SUMMERSVILLE — An unplanned dip in the Gauley River three years ago left Katie Rebeck undaunted.
Rebeck, of Cleveland, Ohio, was among those embarking for an overnight trip with Adventures on the Gorge Friday on the first day of the much-anticipated Gauley Season. Prior to putting in below the Summersville Dam for her excursion, Rebeck explained her motivation for jumping aboard a raft with family and friends and veteran guide Joe Bailey.
The rest of her party hailed from Central Pennsylvania, so "I traveled out to hang out with them for a weekend," said Rebeck.
Recalling her last rafting trip on the Upper Gauley three years ago, Rebeck said, "We fell out then; I got sucked under another raft. It was a lot of fun. It was really safe even though I was out in the water."
And she didn't blink when planning a return trip. "No, I'm very excited to be back on the water," she said as her party took their final instructions prior to their departure.
For 23 days during the fall, the Gauley River welcomes visitors from near and far to tackle some of the best whitewater rafting in the world, tourism officials point out. Every September beginning the weekend after Labor Day, a series of scheduled releases pushes extra water from behind the Summersville Dam into the river to help create excellent conditions — including numerous Class IV and Class V rapids — for whitewater rafts and other watercraft for miles downstream.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ scheduled water releases started Friday. Twenty-three releases are planned this season, with an extra hour of release slated for Sept. 21-23.
And quite a few of the people making the pilgrimage, which is an annual affair for many, to brave the Upper Gauley likely have or will have the same response as Rebeck. "It's exhilarating. You're just in the moment, not a lot of time to think, or no time to fear.
"You're just getting through one rapid to the next."
Rebeck, who works in products management for a printing company, says she stays active by hiking a lot with her dog, Brownie, in Cuyahoga Valley National Park near her home. And she remembered rafting the Snake River once when she was 14, but "that was pretty mild compared to this. This is five out of five."
Shortly before Rebeck was to begin her Gauley River descent, Justin Burke, a Raleigh, N.C. teenager, was poised to kayak a stretch of about 5 miles of the Upper Gauley on Friday.
"I've done this river five or six times," he said. Burke relishes "the thrill of going down the Gauley, big waves, big holes, meeting people ... All that excitement is something that keeps me coming back for more."
While challenging, Burke feels kayaking the Upper Gauley isn't quite as difficult as other locales such as the Nantahala River in North Carolina, which he terms "more technical."
Burke first came to West Virginia to traverse the Lower Gauley three years ago with his father and some of his friends, but he has since graduated to the Upper Gauley.
For somebody who hasn't kayaked the Upper Gauley before, Burke smiled as he issued the following advice: "Take a raft."
Another Tarheel, J.B. Marr, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was in Summersville Friday as the excitement unfolded. He is in the midst of a five-day visit to take in southern West Virginia surroundings he terms "spectacular."
Over the years, Marr has rafted, kayaked and canoed the New and Gauley rivers and "enjoyed every moment."
By the time it has concluded, his most recent adventure will have featured camping in the area, hiking, biking and free climbing, among other activities. Later on Friday, Marr planned to kayak in the Summersville Dam reservoir, which "is a really spectacular place in the winter, after they've drawn the level down."
What does he enjoy most of the numerous activities available in the area? "Everything," he replied with a laugh.
Also around the state Friday, state tourism officials welcomed the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Finals, which will bring together mountain bikers from across the globe to Snowshoe Mountain. The Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Finals will run through Sept. 8. This year marks the first time the event has been held in the United States since 2015.
For more information about West Virginia, and to plan a trip, visit www.WVtourism.com.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe