Gauley River Fun Facts

By Jay Young

In the West Virginia whitewater rafting game, there's no more exciting time of year than Gauley Season. Those who have braved the turbulent waters of the most famous river in the East will recall stories of bravery and history related by their guides in enthusistic tones... or maybe they won't. The river itself does command attention, after all. So, while you're sitting at your 'puter, here are a few choice tidbits to psyche you up, psyche you out or just interest you... and maybe you'll recall them on your next float. 

  1. The first recorded succesful descent was by a team of 5, each in their own Army surplus raft, in 1961. But even then, they portaged the rapid that would become known as Sweets Falls.
  2. The rapid, Insignificant, got its name from a 1968 low-water exploratory trip down the river, after which the party reported that there's "nothing significant above Pillow Rock." An later team, running at high water reached the rapid and were shocked at what the earlier partier felt was insignificant.
  3. The Gauley, from the Dam to Swiss, claims more class IV and V rapids than any other commercially rafted river in the East. Over 27 miles, the Gauley drops 668 feet, creating more than 100 rapids. 53 of those are rated class III or above.
  4. In a typicall Gauley Season, Summersville Dam spills more than 44 billion gallons of water. That's enough to supply all of NY City with water for a month at a high enough rate to fill 400 olympic swimming pools every hour.
  5. In its original state, the Gauley River was a ledge-drop flow, but pre-1900s timber companies required sluices through which they could float logs. Lost Paddle, Iron Ring and Sweets Falls are among the rapids that exist as they are not because of nature's slow entropic march, but because men packed them full of dynamite and blew them to bits.