New River Gorge

“We’re not going to make it!” screamed Kevin Ferrell over the roaring river as we shot from Upper to Middle Keeney rapids just right of our intended line.  Under a heavy sky and driving rain we desperately tried to move the boat to the left as massive waves crashed all over the boat.  Adrenaline surging we careened toward a large sieve affectionately known as “Meat Grinder” at the right side of the entrance to Lower Keeny.

In the week leading up to our descent of the Gorge the crew made at least ten runs in kayaks and rafts at water levels ranging from 4 ft to 6.5ft.  In familiarizing ourselves with the run, planning lines and discussing contingencies, our confidence grew daily.  The Gorge is a place of incredible beauty and power.  Marshall wrote in 1812 that the river, previously spreading over a bed 300 to 400 yards wide, becomes “compressed by the mountains on each side, into a  channel from 20 to 60 yards wide…”, those limits even more narrowed by “enormous rocks which lie promiscuously in the bed of the river, through which it is often difficult to find a passage wide enough for the admission of a boat”.  The result of such compression is whitewater characterized by big waves, strong current, and massive holes.  While we scouted for a week, it should be noted that Marshall’s voyage was ”performed by boatmen who having never before seen the river, were reduced to the necessity of selecting their way at the moment, without the aid of previous information.”

Along with familiarizing ourselves with the run we were waiting for the water to drop out.  At six feet the Gorge features huge standing waves and a fast current in the pools between rapids.  The river was slowly dropping, but with more rain further away in the watershed we were sure a rise was in the near future.  On Monday the 21st we decided that unless the river rose dramatically Wednesday the 23rd would be our day.  We put the word out to the paddling community, the NPS and Adventures on the Gorge, the raft company that would be carrying our gear through the Gorge.

On Tuesday we made our final preparatory lap, and spent a great deal of time scouting.  The Keeney’s were our biggest concern; taken separately none of the rapids presentd a problem.  Together, Upper Middle and Lower Keeney would be our most challenging series on the river.  Kayakers and rafters can catch eddies and break the three up but our momentum and difficulty in maneuverability meant we would run all three at once.  Upper Keeney is formed by a large rock, Whale Rock, in the middle of the river, constricting the flow against the right bank and creating a large wave train.  Middle Keeney is a similar constriction rapid formed by  boulder gardens on the right and left bank, concentrating the flow in the center of the river.  Lower Keeney is formed by a large sieve on river right and is best run on river left but favoring the right side of the tongue at the top of the rapid as several large holes and rocks guard the left side of the rapid.  From the top to bottom of the Keeney’s is a few hundred yards, and it would all happen very fast in a batteau.  Our biggest fear was being unable to get far enough left at the bottom of middle and crashing the boat into the sieve on river right at Lower Keeney.  We developed a daring plan to sneak behind Whale Rock at upper Keeney and run on the left, which would set us up perfectly for Middle and Lower.  After a few more hours of scouting we returned to the boat for a good nights sleep before the big day.

Wednesday morning came with a strange combination of calm and excitement as we prepared to take on the greatest challenge of our journey.  After unloading the boat and removing two of the walk boards to have access for bailing we were ready to go.  Slowly the entourage began to gather and at about 9:30 a corps of about twenty kayakers, several rafts, and safety from the NPS departed Thrumond to see the Mary Marshall through the New River Gorge.

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Just above Surprise

 

The first several miles from Thurmond were uneventful so Kevin and I had plenty of small shoals to warm up on since we had spent an entire week away from the batteau. Surprise, the first rapid of the day, features one of the biggest hits on the river; fortunately we skirted the entire thing and didn’t get a single splash of water in the boat.

The only regret I had going into the Gorge was not having contacted a man called Squirrel, a legendary guide from Class VI who has accumulated over 3,500 trips down the Gorge in the last thirty years.  It is safe to say he knows the Gorge better than anyone else alive, and secretly I wished I had been able to consult him.  Fortunately Dave Arnold, one of the owners at Adventures on the Gorge/ Class VI had assigned Squirrel to a raft that day.  Through the day Squirrel, along with another Class VI guide, Nugget, proved valuable resources in discussing lines.  Beyond their knowledge their enthusiasm was a huge confidence booster.

Beyond Surprise things began to pick up.  After negotiating a series of small wave trains we arrived at Upper and Lower Railroad.  Whenever possible we chose lines that would both require the least manuving and avoid the biggest hits in an effort to keep the boat dry.  Upper and Lower Railroad were both run without incident.  The next few rapids went just as well, and soon enough we had arrived at our first real test of the day: The Keeney’s.  Scouting with Squirrel and Nugget, Kevin and I quickly determined that our plan to sneak behind Whale Rock and skirt the big hits on Upper Keeney was a potentially disasterous move.  The majority of the current flows right, and a steep ledge guards the entrance to the left channel where we wanted to eventually arrive.  We would have to shoot the boat through an incredibly swift current, much of which piled up against Whale Rock- should we miss our move we would likely lose the boat.

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Upper to Middle Keeney

 

With a new plan to run the meat of the rapid we returend to the boat, and were greated by cheers from the crew when they were told of the new plan.  After ferrying across the river we lined up on the far right of Upper Keeney with a hard left boat angle.  As the boat dropped over the lip of the rapid we shot into the whitewater like a dart.  Standing at the front of the boat as we crashed through waves, pitching up and down and side to side, water pouring into the boat, Kevin and I focused on only one thing; getting the boat to the left.  Coming into Middle it was clear we were too far to the right and as Kevin screamed “We aren’t going to make it!” the crew abandoned their bail buckets for paddles.  In the chaos of the rapid each member of the crew dug into the churning water desprate to move left.  Toward the end of the wave train the boat slid sideways.  Going broadside into Meat Grinder was about the worst thing we had contempltated on the river, and as Kevin and I dug with everything we had to straighten the boat, the crew continued their furious paddling.  All the while I heard Squirrel’s reasuring voice from the eddy, ”You got it! Keep working!”

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Setting up for Lower Keeney

 

No sooner had we straightened the boat out from Middle than we plugged directly into Lower Keeney, we slid by Meat Grinder and began working the boat back to the right to avoide massive holes downstream.  Repeatedly slamed in the face by waves I struggled to maintain footing and about halfway through Lower Keeney a wave crashed into my nose cone with such force that it broke my walkboards and sent me flying back in the boat.  I clawed desperately back to the front of the boat.  We had lashed the sweeps in for fear of just such an event and I dragged it out of the water and once again began moving right.  Within seconds we passed through the rapid and punched into an eddy on river left.

Sending it through Lower Keeney

About two chaotic minutes passed from the entrance to Upper Keeney to the eddy at the bottom, and the crew was extatic to be safely at the bottom of the drop.  Still riding high on adrenaline we took a break to eat lunch before plugging into the next rapid.

