CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rafters and kayakers are abuzz with the news: This year's Gauley River whitewater conditions are going to be epic.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the river by releasing water from Summersville Lake, recently announced the whitewater flow schedule for September and October. The schedule features 24 days of weekend rafting-level releases instead of the usual 22, plus nine midweek releases that include six at even higher levels.
"These releases are pretty amazing for three reasons," said Dave Arnold, managing partner of Adventures on the Gorge, one of the area's largest whitewater rafting companies.
"We get more days [of commercial rafting], which is the obvious thing. Also, those [supplemental] Tuesday-Thursday releases are at a much higher level, which will make the lower section of the Gauley really exceptional.
"And finally, by running the Gauley at midweek, rafters can stay and run the New River on the weekend, when almost no one else will be running it."
Corps officials have scheduled regular rafting flows of 2,800 cubic feet per second for Sept. 6-9, Sept. 13-16, Sept. 20-23, Sept. 27-30, Oct. 4-7, Oct. 12-13 and Oct. 19-20.
The supplemental midweek rafting flows, also at 2,800 cfs, are scheduled for Sept. 17, Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. The supplemental high flows, at 5,000 cfs, are scheduled for Sept. 18-19, Sept. 25-26 and Oct. 2-3.
Arnold said his company doesn't plan to run rafts on the upper section of the Gauley during the 5,000 cfs flows.
"It would be too intense for inexperienced rafters," he explained. "Not only does it become faster and more continuous, it also becomes much bigger. At Pillow Rock [rapids], the hole at the end becomes pretty dangerous and hard to avoid. And at Lost Paddle [rapids], the higher flows eliminate eddies where rafters usually stop to catch their breath."
Arnold said groups of rafters who wish to paddle the upper Gauley at 5,000 cfs "had better be a super-elite bunch of people who really know what they're doing."
He added, though, that the super-high midweek flows would make the relatively tame lower section of the Gauley "lots more fun."
"We run the lower section commercially during flows as high as 14,000 cfs. Five thousand is perfectly within our manageable range. At 5,000 cfs, rapids like Stairsteps and Pure Screaming Hell develop much bigger wave trains, standing the boats up almost vertically wave after wave."