Experiencing The Gauley, Even If You Aren’t Rafting

Editor’s Note: This is the first Great Gauley Blog-Off contest submission by ACE super-fan Pansy Parker. Terms and rules are listed at the end of this post and your essay and poem submissions are being accepted through Sept. 7, 2010.Back near the end of September 2007, I got my very first taste of the infamous Gauley adrenaline. I am now and forever hooked.

I had never rafted before in my life, so a friend and I had come to the area for a “first-timers” trip with ACE. We rented a little cabin right near the Carnifax Ferry Battleground State Park. The renters had suggested the Fisherman’s Trail, which is a super duper steep 6/10 mile trail straight down the canyon bank to the absolute best viewing spot on the river, just across from the action-packed Pillow Rock.

I’m not a big Civil War buff, but if you are looking for land-based adventure consider visiting Carnifex Ferry Battleground State Park. Located on the northern banks of the Gauley River just west of Summersville, the 156 acre park protects an important Civil War battle site and is one of more than 300 Civil War Trail Discovery Sites.

There are 4.9 miles of hiking trails available through the steep terrain of the park. All of the trails offer views or access to the Gauley River. The longest of these is the two mile Patterson Trail. The trail forms a loop around the perimeter of the park. The highlight of this trail is three scenic overlooks of the Gauley. In the fall you can watch for rafts and kayaks navigating the churning water below and enjoy the changing colors of the hardwood forests that cover the walls of the gorge.

If you enjoy military history consider hiking down the Old Carnifex Road. This 1.5 mile trail begins near Picnic Shelter Number Three and ends at the banks of the Gauley River. The road was used by the Confederate Army in their 1861 retreat before crossing at the ferry.

From the main overlook you can hike down the 6/10 of a mile long Fisherman’s Trail. The trail offers the shortest hike for direct access to the Gauley River and ends at famous Pillow Rapids. The trail is extremely steep and rocky but offers a rewarding view of the Gauley and a rare up-close opportunity to see the rafts and kayaks navigating the river.

Parts of the Fisherman’s Trail passes through private property, so please be sure to stay on the trail at all times, and if you see trash, please carry it out. The kinder we are to this trail and its owners, the longer we will be allowed to use it.

Back to my trip.

My friend had rafted before, so she wanted to come a day early so we could check out the action before plunging in. We hiked down the steep trail to Pillow Rock Rapid from the mountainside above. Four hundred vertical feet later we arrived at one of the best rapids on the river to view the action.

As I got my camera ready for the paddlers to make their way down river, I was in disbelief of the beautiful day that we were having on a late September afternoon. Warm temperatures and sunny skies ruled the day. We were not the only ones who hiked down that day – it seemed like more than 50 people made the trip down.

All I can say is wow. The view was breathtaking and the action and carnage was never-ending. My first impression was disbelief at the deafening roar and the sheer volume of water that was being pushed through that narrow bend in the canyon. I was already hooked and I hadn’t even been in the water yet.

Being the camera nut that I am, I quickly set up my video camera and started shooting. Check out the video posted with this blog post. The date was 9/28 or 9/29/07. If you were there that day, you just might be in this video. I have a ton more footage, so if you know you were there, and you don’t see yourself, let me know. I’ll share the rest.

It is truly a great place to hang out and watch all the boats run in varying degrees of success. Even as a novice, one thing I noticed right away was the percentage of ACE rafts that made it through the eye of the needle unscathed, compared to those “other” unmentioned outfitters.

I’m guessing the experience of being on that river all year long, compared to just a few weeks during Gauley Season, makes all the difference, as you will see.

Fisherman’s Trail is the best viewing of Pillow Rock, but the trail is definitely not recommended for anyone having any remote sort of mobility impediment, and that includes the periodic knee problems, being old, overweight, too young, not in shape and certainly it’s not for those on crutches.

This trail teeters on needing to be rigged for rock-climbing ropes! It also washes out repeatedly. If you are fit, the trail is definitely worth the hump. Just remember, in this case, what goes down must come back up again. The hump back up definitely needs to be taken into consideration as well.

Not for the weak of heart. Three days later and my butt and thighs were still talkin’ to me, loudly! When I did it in the fall of 2007: Female, 45 yrs, 125 lbs., in shape, no knee issues. Going down = no problem. Coming back up = totally whipped, but doable.

Whatever you choose to do, have fun watching the action.

— Pansy Parker

Contest Prompts/Terms:
To enter the Contest, your computer must accept cookies, or any successor or similar technology, so that ACE is able to track your entries in the Contest.
You may submit your entry by providing your full name, email address and essay text on the Contest Submission Form located on the ACE website at http://www.aceraft.com/great-gauley-blog-off.html
You may submit an essay that discusses in 100-750 words any one (1) of the following:
A. Which famous person you would like to take rafting and why
B. Your favorite Gauley River rafting guide and why
C. A poem written by you about whitewater rafting in West Virginia
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