After the Keeney’s, several big rapids came in quick succession.  Next we had to face Dudley’s dip.  Mostly washed out we ran a line that avoided the biggest waves on the right and a boulder garden on the far left.

After Dudley’s came Double Z, the most technical rapid on the river, it features several rocks and holes that must be avoided, necessitating big moves in the churning rapid.  Coming into the rapid with a hard right angle we grazed the “fingernail rock”on the left.  After dodging the hole on the left, we took the boat back center to thread the needle between a hole on the right and a massive boulder on the left.  We then guided the boat further left to avoid yet another crushing hole on river right.  The entire day to that point had felt incredible; I was picking the lines and Kevin was expertly working the rear sweep to put the boat exactly where it needed to be.  In the midst of Double Z I was overwhelmed with a feeling every whitewater kayaker knows and relishes.  The rapid slows down and the crushing noise becomes a soothing backdrop to the focus and clarity gained when your only concern is putting your vessel exactly where it needs to be.  Rather than fighting blindly, each stroke feels as though it drops at exactly the right time and place.  This is what I love about whitewater and I have never know this feeling so keenly as I did standing on the front sweep as we manuvered the technical whitewater of Double Z.

Crusing through Fayette Station, about to cross the finish line

Our elation built with each rapid and with Double Z in the rear view our confidence soared.  The next few rapids were pure joy, and once we passed the massive hole at Greyhound Bus Stomper, we called Chip, Dustin, Trent and Dan, onto the boat; all friends from Lynchburg who had helped out along our journey.  The last three rapid were amazing as we crashed through huge waves thoroughly confident of our success.  At Fayette Station, the last rapid of the day, we took huge hits and pulled into the eddy at the take out with plenty of water in the boat and wearing enormous smiles.  It was a priceless moment, sitting underneath the massive New River Gorge Bridge and having just completed the final and most difficult part of our journey without incident.  Still riding high on adrenaline, we relished our achievement before heading for Adventures on the Gorge to escape the rain.

While the Gorge represented a huge challenge and accomplishment for us, Marshall certainly viewed it with different eyes 200 years ago.  After having viewed the James, Jackson and Greenbrier as prime for navigational improvement, Marshall declared, ”with respect to New River a judgment cannot be formed quite so decisively…the difficulties are great and deserve to be seriously considered.”  Despite the difficulties presented by the “velocity of the current, and the enormous rocks which…interrupt it, the number and magnitude of rapids and falls, the steepness, cragginess and abruptness of the banks” Marshall was decidedly in optomisitc about turning the New into a transportation artery.  Following in Marshall’s footsteps we often marveled at how confident he was in the mission of taming rugged Appalachia and providing for the safe and reliable movment of goods and people through it.  The canal never made it, but Marshall’s vision was ultimatly realized by the railroads, and later highways and interstates that opened the American heartland to development.  Marshall’s journey is an incredible story that highlights the vision our founders had for this Nation and the lengths they were personally willing to go to to effect it.

Eddy below Fayette Station

I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to shed light on Marshall’s story and in doing s0 to live on the rivers he saw as so critical to our Nation’s development.  Along the way we met wonderful people who opened their homes and lives to us.  We relished the feeling of going to sleep after a long hard day only to get up and do it all over again.  We looked forward to specific challenges and conquered them as a cohesive group.  I can’t say enough about the Wes, Ford, Kevin, Dylan, and Isaac.  Without their work ethic and attitude our misson would have failed long ago.  Our biggest argument in seven weeks together was over whether or not buzzards vomit when they feel threatened.  It was an incredible journey full of priceless memories and I am immensely thankful for all of the generous support and encouragement we met with along the way.

The crew overlooking the Gorge

Check out this video from Adventures on the Gorge of our run through Upper and Middle Keeney: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpM9A6F6GDc

Chase Cam footage from our friends at Eddyflower: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yuAPZSypzE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Also, big thanks to Mark Hill, a video boater from Adventures on the Gorge for taking photos.

Josh Mays also contributed several photos.

 

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The New River

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After a week of lazily floating down a healthy Greenbrier River, not to mention enjoying the best hospitality West Virginia has to offer, we entered the final and most challenging river of our journey on Saturday, May 12. The New River is a mighty volume of water that begins in North Carolina and forces its way through valleys and mountains for several hundred miles before breaking free into the Kanawha River at Gauley Bridge, WV.

After departing Batteau Beach in Hinton on Saturday morning, our challenges were immediate. We picked our way through a shallow technical boulder garden just below the mouth of the Greenbrier. Within a few miles we ran Brooks Falls, a long, strong rapid with dangerous boulders and a steep ledge at the bottom. With only a few navigable lines to choose, we navigated the rapid without rubbing a single rock.

After Brooks, the rapids kept coming. The high waters on the Greenbrier had made for relatively easy navigation. The New, however, was a different story, and we relished in guiding the boat through more challenging rapids.

We soon reached Sandstone Falls, a 23-foot vertical drop. At Sandstone, the water fall is broken into three distinct sections; the most substantial drop being on river right, a lower volume waterfall in the center, and a gradual drop into an old mill race on the left. We approached via shallow water on the left bank until reaching a substansial ledge. The ledge was a  10-foot, 30-degree drop, and we charged it full on. For a moment, I was standing on the front sweep suspended in the air over the pool, and the boat slid peacefully down into the pool. Releived, the crew spent the rest of the evening hiking around the spectacular falls and, as usual, explaining our project to curious onlookers.

Two visitors of particular interest were Daniel and William Richmond. When Marshall arrived at Sandstone Falls, it was known as Richmond’s Falls, for the Richmond Family operated a grist mill at the falls. The Richmond’s have continued to farm the area into the present day, so Daniel and William are the fifth of seven generations of the same family with whom Marshall stayed during his journey. William and Daniel were full of stories of the area, and can both remember a time when a ferry ran below Sandstone.  Casually riding his horse down the road and giving rebel yells, Daniel seemed as though we would have fit perfectly in Marshall’s day.  To me he represented a piece of what this project is really about; the men who came to this rugged land to scrape out an existence in the face of poor transit and an unforgiving environment.

On Sunday morning, Bill Ball of Talcott arrived with a pair of magnificent Belgium draft horses to portage the boat around the falls.  I was unable to contact Bill before the Friday before our portage, but, regardless of the short notice, he gladly agreed to spend his Saturday working the horses so they would be ready for the portage on Sunday.  With five logs provided by Bill Parker we began our portage of Sandstone.  The horses were hitched to the boat, and we worked to keep the logs underneath the boat as they pulled the boat up the bank, down a long straight away, and back down to the water. After four tense hours, the Mary Marshall was returned safely to the New River.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bill and his friends for assisting us at such short notice.  In addition we were assisted by several bystanders, notably a father and son who, along with some of their friends, sacrificed a morning of fishing to help us see the boat around the falls.

