When you take whitewater rafting trips on the Gauley River, there’s one thing you always have to keep in mind.
Lost Paddle Rapid.
Yes, there are other Class V’s. Yes, there are other monster waves.
But there’s nothing on the river … nothing in the world … like Lost Paddle.
You have to imagine what’s probably best described as wet chaos. A couple thousand tons of boulders chucked into a narrow stretch of river to make a rolling, roiling, swirling mass of froth and foam that will make you cry for mommy.
Sound fun? It is.
Lost Paddle rapid is the longest Class V on the Gauley, and one of the longest rapids on the entire river. The guides say it’s made up of four different drops (some say five), but the only ones who can really tell are the guides themselves.
For most rafters, it’s just a blur of huge waves and gigantic holes, and in the end you come out smiling.
At the top, before you enter the rapid, what’s most noticeable is the Meadow River coming in on river left. Aside from being just as beautiful as everything else on the Gauley, the Meadow can have a tremendous impact on your run through Lost Paddle.
That’s because it’s a river that dumps water, potentially a lot MORE water, into the Gauley. And more water equals more bigger rapids. Check your guide’s face as you head past the Meadow. If it’s pale and terrified, that means the Meadow River is cranking, and you better be ready to double down. Class VI, anyone?
1st Drop Okay, so at the top of the rapid, you’re going to see a line of rocks and the river will pretty much disappear into still more rocks below. What you’re looking at is the maze of an entrance into the rapid. There are a couple different ways to go here, and they all involve hard turns and hard paddling.
Right before you enter, take note of a single Sycamore tree in the middle of the rapid, way on down there, that has a single lone paddle hanging from a branch. That’s the lost paddle of Lost Paddle. Also, it’s the marker of the Hawaii Five Oh Wave. More on that later.
Things open up and get huge right away. Look for a big curling hole near the end of 1st drop. Once you punch it, you’ve cleared the 1st drop. Only 3 more to go.
2nd Drop What you’ll see next is the river take a hard left turn and disappear into a big foamy mess. And as you get closer, it gets bigger. And bigger. And still bigger yet.
It’s almost guaranteed that the worlds that will go through your mind will be somewhere along the lines of, “I cannot believe we are about to take a raft through that.”
Yup. You are.
What you cannot believe you are about to take a raft through is famously called the Hawaii Five Oh Wave, and it’s in the running for best hit on the entire river. A dead-on hit on H50 will stand the raft straight up, and plunge it straight down the back side.
Watch out for Indicision Rock down below. A little more scrambling, and you’re ready for 3rd Drop.
3rd Drop The wave at third drop isn’t as big as it is nasty. There’s a hidden rock in the middle, so go left (punchy) or go right (swirly), but don’t go middle. Unless, you know, you feel like swimming the rest of the rapid. Which isn’t advised. Ever.
If you make it clean through 3rd drop, congratulations … you’re half way through Lost Paddle!
Also, a cool fact about 3rd Drop: it’s a break. There are (thankfully) some flat pools on both sides of the river. You’re going to need them, because after you catch your breath, you’re going to willingly paddle a raft into 4th drop.
4th Drop It’s also known as Tumblehome. Sorry, but there just aren’t too many good ways to describe it. Every wave, hole, and slot is bigger and badder than the last, until finally you get spit out at the bottom.
And that’s it. Over a ¼ mile of pure whitewater stud-li-ness. If it weren’t for Lost Paddle, we could probably run the river at much higher levels than we do.
But we can’t. Lost Paddle is right at the limits of what you can do in a raft.