Chicago Whitewater Association is a 501(c) non-profit organization. Chicago, Illinois
Thanks for the write-up Greg. I've been in a new-to-Curtis boat with him before also. Curtis got thrown out at Sweets Falls and we pinned the 14' raft on Postage Due then into the box canyon.
During Gauley season last year Hookah Bob and I drove down to West Virginia with the plan that Bob would show me down the Lower one day then paddle the Upper the other while I rode in a raft with his good friend and local 'west by God' Virginian Curtis. On the way down Bob asked if I would be ok with riding in a Creature Craft. Curtis had just purchased one and was keen to get it out. I said I had no problem with that, I was just excited to get on the Upper Gauley.
We camped at the put-in for the Upper and I saw some other Creature Crafts around. I had seen videos on YouTube of people jumping on to them from Pillow Rock. https://youtu.be/FwCSWwm9z0s
Apparently these rafts were invented in California to aid in low head dam rescues. If they flip they will float on their side and can be righted. They are pretty much indestructible https://youtu.be/g3B54mufx5Q
We put-in just below the campground with Hookah Bob and a raft guide named Catelyn AKA Kansas in their kayaks. This was not only my first time in a raft of any kind but Curtis's first time in his Creature Craft although he had been down the Upper many times and knew the lines. We got in and each sat on one of the tubes and belted in with a velcro strap then Curtis handed me a raft paddle. About 50 yards after putting in Curtis realized we had forgotten the cooler with our "refreshments". We pulled into shore so he could run back up and get it, meanwhile Bob & Kansas continued down to a play spot.
The first big feature is Initiation. Whatever I'd imagined about the Upper Gauley from videos and books was quickly replaced by the real thing. After that came Insignificant, it was the biggest and most confused whitewater I'd ever seen. It was like being in a washing machine. Curtis yelled out directions but I was pretty much just hanging on feeling like the Creature Craft was going to tip over at any moment.
Soon we came to Pillow Rock. Curtis said if there was anybody standing on the rock we would take the right line to avoid them jumping on us. Since there was no-one we took the traditional left line which I sort of recognized from youtube. As we entered the rapid we started getting tossed around and both grabbed on to the straps in the raft. We were headed too far left towards the 'Room of Doom' and got spun around. I found myself staring into it but luckily the raft was too big to go in. It would not be a good place to end up in a kayak.
We continued down through the other rapids, Lost Paddle being the most memorable because of the length and complexity of it and because we saw a couple of swimmers.
By the time we got to Sweet's Falls I was feeling a lot more comfortable in a raft and Curtis and I were working together pretty well. We hit our line over the drop then took out, grabbed some beers and watched people come down, some trying the 'Meltdown' move.
The chaos and big waves of the Upper helped me I think when I ran the Lower the next day with Curtis, Bob and Craig. I'm definitely looking forward to Gauley season again this year.