On a Tuesday morning, two Chevy Suburbans, one Ford Excursion, three pop-up campers and fourteen people packed up in the front yard of Glen Mowgli Shepards Lake Talmadge Estate - bound for an adventure in the central hill country of West Virginia. Thirteen hours and 270 gallons of fuel later we arrived at the Babcock State Forest Campground, set up camp and began inebriating ourselves with a delightful concoction called beer. No sooner than Anthony Avila began raising his voice did the State Park Ranger approach with an angry demeanor and the threat of swift and furious judgment for our brazen disrespect of West Virginia State Park law. We cringed at the prospect of jail time in the same cell as Jed Hatfield and Martha McCoy. Sheepishly we obeyed his stern demands, then courageously mocked him as he made his way back to the horse stables from whence he could hear our raging party through the empty campsites. By midnight we bed down, although some of us were unable to find rest due to the beer cooler head bobbing competition going on in the Avila tent (slush, slush, tink, tink, GOT ONE!).
Sausage, eggs, coffee and OJ for breakfast; skateboards, downhills, speed and bum crushin for brunchoh the pain E.S. Ivie will endure for a good time being pulled behind a truck by rope. These events unfolded while four of us searched for a firemen friendly campsite closer to the New River Gorge. If you are curious as to exactly what I was describing then you should seek out one of the Skateboard Shredders from Station 1 or the Station 6 representative Ron Verbal. Just for the record, this is a bad idea. JJ Cassetta.
New campsite found; the crew quickly broke camp like a group of 4th Century Morrocan nomads escaping a swift Saharan sand storm. It turns out that it was a blessing in disguise that the ranger was such a #@$* because we actually were able to find three campsites at The Rivermen off Laurel Creek Road, consequently placing us geographically in the center of all our adventures. Once camp was set, lunch was made and practice rope placed in a tree, we were settled in and ready to begin the activities. First on the list, carve the trails and bomb the downhills of the local New River Gorge Mountain Bike Systemunfortunately there seems to be a Locals Only motto in place that is reminiscent of the days when The Dead Milkmen and Suicidal Tendencies ran the beaches in SoCal. Signs were non existent, trails confusing and if you didnt watch it you might find yourself getting pelted by a small caliber rifle bullet during small game season Those rascally squirrels sure are quick! Other than that the trails were fast and fun with some good climbs and tricky single-track descents. Riding with a guide would sure ease the pain of navigating squiggly lines on a paper with no reference points to compare, next time we know better. Met the non-riders for dinner at Pies and Pints Appalachian Ale, the BLT Pizza and the elbow star sister of Eric Ice Cold Bearss were definite hits with the Floridiots. After arriving in by flight from Orlando, Shawn Steinert and Jimmy Reynolds were at the campsite with a nice fire and cold beer waiting.
Thursday brought us to our outfitter Passages to Adventure for a day of rafting the Class IV-V New River. It was a cool and overcast day, 70 degree water with a slight breezeall of which would cause the mortal southerner to wear a wet suit and booties. Matt from Alabama guided a group of eight and Doug from Portland, Oregon had the other half for a rip-sawin, head-dunkin, finger twistin trip down one of the oldest rivers in the world - so they say. We learned the history of the local coal mining towns and railroads on the flat water between Upper and Lower Kaymoor Rapids. Back in the late 1800s, if you were an Irish immigrant arriving in New York and took the wrong Brooklyn Rail Line you could find yourself clawing your way out of indentured servitude with no end in sight. Whatcha got there? A bad job? Two sets of swimmers rapids, leaping rock, surfer rapids after lunch and a runaway raft filled in the day. JJ cooked chili that night that lasted through dinner, breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next three days.
Friday became a rest and relaxation day. During the morning we built a campfire, practiced in the tree rope and hung loose. Mike Grahl and Ivie went fishing in the river but came out empty handed (chili for dinner again). Prior to the Bridge Day meeting, Dayna, Mowgli, JJ and I hit the MTB trail in Fayetteville again, with more success this time. That evening all rappelling members met at Passages for the Bridge Day prep meeting. Matt Negedly left his fancy cabin in the woods and met us for the summit. Once everyone was apprised of the situation, the twenty-two rappel teams were ready to claim the bridge. Thanks to Mike, Milessa and Tracy for putting dinner together while we were gone. NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT - BRIDGE DAY 2005
Cold, foggy and earlyits a good thing this is something we really wanted to do, otherwise we may have hit the snooze and stayed in our mummy bags. The overnight temperature dropped to 43 degreesfreezing until the coffee is in the cup and the heated seats warm the buttocks. Breakfast at the outfitters and to the north side of the bridge before the rising of the sun. NOTE: Remember for next year - park three wide, stay off the highway and make sure youre at the hole-shot ready to go or theyll call your team and you wont even get to do what you came to do. Dayna, Shawn and I were the first of our team to scale the ladder and follow the catwalk to our anchor point #5 approximately 850 up from the railroad tracks below. Through the fog and chill we braved the height, let down the rope and waited until Glenn River Ninja Shepard and Artie Brothel DJ Gatlin found the end and provided a belay for the rappel team. The sun broke through, casting a shadow of the Longest Single Span Steel Bridge in the Western Hemisphere across the gorge below, quite an impressive sight, and an excellent drop to the bottom. Each man was able to rappel multiple times if desired and Dayna Moudy ascended the line in 20:27, quite a climb. The weather was excellent, apparently for the first time in fourteen years or so and the event went off without a hitch, no rappelling injuries or deaths. Only one B.A.S.E. jumper suffered a bone shattering crash at the bottom - go figure. The largest single day festival in West Virginia was alone well worth the drive and money spent. I would encourage others to get a team organized next year, in line behind us of course.