With Sandstone behind us, we rolled on down the New River, eager for more rapids and constantly thinking of our greatest test: The Gorge.  That evening we made camp on a small island and ate a delicious dinner of roasted vegetables and T-Bone steaks cooked in our Lodge Cast Iron.  Through the last few weeks we have become accustomed to sleeping in the rain, and generally just drape a tarp over top of the boat as we sleep.  We became progressively lazier in our rigging, and Sunday evening we finally paid our price.  With the exception of Kevin, who had the good sense to rig a tight tarp over his hammock, the rest of the crew woke to a driving rain sometime around one AM.  Over the next four hours our sleeping bags became completely saturated, and at about four in the morning there was nothing to do but laugh at our plight.  In an effort to re-rig the tarp, Wes attempted to push a giant pool of water from our flimsy system over the edge of the boat.  Unfortunately, his effort was misdirected and I received several gallons of rain water to the face, adding to the comedy of the situation.  Anyone who has spent a night exposed in driving rain knows the feeling of counting the seconds before sunrise, and eventually we stirred and stoked a raging fire before shoving off.

The entire watershed from North Carolina to West Virginia had been drenched with rain and the river responded quickly.  As we floated closer to the gorge, the river turned a muddy brown and began steadily rising.  Within a few hours we had blown through twelve miles and several large rapids with significant waves trains.  Before leaving Hinton we added a 12” board coming off the front nose cone at a 45 degree angle to help prevent water from pouring into the boat as we navigated large rapids.  The flare has proved to be incredibly valuable as it not only diverts water away from the boat, but also provides lift as we crest through waves.

At Army Camp we found a beautiful beach, where we tied the boat up and watched the water steadily rise through the afternoon.  The crew concocted a series of games including a variation of corn hole, a javelin toss, and shot put.  Army Camp was one of the best campsites on the river, and after a massive meal of chili and biscuits, we drifted to sleep under a mercifully cloudless sky.

With only about ten miles to Thurmond, (our final stop before the Gorge) we set off on the swollen river at about ten AM.  The boat proved difficult to control in the flat water as numerous cross currents and strong eddy lines appeared in the strong water.  As we rode the high water, we crashed through huge waves, just a foreshadowing of what lay ahead in the Gorge.

After over 300 miles on the river our boat developed its first leak.  The boat was built with fully swollen boards, and the planks were nailed up with extremely tight seams.  When the boards dried up we then packed the seams with oakum, and when the boards became swollen it was incredibly water tight and ridged.  This is an incredible asset, however with the pressure put on the boat during the portage, one of our boards just below the water line buckled, separating about half an inch from seven successive ribs.  This left little room for the oakum to bite the seams and caused a slow leak.  Arriving at Thurmond we were finally in a position to fix the problem.  With the National Park’s Maintenance office on hand, we procured a raft pump and had access to electricity.  The boat was filled with water, flipped over, then pumped full of air while it rested upside down in the water.  About a half inch of oakum had been slammed into a seam that was only about 1/16th to 1/8th inch wide once fully swollen.  We removed the oakum, hammered the board back into position, and drove a new nail in each rib.  After re-packing the seam, the boat was flipped back right side up, bailed out, and is now as dry as ever.

The boat has been at Thurmond since Tuesday, and we have spent the last six days rafting and kayaking.  Thursday we were able to run the New River Dries, Friday we got on the lower Gauley, and every day since Saturday we have been scouting the Gorge.  At six feet on Saturday, the Gorge was still significantly higher than we needed for a batteau descent, but the whitewater has been phenomenal.  The folks at Adventures on the Gorge have been a huge help and will be supporting us in the Gorge.

Today we visited the wood shop of Virgin Timber where we cut more pieces to exaggerate the flare that has proven so helpful in keeping the boat on top of whitewater.  We are tentatively planning on beginning our descent of the Gorge on Wednesday, and the crew is eager to confront our greatest challenge of the trip.

The river is steadily dropping and each day we continue to scout.

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West “By God” Virginia

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In the last week we have kept with our goal of making as few miles as possible each day.  The Greenbrier provided a stark contrast to the Jackson.  Instead of battling up continuous rapids through filthy water alongside I-64, we have floated leisurely down a beautiful waterway, finally benefiting from the weeks of rains that made our upstream journey all the more difficult.  Along the way we have enjoyed exceptional West Virginia hospitality.

Our experience on the Greenbrier diverged sharply from Marshall’s; while we rode the high spring water, rarely touching a rock, Marshall came in September to determine the feasibility of navigation at the river’s lowest.  That particular season was noted as being remarkably dry, “In its present unimproved state, and at the season when it was viewed, so very shallow…as to not swim an empty boat…your Commissioners at one time were enabled to advance only three miles in two days,” Marshall recorded in 1812.  Despite the labor of moving the boat the 55 miles from Caldwell to Hinton over ten long days, Marshall was convinced that with navigational improvements the Greenbrier would prove to be a viable trade route.

It was a strange sensation to float the first few miles downstream, delighting in the fact that we were achieving our goal while doing minimal work.  Sunday night we camped on a sandy beach with a few cat fishermen and shared tales of the river.

Monday morning we got back on the river about ten o’clock, still recovering from the last few days sprinting up the Jackson.  The Greenbrier is a picturesque river, gently carving through the mountains.  Downstream of Caldwell we admired relics of the late 19th century logging industry.  Large wooden cribs built in the middle of the river helped guide great bundles of tree trunks floated down to the mill in Ronceverte on the spring floods.

On our upstream trip we rarely stopped to speak to onlookers; rather than break our momentum we simply shouted “Google the Marshall Expedition!”  On the Greenbrier we pulled over to speak to practically anyone who looked at us.  Monday we spoke with several groups, and, thanks to both local knowledge and Dr. Trout’s river atlas, were able to locate a large cave.  We probed our way through several hundred yards of the tight passages and large rooms before returning to The Mary Marshall.

That night we made camp in the Rattlesnake section which featured numerous rapids and incredible scenery.  Tuesday morning we met Bill Parker, NPS ranger who specializes in swift water rescue and has taken a particular interest in batteaux.  Bill is also a board member with the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River, a non-profit that is largely responsible for the wonderful condition of the Greenbrier River.  Bill has been extremely helpful in West Virginia, organizing several appearances for us and helping us obtain our special use permit for our passage through the New River National River.

