SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Thousands of rafters, people kayaking, and thrill-seekers from across the country and the world will likely find their way into Nicholas County over the next 22 days for the beginning of Gauley season.
“It’s just like opening day for baseball or anything else,” Dave Arnold of Adventures on the Gorge said. “I mean it’s exciting. People, guides are in from all over the world. Guests are in from all over the world. Literally it’s all 50 states and a few foreign countries over the next 22 days will come here.”
But locals aren’t afraid to take advantage of it either. Darr Soli, from Hico, WV, fell in love with the Gauley River and white water rafting seven years ago.
“This is one of the main reasons to spend your whole summer on the New River–for these 22 days of awesome white water,” Soli said. “Literally the best in the world right now.”
Soli said there are guides he knows who spend all year preparing for these 22 days.
“Rivers like the Futaleufu (South America) and the Zambezi (Africa) are kind of dry this time of year,” Soli said. “And the Gauley literally is the best white water in the world right now.”
Arnold agreed that the Gauley’s complexity simply adds to the fun.
“But there’s all kinds of obstacles,” Arnold said. “Big rocks in the way which create waves. And once you get a wave going, from physics, it has to continue. It has to oscillate out. And sometimes you get waves banging into others, which create reactionary waves. The bottom line is it creates a very complicated river to run.”
And that complexity is why Arnold recommends potential rafters and people kayaking, especially those who are beginners, use a professional guide.
“Probably the most important thing in safety is using a professional outfitter,” Arnold said.
“This is not a river to go buy a raft from somebody at one of the hardware stores and go down the river,” he added. “You will not make it.”
Soli’s raft flipped the first time he went out seven years ago, but the experience didn’t discourage him.
“The first day I was in a flipped raft,” he said. “It turned my life upside down, literally. I was like ‘what am I doing?’ But I get bit by the white-water bug.”
Ultimately, Arnold said if you’re going out on the river, you’d better not be distracted by anything else.
“The whole trip is about fun, but when you’re in the big rapids, you got to pay attention,” he said. “And you’ve got to work as a team. This is not a spectator’s sport.”