the beer. We
talked over what had happened that day and the lessons we’d learned.
It’s good to be back together as we head out for camp.

The
quote of the day had to go to Charlie. When told it “looks like
rain,” he simply replied, “Hope so”.

Cheat
River

After
our experience yesterday, everyone was ready for a calmer river, so
we got on one of the most playful rivers we’ve ever seen. We latched
up with Tim, who had previous experience as a guide on this river,
and it was a pleasure to be led down by him. Byron and I set shuttle
down at Jenkinsburg, a typical West Virginia class IV shuttle. The
reading was 4′, a great level, as Arthur, Scott, Byron and Dennis
(R-4), Brian, Tim and I (Kayak) put on.

It
didn’t take long to hit the play spots, plenty of deep ender holes.
Tim’s skirt blew and we assisted him full of water to the shore.
With the big water, we pretty much skirted holes all day, rode wave
trains and played a little. We scouted Big Nasty, which is a pretty
descriptive name for a big nasty hole. We all had clean runs, with
the raft showing how to finesse it backwards. Sweet….

Our
next scout was High Falls, which didn’t look as big from shore as it
did in the waves. We all skirted the holes and again had clean
lines. A really fun rapid, yet one that deserves a scout.


Next up the
biggie, Recyclotron. Again a very descriptive name, as this is the
ugliest, meanest, downright nastiest set of hydraulics I’ve every
seen. If you want to be recycled multiple times, this is the place
to do it. Take 3 river-wide pour-overs about 10′ tall each within a
50′ stretch, add a lot of undercut shelves on river right and a tree
on river left, add plenty of volume and there you have Recyclotron.
We all ran the sneak route on the left.

Next
came Cyclotron, where I impressed the raft with an upside down rear
ender. Boy does that feel weird. A few more play spots and we were
on to our class IV shuttle with a raft and 3 kayaks. That made for
one of the most interesting shuttle rides I’ve been on (no offense
Mr. Ward) although we did lack the blue grass music.

Cheat
Festival

The
Cheat Festival is one of the premier gatherings of white water
enthusiast, vendors, etc… Unfortunately it began to rain, and
rain, and rain… As the band started, lightening killed the whole
idea of a live music show. Everyone stayed glued to the tents as it
came down in buckets. It didn’t stop the hard core celebrants as
they partied hardy. “It’s beginning to look a lot like
Woodstock.” Whoa — deja vu!

I
saw Charlie again and we exchanged numbers and other stories. The
Colorado boys apparently have made quite a reputation for
themselves. We shopped around for some bargains (i.e. imperfect
polartech underwear), joined the AWA and more. We also learned about
how the mining has tainted the waters in West Virginia. Friends of
the Cheat, West Virginia River Coalition and others are trying to
restore the water quality of these beautiful white water rivers
running red. A worthy cause, and tax deductible too.

Narrows
of the Cheat

I
woke up this morning with the strangest thought: “I hadn’t
swam, yet.” The “yet” part was taunting me, a bad
omen. I didn’t dare mention it, even though the thought stayed with
me all day. With all that rain, the Cheat had risen to 11′
overnight, and we settled on a high water run of the Narrows with
Arthur, Dennis and Pete (R-3) Tim and me (Kayak). Wow, what a nice
level for a mile long swim.

What
a river at this level. 15 – 20′ high wave trains, water breaking
with the surge. As you surfed, the water would break over your back,
sending you back down the wave. As some of these waves broke, holes
would appear on top. Wild stuff we may never see again. We skirted
some massive pour-over holes, easily visible as a 3′ high pillow in
the water occurred just upstream. The raft attempted to punch the
last hole, got turned sideways and flipped on the curler above,
dumping the entire crew.

Perhaps
that was the omen. I had stayed close to the raft most of the day
with the thought of swimming myself. With the level this high,
rescue would need to be quick for any swimmer. Arthur was back on
board before I even reached the raft, with the other two shortly
behind. They rode it down stream upside down to the take-out. What
a finale to the trip.

We
left for home at 3 PM, arrived tired and weary at 5 AM Monday, ready
for work. An outstanding trip, one I hope more will attend next
year. White water in West Virginia is almost Heaven. Sorry you
missed it. By the way, the Gauley Festival is September 21-22.

by
Kevin Kelsey
From The Eddy Line, July 1996