Secrets Of The Gauley River: Pillow Rock Rapid

The One. The Only. Pillow Rock Rapid on the Gauley River In West Virginia pretty much defies description.

We’re going to try anyway.

ACE_rafting_pillow_rock_rapid_on_the_Upper_Gauley_RiverBut just know this. There’s nothing ­—nothing— in the world like running Pillow Rock. You just kinda gotta do it.

The Story


Pillow Rock is a couple several hundred feet below the Carnifex Ferry Battleground State Park. It’s where the Union fought the Confederates in what’s still referred to as “The Battle Of The Forks And Spoons”.

That’s another story altogether, but it makes sense to think that they got ready to fight that battle (it didn’t end up happening the way you think it did), just because no one wanted to mess with the rapid below.

Once again, if you read about the secret to Insignificant, you’ll know that there are some things that are typical of the big rapids on the Gauley River. A pool that bends around out of site. Tight entrance. Gets huge quick.

But that’s where the similarities end.

The Line

There are so many parts and pieces to Pillow Rock, it’s hard to know what to try to describe and what to leave out. Basically, what’s going on is that all of the water in the river (most of it, anyway) is moving from the right side to the left side and slamming (!) into a big boulder.

Okay, a house-sized boulder. That’s it. That’s Pillow Rock.

It’s steep. The river drops about 50 feet in 50 yards. So, it’s not quite a waterfall, but it’s close. Think of a waterfall stretched out for a while, and you’re there.

Once you get on the water that’s going toward the rock, get ready. You’re going to fly past (or into, if you’re unlucky) inertia hole. No time to look because, hey, ROCK! Right in front of you, there it is.

You raft up onto the water that’s hitting the rock (that’s the pillow), and then over it. Really. And you need to stay focused, because on the other side of the pillow is the Toilet Bowl, where the water swirls down (and down and down). That all happens right before the water comes up onto Volkswagen Rock. Watch out for that one.

And then, you get to turn around, look upstream, and marvel at the fact that you just rafted something like that. It’s amazing.

Oh, one more thing. When you’re up on the pillow, the raft goes up on its side. Imagine The Dukes Of Hazard in whitewater gear, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what that looks like.

Have fun. There’s only one Gauley River. And there’s definitely only one Pillow Rock.

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