Rollicking Rivers of the Virginias

The Narrows
The Narrows at a Glance
Section : Narrows (below Rowlesburg to Lick Run)
County : Preston
USGS Quads : Rowlesburg, Kingwood
Difficulty : Class IIIV
Gradient : 20 feet per mile
Average Width : 100150 feet
Velocity : Fast
Rescue Index : Accessible
Hazards : Big waves in high water (34 feet on the gauge)
Scouting : Calamity Rock
Portages : None
Scenery : Fair to pretty in spots
Highlights : Limestone caves near put-in
Gauge : Visual only; Albright bridge, Route 26
Runnable Water Levels (Albright Bridge) : Minimum 0.5 feet; Maximum 4.5 feet

The Cheat leaves the town of Rowlesburg quietly but soon becomes narrower and begins to pick up speed. The put-in (A) for the Narrows (see map) is opposite a worked-out limestone mine approximately three miles below Rowlesburg. Here you'll encounter the first big waves below Rowlesburg, called Cave Rapids. For the rest of this five-mile trip, the rapids become increasingly more difficult. There are good rescue spots after each rapid, but in high water it's not so easy. After passing several Class II rapids, the paddler enters a long series of harder rapids, properly called the Narrows.

In the first significant rapids, the entire river is necked down by an automobile-sized boulder (Calamity Rock) in midstream. Those unfamiliar with this Class IIIIV rapid should scout it. Although this boulder is largely out of the water at roughly 1.5 feet on the Albright bridge gauge, it is completely submerged when the reading is around 2.5 feet. This should give the paddler a healthy respect for what just a few inches' increase in water level means on the Cheat. Usually this boulder should be passed on the right. At very high levels, however, it's best to run along the left bank, whether in boat or on foot. Keep in mind that there are two problems—entering the passage correctly (not always easy due to the combination of waves immediately above it) and managing the powerful drop at the end of the chute. This passage will swamp an open canoe without flotation at any level and flip a raft in high water.

There are three major rapids below this boulder that also pass through narrow confines, creating huge turbulence and powerful cross-currents. In high water you simply blast through the standing five-foot waves and try to maintain stability; at lower levels you must be more precise when maneuvering around the exposed boulders. Paddlers inexperienced with big water might be fooled into thinking that they can"sneak" down the sides of these narrow rapids in relatively calmer water, but they'll usually get sucked over into the big stuff by the high velocity of the main channel (sort of like Bernoulli's principle).

The first of these major rapids (Wind Rapids) is the most difficult in high water and consists of a wide hydraulic before reaching the chute. This hydraulic is best taken on the far left. There is also a severe hydraulic about halfway down the chute on the left, always an interesting scene. The second rapids (Rocking Horse) is the longest narrow passage, with 100 yards of turbulence. The last rapid is less severe but still interesting. There is not much left before taking out at Lick Run (B) following an enjoyable five-mile trip (see map). Note that the land at the take-out is private property, but landowners have been cooperative in the past.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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