The 5 Biggest (Runnable) Waves on the Lower New River

The snow is gone from the high country and the Mercury has risen.  Here on the rim of the New River Gorge that means BIG spring water.  Every adventure aficionado who just emerged from winter hibernation knows the Lower New River is THE springtime thrill.  They are buckling life jackets and helmets as we speak, drawing measured breaths, and girding their loins before paddling into some of the biggest walls of water in America.  
These are potentially life-altering moments when the rest of the world has long since melted away like the winter,  when all that exists are the sound of your guide’s commands, you, and one of these five roaring piles of chaos you’re about to face.

5.  Old Nasty

In summer, we sometimes call Old Nasty, “Old Wimpy,” because it’s really not much more than a Class II wave train.  But at high spring levels, the final rapid of the trip has one of the most three-dimensional rides of the day.  Stay clear of the monstrous pour-over/hole on the river right.  Drive gently into the towering haystacks left of center.  And don’t miss the take out on the right immediately after the tail waves!  Pro-tip:  If Jump Rock isn’t much more than Step-Into-The Water Rock, you can be sure Old Nasty will not be wimpy.

4.  Surprise

The second wave in Surprise Rapid tends to be more exciting at medium-high summer levels, but if we’re on the low end of spring water, it can really be a…surprise how big it is.  Tee up on it like a great white shark on a slow seal dinner, and don’t stop paddling just because you got drenchedthat’s a sure fire way to swim.  But if you don’t quite make it, don’t worry!  There’s a 1/4 mile of flat water below; plenty of time to get ready for the next rapid.


3.  Upper Railroad

One of the longer rapids of the day also has one of the single biggest walls of waterand that’s right where you’re headed.  Thread the needle between the breaking wave on the left and the recirculating hole, Maytag, on the right to ride a squiggly tongue through the melee.  Or if you’re paddling strong, your guide might go super big a little father left.  Do not relax after that first hit, though, because you still have 9/10 of the rapid remaining.  Avoid two holes known as Chicago and Detroit to gain the roller-coastery tail waves under the railroad bridge.  Wheeeee!

2.  Pretty much all of Middle Keeney.

This is the dragon that must be slain to win glory on the day.  Survive the turbulent haystacks of Upper Keeney and drive hard into the mailstrom of Middle Keeney.  Square up on waves that seem like they’re coming from all directions, because you definitely don’t want to take a long leisurely swim here.  At most levels, you’ll have a brief moment or two to collect your thoughts before Lower Keeney.  Near the top of the scale, however, all three rapids blend into one.  (At 12 feet on the Fayette Station gauge, make sure you look left into Whale Hole.  You’ll never forget what you see there.)


1.  Million Dollar Wave

If every other rapid on the spring Lower New were a Class I ripple, Million Dollar Wave would still make the whole journey worth it.  It’s a massive pile of whitewater with a nearly-vertical slide down the back into a trough that may as well be the Marianas Trench when you’re at the edge about to plummet in.  It’s also set right under the 876′ tall New River Gorge Bridge, so describing the whole scene as dramatic doesn’t seem to do it justice.  Our guides use words like “epic” and “euphoric” and “hard to believe it’s actually runnable.”

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