Tygart (Stupid Hillbilly Tricks)

River of the month #16

author: Pat Reilly
date: July 1999

Last July, I wrote about a paddling mishap on Perry County’s Laurel Run that resulted in a narrow escape and some torn knee cartilage. In keeping with that gruesome theme, this July’s piece is about another near disaster involving CCGH members that occured during the Cheat River Festival.

I traveled alone to the festival to participant in the downriver race - the 4th annual ‘Cheat River Massacre-ence’, on Friday, April 30’. Saturday AM I was debating what to do when a group including present, past and future club members, showed up and invited me to join them on the Tygart River. My only question was ‘anyone got a spare boat’?, since I only brought my fiberglass wildwater boat and it now had a gaping hole in the stern where it was ‘massacred’ at High Falls Rapid during the race. As the Tygart was virgin water for me, my mind was made up as soon as Kathy Kisenweather offered her Pirouette S.

Six of us put on about a mile above Moats Falls on the Arden section of the Tygart. It had all the makings of a great trip - sunny, summer like weather, a beautiful river in a classic Appalachian Mountain setting and good company. We started bouncing down through some exciting big drops separated by long pools before we pulled out to scout Moats Falls, perhaps the Tygart’s most recognizable rapid.

The falls is a big broken ledge forming a 20 foot drop. River left is impossibly congested, while the middle has a runnable line right over the ledge, straight down into a good pool. But at the level we were running, that line had dried to a trickle. This left only river right, a long narrow chute with 3 separate drops. The first was under a natural rock bridge! The second was an ugly reef maybe 12 feet high, and the third a not-too-bad drop leading to easier rapids at the base of the falls. The trip’s ‘hair’ boaters, Shawn (from New Jersey) and former clubber Eric Mcdowell (recently relocated to California) scouted, but then carried the second drop due to the presence of a submerged log. The three of us then slid off a ledge and ran the 3rd drop to the pool below.

At the top of the falls the natural bridge leads to huge flat rocks in the center of the river that are custom made for picnicking and partying. The warm weather had brought out a variety of local folk, some on family outings, some fishing and some swilling whiskey. While waiting below the falls for the remainder of our party, I noticed a throw rope arcing through the air just below these party rocks. An ugly scene unfolded as we scrambled out of our boats and up the shoreline to ascertain the reason for the rope. A drunk local had jumped into the water above the 12 foot reef, missed his swim into the eddy and was now stuck right on the brink of the drop with a foot entrapment.

Kathy was screaming orders to the guy’s confused buddies to get them to form a human chain and reach his outstretched hand to stabilize him. Her and Joan (a soon-to-be club member) and Joan’s sister passed the guy a PFD and a helmet. Due to a swift channel of water the ladies could not reach the rock directly above the swimmer but were orchestrating the rescue as best they could from their position. It was Kathy that had thrown the first rope.

Another group of paddlers, the ‘Blue Ridge Voyageurs’, from Virginia were also joining in the effort. I believe by now they had a second rope to the swimmer. I swam across the channel above the entrapped victim and Eric threw me a rope just in time to tie off and belay one of the Virginia paddlers. He entered the water and quickly freed the entrapped foot. We then drug the guy up on the rock where he collapsed for 5 or 10 minutes. He was last seen back on the party rock sucking on a whiskey bottle.

We lost a lot of time and now some of our stressed out crew no longer had the will to continue the trip. So we aborted and quickly packed up agreeing that we should get out of there in case the nitwit decided to go for another swim. One drunk rescue per day, thank you. No one can say for sure but I believe there is a good possibility that the guy would not be among the living if boaters had not been present on the river that day.

Now a little about Rec.Boats.Paddle. Anyone ever check out this news group on the Net? It’s filled with posting about boats for sale, boaters looking for paddling partners or info, strainer warnings, river accidents, etc. I occasionally check out RBP and have noticed at least one club member who regularly posts items. In an effort to inform fellow boaters and to contact the other party that was in on the rescue, I made my first posting to RBP - a brief account of the above incident and titled it ‘Stupid Hillbilly Tricks at Moats Falls’.

Big mistake! I guess I need a lesson in political correctness. The responses generated by the post were numerous and sometimes hostile. I thought the title appropriate but apparently southern rural folks take exception to the word ‘hillbilly’. Many responses only replied to the use of the word and had nothing to say about the rescue. Then there were responses to the responses and so on, some in my defense. Good grief! makes me wonder if these people spend all their time at the computer or if they actually paddle. I did hear from the open boater who did the ‘in water’ work during the rescue - Court Ogilvie. In that sense, my post accomplished its goal.

Now I only hope that next July I can simple talk about another obscure local creek and stop reporting on close calls.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 1999 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.