Before the 1880s, the Gauley River was a completely different river than the one we raft and ducky today. It was most likely impossible to navigate!
In the 1880s, loggers arrived on the scene and started cutting timber. It was mainly virgin timber; trees were so large that 20 men holding hands couldn’t reach around some of the massive trees. It must have been a heck of a sight.
Sawmills sprouted everywhere like spring wildflowers. Temporary railroad tracks were put up one day and moved the next. And the Gauley River was used to float massive logs down river.
I’ve seen old black and white pictures of some of the rivers used that way. Logs jammed from one side of the river to the other. You could walk from shore to shore on the massive logs.
But the Gauley River was different – it had waterfalls and giant rapids. Even during high water, the logs would get jammed up. The only answer was to try to blow a wide channel with dynamite.
During our Summer Gauley trips, when the water is low, you can see evidence up and down the river of how destructive the loggers were.
All of the “Big 5″ Class V Rapids (Insignificant; Pillow Rock; Lost Paddle; Iron Ring and Sweet’s Falls) show evidence of dynamite. Iron Ring was said to have been a triple waterfall at one time – gone. The entire right side and middle of Sweet’s Fall was blown up. Third drop and Tumble Home were blown up. The entire middle section of Insignificant shows significant damage. Pillow Rock’s right side is now a series of broken shelf rocks.
Without the loggers’ intervention, we probably wouldn’t be rafting the Gauley River today. I just wish they would have taken the time to have blown up Initiation and Shipwreck (BFR) while they were at it. Do you know of any other rapids that have been dynamited? What about the New River? The bottom of Middle Keeney, Meat Grinder, was dynamited and when they built the railroad, dynamiting reconfigured Double Z and other rapids.
It’s never too early to start planning your fall Gauley Season.