Shortly after picking Bill up on the river bank we came upon the town of Alderson, were a surprise reception awaited us.  Standing on the bridge were dozens of town residents holding a banner that read “Alderson loves Batteaux.”  Flattered, we pulled over to talk to residents and were invited for coffee at the brand new Alderson interpretive center.  A few residents rode along with us for about a quarter mile, and though they were mostly under the age of ten we had 18 people riding downstream.  After an hour or so we got back on the river, and spent the next few hours weaving in and out of islands, running rapids and reveling in the downstream journey.

Wednesday morning we visited the Graham House in the town of Lowell, one of the earliest settlements in this part of West Virginia.  In 1770, Colonel Graham brought his family to the 63,000 acre land claim in the Greenbrier valley.  Over two years they constructed a home and spent the next several decades living in the valley, fighting Indians, and farming.  Marshall spent his 57th birthday September 23, 1812 with the Graham family.  The 2012 crew enjoyed touring the old farm house, preserved to look much as it would have in Marshall’s day.

Beyond the Graham House we floated downstream for another public appearance.  We headed for Talcott, where we planned a presentation for several elementary school classes.  Unfortunately the rain kept the Talcott kids indoors, but, once again, our Alderson supporters came through.  A bus load of kindergartners poured from the bus, clad in makeshift trash-bag rain coats, and they spent several minutes milling around the boat.

Below Talcott awaited Bacon’s Falls, the most significant rapid on the Greenbrier.  Bacon’s is a long rapid the top of which is guarded by several ledges, shallow even at the elevated river level.  The right channel beside a magnificent cliff face provided the safest route for the top half of the rapid.  After charging through a considerable wave train that splashed water in the boat, we worked to the center of the river as the right bank became crowded with dangerous boulders toward the bottom of the rapid.  Bacon’s was a blast, and we looked forward to Lindsey Slide, a short, steep, ledge rapid that creates a sticky river-wide wave.  I have talked a lot about the rounded hull of the boat and how that enables us to raise or drop one side of the boat and thus effect our route.  We had front surfed several ledge waves on the James, primarily as a means of ferrying, but this was a much more significant feature.  Dropping the boat into an eddy, the crew went back to the familiar task of poling us upstream into the hole to surf.  No sooner had the nose plugged into the hole than the boat began to move laterally.  In an instant the entire boat was in the hole, perpendicular to the river.  When “side surfing” a hole in a kayak the boater tilts downstream so the steep water upstream can’t grab the edge of his boat and flip it.  We applied the same principle, with all the crew standing on the downstream side of the boat.  Every boater knows the feeling of being in a hole, having a great ride, but wondering how it is going to end.  We held tight in the wave for a long 10 or 15 seconds before the crew was able to push us forward (actually sideways) into a different current that shot us downriver.

After the excitement of Lindsey Slide and Bacon’s Falls we settled in to a mellow downstream float with several guests on board to John Farrell’s home.  John’s family has lived in Summers county for generations, and his gorgeous riverside farm is a part of that legacy.  John also happens to be an excellent photographer who captured some great shots of the boat along the Greenbrier.  That evening we ate burgers and listened to Jimmy Costa, another Summers County original, pick his banjo.  Aside from being an incredible banjo player, Jimmy is a local history buff who had several pictures of New River Batteaux from the late 1800′s and early 1900′s which were a rare treat to be able to examine.

With only a few hours float between John’s farm and Hinton where we had an appearance planned for mid day Friday, we spent much of Thursday running errands.  First we scouted our portage of Sandstone Falls, a 23′ vertical waterfall on the New we intend to portage with a team of draft horses.  After coming up with a plan we headed back to the Greenbrier to visit Jimmy Costa.  Jimmy has an incredibly extensive collection of pre-industrial tools, as well as a deep knowledge of their production and uses in the Appalachian frontier.  For several hours we examined his collection and learned a great deal.

Thursday evening we floated a few miles from John’s farm down to Chris Chanlett’s riverside nursery, Ground Works, just a few miles upstream from Hinton.  Chris is the president of Friends of the Lower Greenbrier and took us a few miles way from the river to his home to enjoy another evening of WV hospitality.

Friday morning we were back on the river, and within a few hours were at the islands that mark the Greenbrier’s confluence with the mighty New River.  Marshall stayed on one of these islands in 1812, but our destination was Batteau Beach in Hinton, just a short distance from the confluence.  At 1 o’clock we were greeted by about 50 onlookers in an event organized by FOLGR and the NPS.  The crew spent the afternoon talking to Hinton residents about the significance of the batteau era and our journey.  Later in the afternoon we made some modifications to the boat that we hope will help divert water as we crash through huge waves on the New, and last night we enjoyed a nice campfire on a beach that, less than a hundred years ago, was the unloading point for batteau cargo in Hinton.

The crew relished the slow place and hospitality that characterized our journey down the Greenbrier.  It was an incredible relief after a month of virtually non-stop physical labor.  Now we have reached the final and most challenging river of our journey.  In the next week and a half we will navigate the New River; the high volume and frequent rapids of which are sure to test our skill and provide great thrills.  Once again we eagerly await the challenges ahead.

Check our our West Virginia media coverage:

http://www.wvnstv.com/story/18246233/voyage-of-the-two-virginias-retraces-marshall-river-expedition

http://wvgazette.com/News/201205100154#.T60v-zRjNow.email

 

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Buchanan to Covington

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We arrived in Buchanan in the midst of a cold, driving rain that persisted for the next day and a half.  Our friend Jimmy Lewis opened his home to us and we all enjoyed showers, clean laundry, and sleeping inside during the storm.  By mid-day on Monday, April 23 we were back on the river, fighting a river swollen by the weekends rain.  The next few days the crew pushed through countless shoals and intermittent rain as the river wound back and forth through the mountains in a series of seemingly endless ox bows.

The James River and Kanawha Canal was never operational beyond Buchanan, but the twenty odd-mile “unfinished division” between Buchanan and Eagle Rock is home to some incredible canal relics that were never put into operation.  One such relic is the Gwynn Lock and Dam, owned by Jim Blankenship and Ken Harless.  Canal locks raised or lowered canal boats, thereby eliminating the gradient of the river and allowing for a calm flat body of water for traffic.  Since Gwynn was never used, it still features a batteau lock built to allow batteau traffic to continue as the dam was being constructed (in locks that were actually used, the batteau locks were permenantly sealed once the actual canal lock was opened).

The crew spent the afternoon of Wednesday April, 25 enjoying Jim and Ken’s company, feasting on chili, and marveling at the stonework of the Gwynn Lock.  That night the crew went to sleep full, rested, and happy to have spent the day in good company.

Once again the rain pounded through the night.  The river had jumped with the past weekend’s rain; but much of the water was absorbed into the ground.  By Thursday morning the ground had been saturated and we awoke to a river that was begining to turn a rusty brown- a pre cursur to a much more significant color change and spike in river level as the mountain streams began pouring their excess flow and silt into the James.

