September and October is Gauley season — when the Corps of Engineers lowers Summersville Lake and the Gauley River has lots of water. While the Upper Gauley (one of the most difficult and dangerous whitewater rivers in the East) is at the moment not on my list, the Lower Gauley is not so difficult and is really lots of fun. There are big waves and long rapids, but it is not quite as pushy as the Upper Gauley and the consequences of missing a move are not lethal like they are on the Upper.

Usually, a group of us goes to the Gauley in late September, but this year we waited until October. Knowing that West Virginia can be cold, we all took our winter paddling gear. We were very fortunate — it was 80 degrees and sunny the entire week-end. This made all the other occurrences easier to take.

Emily Hitchcock (Kayak), David Ashley (Kayak) and I (Open Canoe) drove up on Friday in Dickey Gowin's truck — the only vehicle that would hold all our stuff (Dickey has a torn rotator cuff and couldn't go). When we got to the campground we discovered that the truck would not go into reverse. Bad news — there went a shuttle vehicle since there was no way to run the shuttle without reverse.

Soon Mark Levine (C-1 Canoe), Barney Spurr (Kayak) and Jim Silavent (Kayak) arrived, and shortly thereafter, Victor Barnett (C-1 Canoe) from Chattanooga. We all prepared to run the Lower Gauley on Saturday. Paul Davidson (Open Canoe) and Mary Hebblewhite (Kayak) arrived on Saturday and provided another shuttle vehicle.

We arrived at the put-in and were not allowed to drive to the river (the property is owned by a raft company and this is not unusual). As we unloaded the canoes and kayaks, Barney discovered that he had a flat tire. This had to be changed before the shuttle could be run, but that was finally accomplished. The river was great and the trip was going along great when we arrived at Upper Mash. A raft was stuck on a rock and we all went around it into a large eddy behind a rock.

Victor was sitting in his boat waiting for the rest of the group when the stuck raft torpedoed into the eddy in Upper Mash, mashing Victor and separating him from his canoe. His canoe got caught between two rafts and went on down the river. Finally a raft was able to stop long enough to pick Victor up and he and his boat were reunited before Lower Mash.

There were some great play holes, but like the Ocoee, they were mostly full. One of the rapids is named "Heaven Help You" and you exit the rapid at the "Pearly Gates." Soon this rapid was known as "Heaven's Gate." Just because you make it through the Pearly Gates doesn't mean you will make it through Pure Screaming Hell, one of the last rapids. Last year Mark Levine and I saw Elvis in Pure Screaming Hell, but this year we managed to stay left and upright and in the boats. It was a super day!!!

The next day there was great discussion about who was going to run what. Only Emily, David, Victor and Jim had ever run the Upper Gauley. Barney and Mark really wanted to run it, but with the absence of the gurus of the Upper, Dickey and David Asbell, most everyone decided to run the Lower again.

This time we were able to drive to the river, both at the put-in and the take-out. Paul and Barney were able to get a ride from the take-out so we saved time that way. It was 80 degrees again, and the trip again went well.

Emily, David and Victor decided to go to the Upper and they had a more eventful day. Victor lost his paddle in Lost Paddle (he broke it) and luckily found an abandoned raft paddle on the bank. David Ashley was run over by an empty raft in an eddy while looking for Victor, but they all survived. by Bronwyn Fowlkes
From The Eddy Line, December 1997
October 3-4, 1997