First Time Whitewater Rafting on Gauley River

This Fall I made my way up to West Virginia to go whitewater rafting down the Gauley. As someone who grew up in rafting house my dad talked about it as long as I can remember. He has a picture of him R2 pillow rock with a friend in the hall way. When I was ten over the Summer we drove to Niagara Falls. We camped in Summerville camp ground and we got to check out the New River Bridge. On the way back we were planning on camping at the same spot but West Virginia had flooded and that campground was underwater. Which led to a rare Summer release for the Gauley. I will never forget seeing the water shoot out of the dam. 

Fast Forward twenty years. I made the decision that whether or not I found some friends to go with I was going to run the Gauley. I ended up going booking a double upper with Ace Adventures. My girlfriend and her sister accompanied me on the 8ish hour drive after work leaving from Atlanta on a Friday. We got to Ace around 11:30pm and I was supposed to check in at 6:00 am. That was no problem though as I was a as excited as a kid on Christmas. 

We took the 30 minute ride on the bus from Ace to the put in. The guide asked if anyone wanted to sit in the front and I said "I do, I never get to sit in the front." As we started off on our journey we got to know the other people in the raft. Two former coworkers and now friends, and a brother helping his sister move across the country were going to be joining me. 

It was a warm, foggy, raining, fall day in West Virginia. With the fog hanging over the trees that were every different color a tree can be. You start off with a few warm up rapids before you get to Lost Paddle which is the first of the BIG FIVE class five rapids that you go down in the Upper Gauley. We made it through Insignificant with no problem. This rapid got it's name because the water level was different for the first groups who ventured down this river and wrote there was no rapids of any significant before Pillow Rock

When we got to Pillow Rock, which is the second of the big Five and arguably the most famous, there is a calm flat part to prepare. Matt, our guide did a great job of explaining this rapid as well as every other rapid. You start all the way river right and have to work over river left where all the water in the river is running right into this big boulder. We went maybe one foot to far left and went up on the Pillow Rock flipping our raft. As I started to fall through the air I was early calm. I had seen people flip on this rock a thousand times on youtube. I took a deep breathe and balled up. I popped up in the calm part after Volkswagen.

After everyone had caught their breathe. We then went on to go through Lost Paddle and Iron Ring with no problems. Those are number 3 and 4 of the big five. We got to Sweet Falls, a 14 foot drop, and the youtube videos did not do that rapid justice. We were just river right of the sweet line and man is it a drop. I was in the front so I did not notice that in the back some of the people bumped into each other. After Sweet Falls we got out and got to have a great lunch and watch the next groups come through. We finished that trip and hopped back on the bus to go back to the top and run it again. 

The second trip we hit everything great and it was good experience to run the river twice. We ran Pillow Rock clean this time but were still close enough to get a good paddle slap on the rock.

We made it to Sweet Falls and drilled the sweet line there. Which then our guide led us into the box. We all try to high side a little to late and flipped again. But I had a pretty easy swim and by this point in the day it was probably 60 degrees and my wetsuit was a little warm. 

We got to run a couple of the Lower Gauley trip as Ace had their own take out a little bit further down the river. I'm pretty sure Matt decided we needed to swim one more time and dumped us out for one more dip in the Gauley. 

Afterwards we hopped back on the Ace adventure bus and got a ride back to camp. They have a video bar and a few hours after we got back to camp we got to watch a highlight tape of our trip. If you are going to the Gauley I would recommend Ace everyday of the week.

The trip did not disappoint, it lived up to every expectation and more. Getting to experience that big of river and getting some pretty good stories to tell. Even the rapids that I didn't talk about would be major rapids on most rivers east of the Mississippi. 

I got to call my parents afterwards and tell them all about it. It was really cool to tell my dad all about the carnage and good lines we had. And to top it off the next day we drove around the area the next day and check out the bridge. I really can't wait for next Gauley season and the chance to go to by god West Virginia. 


  • West Virginia is what I will always call home. Grew up rafting there, Gauley included. Got a foot entrapment in Iron Ring going down with friends one October. Took a few years before I went back after that, but we’re friends again and I hope to get back to it soon. Glad you loved it!

  • Good trip review. I’ve been a guide at Ace off and on since 1994 but fall of 2020 was when I finally decided to check out on the Upper Gauley. I can’t wait until this fall.

    Jeff Asher

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