THE MAIN EVENT PART II - THE UPPER GAULEY RIVER
It was the last release date of the last weekend of this years Gauley season. The floodgates are only opened four weekends in September and two in October. Guides come from all over the country to lead groups of knuckleheads down the BEAST OF THE EAST, so named for the fury that is akin to the rivers of the west but found in these tame eastern hills. Bryan Smith provided us with a few Station 11 stickers that I appropriately stuck to the bus wall, my paddle, our guides paddle and a post by the river put-in. Again, it was a cold morning and didnt seem like one youd want to be on a river that was only 55-58 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully the sun was out, even though at times it seemed like it did little to protect us from the stiff wind blowing through the gorge. After putting in, our guide Matt made sure we were ready for the Gauley by promptly dumping me in the water at the first rock, 90 seconds into the run. No doubt, swimming in a rapid is almost like trying to get out of the downward spiral of a toilet bowl. Well, everyone that got on to the rock jumped back into the raft and then picked me up along with our floating cooler. I realized at that moment that this river truly was a monster and I understood why Chief Mark Austin would drive all the way from Sunny Florida just to meet us for this trip.
We came to find out later that this was the first solo guided trip for Matt our guide. We had requested him the night before our trip and felt he was a competent guide, we still believe such and will most likely ask for him again next year if possible, but we all definitely went through the school of hard rocks on this day. We successfully carved the river down numerous Class III, IV and V runs such as Iron Ring and Pillow Rock, but we almost met our demise on a Class III rapid where the rock is dubbed Thumbnail. The little ones dont seem like much when youve run big drops and heavy whitewater without incident. This one though, slapped us in the face and had us calling for Mom while it laughed spitefully. We were lined up for the center of the river when another boat became hung-up on a hidden rock, not wanting to ram another raft, Matt called for an All Back Stroke! We thought he might guide us around the left side of a flat, bus sized rock off to river left, but he wanted to cut in front of it against the rivers current and called for All forward HARD, but no matter how deep we dug we were not getting into the line he wanted. The raft came up against the shoulder height rock on our left side, it was undercut toward the center of the river and was ready to swallow any ill-guided raft that came into its realm of destruction.
Each paddler has their own account of what happened in the next thirty seconds but I will attempt to briefly describe the most critical events. Within three seconds the port side of the raft became the highside, it was standing on end and was quickly underswept by the strong current and the shape of the rock. JJ Cassetta, Stacy Ivie, Chief Reynolds, Matt the Guide and myself were drawn down stream, under the rock for about 4-6 seconds and spit out the other side into a swamping Class III standing wave. The guide was yelling to swim river left and when we finally got there we did not have everyone accounted for. Mike Grahl was pulled out from beneath the raft by Winter Park FDs Jimm Walsh, he TRULY saved Mikes life, and they were picked up by another rafting companys boat. Ice Cold Bearss swam down the left side of the rock and wound up were we were but we didnt know about Glen or Milessa. The guide ran back on the edge, upriver to another boat that took him back to our raft to look for The River Ninja and the Fiance of the River Ninja. Luckily, Mowgli pushed Milessa up onto the rock as it was capsizing and then escaped sure disaster himself by leaping up onto the rock in Crouching Tiger fashion. Eventually we were able to make a full head count and then became tasked with getting the raft out from under the rock. Some passing guides were saying we should tag it and come back when the water level was lower, but I dont think you can tell that to a bunch of firemen that are provided with rescue rope, prusiks and a few pulleys. We rigged a Z and after a broken line, a broken hand and 45 minutes of extreme force we managed to free the raft from under the rocks oppressive grasp.
Stacy, left foot broken due to getting it caught in an unknown crevasse beneath the Thumbnail, had to walk out to a road with the guide that busted his hand. Then, they had to sit on a bus and wait for us to finish the river. We eventually picked him up at the hospital with his shiny new crutches and soft cast. As you might imagine, we were very thankful that he was able to get out with just a broken metatarsal, well, smashed metatarsal that required surgery to get it fixed.
Once again we were back on the river, but the day was not over yet. While approaching the last Class IV The Juicer we were advised by Matt that we did not want to flip in this area. The river, however, chose for us a completely unknown route to our guide and we wound up going down backwards around another side of the rock, heading straight for another behemoth-sized rock with an under cut as well. Luckily, the stern of the raft bounced off a boulder on the edge of the river which jettisoned us back past the rock and into river center. As soon as we emerged from this danger however, we found ourselves next to a raft that was on the business end of the juicer. Their raft completely flipped, causing us to perform a mass rescue of 7-9 paddlers. Great way to end the trip; by the way, Dougs boat never lost a single person to the drink that day - even with Mitch Hamilton throwing down hang loose gang signs all afternoon.
We made it home, safely, without incident and with three new whitewater kayaks and a sea kayak strapped to the trucks. One pop-up blew a flat around midnight in Georgia but the Team Wavesport Pit Crew changed it out in 10 flat. Hopefully next year will be as eventfulbut not as dangerous.
Passages to Adventure for the rappel anchor and both river trips (Lower New River and Upper Gauley). The Rivermen for camping.
2 Avon 16 foot rafts seating 10 people each.
Different fees for different activities.
From Florida: I-95 North to I-26 West to I-77 North into West Virginia to 19 North.