As the rain persisted and the river rose I un-characteristically turned my phone on to check for messages.  We received the shocking news that a good friend and high school wrestling teammate of Dylan, Isaac and I had passed away on Tuesday night.  Josh Woodring was a loyal friend, a hard worker and a joker who could bring a smile to almost any situation.  Together we shared the trials of long wrestling seasons and the joy of countless late nights and camping trips.  Josh served his country proudly as an infantry man, with two tours in Iraq behind him.  With heavy hearts we abandoned the boat, and walked through the rain to Eagle Rock where we would get a ride back to Lynchburg.  Josh is deeply missed and was loved by many.

On Saturday evening we returned to the Mary Marshall, eager to make the next 45 or so miles upstream to Covington by Friday evening in order to participate in the VCNS Annual Conference; the focus of which was the John Marshall Survey.  After driving to scout some difficult sections of the Jackson on Sunday morning, the crew set out again at about one in the afternoon.  With the river still significantly higher we struggled for over four hours to make the two miles between Gwynn Lock and Eagle Rock- by far our slowest two miles of the trip to that point.  Regardless of river level it was a relief to be back on the river where our challenges are immediate and the solutions are within our grasp.  The crew pushed hard Monday and made about 12 miles, camping a few miles shy of the head of the James at Glen Welton.

Eager to put the James in the rear view, we pushed hard toward the Jackson on Tuesday Morning.  By noon we had put the 200 or so miles of the James behind us, but their was little time for celebration.  Marshall notes in his 1812 report that “difficulty increased considerably past the mouth of the Cowpasture River on the North Fork James.”  The North Fork James is now known as the Jackson River.  With over 200 feet of elevation gain between the head of the James and Covington of 25 miles, the narrow and often shallow Jackson River promised to be a battle every step of the way.

As anticipated, we fought through a seemingly endless succession of shoals and rapids, frequently jumping out to drag the boat upstream and often setting ropes.  Bit by bit we battled upstream to the rapids at Rainbow Gap, about three miles up from he head of the James.  The long continuous class III rapid is not as steep as Balcony, though it is considerably longer and more technical from a downstream perspective.  We went about the familiar task of setting anchors and rigging pulleys, and slowly ascended through the boulder garden.

Wednesday Dylan Isaac and I left for Ohio to pay our respects to Josh.  With over twenty miles to be made through the difficult waters of the Jackson by Friday and three men down Kevin, Wes, and Ford stepped up to the plate.  Assisted on Wednesday by our friend from Lynchburg, Dan Tucker, they slowly walked, roped and pullied their way up the Jackson.  With only three of them Thursday they removed everything from the boat, sunk her, and pulled her under a low water bridge with only 16” of clearance.  It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon before they were beyond the bridge and with only two men at the poles they clawed their way through whitewater until 11:30 that night to a bridge where we could easily rejoin them.  Wes, Ford and Kevin’s dedication and perseverance is a clear illustration of why we have been so successful as a crew; each member is selflessly dedicated to our goals and willing to work tirelessly to achieve them.

Dylan, Isaac and I returned to the boat at 1:30 Friday morning.  Dylan and Isaac’s father and brother, Rob and Robert,  had come in Thursday night to help us sprint the last 15 miles to Covington.  All day Friday the crew battled rapids.  The hours rolled by as we moved slowly and steadily toward Covington, often paralleling I-64 we were teased by the knowledge that while we struggled toward Covington, passing motorists would see it within a few hours.  Around two PM we were surprised by JRBF Captain Mike Neal who was waiting for us under the I-64 bridge.  Eager to lend a hand, Mike jumped on board with no guarantee of when or where we would end that night.

As the river approaches Covington it takes a sharp turn to the west; no more than a few miles away as the crow flies, the river meanders frustratingly in the wrong direction.  With extra hands and determination the crew marched steadily into the night.  The full moon poured light over the river, and though tired and eager to see the finish line, we delighted in our task and situation.  Around midnight we were still about two miles from the boat ramp and decided it was time to call it quits.  After going to get our car and taking Mike to his hotel, we drifted off to sleep at around two AM under the lights of the Wal-Mart parking lot and to the rumbling of trucks on I-64.

On four hours of sleep we continued our journey, and by nine AM had arrived at the boat ramp in Covington, just a short distance downstream from the mouth of Dunlap Creek, where Marshall took out in 1812.  The crew was elated to have realized our goal of poling over 225 miles upstream from Richmond to Covington.  Within a few hours we had the boat on display at the Magic in the Mountains festival in Clifton Forge.  Last night we attended the VC&NS banquet and enjoyed the company of other history buffs and river enthusiasts.

In the past month we have worked long hard hours, enjoyed beautiful scenery and experienced the hospitality of people on the river.  Like all good journeys it had low points and was full of challenges. Through it all we have remained a cohesive and positive group.  Right now we are sitting on the Greenbrier river just across from Howard Creek, where Marshall began in 1812,  and are relieved and excited to begin the downstream journey.

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Glasgow to Buchanan

With Balcony in the rear view the crew is relishing the beauty of Appalachia and taking time to explore relics of The James River and Kanawah Canal.  West of Lynchburg, we are finally in the waters Marshall surveyed in 1812.

In the mountains

We spent much of the day after Balcony Falls resting in Glasgow and made camp a few miles upriver at the Wilderness Canoe Livery, where we were paid a suprise visit by JRBF chairman and longtime batteau builder Ralph Smith.  Sitting around the fire we once again replayed the events of previous few days and entertained the proprietor of the campsite and other guests.

An old lock

One of the greatest aspects of this excursion has been the outpouring of support by people along the river.  Nancy and Monty Johnston live in Natural Bridge Station, right on the river bank.  After hearing our story on NPR Nancy contacted me offering support as we passed by.  Friday morning that support came in the form of breakfast casseroles, coffee, orange juice, fruit and homemade bread right on the river bank- certainly one of the best breakfasts on the trip.  After visiting with Nancy and Monty, along with their neighbors Sally and David, we set off with full bellies for another day on the river.

riverside breakfast

The rapids on the upper James are noticeably steeper and more frequent than in the Piedmont; that, coupled with our frequent stops at canal relics, has slowed our pace over the past few days.  Friday evening we made camp at Alpine Farms where we were visited by over a dozen area residents, all eager to learn more about the history of the river and our experiences thus far.

marching upstream

Saturday morning we departed Alpine Farms aiming to make camp in Buchanan, about 11 miles away.  With an 80% chance of rain we spent the better part of the day under a bright blue sky, bashing the weather men all the way.  Within a few miles of Buchanan and with the most significant rapids of the day still ahead, our luck changed dramatically.  The temperature plummeted as heavy grey clouds settled in and the rain began.  We pulled into Buchanan in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm, and sopping wet sprinted to The Copper Top, a local bar conveniently located about 100 yards from the boat landing.  The rest of the evening was spent in the company of Dylan’s father and Wes’ parents and brother.  Glad to be inside, we enjoyed a good dinner and fell asleep under our friend Jimmy Lewis’ riverside pavilion.  With miserable weather and in no particular hurry, we decided to spend an extra day in Buchanan and will be back on the water first thing tomorrow morning.

