Three Authors, Three Picks: River, Rock, Trail

3 River Runs by Jay Young

Author of Whitewater Rafting on West Virginia’s New & Gauley Rivers: Come on In, the Water’s Weird

 

Lower New River, West Virginia

A shredder on the Lower New River, West Virginia
Photo by Jay Young

Intermediate Level
Lower New River

The classic intermediate run that built West Virginia’s whitewater-rafting industry is characterized by big waves with relatively few obstacles. Its nature, however, changes dramatically at various levels.

In summer, the Lower New is more Class III rock garden than roller coaster, as lower water slows things down considerably. Chutes and rocks with pillows and pour-overs are the norm from  negative 1 to 1.5 feet on the Fayette Station gauge.
From 2 feet to around 6, the waves get enormous and the holes get clingy. This is the range that made the New River Gorge famous, for while this large volume river can be intimidating at this level, it’s also seriously fun. For intermediate kayakers, foreknowledge of hazards (or a solid roll) becomes crucial.

Then comes spring, which is a different story entirely. Above 6 feet on the Fayette Station gauge, you need to bring your big-water A-game. The lines get wider, but the potential swims are long and dark. Kayakers need to have a bomber roll.  At truly high levels—let’s say 10 feet and above—the Lower New is virtually a 7-mile long class-V rapid. Oh sure, there are only a few major obstacles to avoid—like Whale Hole, Barry’s Hole and Pig Farmer Falls—but avoid them you must, or suffer the fluffy unfiltered fury of whichever god you worship.

 

Upper New River, West Virginia

A waterfall at Dowdy Creek on the Upper New River
Photo by Christopher Danz

Beginner Level
Upper New River

For the neophyte boater or rafter, the Upper New represents the perfect proving ground of shoaly ripples and wide-open wave trains. At lower levels, the Upper New provides ample opportunities to slide into the river and float alongside the raft. Beginning kayakers find ample places to practice water reading and eddy turns. At higher spring levels, it’s a terrific entry into big-water paddling, with friendly wave trains and holes few and far between.

Pick your poison and go for it because the “Upper New” isn’t just one section. You have several choices of put-in and take-out. For the maximum density of rapids (including one rather large set of Class II waves just after the put-in), try Glade Creek to Grandview Sandbar. For a slower, more mellow run of placid pools punctuated by long sets of ripples, try McCreery to Stone Cliff. This section also offers a side hike to Dowdy Creek. If it has rained recently, the waterfall is not-to-miss.  If you’re confident and near the top end of “beginner,” try Thurmond to Cunard, which is actually the first and far easier half of the Lower New River section. It has two Class III rapids, Surprise and Big Baloney. And mercifully, the take-out is hard to miss.

Upper Gauley River West Virginia

Pillow Rock Rapid, Upper Gauley River
Photo by Jay Young

 

Advanced Level
Upper Gauley River

If ever a whitewater river run had the complete package, it’s the Upper Gauley, also known as the Beast of the East. This world-famous section of mayhem is intimidating for good reason. It has creeky chutes, massive waves, blind drops, pour-overs, headlong plummets into rocks and holes. Kayakers need to know it has ample opportunities to pin your boat permanently, undercuts (lots of undercuts) and sieves. Several rapids can claim any combination of the aforementioned hazards, and some have—gulp—all of them.

The Upper Gauley even draws whitewater groupies who hike in just to watch you run rapids. On any given Saturday, Pillow Rock and Sweet’s Falls are veritable Roman coliseums filled with snarling spectators who really only want one thing: to watch you. Get. Eaten. By. Lions.

The Upper Gauley is not Class V plus. It stops a full notch shy of hair boating. Nevertheless, use your judgment. Kayakers, if you don’t belong on the Upper Gauley, but you go there regardless, then the best you can hope for is the undisguised scorn of your fellow paddlers. Consider a commercial rafting trip instead—loads of fun on the same whitewater. Discretion is, after all, the better part of valor.

