On most weekends of the Gauley’s release season, the feeling alone of paddling endless-seeming Class IV-V rapids below West Virginia’s Summersville Dam would be invigorating enough. But on the third weekend of every September, as the summer comes to a close and autumn creeps into the Appalachian hills, the intention of thousands of paddlers in all crafts converging on what is suitably nicknamed the, "Beast of the East," is definitively clear.
The celebration starts at the outflow of the dam as 2800 cfs roars across the riverbed. It rolls on through the notorious rapids including Pillow and Lost Paddle, and it carries well into the night at the Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park in Summersville. If there is one thought to keep in mind as you attempt to dose off for a few hours rest, listening to the ring of the infamous 4-H bell as those more boisterous pass by, it is a simple thought: There is nothing else quite like Gauley Fest.
As to be expected the 2016 American Whitewater event lived up to those past. Here are a few enlivening scenes to help illustrate why Gauley Fest is the perennial whitewater festival of whitewater festivals:
Steak, adobo, onions, cilantro, and a little homemade salsa on top. Open-canoer Alex Vargas spent Friday night whipping up these simple ingredients for the best free tacos to be found in West by God Virginia. Satisfying plenty of after-river hunger for those curious enough to scope out the Blackfly Canoe tent.
Liquidlogic’s annual staple always draws a crowd for the heated on-the-honor-system competition. A few hundred AW members squared off against Pat Keller to throw down some rock, paper, scissors. In the end, Shane Benedict announced the victor, Graham Laws, deserving of some, "quality air time," through the crowd and his pick of the LL litter.
After-hours DJ Party
Nothing says Gauley Fest like an all-night dance party. Following the midnight conclusion of musical act, Chestnut Grove, on the main stage, the action shifted behind the livestock pens and into the campground, where DJ’s Terrence Young and Allen Rockhouse kept tracks spinning amidst waving glowsticks into the wee hours of the night.
Creature Craft Bump and Jump
Hordes of paddlers partying on Pillow Rock performed all sorts of shenanigans, but top style points go out to those lining up the oddly shaped Creature Crafts in their sights, and taking the leap of faith to commandeer and/or capsize the oddly shaped, “unflippable” vessels.
Postage Due Kayak Abduction
The revitalized play the river craze had slicey-stern boats out in droves squirting and splatting every inch of Gauley whitewater. The grand finale, going for the monster splat in the run out of Sweet’s Falls at Postage Due Rock. The icing on the cake, the occasional hoisting of a kayak out of the water by the crowd of rafters hovering above.
Tubing the Beast of the East
Just when you think you’ve spent a weekend seeing it all, paddler Chris Baer floats by Monday morning on the last craft you would expect to see launching on the impressive piece of East Coast whitewater.
When asked, "Are you on an inner tube?" Baer easily countered, "You’re in a kayak."
Touché – This is Gauley Fest after all.