Sweet's Falls on the Gauley River
|Counties||Randolph, Webster, Nicholas, Fayette|
|- left||Williams River, Cranberry River, Meadow River|
|Source||North Fork Gauley River |
|- location||Gauley Mountain, Pocahontas County, WV|
|- elevation||4,000 ft (1,219 m)|
|Secondary source||South Fork Gauley River |
|- location||Pocahontas County, WV|
|- elevation||3,937 ft (1,200 m)|
|Additional source||Middle Fork Gauley River |
|- location||Pocahontas County, WV|
|- elevation||3,844 ft (1,172 m)|
|Source confluence||Three Forks of Gauley|
|- location||Webster County, WV|
|- elevation||2,917 ft (889 m)|
|Mouth||Kanawha River |
|- location||Gauley Bridge, WV|
|- elevation||660 ft (201 m)|
|Discharge||for Belva, WV|
|- average||2,680 cu ft/s (76 m3/s) |
|- max||12,900 cu ft/s (365 m3/s) (1987)|
|- min||341 cu ft/s (10 m3/s) (1976)|
The Gauley River is a 105-mile-long (169 km) river in West Virginia. It merges with the New River to form the Kanawha River, a tributary of the Ohio River. It is one of the most popular advanced whitewater runs in the Eastern United States and is the chief feature of the Gauley River National Recreation Area.
Headwaters and course
The Gauley rises in the Monongahela National Forest on Gauley Mountain in Pocahontas County as three streams, the North, Middle, and South Forks, each of which flows across the southern extremity of Randolph County; they converge in Webster County. The river then flows generally west-southwestwardly through Webster, Nicholas and Fayette counties, past the towns of Camden-on-Gauley and Summersville, to the town of Gauley Bridge, where it joins the New River to form the Kanawha River. Via the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.
The Gauley's largest tributaries all flow into the main river from the east (flowing in a westerly direction) and are described as follows:
- The Williams River drains a segment of the Monongahela National Forest, joining the Gauley in rural Webster County.
- The Cranberry River also flows through the Monongahela National Forest and empties into the Gauley in rural Nicholas County.
- The Cherry River, which initially flows through the town of Richwood, joins the Gauley near Craigsville.
- The Meadow River, which initially flows through the town of Rainelle, joins the Gauley at the Fayette-Nicholas County border in the middle of the upper class 5 section.
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The Gauley is run year-round by recreational boaters and from spring to fall by commercial rafting companies. During the majority of the year, boating is dependent on water level, which fluctuates dramatically depending on rainfall and the level of Summersville Lake. However, starting the Friday after Labor Day, the Army Corps of Engineers provides a series of twenty-two controlled releases for the express purpose of downriver recreation. These releases are collectively known as "Gauley Season" and are scheduled on six successive weekends, the first five of which are four-day weekends (Friday through Monday) and the last of which is just Saturday and Sunday. Typical release levels during "Gauley Season" range from 2,400 to 2,800 ft³/s (68 to 79 m³/s).
These releases are the result of an act of the U.S. Congress, the first law passed in the U.S. to specifically mandate recreational whitewater dam releases. The releases bring millions of dollars annually to the local economy, as paddlers travel from all over the United States and overseas for this event.
The Gauley has two commonly run sections: the more difficult 9.8-mile (15.8 km) Upper Gauley (Class IV-V), and the easier 11-mile (18 km) Lower Gauley (Class III-IV, V). Portions of the 5.5-mile (8.9 km) Middle Gauley (Class III+, IV) are commonly run in conjunction with either the Upper or Lower Gauley, and it is sometimes run alone as a milder alternative.
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There are dozens of rapids on the Upper Gauley; the most notable are the "Big Five":
- Insignificant (Class V - ironically so named because the first expedition reported "nothing significant before Pillow".)
- Pillow Rock (Class V - accessible via a steep trail from Carnifex Ferry Battleground site. Extremely powerful and intimidating rapid.)
- Lost Paddle (Class V - a long, treacherous rapid consisting of four sub-rapids: First Drop, Second Drop, Third Drop, and Tumblehome.)
- Iron Ring (Class V - so named for a large iron ring which had been anchored in a rock near the rapid by loggers many years before. The ring was cut and removed by vandals in the 1980s.)
- Sweet's Falls (Class V - named for John Sweet, a canoeist and pioneer of Gauley rafting in 1972. [formerly known as "The Devil's Backbone"])
The Middle/Lower Gauley has fewer rapids and they are more spread out, but it also features big dramatic rapids that pose significant challenges. The list of Middle/Lower Gauley rapids includes:
- Wood's Ferry (Class IV+ - a shallow rapid with large ledge pour-overs on river-left, "PJ's Hole" just right of center, and at the bottom, "Julie's Juicer", a twisting hydraulic flowing off the left side of a large rock in the center of the river.)
- Koontz's Flume (Class IV - Easily identifiable by an enormous undercut boulder clearly visible for a half mile or more upstream.)
- Canyon Doors (Class III - Named for vertical openings in the canyon wall on river right.)
- Upper and Lower Mash (Class IV - A complex boulder garden leading down to a swift flush, big breaking wave, and pinning rocks.)
- Rocky Top (Class III - A boulder strewn rapid with Little Hell Hole on river right at the bottom.)
- Heaven's Gate (Class IV - Long wave train leading to a narrow "gate" between a large rock and a dangerous pour-over at the bottom.)
- Upper and Lower Staircase (Class IV - a very long wave train rapid with interspersed pour-overs and ledge drops on the upper section, a massive curler waves on the lower part.)
- Rollercoaster (Class III - a fun wave-train rapid)
- Cliffside - (Class III - technical maneuvering at the top leads to an interesting slot against the cliff on river-left)
- Rattlesnake - (Class III - a bumpy ride.)
- Roostertail - (Class III - another fast wavetrain with a conspicuous roostertail wave near the bottom that hides a sharp rock inside.)
- Pure Screaming Hell (Class V - A long approach past consequential pourovers on the right, leading to a pair of large holes, Purgatory and Hell Hole, in addition to a very dangerous undercut sieve on the far right.)
According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Gauley River has also been known as:
- Falling Creek
- Gaul River
- Gawly River
- Gualey River
- River of Gauls
- The Falling Creek
- The Falls Creek
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: North Fork Gauley River
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: South Fork Gauley River
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Middle Fork Gauley River
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Gauley River
- United States Geological Survey; USGS 03192000 GAULEY RIVER ABOVE BELVA, WV; retrieved April 19, 2008.
- "The National Map". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved Feb 17, 2011.
- "Water Management - Huntington District - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers". US Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 24 Jan 2016.
- "Gauley - 7 (Upper). Summersville Dam to Mason Branch". American Whitewater. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
- "Gauley - 9 (Lower). Bucklick Branch to Swiss". American Whitewater. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
- "Gauley - 8 (Middle). Mason Branch to Bucklick Branch". American Whitewater. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
- "Upper Gauley River Rafting & Kayaking". Whitewater Guidebook. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
- Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 263.