A canoeist completes challenging Lower Keeney Falls on the New River. Ron Chase photos

After an exciting paddle on the Gauley River on the first day of our Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society West Virginia whitewater trip, seven of us decided to descend the New River Gorge, another renowned West Virginia river. Trip leader Ryan Galway and I paddled a two-person inflatable craft called a shredder; two canoeists and three kayakers accompanied us.

Part of the recently designated New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the iconic whitewater section of the New River flows through a series of deep majestic canyons. One of the oldest rivers on Earth, our intent was to test our skills on the 7-mile stretch of predominantly big volume Class IV whitewater.

A canoeist finishes Greyhound Bus Stopper on the New River Gorge.

We drove to the takeout at Fayette Station situated far below the spectacular New River Gorge Bridge where we met Hills to Hills Shuttle Service. The driver maneuvered a van and trailer down narrow switchbacks deep into the gorge to pick us up. She then transported us out and through a maze of backcountry roads to the launch in Hinton.

The whitewater excitement began immediately. A rusted railroad trestle marked the beginning of two challenging rapids called Upper and Lower Railroad. We navigated left of a mammoth hole in Upper and plunged down a technical ledge drop in Lower.

After a few easier rapids, we approached three closely connected Class IV descents named Upper, Middle and Lower Keeney. We paddled on the left side of a long wave train in Upper and caught an eddy below a gigantic rock on the left.

From that vantage point, Middle Keeney was a river-wide horizon line. Only the tops of exploding waves could be seen below. We chose a route on the far left and avoided most of the turbulent rollers and holes while tumbling down to a pool at the bottom.


Ryan and I followed the kayakers into a narrow channel on the left in Lower Keeney. Once into the rapid, we angled right through large breaking waves while splitting two unpleasant looking holes. Our wide vessel caught part of a powerful hydraulic at the bottom, but we managed to remain upright. The canoeists did great.

After several Class III rapids, the most difficult falls on the river, Double Z, followed. Everyone started far right and then moved to the center to avoid gnarly holes on the right and a severely undercut boulder on the left. Our entire group nailed it. We were feeling self-assured and celebrating our successes while paddling through several technical rapids that ensued.

The impressive arch of the New River Gorge Bridge could be seen towering high above the canyon when we entered a boulder-strewn rapid called Miller’s Folly. The most demanding whitewater behind us, we were brimming with confidence when choosing our respective routes. Then disaster struck. A canoeist slammed against a badly undercut rock. He and his boat were swept under. The paddler escaped but the canoe was partially pinned beneath the massive boulder. Despite a determined effort, we couldn’t safely reach it.

A team of paddlers views a pinned canoe.

The canoe-less paddler joined Ryan and me in the shredder and our intrepid band completed the remainder of the trip. We intended to contact the park service to report the unfortunate development, but they called the unlucky canoeist first. His name and phone number were printed on his gear. Some kayakers found the damaged canoe that had apparently flushed out from under the rock and secured it on the shore.

Since we planned another expedition on the New the following day, we had an added mission — canoe recovery. Fortunately, the undercut rock victim had a second canoe.

The next day was essentially a repeat of the first. Perhaps overconfident, we cruised through Double Z not realizing we were in it. Miller’s Folly soon followed.


Ryan and I reached the wayward canoe first. Although damaged, it was operable. While waiting, the canoeist who had pinned the previous day capsized and swam. Miller’s Folly was clearly his nemesis.

Once the swimmer and canoe were reunited, Ryan paddled the damaged canoe while I maneuvered the shredder to the takeout. Despite the obstacles, we completed two remarkable, chaotic, memorable days on the acclaimed New River Gorge.

Nine more exciting whitewater escapades are related in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals — New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

Paddlers approach the New River Bridge.

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