August 24, 2019
Double Z Rapid, Lower New River Gorge
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RAPID NAME: Double Z
RAPID RATING: Class IV+
RIVER SECTION: Lower New River Gorge - Cunard To Fayette Station
Originally named “Sunset” for the spectacular view of the mid-summer setting sun in the downstream notch of the Gorge, Double Z is now known by the description of the “zig-zag” low water maneuvering boaters need to make in order to successfully navigate this Class V rapid. By far the most technical rapid on the Lower New, the wide range of runnable flows make for an equally wide range of features and difficulties like every other rapid in the New River Gorge.
*There is a fun side hike to the ghost town of Nuttallburg, a coal mining community once owned by Henry Ford. In the pool above Double Z, find Short Creek flowing in on the river right side. Follow the creek under the train tracks and stay left to find the dirt road that leads to Nuttallburg and the last standing coal tipple in the New River Gorge.
32,000-14,000cfs(12-7’) – At high flows, Double Z is obviously much less technical than at low river levels. The initial feature to key off of at the entrance is known as Thumb Rock, which at these levels is a pour over. The standard entrance is just left of Thumb, immediately moving to the right after passing it. There is also a runnable line right of Thumb at these high flows. Generally speaking, moving straight downstream from Thumb would mark the middle of the rapid width wise. At pretty much every water level, after passing Thumb at the entrance, the runnable lines exist somewhere on the right side. For these high flows, the line is a “Lazy S” rather than a “Double Z.” After passing Thumb, the major feature and major concern is a large, powerful hydraulic called Beury’s Hole which sits in the middle of the river both length and width wise. After passing Beury’s Hole on the right, begin to move back to the left, avoiding the right bank and particularly a large undercut rock at the bottom right known as Vulture(some refer to it as Holiday). Both the right and left banks are littered with undercut rocks and should be avoided at all water levels. Also, be aware of the strong eddy wall coming off of Vulture Rock at the bottom right.
14,000-7,500cfs(7-4’) – At these upper-mid level flows, the entrance remains the same, but just downstream of Thumb, a ledge wave begins to be a factor, forcing the left to right move after passing Thumb to need to happen sooner. Once past the ledge, as you move downstream Beury’s Hole is still to be avoided on the river left side, but a reactionary wave on the right begins to form as well. This reactionary wave is directly across from Beury’s Hole and will become an even more prominent feature as the water level drops. Past Beury’s and the reactionary, Vulture Rock at the bottom right is still a dangerous undercut rock with a lot of current pushing towards it.
7,500-4,400cfs(4-2’) – At these mid-level flows, Thumb Rock becomes more noticeably out of the water at the entrance. The line is still entering left of Thumb and then moving right in order to avoid The Ledge. Once past The Ledge, Beury’s Rock is now visible on the river left. Directly across from Beury’s Rock and on the river right is the Reactionary Wave. This wave breaks from right to left and must be squared up on in a raft to avoid flipping or dropping paddlers. As the river level becomes lower, the Reactionary Wave should run farther to the right. This is due to the Chair Hole beginning to form downstream in the center. Chair Hole is a retentive wave that should be avoided, typically to the right, although there is a line left of it. A major danger begins to come into play just downstream of Chair, called Table Rock. This is in the center of the river and is an extremely undercut rock. The standard line is to run right of Table Rock and then move back left to the center of the river to avoid Vulture Rock(undercut) on the river right. There is a line to the left of Table Rock, but there is serious pin potential as well as the added danger of Butcher’s Block Rock which is another undercut rock on the left.
4,400-2,400cfs(2-0’) – At these low flows, the entrance to the left of Thumb Rock remains the same, although at these levels is when Double Z lives up to its name. After passing Thumb, a maneuver must be made almost all the way to the river right bank in order to get around the now shallow ledge and a rock called Otter. Once around Otter, move back out to the center, then back to the right to paddle through the Reactionary Wave. Stay right to avoid Chair Hole and Table Rock(undercut) and then move back left to avoid Vulture Rock(undercut). At these low flows, there are numerous shallow rocks throughout the rapid, making the maneuvers difficult as well as having severe pin potential. This is particularly the case in the area between Thumb Rock and Otter Rock.