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Balcony Falls

After a day of rest in Lynchburg we loaded the Mary Marshall onto the trailer for her 23 mile portage around the seven dams that lie between Lynchburg and Snowden, where we would begin the most challenging portion of the up-river journey; the James River Gorge.  In this five mile section the James River cuts a jagged path through the Blue Ridge Mountains, dropping an average of 11 feet per mile.  The Gorge is also home to Balcony Falls, a significant class III rapid with a steep drop and very strong current.  With the crux of our up-river journey ahead, the crew eagerly unloaded the boat Tuesday evening just above Snowden Dam and began the ascent toward Balcony.

 

James River Float Company short bus unloads the Mary Marshall at Snowden

 

Poling through the bottom half of the Gorge

 

In less than a mile we had exited the backwater of the dam and were back into swift moving water; the transition from the Piedmont James to the Appalachian James was quickly apparent as we battled our way through noticeably steeper and more successive shoals.  About a mile below Balcony itself we made camp, then ferried across the river to scout our lines.  For those of us from Lynchburg we consider Balcony our back yard.  As we walked up the river bank scouting the familiar drops our vision for the ascent began to take shape; lines were selected, anchor points for ropes noted, and contingencies for disaster discussed.  In scouting Balcony itself we developed what we believed to be a solid plan with a high chance of success.  Excited and confident we returned to camp.

Crew scouts Balcony the day before the run

Back at camp we continued a tradition begun the night before the Grace of the James became the second batteau in the modern era to run the Gorge; the reading of the Frank Padget story.  In January, 1854 in the middle of a great freshet, a packet boat waiting to enter the canal lock above balcony broke its line and careened toward the dam guarding the entrance to the Gorge.  The captain held the boat straight as his vessel jumped the dam and began a disastrous descent of the Gorge.  Passengers abandoned the boat on various exposed rocks and Frank Padget, an experienced boatmen, volunteered to guide a batteau down the flooded river to rescue accident victims.  Frank’s skill and daring saved at least six people on his first descent, but with more stranded passengers at the mercy of the river, the batteau was towed back up through the canal and once again released into the furious river.  In an attempt to rescue another survivor the boat smashed on a rock and brave Frank “fought manfully for a minute, then went down to rise no more.”  Frank’s selfless actions were widely lauded at the time and still live in river lore.

Frank Paget memorial

 

Listening to the Frank Padget Story at camp

The next morning we woke early as the steady rain that was predicted had settled in hard.  We stoked the fire from the night before, ate breakfast, broke camp and readied ourselves for the task at hand.  In addition to the regular crew we were joined by Randy Waycaster from the Spirit of Buckingham, Mason Basten from the Grace of the James and Chip Coleman from The Rocky Creek Wildfire.  With eight hands on the poles we began our march toward Balcony.  Though Balcony is the largest rapid in the Gorge, the mile below it was no cake walk.  With grit and determination the crew propelled the boat forward through continuous shoots, boulder gardens, and ledge drops.  Skillfully we dodged rocks, followed the path of least resistance, and generally followed the lines selected the evening before.  Through cold biting rain the crew, including our additional volunteers, fought the mighty current vigorously; we were only forced to attempt a few drops twice.  Where required, ropes were deployed quickly and effectively, with Mason setting most of the rigging.  We were also assisted by our friends Ronnie and Dan Tucker who paddled along with us in canoes, helping Mason pull the line at various points.  Within less than two hours we had come to Balcony itself.  Anchoring the boat in the eddy behind the island which lies to Balcony’s river right side, we scrambled over rocks to take one last look at the drop.  Once again we ran through the plan developed the night before.

Fighting through the rapids below Balcony

 

Mason heading up to set rigging

Balcony is a constriction rapid on the river left bank.  Pinched between an island and the bank it only occupies about a quarter of the rivers width.  Of that quarter most of the drop is a vertical ledge, with a glassy tongue that is about ten feet wide breaking free in the middle of the drop.  The water angles slightly to the left and both sides of the drop feature large eddies.  Our plan was to ferry across the wave train at the bottom of the drop to river left.  Before beginning our ascent we sent our rigging team to complete two essential tasks.  First, they secured our 200′ climbing rope to a large triangular rock that would serve as our anchor as we actually pulled the boat up through the rapid.  Second, they positioned themselves above the river left eddy with a secondary line.  We planned to use them to ascend to the middle of the rapid just below the lip of the ledge.  Once halfway into the rapid we would then take the 200′ line and begin dragging ourselves to the anchor point.  As we pulled to our anchor on the triangular rock we would be angling the boat into the flow so that water would try to push our bow hard downstream, swinging the boat onto a serious of nasty guarder rocks.  The secondary line crew’s job was to prevent our bow from going downstream as the crew on the boat hauled to the anchor point.

Before Balcony

With everyone confident of the plan and the rigging set we began the ferry across the bottom of the rapid.  Ben Moore, who had previously been shooting video, jumped on board to help with the ascent and the Mary Marshall glided across the wave train and pulled securely into the river left eddy below the drop.  Next, Chip Coleman made his way to a rock just above the lip of the drop and sent the secondary line down to the boat.  Tension ran high as we sat in the eddy through several failed attempts to send us the line.  After a few minutes, our secondary line was received and secure; time to really put the plan into action.  Regardless of a running start from the eddy, as the boat entered the drop we were quickly pushed back downstream.  Looking forward from the rear sweep I saw Mason, Chip, and Dan all struggling to hold our secondary line as the river jerked us backward.  After about fifteen feet of backsliding the crew was able to get good bites on the river bottom and with the help of the line crew we ascended about halfway into the rapid.  Holding fast, the secondary line crew sent us our 200 foot tied to a life preserver.  For a tense few seconds I focused on nothing else but pointing the front of the boat directly toward that PFD.  Should we miss the line someone would have to go back to the anchor, retrieve it, bring it back across and float it down; a procedure that would take several minutes and burn precious energy.  Luckily Kevin Ferrell secured the rope and within a few moments had the line running through a wheel at the head of the boat.

