Back Fork of the Elk – Webster Springs WV – April 4th, 2009

14069Darron P. and myself had been wanting to get out and get up into West Virgina on some new water.  This particular weekend was the Webster Springs WV wild and Wonderful Whitewater festival and the weather was putting rain down hard in WV Friday morning,  on Friday night we headed to the gathering.  On Saturday morning the Back Fork of the Elk had gone to over 7 foot overnight and looked like it was going to be around 6.8′ by the time we would get on joining a good size group from the campground.

We headed over to Webster Springs and picked up the road out of town up to Back Fork,  dress out, dropped vehicles, and head over the mountain to the put in. The day was turning spectacular,  bright sun and blue skies and warming up nicely for late winter in the WV mountains.  Now if you have never done the BF of the Elk, its a great run,  just has a memorable shuttle, long and takes you through some true WV backwoods with multiple turns and forks where you scratch your head and wonder “now which fork is it I take”.  Well after a wrong turn and double back or two we finally arrived at the put in.  Fortunately we had a couple of shuttle bunny spouses along to take our cars back.

We quickly geared up and put on.  Now to get on the Back Fork of the Elk,  you actually put on a tributary creek – Sugar Creek.  Now the thing about this is things get interesting pretty quick as about 100 yards down Sugar Creek as there’s about a 7′ drop into a pool14074 below, where above the drop you have to hammer hard left to keep from being pushed to far right and jambed into the right wall.  All of the group cleared the initial fall nicely.  From the fall down to the confluence with the BFE,  there are nice creeky features to work and plenty of boulders and ledges to negotiate,  making this entrance creek fun.

Once at the confluence with the BFE,  the river is mostly boogie water and some features, low shelfs, etc. to play for a bit till the main show starts about a mile and a half downstream.  The river is has magnificent scenery and is very remote for most of the run, with water that is crystal clear,  a whitewater gem.  Well just about a little over a mile down the BFE,  Darron looked over at me and said “are we coming to more ledges like that one on the creek on this thing”,  to which I grinned and said “well it’s fix’in to get get even better”, and about that time the first of many horizon lines came into site below us.

14079Well once you get into the falls area,  thing pick up quick.  Coming up first is a  nice set of step ledges and chutes ending down at a huge horseshoe shaped rock ledge,  with most of the water into the center of the bend left of center.  Problem is at this ledge the horseshoe bend is concave as is typical where water has worn the ledge back over eons of time, and being concave back up stream the central bend of the ledge forms a huge seething and boiling hole below.  To run this ledge the normal line is off the right back where the ledge is not as inset and catch some outflow from the center.  All of the group took out upstream on river right and went down for a look and consultation on the line on.  We then took our turns working down the ledges above on river right and then driving hard and trying to boof over the ledge on its right end.  Most cleared ok, a few flipped and rolled,  don’t remember any obe’s happening.  This fall is quite impressive and beautiful both below and above and is about an 8′ drop on the right.

Well just below the horseshoe fall after a short pool is about a 4 to 5 foot ledge pretty 14099much straight across the river.  This one you just need to boof well and be driving at the bottom to clear the hydraulic.  Most folks tend to run this on over to the left end as you need to immediately hit an eddy on the far left as there is major fall just below.  This is both a fun ledge to drop and a great spot for super pictures.

14109Seems like the next fall is around 12′ and is nearly vertical on the left half with some steps on the left.  Most folk catch the eddy on river left and then ferry out behind a rock, turn and run 15 to 20 foot off the left back,  boofing off the lip for what is pretty much a clean drop.  A couple of folks in our group ferried out higher and ran off right of center and dropped the steps moving down angled right and out river right.  I went for the left line myself.  This is a great photo spot both above and below as the views are spectacular.

Down below we gathered up our group and moved on downstream through several smaller features to the another major ledge.  This ledge is river wide with about half the flow focusing on and inset just off the bank on river left, at which point the ledge is angled and forms a inset and hole below at the break of the angle.  In the center the ledge juts out in a huge “V” downstream but with irregular and jagged edges, and lots of irregular rock obstacles above.  Far right the ledge runs to the right bank with irregular shape and gets water but is very bony and not very runnable at this level.  Several of us tried a number of routes down through the center with varying results, as there are lots of rock features above here to mess with your line.  I got through but ended up dropping through a tight inset further right than intended and found it a bit shallow at the bottom and banged down a bit.  Several others hit other variations including dropping off over toward the far left inset where the hydraulic at the bottom would mess with them and make breaking clean below a bit nasty.

Two or thred of the group went for the left line, including Darron who started center of the flow and tried to 14147move far left at a step in the middle of the drop in order to work toward the outside edge of the hole below.  This however while a good plan proved to be a bit sticky as it had sticky spot on the step in the left corner and the ledge appeared to have some guard features just underwater that stalled a paddler trying to stay far left and basically force boat back toward center.  Darron after working out of the middle step got down and squirted just left of center in the hole below and then spent some quality time side surfing and throwing and end or two before working out to a flow on the far left,  still in control but receiving a work out.

Paddling downstream we came to a final ledge/drop formation of note.  While this one is not particularly it may well be the most dangerous place on the river.  This one is spotted by the long low rock ledge on river left, which start just upstream and curves out into the river, forcing the flow to the right into a narrow channel.  This is a place to get out on river left at the rock ledge and walk out to the end of the ledge which extends out into the river overlooking the channel.  From this vantage point just out from then end of the rock point you can see two rock formations in the left half of the narrowed channel.  The upper one is slanted downstream and has a undercut below it with the lower rock formation just below the undercut, forming a “clam shell” undercut sieve.  To make this a bit more hairy, from the river above the route looks to be on the left side of the channel which would put a paddler on line to drop into the “clam shell” which has no open exit and get trapped by the backwash in the undercut and blocked by the rock below,  you can literally see a dark pit up under the upper rock formation.

Well we all got out and took a look at this last formation and noted the clam shell.  Most went for far right along the bank.  Usually you can get an eddy along the right bank above and line up for a nice run but a strainer had this blocked so folks had to just hammer down.  I did far right and move left below the hazard,  but caught ledges just below the surface which inverted my position.   From here we did the short paddle out to the cars which our nice shuttle bunnies had left for us. 

We had a great day on a wonderful run, and where ready to dress and drive and hit the chow line.  Back the camp that night we had a great party and band just as we had the night before as part of the festival.  Good time had by all.

SYOTR-paddlin-ed

Leave a reply