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Landscapes Riverscapes Whitewater

New River Gorge Weather

– Cloud waves splash the Endless Wall of the New River Gorge, climbing up and over it, like an air-river hovering above the New.

One unique benefit to landscape photography is that it forces you to become more in tune with local weather patterns. The best time to get the dramatic clouds and sky are right before or after a storm moves through. As we all know, the beautiful colors come out during sunrises and sunsets.

The New River Gorge has carved an 800+ feet deep ravine in the Earth. It drains the largest watershed East of the Mississippi River, before eventually pouring into that river after joining forces with a few other major rivers along the way. Just East of Fayetteville it joins up with the Gauley River (also world-renowned for its powerful whitewater rapids and recreational rafting and kayaking). Those two rivers form the Kanawha River, which eventually dumps into the Ohio River.

An interesting fact about the New River is that it flows North, which is atypical of most of the other rivers in America. The headwaters are in Western North Carolina and she picks up more and more water as she cuts across the grain of the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and Southern West Virginia.

Only 5 minutes after sunrise and you can see the colors begin to fade. Yet the cloud waves are still splashing against the endless wall.

We know that many weather patterns are effected by warm air currents in the ocean and that storms occur when they meet with cold water currents or cold air currents moving above the waves.

It seems logical that similar movements of warm air and water currents can create unique weather patterns around a geographic feature as massive as the New River Gorge.

Oftentimes in the winter, snow will fall in the New River Gorge but it won’t reach the ground near the water because the warm air above the river melts the snow before it can contact the trees, rocks or ground.

It is my personal theory that doppler radar, and other instruments that measure atmospheric pressure and other readings that effect the weather may not be sensitive enough to detect the variations of weather patterns in the New River Gorge.

A unique observation that I have witnessed multiple times takes place at a spot along the rim of the New River Gorge called Diamond Point. At this location the river has been flowing almost due North and it takes a sharp, 90-degree-angle turn to the West just downstream of the Keeneys Rapids, just before Dudley’s Dip Rapid.

As the clouds follow the river, flowing downstream, they strike the rocks in the Endless Wall at that 90-degree-angle. When they do, the clouds behave just like water on the river when it strikes a rock. The clouds climb up the rock and roll back over onto themselves in the same manner that the water in the river creates a pillow on the rock. For all of you who’ve been down the Gauley, imagine Pillow Rock but in slow-motion.

PREVAILING WINDS

The prevailing winds travel from West to East. Watch any weather forecast and the meteorologist stands in front of a giant graphic with arrows pointing East to represent wind direction. However, in this instance, the winds were traveling West. They just weren’t breezing either. These winds were gusting! I don’t have a wind measuring device. Although my watch DOES have a barometer on it. By observation alone, I can say they were probably gusting about 20 mph. They were blowing West, moving with the river, heading downstream.

CLOUDS ARE WATER

One of the coolest things I witnessed was the clouds, or fog, or condensed moisture, behaving just like the river. As it moved downstream it collided with the endless wall. The water climbed up, over and out of the New River Gorge. Then, it fell back into the Gorge. It was almost as if the fog were a light, cloudy air-river that hovered above the New River water river.

With all of these different air currents moving in different directions, we can be sure of one thing. There MUST be swirling vortexes of air and moisture in the sky above the Gorge. If this is the case, perhaps there are mini rain storms within the Gorge.

Have you ever been on the river when it’s raining and the clouds are so low in the Gorge that you can’t see the rim? I have many times. In those situations I wonder “is it raining outside the Gorge or could it possibly be sunny?” I don’t know. It’s impossible to be in two locations at the same time.

Yet, I’ve been close to witnessing this phenomenon to be true. One time it was raining steadily, before we got to the Fayette Station takeout. As we were driving up out of the Gorge, the clouds were below the bridge and it was not raining up top. However, it had stopped raining as we were driving up Fayette Station Road, so I can’t say for sure that it was raining below the bridge and not above it. Someday, maybe we will find that to be true.

Categories
Kayaking Sports Photography Whitewater

Freestyle Whitewater Kayaking the New River Dries

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Josh Collins performs an Air Screw: @contsquashua

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Corey Lilly @clillyvisuals performs an Aerial Blunt

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Rains Make Waves

Heavy rains along the East Coast of the United States in the first week of August, 2018 brought a surprise spike to the rivers and a special treat to the freestyle whitewater kayaking boaters of Fayetteville, West Virginia. Typically these volumes of water are reserved for the heavy rains of the late Winter and early Spring but heavy rains storms thought otherwise. Normally this section of river is dry, which is why it is called “The Dries.” It is my personal belief that climate change is the reason storms are becoming more sporadic, unseasonable and intense.

The New River is the largest watershed East of the Mississippi. It begins in North Carolina and flows North through Virginia and West Virginia, merging with the Gauley to form the Kanawha, into the Ohio river and eventually the Mississippi. As it travels through West Virginia, elevation drops created by centuries of mountain growth and erosion form large, standing waves which are ideal for whitewater surfing.

Freestyle Whitewater Kayaking is probably the least understood of all the “extreme sports.” Most people without a background in whitewater have no idea what those kayakers are doing in those little, tiny boats. They’re bobbing and bouncing and flipping around and diving down into the water. A person on their very first whitewater rafting trip will gasp “are they in trouble?” The answer is no, they are not in trouble. Quite the opposite in fact, that person is having the time of their life.

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Shane Groves performs an Aerial Blunt: @shanegrooves

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Kayaking Evolution

Whitewater kayaking has evolved immensely from its recreational birth in the mid 1970s. I find it refreshing to know that some of those kayakers are still paddling the New and Gauley rivers of West Virginia, today in 2018. However, most of them are not out on the enormous waves of the New River Dries in today’s lighter, smaller and more agile freestyle kayaks. Most of the freestyle kayakers are the young guns of today’s whitewater generation. They are taking whitewater kayaking to the next level.

When I started kayaking in 1997, freestyle kayaking was just about to explode. People were discovering acrobatic moves that could be performed in a whitewater kayak. Vertical rotations, known as cartwheels, were the hottest moves of the day. Kayaks evolved in design at a staggering pace. Designers and manufacturers discovered knew ways of making advanced moves easier and more impressive.

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Paul Griffin performs an Aerial Blunt

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Video Boaters at Play

At that time I was a full-time video kayaker and my goals in life were to see how many cartwheels I could link together in one ride. Lines formed at the surf spots and could be in excess of 20 people long. There were 18 rafting companies and almost all of them employed 3-7 full-time video kayakers. People went back to the river after they worked on the river just to go to the local play spot and “throw ends.” (Kayaker jargon for doing cartwheels.”

There are noticeably less and less freestyle kayakers on the river today. Fewer and fewer people are coming rafting every year and therefore fewer and fewer people are developing an interest in whitewater kayaking. As there are fewer and fewer kayakers, the ability levels of these kayakers continues to grow to unprecedented levels. There may only be 5 or 6 kayakers at the wave, but these boaters are making big moves. Nowadays it is not uncommon to see these kayakers performing vertical aerial moves on the wave. Moves like the “air screw,” “aerial blunt” and “space Godzillas” (I don’t even know what a Space Godzilla is) are the hot ticket items of today.

I must say I’m proud to be friends with the pioneer kayakers of the 1970’s, the Gen-X video boaters of the early 2000’s as well as the young guns boaters of today. The world of kayaking is a small world after all.

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Michael Buechler performs an Air Screw: @littlemike304

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