Now came the real work of climbing the steep head of the rapid.  The secondary line crew gave us slack and I angled the boat toward our anchor as the crew pulled vigorously on the new line.  The boat slowly ascended the steep drop, but with everyone on the boat pulling with all they had we were unable to bring her over the lip of the drop.  The wet rope cut hands and muscles burned as the crew held the Mary Marshall steady in the middle of Balcony Falls.  Not only was the crew burning out in the stall, our secondary line crew was struggling to hold our bow at an angle that would prevent us from going broadside.  At that moment, Kevin Ferrell sprang into action.

Stalled in Balcony

Kevin has ten years of commercial fishing experience and is a veteran whitewater kayaker.  As such, he has a great deal of experience with ropes and pulleys.  In planning this trip we spent a great deal of time discussing different pulley systems to set up on the boat to help ascent rapids; to this point none had been necessary.  At the crux of the rapid, when our strength had gotten us as far as it could, Kevin tied a prusiks knot on the line which served to hold the line, giving the crew a much needed break.  As we sat in the middle of Balcony, whitewater just inches below our cap rail, Kevin coolly and quickly set up a 4 to 1 pulley system, running the line the length of the boat and anchoring from our stern sweep mount.  With half the crew on poles helping the secondary line crew hold our angle, the rest of us hauled on the pulley line, and with great relief the Mary Marshall began surging toward the top of the rapid.  Having gained about ten feet, we ran out of line and Kevin repeated the entire process. This time we pulled nearly the whole boat out of the rapid and when we had taken all the pulley would give us, all hands tugged on the anchor line and ascended us safely above the drop.  Without Kevin’s skill and quick thinking we surely would have had to descend the rapid and concocted a new plan.  As we ascended the drop Kevin yelled to some of our spectators on the rock “I learned all that from the the Blue Ridge River Runners!”- the men standing on the rock were long time club members, including president Steve Emory, who years ago shared their knowledge of whitewater with Kevin.

Finishing the ascent

Elated at the top of the drop, we pulled our secondary crew to the boat across the river on the line they had so dutifully held, and freed our primary line from our anchor.  We then made our way to a beautiful beach on the river right bank just above Balcony.  Shivering and cold, we could not have been more elated and quickly built a huge bon fire and set up camp.  The night before our dedicated friends Chip and Mason had run the Gorge in the dark, dropping off a box oven and two pork shoulders.  We spent the rest of the afternoon reveling in our achievement and within a few hours were dining on BBQ.

Celebrating at camp

We count ourselves extremely privileged to have the support of the batteau and paddling community through this project.  From the build, to ground support in the Piedmont, to guys standing in the cold river gripping a burning wet rope as we ascended Balcony, we have been blessed with many individuals who are helping make our vision reality.  Slowly the support crew drifted off, back to the real world and this morning the crew ascended yet more difficult shoals to the entrance to the Gorge.  Tonight we are camped at the Wilderness Canoe Livery a few miles above the Gorge in Arnold’s Valley, where we again are enjoying the hospitality of folks on the river.

 

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Scottsville to Lynchburg

Last night at nine o’clock an exhausted but excited Marshall crew poled into Lynchburg where we were greeted at the James River Float Company by a dedicated group of friends and family.  Four of the six crew are Lynchburg natives; all eagerly devoured the pot luck meal provided and regaled our hosts with stories of the river.  The trip between Scottsville and Lynchburg was beautiful and challenging.  The gradient became noticeably steeper than in the first half of the Piedmont, and as we battled successive rapids and shoals the river lost a considerable amount of volume.  With more rocks exposed, our journey became all the more arduous; many times we were forced to drag the boat against the current through gravel bars and ledges.  Regardless of increasingly difficult navigation we managed to maintain our goal of keeping with the James River Batteau Festival down river pace.

Scottsville to Howardsville

Refreshed by a day of rest in the quaint river town of Scottsville, where we enjoyed visits by old friends and curious onlookers, the crew shoved off again early on the morning of April, 11th.  Long time batteau man and VCNS board member Holt Messerly stood on the bank and captured some great photographs.  Happy to be back on the river the crew made great time toward our first challenge of the day: the rapid at Hatton Ferry.  Hatton Ferry, opened in the 1880′s is the last remaining poled ferry in the United States.  Though the state cut its funding several years ago, the Albamarle County Historical Society continues to operate the ferry, and every so often offers motorists and tourists passage between Albamarle and Buckingham Counties.  Dr. Trout’s river atlas, which serves as an unparalleled guide to the river, cites an 1818 survey of the river, calling the falls at Hatton Ferry “a very hard passage for ascending boats.”  The Mary Marshall tucked behind a small island on river left and a determined crew poled us through the swift channel with relative ease.  The next few miles featured small ledges, swift water, and spectacular scenery.  Later in the day we faced Goosby’s Island Falls, a rapid generally considered one of the more difficult on the Festival Trail.  With a bit more water in the river than the general Festival flow we decided to follow the historic route on far river right, where the old batteau sluice had been.  This move put us behind a series of islands into water none of the crew had seen.  The entrance to the archipelago was guarded by a hazardous series of boulder gardens.  Slowly and carefully we picked our way up through the rocks, traversing across shoals multiple times.  Finally we came to the main rapid, a long constricted wave train with strong current and numerous boulders.  As with some other difficult rapids we chose to ascend the main drop at Goosby’s with a rope.  Dylan Schumacher carried our line to a solid anchor about thirty yards upstream, and with the rest of the crew on poles the Mary Marshall slid to the head of the rapid.  One difficulty in ascending rapids is loss of momentum due to the inability of poles to find suitable river bottom to push off, causing us to slide backwards.  Using the rope negates this problem by keeping constant upriver momentum.  Having successfully navigated Goosby’s  we poled through relatively easy water on toward Howardsville where a hot spaghetti dinner waited.  By seven o’clock we arrived at Jimmy Crew’s boat landing, where we were greeted by Roger Nelson, Holt Messerly, Mike and Ellen Neal, Doug Berry and Jimmy Crews.  The hospitality of the river community has been a real joy of the expedition, and spirits were high as we enjoyed a hot meal and good company.  With lows in the high 20′s that night, we awoke at six thirty the next morning to frost on the sleeping bags, 18 bacon egg and cheese biscuits and a half gallon of orange juice provided by Jimmy Crews.  There’s nothing quite like a good hot meal on a frigid morning to start the day.