 

3 Climbs by Mike Williams

Author of New River Rock Volume 1
New River Rock Volume 2

 

Zag climbing route New River Gorge

Zag offers a view of the New River Gorge Bridge
Photo by Mike Williams

Beginner Level
Zag
5.8, trad or top rope
Bridge Buttress

climbers visiting the New River Gorge for the first time often gravitate to the Bridge Buttress, a stunning outcrop of orange sandstone almost directly beneath the bridge. This cliff was the first to be tackled by early New River climbing pioneers due to its roadside location along Fayette Station Road. In 1975, before the bridge was constructed, West Virginia local Rick Skidmore jammed his way up the lightning-bolt shaped crack that splits the center of this tall buttress. He named his route Zag (5.8). Nearly 40 years later, it’s considered a classic route with great movement and excellent rock quality.

Zag is now considered an entry-level rock climb. A bit of scrambling up ledges abruptly ends at a sheer vertical wall split by a solitary fissure barely wide enough to accept fingers and toes. The crux is short-lived and quickly opens up to a wider crack and abundant holds on the face. Topping out offers one of the best close up views of the bridge in the gorge.

Zag offers good protection for the lead climber. It can also be set up on top-rope. If Zag is too challenging, try Easily Flakey (5.7), another classic just 50 ft. to the left. Too easy? Step up to Angel’s Arête (5.10a), a heavenly dance just a few feet to the right.

Beta: Park along Fayette Station Road just downstream of the bridge and directly beneath the roadside cliff. Ascend a few stairs to the base of the wall, turn right, and Zag is the obvious crack just 50 ft. up the hill.

Intermediate Level
Can I Do It ’Til I Need Glasses?
5.10c, trad
Endless Wall

Endless Wall is the crown jewel of New River rock climbing. Stretching unbroken for nearly five miles, this wall alone contains five-hundred excellent climbing routes. Midway along this remarkable stretch of cliff, the river and paralleling cliff line make a 90-degree turn at Diamond Point, home to the classic 5.10 crack climb, Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses.

It’s worth the extra effort to make the 30-minute approach to Diamond Point, a relatively long one by New River Gorge standards. This narrow peninsula of stone juts its chin into the gorge in a display of superiority over all other crags. At the tip of the chin is the immaculate rock of Can I Do It, exposed to the elements from all sides and weathered into unique shapes seemingly custom-cut for climbing.  This 90-foot route has it all: delicate crack climbing, a shallow dihedral, and some funky bubble-wrap bulges that lead to the anchor. On top is one of the most popular hiker overlooks that offers views up and down the river, from the bridge, all the way to Beauty Mountain.

Beta: Park at the NPS Nuttall Parking area off Lansing Road. Follow the Endless Wall loop trail to the Honeymooner’s Ladders and descend to the cliff base. Walk downstream for about 10 minutes and rack up just around the corner from a massive boulder that marks Diamond Point.

 

Expert Level
Skylore Engine
5.13a, sport
Cirque

Expert-level climbers test themselves on the stunning tiger-striped wall of the Cirque, which harbors the highest concentration of difficult routes in the region. Dozens of routes ascend this overhanging, 100-foot cliff but only a handful go all the way to the top. The “easiest” path to the top is called Skylore Engine, a route that blasts directly up the center of the wall following a series of barely-there features on an otherwise blank slate.

Just getting off the ground proves to be a challenge with powerful, shoulder-wrenching movements and footholds the width of a pencil. Fortunately, there’s a good ledge to rest on at half-height before engaging the steepest part of the climb. Blank swaths of glassy smooth stone can only be bypassed by leaping upward to catch the next ledge, sometimes completely leaving the rock with all limbs. Making it to the top of this one is cause for celebration, and possibly the opportunity to gaze over at the next world-class rock climb to attempt.

Beta: Park at the NPS Nuttall Parking area off Lansing Rd. Follow the Endless Wall loop trail for ten minutes to the rim of the gorge and a sign that says “climbing access.” Descend the Cirque ladder and walk the base of the cliff upstream to the Cirque. Skylore Engine starts near the center of the wall at a vague dihedral.

