Meet The ‘Gauley Girls’

You might already know that ACE — and only ACE — runs the Gauley River all summer long.

What you probably don’t know is that this program is run almost exclusively by women: the Gauley Girls.

The Summer Gauley is one of the most technical, demanding and difficult sections of water that are run commercially. Water flows change daily and the Summer Gauley guides have to adapt to radically different levels on every trip. Boat sizes change, too.

Once the Gauley gets down to its lowest summertime levels, we run it in duckys, 1-person inflatable kayaks.

Imagine the mighty Gauley River, Upper and Lower, with even more rocks and even steeper drops, and you’re doing it in your own boat (under the expert guidance of the Gauley Girls, of course).

ACE’s Summer Gauley guides are among the most respected in the business. Anywhere they go, they are swamped with questions from the guides on other rivers, and they’re invariably offered jobs on those rivers. We don’t worry, though. The Summer Gauley is unlike any other commercial paddling in the world and the Gauley Girls aren’t going anywhere else.

Here they are:

Alisa Hudgel

Alisa has been with ACE since the 1980s. She’s an Army brat who has been exposed since childhood to discipline and leadership. On and off the river, Alisa is the most cheerful, fun-loving person you’ll ever meet. But, on the river, there’s no doubt who’s in charge. In the spring, Alisa is a big part of ACE’s guide training program. Once the season starts, though, she has so many requests from previous customers that she can’t do much training.

Susan Mitchell

Susan has been with ACE since the early 1990s and assisted in putting the original Summer Gauley program together, a tough job since running the Gauley commercially in the summer had never been done before. Susan’s knowledge of the Gauley at all its levels is simply encyclopedic. All the guides know that, if you have a question about how to run something on the Gauley, Susan is the person to talk to. Susan is calm, quiet and professional, necessary traits when you’re taking newbies down a Class V+ river in duckys.

Leah Hillbrand

In addition to being one of ACE’s top-shelf guides, Leah is also one of our River Managers. Being the boss comes naturally to her. In the office or on the river, Leah keeps all us unruly guides in line when necessary. On a personal note, my new female dog just kicked my old male dog’s butt for some minor infraction of doggie rules. So I renamed the dog “Leah.” It just seemed more fitting for a tough, no-nonsense pooch. Seriously, Leah is great fun and is loved and respected by all the guides.

Leslie Pinkerton

Leslie has been with ACE for around nine years. She’s an expert kayaker and a big part of our springtime guide training program. In the real world, Leslie is a school guidance counselor. On the river, she effectively uses her kayaking knowledge as well as her educational training to help the customers learn what they have to know to run the Summer Gauley. Don’t let the petite, blue-eyed blonde with good looks fool you— this girl is serious enough to run the nastiest rivers and to totally control any group of paddlers.

Hannah Carter

Hannah embarrasses us all; she’s that smart. A straight-A student through college, she’s now on a full-ride scholarship to Johns Hopkins University doing cancer research. Despite a crushing academic workload, Hannah drives to ACE from Baltimore just about every weekend. The opportunity to guide on the Summer Gauley does strange things even to smart people. Hannah is also a martial arts expert and the nicest, friendliest person you’ll ever meet. If you run into Hannah at the Lost Paddle Lounge, get her to show you her famous Sweet’s Falls video where she earned her nickname, ”Crash.”

So now you’ve met the Gauley Girls. If you haven’t experienced the unique thrills of the Summer Gauley, come and meet some of these women in person, and let them show you what real big-time paddling is all about.

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