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When West Virgina gets good flows cycling in, it doesn’t get much better. We can hit up a high water play run on the New or catch a classic class V creek. It is hard to venture from the epic, action packed goods, but we have so many easy wilderness runs that get overlooked. After a weekend that involved high water Manns and Meadow laps plus a swim out of Energizer hole at Sweets Falls on the Gauley after trying a big water boof, I decided to mix things up and try a full descent of the Cranberry River.

The Cranberry comes into close to my family camp on the Gauley, so I talked my Dad into setting my shuttle early on Martin Luther King Day so I could ride over 30 miles of river to my camp. We headed through Richwood to the Scenic Highway early that morning. My original plan was to hike off the mountain down the entire South Fork and attempt to paddle through the the Cranberry Glades. But my Dad talked me out of it after realizing there wasn’t a good trail and I was worried the glades would be too much hassle not knowing what to expect. So I put in at the bottom of the glades just past the Cranberry Glades board walk.
I still got to experience the Cranberry Glades as it meandered through a swampy meadow with oxbows and forest all around you. It slowly poured into continuous moving current for miles as it picked up several creeks and the North Fork. I was loving my Karma Unlimited as I could cruse through all the little slots and around the river bends with ease.

Paddling continuous moving current with the occasional class III is just a different experience. It is more meditative endurance game. I am constantly distracted by the incoming tributaries, following a Bald Eagle down river for a few miles, spotting pheasants and dear, and looking for bear. The constant mellow flow sets the mood for my brain to settle and time becomes nonexistent. I enjoy paddling alone with no distractions.
The upper section had some of the best rapids of the day with a couple solid ledges back to back toward the end along with fun maneuvers throughout. There was only one portage around a strainer early on that was actually the only portage of the day! The level was holding right at 700 cfs that felt to be a good medium level. If it were any higher some of the trees I went under might be more difficult.

I made it to the meat of the run cruising after eating some lunch and taking a few short breaks. The main section is solid class III+/IV. The long boats was a little difficult as the river requires a couple 90 degree turns to make it fun. So instead of bob and weave I was charging and crushing the middle section.
As the river begins into the lower the only pool on the river is formed. I was actually surprised that I hadn’t seen a substantial pool until this point and realized I had been cruising in current the whole run! I actually was forming a little vertigo from the constant state of motion.

The bottom section flew by with one more substantial rapid where the whole river pillowed off a rock before splitting to either side. I got a nice boof over the pillow kept on gliding. That is what I love about long boating, that perfect moment when you ride the boat and all the moves link together like never before. It really takes riding the boat, not forcing the moves, and thinking ahead. The risk of getting spun out and exerting all that extra energy to get back on track makes me plan everything in advance pushing my skills to the limit.
I made it to the Top Gauley and paddled around 7 more miles to my camp next to Panther Creek. The whole trip took me about 6 hours.

On the way out I scouted a micro creek that drops in downstream of Panther Creek, Little Laurel, and found that it had been completely rearranged by the floods over the summer. Might have to keep this one on the radar next time we get the big rains for a couple first D’s minutes from where I grew up in Nettie!
The next day I was still on my long boat kick and took the Karma Unlimited down Manns creek for the first time and have not had that much fun out there in awhile. Unfortunately, it is hard to paddle with regular creek boats because they can’t keep up.

Overall the entire Cranberry may be one of the best beginner level wilderness runs in the state and hope many others take advantage of this pristine run. Looking forward to more long boating in the future.
Shane Groves