Gauley River Secrets: Anatomy of a Class V Rapid

Class V rapids on the Gauley River are awesome. They’re the whipped cream on top of the big ‘ol dessert that is whitewater rafting in West Virginia.



But don’t go in blind. Know what to look for when your raft approaches the lip. Here are a few telltale signs that you’re about to run one of the Gauley’s Big Ones:

1. Big Pool. Above every major Class V rapid on the Gauley, what you’ll see is this: a large, flat pool of water where the river bends around out of sight. Every time you see it, you know there’s something big down below. The one exception is Iron Ring Rapid, which was created when loggers blasted the channel with dynamite.

2. Tough Entrance. What you’re going to see when you’re paddling into the top of a Big One on the Gauley is a lot of rocks. The Class Vs are technical and take some manuevering to get into them. It’s critical that you set up correctly for success through the rest of the rapid, so listen up to your guide.

3. Real big, real fast. As soon as you get into the rapid, expect the river to explode. In a good way. The features in the Big Ones are HUGE, so stay braced in and paddle hard. One of the great things about the Gauley is that the biggest waves are usually right where you want to go. Lucky us.

4. Undercut rocks. One feature that makes a Class V a Class V is called an undercut rock. It’s a boulder (sometimes as big as a small apartment complex) that has been worn away on the bottom by the river. Meaning, now the current goes under the rock instead of around it. Know where the undercuts are before you start (ask your guide) so you can make sure to swim aggressively away from them if you happen to, um, de-board from your flight, as they say.

5. Video Boaters. We send an ACE videographer to kayak along with your trip, and whenever you get to a Class V, they’re going to stop somewhere in the rapid to film you. Try to pick them out as you go through, so you can get nice and cheezy for the camera.

6. The end. All of the Gauley River Class Vs eventually end. No, it’s a good thing. At the bottom of the rapids, be ready for your guide to tell you to paddle for a safety eddy. Once you’re there, it’s time for high fives. Still, be ready to paddle after another raft that wasn’t as, um, successful as you were.

Each rapid is a unique and beautiful snowflake, to quote a famous movie, but there are some similarities between the Big Ones. And now you know.

Are we missing anything? What did you notice about the Class Vs out there on the Gauley (assuming you kept your eyes open :-) ?

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