How to Run the Gauley in a Rubber Ducky

If you’re thinking about heading to West Virginia and going white water rafting on the Gauley River this summer, you may be wondering:

“What kind of boat will I be riding?”

Basically, you have three possibilities which are determined by the water flows that day. One possibility is that you’ll ride a big raft, which is the most stable option, but kind of low on the maneuverability scale. Another possibility is the small raft, which is a rush because, hey, if you’re in a boat half the size, the whitewater is twice as big, right?

Possibility 3:  White water ducky.

Wait … a Ducky?

That’s right. Ducky. It’s a nickname for the single-person inflatable kayak that we take on Gauley white water when the water goes down in the summer.

Duckies are quite possibly the coolest thing to happen to rafting since the self-bailing boat (which is a real thing, BTW–ask your guide). These are more high performance than those we take on the Upper New River, which is good because Summer Gauley is all about high performance.

Basically, you get a kayak paddle, sit down in/on a pool toy on steroids, and proceed to run steep drops, narrow channels and funky turns.

Bring Your “A” Game

But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Taking a ducky on the Gauley is one of the most challenging white water rafting trips we offer. Don’t sign up unless you’re ready to take charge of your own destiny.

When you’re rafting the Gauley with a guide, we tell you when to paddle and stop and relax and dig in and take a picture and go swimming. But on a ducky trip, it’s up to YOU.

We’re still right there with you. We’re just not in the boat with you. It makes a huge difference. No worries, though. You’ll still get the same expertise you’ve grown accustomed to at ACE. In fact, you’ll meet some of our most skilled and experienced guides on a summer Gauley River ducky trip. These folks live, eat and breathe Summer Gauley.

Trip Skinny

Anyway, you probably want to know a little bit about what you’re in for on this one. Well, think “rocks.” Lots and lots of rocks. Because when the water goes down, the rocks come out. And that’s when the water starts to sluice and swirl, dip and dive … just incredible.

Beautiful, too. Any guide who has been on the Gauley when the water is right for a ducky trip will tell you that there’s something amazing about the river when you’re deep down in it with boulders towering all around you.

After each rapid you’ll spend time catching your breath or giggling or talking about how cool that last run was. But there’s also plenty of time to take pictures in between the rapids, so bring a (waterproof) camera.

Are the rapids steep? Yup. Can you fall out of your ducky? You bet. Is it one of the best West Virginia white water rafting trips you’ll ever take? Quite possibly.

So, ever been in a ducky? Tell us about it in the comments.

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  • Cbc123

    I was recently on a ducky trip on the Lower Gauley. Upon booking my trip I was under the impression that I would be rafting the Lower Gauley which was something I was comfortable with. When arriving I was told that the water levels were low and we would be taking the inflatable kayaks. A few rafts were available to ride in along-side the duck group but when choosing this option our guide criticized my decision and told me it would not be worth going unless I was in a ducky. I decided to take his suggestion and go in a ducky. The trip was okay and our large group made it through with only one injury. The guides were very excited to be doing the Lower Gauley in ducks because i guess it is not something that they get to do a lot. What they needed to keep in mind was that while they do this everyday, visitors do not. This trip was terrifying for those of us who did not have enough rafting experience. Although the guides did inform the group on safety precautions they were not much help once you fell into the water.

    • Anonymous

      Cbc, hate to hear that your trip was anything less than stellar. You bring up some great points that we’ll make sure to pass along to our guides. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and give us your thoughts– the feedback is very much appreciated.

  • Greg H.

    I took this trip 3-4 summers ago. But we did a section of the upper Gauley from above the Meadow river down to below Sweets Falls. I’m a long-time kayaker and have kayaked the entire Gauley at many water levels, from scrapy to flood. I have rafted a few (20?) times, both rivers. This was NO DOUBT the best commercial trip I’ve ever taken in any kind of boat.
    A few points. As an experienced whitewater kayaker, this trip was still a ton of fun. A buddy of mine on the trip was a guy who had done a lot of rafting but no kayaking LOVED it. My brother had kayaked a few times (upper new only) and rafted several times. He’s a big-time scaredy cat. He said he was very nervous in the first rapid (lost paddle), but he did fine and eventually became comfortable by the end of the 4th drop. He had a great day and has talked about going again for years.
    This trip is NOT for the faint of heart. It is probably not the best option for a first time boater. But anyone with a sense of adventure, a little flatwater canoeing experience and a day to spare should STAND IN LINE for this trip. This is the perfect step up for someone who has rafted the new a few times and is looking for something a little more exciting. It’s also a good way to see the Gauley for someone who is understandably nervous about the fall river levels.
    I can’t say enough about the guides. They did several great things. First, they gave the less experienced boaters a chance to get acclimated to the boats before leaving along with some good tips that served them well. Second, they chose careful, conservative, lines while still giving us some cool experiences (like paddling through the cave at Iron Ring). Third, they set safety (sometimes at significant risk to themselves) in front of most of the major obstacles (i.e., undercut rocks), making SURE that if there was going to be a swim, it wasn’t going to end with anything more than a scraped elbow. I was extremely impressed with the safety consciousness of these guides. I’ve spent countless hours and this and the new river and, in all those years, I’ve never seen a more diligently run operation. Seems like there were 3-4 guides on this trip for about 20 people, but I may be wrong on that.
    I’ve just got to give the guys some big time kudos. I’m paddling my own raft in the Gorge this weekend. So why am I on this site now? Because I’m actually considering leaving the raft behind if the water levels are right for this trip.

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