Braving the Class-V Fury of West Virginia's Rivers

Ready to rise to the challenge? The Allegheny mountains of West Virginia contain the greatest single concentration of Class IV-V runs in North America. World-class rivers such as the Cheat, the Gauley, the Tygart, and the nearby Upper Youghiogheny offer continuous whitewater with more thrills per mile than you'll find just about anywhere else. As a whole, the West Virginia river system is noted for very fast water flow, steep drops, and narrow, technical passages. Unlike many western rivers that feature long, smooth passages followed by pockets of rapids, the rivers of West Virginia are marked by back-to-back rapids—continuous thundering whitewater. The runs are relatively short, but yield a high-adrenaline excitement hard to duplicate anywhere else. To do these runs in a kayak or decked canoe, however, you had better have solid Class-IV paddling skills. The rivers of West Virginia also offer numerous options for the novice and intermediate paddler, but this collection of waterways remains the true western Mecca for hardcore whitewater action.

Practically Speaking
The upper section of the Gauley is a solid Class V, with huge waves and very high water volume. The Tygart boasts Glens Falls, the most powerful, runnable rapid in the Appalachians. The very technical Upper Yough, once thought unrunnable, is the steepest waterway east of the Rockies. The Upper Yough is located in nearby Maryland, but it is served by West Virginia river guides. The Cheat features tight passages over steep drops, with many rapids upgraded to Class V after changes wrought by floods in 1985. The New River is popular with beginners and intermediates alike, offering ideal Class I-II learning conditions in the upper section, plus reliable Class III-IV water in the lower stretch. In the summer, the Lower New is a great intermediate play river, with surfable waves and many classic squirt boating holes.
Along with these well-known rivers, West Virginia boasts many smaller creeks that offer fast flows, dazzling drops, and Class V rapids during early season and after strong rains. Scenic Glade Creek, located near the Grist Mill at Babcock State Park, is a demanding, solid Class-V run with an outrageous gradient ranging from 250-400 feet per mile. Very steep and very narrow, Glade Creek's toughest rapids become Class VI during high water following hard rain in spring or fall. Mill Creek, near Anstead, West Virginia, is another popular small creek that flows well after a rainfall. It boasts a nice 20-foot waterfall that is definitely runnable by advanced paddlers. The first section up to the falls is a manageable Class II-IV, then it becomes high to low IV—experts only.
The Meadow River offers a variety of conditions in its three sections. The technical upper section, which winds through a beautiful hardwood forest, features extremely clear water and many great rapids. This stretch is mostly Class III, but it can be dangerous at high water. The Middle Meadow is quite popular with locals, given the easy access from the road and its manageable Class III to low-Class IV whitewater. The solid Class IV-V Lower Meadow is assuredly for advanced experts only. Very steep and very technical, it is an extremely tough run that can be a killer at high water. Just consider the names of some of the Lower Meadow's more infamous rapids: "Brink of Disaster," and "Sweet Jesus."
Please note, West Virginia's short, steep creeks such as Glade Creek and the Lower Meadow require solid, advanced kayaking skills. No matter how good you are, we recommend you hire a local guide to help you choose a destination and navigate the run safely.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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