I'm a Bud man. Or, rather, Bud is my man. That's Bud, as in Bud Frantzone of the best river guides north, south, east, or west.
When he's not on the water, Bud hangs his oars in West Virginia, and if you hope to see him at his best, you better get yourself to the state's famed Gauley River. I'll be there, and you can bet your rubber inflatable Bud will be there too.
In fact, Bud won't be the only great guide on the Gauley this fall (the prime rafting season is September to mid-October). Every year, river guides from around the world converge on West Virginia to escort 60,000 enthusiastic rafters down this hairball river. Many of those intrepid thousands are whitewater rafting for the first time, and others are careening down the Gauley for their 50th wild and wonderful time. But for all the energy and excitement a Gauley trip will entail, it's the guides, guides like Bud, who get paddlers through them safe and sound.
Bud Frantz was one of the first guides on the Gauley, and he has probably guided more Gauley River trips than anyone else. If the river could talk, it would sound like Bud.
"I never get tired of the river, or showing it to others," drawls the wizened West Virginian through his sage-like beard. "The whitewater is world-class, but it's the sheer beauty and the remoteness that bring me back year after year."
Bud is typical of local guides who seem to live for the Gauley season, but many more come from further afield. On the Gauley, you're likely to hear northeast accents, comments about Rocky Mountain skiing, or Spanish from the Chilean and Costa Rican guides. Toni Hall, a guide from California, says, "I like the fellowship and camaraderie of the other guides. We come from all over, and get thrown together, but we always seem to get along."
Of course, the Gauley River isn't the only West Virginia whitewater that lures world-class boatersthe New River, the Tygart, and the Cheat are well-known venues nearby. But running the Gauley is a guide's badge of honor. In Wildwater West Virginia, the authors write that, "The Gauley has become the East's qualifying cruise for the title of expert paddler. It's big, it's long, it's inaccessible, it's tough, it's dangerous, it's intoxication."
In early September the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will open the Summersville Dam floodgates with water releases of around 2,500 cubic feet per second on each release date. And thus, the wild water season begins, giving you over 20 chances to become a Bud man or woman.
With a riverbed that drops more than 800 feet in 27 miles, the Gauley River is an outstanding whitewater challenge for guides and rafters alike. The ruggedly carved canyon has two distinct sectionsthe Upper Gauley and the Lower Gauley. Between the two, every raft must make its way through more than 100 rapids, 56 of them rated Class III through Class V.
For further information about West Virginia, this fall's Gauley season, or whitewater outfitters, call West Virginia Tourism at: 1-800-CALL-WVA.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication