Such is the remoteness of the area—a
quickly reveals absolutely no resemblance to Huntington Beach or any
number of clichéd California locales that come to mind when
“Cali” is mentioned. Imagine instead, West
Virginia, but with clean clear water, huge mountains, tons of camping
and sunny springtime weather coinciding with perfect river levels. The
high quality scenery, easy access, great camping and variety of
unspoiled clean whitewater, combine to make this river a must visit for
the springtime kayaker.
Brasuell hikes into the New
As for whitewater the New boasts three classic
described in the
Holbek and Stanley guidebook—the class IV+ upper, the class
III-IV middle, and the class V gorge. What these guys failed to justly
articulate however, is the incredibly high quality nature of the
whitewater. An excellent approach to enjoying the New River drainage is
to bring two groups of kayakers—those who wish to paddle the
gorge, and those who do not. On day one, everybody can paddle together
as a group…allowing the more confident boaters to keep an
eye on and provide help while the less experienced manage the upper
section. On day two, the gnarly boaters can attempt the gorge, while
the remaining paddlers can run the middle section and then shuttle the
extra car…leaving it at Hawkins bar with cold beers for the
crew, and eliminating the headache of a long shuttle drive.
cool waters of the New.
lay within the confines of the
New River Gorge?
The G.N.R. (Gorge of the New River) is the perfect
for one to
find balance between the effort and composure required to negotiate
this canyon by surrendering to its state. As you descend into this
uncompromising gorge, composure and teamwork, as well as safety
precautions, will be of utmost necessity. This section is also
extremely sensitive to changes in flow, so don’t drop in if
it is dumping rain, on the rise or muddy—it would be an
intensely frightening sight at high flows. Likewise, at lower levels it
can be attempted by solid class IV boaters with only a few short
portages. The one exception is a committing rapid only marginally
visible from above—a much better alternative than the
“mountain-goat portage route” described in the
Brasuell navigates through a
tight spot in the first significant rapid.
David Ernst runs the same rapid at lower flows.
G.N.R. begins with several miles of placid water,
reflect on the increasing depth of the canyon walls all around, and
marvel at evidence left behind by massive high-water events that have
rumbled through here. The river passes below Ironside Mountain, 4,000
feet above, cutting through the same 165 million year old granite as
the Trinity River in Burnt Ranch Gorge. The geology also exhibits
metamorphic schist and gneiss rocks, which are polished smooth but form
many undercuts and sieve formations. The formidable walls of the New
River Gorge truly serve as a sanctuary for the abundant wildlife here.
Sightings of large Trinity River Chinook and Steelhead are common,
while Bears, Otters, Blue Heron and large birds of prey frequent this
area as well. The amazingly diverse botany is equally awe-inspiring
when springtime wildflowers combine with a variety of hardwoods and
conifers to make a beautiful place even better.
Deep forested canyon marks the character of the New.
Daniel Brasuell in an early boudler garden.
Diane Gaydos runs the same.
After the onset of rapids, you will either find
“creeky” rapids through boulder gardens or dodging
large holes depending on the water level. High water can produce
intensely powerful hydraulics due to the constriction of water through
its narrow channel. There are several fun boulder gardens before you
approach “Crack in the Rock”—the infamous
“mountain goat portage”.
Gaydos runs at technical line at low flows.
The mountain goat portage is not recommended after
trusty sources stating, “It is a frightening and exposed
portage that gave the run a bad name”, but now we know
better: there is a disguised portage route. The portage goes through a
large cleft between two enormous boulders, giving access to an extra
section of rapids and sparing you the desperation of clawing at the
mossy cliff for handholds. While you are here, take a moment to admire
the rugged scenery; passage through this canyon is virtually impossible
without use of a water craft.
Ernst finishing up another good
Daniel Brasuel in the same.
Crack in the Rock is a low-water disaster area of
rock, but as the flow increases so too does the run-ability of this
rapid. At high flows it is a hole punch leading into a large exploding
ramp and weird hydraulic. Be sure to scout the exit because you are
committed to running “Blind Faith”, the next drop,
as well. The river left portage requires seal-launching into the froth
emerging from this rapid, heaving you directly into the crux of the
run. Standing above the seal-launching pad, you can peer down and
vaguely catch a glimpse at the left side of “blind
faith”. Run left, punching through two ledge holes stacked on
top of one another. It’s really not that bad if you decide to
portage “crack in the rock”, just don’t
meander anywhere to the right where most of the river falls through an
York runs "Blind Faith"
Shortly thereafter is the
significant drop containing an immense tombstone-like rock backing up
an intimidating river-wide hole. Be careful, as violent thrashings have
occurred here. The short portage along the rock-ledge on river left
requires teamwork and leaves the last person delicately balancing to
get into their boat. This rapid was recently bestowed with a large
upturned log, blocking the river-left side of this rapid, and making
the portage more difficult. [Log
gone in 2011]
Earnst driving right of the Tombstone.
Looking up at Tombstone in bad lighting.
Looking down the New River Gorge from below Tombstone.
Below Tombstone, “Final Falls”
awaits—at most flows it is a terrific boof on the right hand
side which always leaves you stoked.
York boofs "Final Falls"
The pool immediately below this
rapid serves as a holding ground for many salmon that are unable to
ascend this drop until fall storms raise the water level. The final
section to the confluence with the Trinity River is class IV read and
run, with one innocuous hole lurking against the right-hand wall
waiting to spank unwary boaters. When the New is flowing, Burnt Ranch
will have abundant flows, resulting in a juicy paddle-out through the
final rapid: Greys Falls.
Words of warning: logs and rapids are constantly changing in this area,
and you may encounter a committing situation—remember: rescue
from the gorge is extremely difficult. Start early, take your time
scouting the rapids, and go with a group of paddlers who are confident
with their river safety skills. It is an intimidating place that offers
a sense of solitude unmatched by many other classic rivers. Hopefully
your shuttle will be set, as it can be a long and dark huddle waiting
for your buddies to retrieve the car. Good Luck, Have Fun.
Springtime offers a good window of opportunity for this run: late March
to early April can be a period of snow melt—in big water
it can flow into summertime.
Maps market for the New River Gorge Put-In.