Setting anchor at Goosby's

Howardsville to Wingina

After breakfast we pushed off into the frigid morning with the goal of making Wingina by nightfall.  Right away we faced a long succession of shoals which the crew battled through in good time.  After a few miles of swift water, we tucked behind Sycamore Island into a constricted channel lined with massive trees and characterized by tight rapids.  We generally take every opportunity to tuck behind islands as they often provide shelter from our persistent nemesis- the headwind- and provide excellent scenery.  Beyond that we made good time through miles of flat water and were within two miles of Wingina by four o’clock.  In the next two miles we confronted one of the steepest ledges on the entire river, one that had been quietly haunting me for the entire trip.  The river wide ledge is varies from 6” to 12” vertical drop and has only a few breaks.  Generally during the festival I run the ledge on the far right bank through a narrow sluice; with that in mind we battled up through the 100 yards of swift water, clinging to the right bank.  Arriving at the ledge it was quickly apparent that we planned route would not work- a sharp angle and large tree branch impeded the path.  Seeing no other option we decided to ferry across the ledge to the complete opposite bank.  What happened next was a true testament to the maneuverability of a tapered boat with a rounded hull.  A vertical drop such as this ledge creates a hydraulic which recirculates the water back upriver.  Kayakers use features like this to ferry across river all the time, and I have spent a lot of time talking about and thinking about the same application in the batteau.  Just as I would in a kayak, I had the crew distribute weight to the downstream side of the boat, raising the upstream edge.  I then cocked the boat at an angle, pointing toward the opposite bank.  The poles propelled us into the hydraulic, and just as planned the current caught the edge of the boat that was digging and without a pole in the water we ferried laterally to the middle of the river.  Losing my angle in a wave train, we lost a few feet only to be rescued by the strength and determination of the crew, back in the hydraulic we completed the ferry into an eddy next to a desirable sluice.  Feeling the force of the river drag the boat to the desired location was one of the greatest thrills I have had on any batteau trip, particularly as I glanced behind me at the hazardous rocks that lay in our path should we begin sliding downstream.  The move was completed as we popped out of the eddy, ferried a few more feet into the sluice and the boat was straightened up parallel with the flow.  With significant effort the crew triumphantly poled the boat though the steep sluice into the calm water above.  The next mile to Wingina featured a few minor shoals and ledges, but with an hour we were loaded into the back of Roger Nelson’s pickup on the way to his house for yet another evening of river hospitality.  Once again good food and company lifted our spirits and revitalized our tired bodies.

Ready to finish the ferry at the Wingina ledge

Wingina to Bent Creek

After another great meal of biscuits and gravy from Roger the crew set out for Bent Creek.  Fighting a swift current and headwind from the get go, the crew made good time to a set of nasty ledges just below the mouth of the Tye River.  One of the ledges has a great sneak on river right behind a small island where a group of dedicated VCNS members built a wing dam to channelize flow around the ledge, and the crew was happy to take advantage of the path of least resistance.  The next ledge was somewhat more difficult, and again a rope was used to haul the boat through a channelized wave train on river right.  After a few miles of flat water we ascended through several miles of ledges beside the James River State Park, where many curious campers watched as we poled up the river.  Regrettably, a few of them declined to loan us their horses.  Above the ledges we made good time though flat water to another set of particularly nasty ledges just below camp at Bent Creek.  At dusk we battled our way up river to our campsite where we were greeted by Danny Booker, and again enjoyed a campfire and burgers.

Camp at Bent Creek

Bent Creek to Galt’s Mill

The water dropped noticeably the night we camped at Bent Creek and the next day proved to be one of our most difficult as we battled shallow shoals and a strong headwind.  Higginbotham Falls was the first major rapid of the day which we ascended with relative ease on the far river right bank.  A few miles later we tucked behind Wreck Island, a route none of us had seen but that allowed us to skip Wreck Island Falls, named for numerous batteaux destroyed there, ”a falls of five feet in something less than 300 yards, which was extremely difficult to ascend with five hands” according to the 1818 survey referenced by Dr. Trout.  The path behind Wreck Island was difficult and we were unsure if we would actually be able to make it out at the top.  We dragged the boat through several ledges, and only narrowly made it through a series of log jams at the head of the island back into the main flow.  The next few miles alternated between ledges and flat water until we made it to the tip of Pettyjohn Island.  After fighting vigorously through the swift entrance rapid we spent the next 3/4 mile or so behind the island negotiating tight channels and dragging the boat over rocks.  We were granted a reprieve from our day long battle against shallow shoals as we entered the deep placid pool at the head of Pettyjohn Island just at dusk.  Poling well into the night, we made camp with a gengerous family cat fishing on the riverbank.  Sitting by a warm fire with full bellies, we once again enjoyed the experience of communing with others who love the river.

Preparing to ascend Higginbotham Falls

Galts Mill to Lynchburg

Eager to see home (at least for four of us) by nightfall, the crew was poling by 7:30 yesterday morning.  A few miles in we were plesently supprised by the sight of my brother, Alex, yelling and running down the bank.  Excitedly, he plunged into the cold river and made his way to the boat.  This was the first additional poler was have had thus far, and by the end of the day the crew was very grateful to have the extra man power.  The 15 mile sprint to Lynchburg proved to be one of our most challenging days thus far.  Constantly aware that we weren’t more than a twenty minute drive from our desitnation, the crew fought through countless ledges and shoals, dragging over rocks and clawing up the river bank determined to see Lynchburg by nightfall.  The exhausted crew pushed relentlessly for over 14 hours motivated by the promise yet again of good food and the company of friends and family.  The ten miles below Lynchburg is framiliar territory for most of the crew, and we constantly passed landmarks that helped us gauge our distance to town.  About three miles shy of the city, and running on little but will power we saw what we thought to be two tubers in the distance.  We were plesantly supprised to be boarded a few minutes later by Mason Basten and Bryan Ferrell.  Mason guided the construction of my first batteau and has been a good friend and river companion since.  Bryan is Kevin’s brother and also an avid river rat.  Invigorated by new energy, and with more hands than ever at the poles, the crew marched briskly upriver into the setting sun.  We caught our first glimpse of the city at twilight and as we pulled up to the boat landing in the dark were greated by the cheers of at least 40 onlookers.  Exhausted, we climbed the stairs to Mason’s shop and feasted on burgers, beans, pasta salad, deviled eggs and copious amounts of water.  We are truly blessed to have the support of our familes and friends, and of all the times I have come home, this was easily the most meaningful.  In ten days on the river we traveled about 130 miles through the magnificant Virginia Piedmont.  Along the way we time and again witnesssed the generosity and good will of people on the river.  We enjoyed beautiful weather, incredible scenery, and the thrill of living and breathing life on the James River.  In a few days we will continue our ascent and as we march into the heart of Appalachia, where a whole new set of challenges and spectacular landscape lie.  The crew can’t wait for the adventures ahead.

Arriving in Lynchburg

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Marshall – Arrive in Lynchburg at JRFC-Cookout Reception – Photos by Holt

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Marshall – Tube take-out to old RR-bridge by Lynchburg – Photos By Holt

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Marshall – poling up to JRFC tube take-out near Lynchburg – Photos By Holt

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