 

3 Hikes by Bryan Simon

Author of Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge, a Trail User’s Guide

 

Kaymoor Trail, New River Gorge, West Virginia

A waterfall found along the Kaymoor Trail, New River Gorge
Photo by Bryan Simon

Beginner Level
Kaymoor Trail
8.34 miles
Near Fayette Station Road

the Kaymoor trail in the New River Gorge incorporates the natural beauty of the area with the region’s mining history.
It is less traveled by visitors than the ever-popular Endless Wall Trail or Long Point Trail, and offers everything from distant views, multiple streams and waterfalls, to some of the best preserved mine structures in the region. Don’t worry, you do not have to hike the entire length to see the highlights.

From the trailhead you will immediately cross a steel bridge that spans Wolf Creek as it tumbles toward the New River. Walk an additional 200 meters to arrive at one of the highlights of the trail, a waterfall that you walk beside (and over). After a short section of incline, the trail flattens out and allows for a wonderful walk through the West Virginia woods until you begin to reach remnants of mine operations at the 1.5 mile point.

Continue along the trail for 0.5 mile until you reach the main mine complex, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area features a mine entrance along with many original signs and a stone building. The trail intersects here with the Kaymoor Miner’s Trail (all 820 steps of it) and offers a wonderful view across the gorge towards Endless Wall. Many people turn around at this point and return to the trailhead, but the remaining 6.34 miles are filled with streams, wildlife, and viewpoints.

Trailhead: The Kaymoor Trail is found 1.2 miles from the lower bridge on Fayette Station Road as you travel up the south side of the gorge.

Headhouse of the Nuttallberg mine, New River Gorge Photo by Bryan Simon

Headhouse of the Nuttallberg mine, New River Gorge
Photo by Bryan Simon

Intermediate Level
Headhouse Trail
1.4 miles
Beauty Mountain area

The Headhouse Trail is a rewarding trek back in time. It features some fantastic mine ruins hidden within the gorge. Although short in length, it drops precipitously, making the hike down easy, but the return a little more difficult.

From Beauty Mountain the trail descends along a wide path, passing a climbing wall on the right known as the “Super Mario Area.” Continue down the trail to a sharp turn where this trail intersects with the Conveyor Trail. At this point you will see the ruins that mark the end of the trail. Take some time and explore as the trail features a mine entrance and conveyor complex. On a hot summer day, the cool air from the mine is a welcome relief.

Information boards tell the history of this mine site, including its ownership by Henry Ford. After extensive restoration by the National Park Service, this location was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Trailhead: From U.S. 19 turn onto Lansing-Edmund Road. In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Beauty Mountain Road. Park at the Nuttall Cemetery sign; take the middle gravel road 0.15 miles to the trailhead.

 

Sandstone area trail New River Gorge

A stone wall along the Big Branch Trail, Brooks and Sandstone region of the New River Gorge
Photo by Bryan Simon

Advanced Level
Big Branch Trail
2 miles
Brooks and Sandstone area

A hidden gem of a trail, Big Branch is located within the Brooks and Sandstone region of the gorge near Hinton, WV. This 1.97-mile loop travels over and alongside a mountain stream with numerous waterfalls to the location of a turn-of-the-century farm and gristmill, the remains of which are mostly hidden from view.

Park in the Brooks Falls parking area (a beautiful spot to view the wide and gentle New River) and cross WV 26 to the trailhead along a steep bank and keep to your left. The first short portion of trail meanders gently by the road before turning right and gaining elevation steeply. Over the next 0.6 of a mile the trail ascends almost 500 feet to reach the homestead location. Here you will see moss covered stone fences and if you have a sharp eye, you might even see the “washbasin tree,” where a tree has grown right through a washbasin. A large waterfall is also located here and after rainfall, is absolutely gorgeous. Continue along this trail through the forest and you will be rewarded with views of the New River from high above.

Trailhead: From I-64, take exit 139. Travel 14.1 miles along WV 20 to Hinton, WV. Continue through town and cross the bridge over the New River. Turn right on WV 26 and follow this road until reaching the Brooks Falls parking area.

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Category: Family Adventure, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Whitewater Rafting

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