Is anyone else scratching their heads wondering where in the world summer went? Honestly, fall has kind of sneaked up on all of us and it is probably safe to say that no one out there got to do all that was on their summer bucket list. I didn’t. I am not sure that I even got around to actually writing my bucket list. I did get to ride my bike on the Greenbrier River Trail a few times, but with all the summer rains, I never seemed to get a kayak trip worked in. Kayakers were excited to take advantage of the unusually high stream conditions this season – especially streams like Johns Creek that tend to get low early in the mid to late summer.
In the past, we have enjoyed canoeing on the James River and kayaking on Craigs Creek, but had never considered the Cowpasture River. Someone mentioned that the Cowpasture is a really nice kayaking destination so we decided to take advantage of the great end of summer temperatures and planned a short excursion – as in only 3.2 miles. The Cowpasture actually begins in Highland County and flows through Bath into Allegheny for 84.4 miles and is considered to be some of the most pristine waters in Virginia. It could easily be a two day excursion or an entire week.
The morning was a little foggy when my partner in adventure, Mark, met me at the Glen Wilton pull off on a Wednesday morning. We put his kayak in my truck and rode out McKinney Hollow Road to the Walter L. Robinson River Access Point (Evans Tract). We had the river all to ourselves and the temperatures were absolutely perfect for a kayak trip – around 70 degrees. The waters were very calm, with a few riffles along the way. There were only a couple of places where we had to use our hands to push ourselves through the rocks because the water was low but at no point did we have to walk the kayaks through dry places.
The Evans Tract section joins the George Washington National Forest. The shoreline along the way was fields, farms and camps and there were also some high shale banks with scarce vegetation. Butterflies and dragonflies escorted us along the way while the quietness was occasionally interrupted only by the calls of crows and ravens.
There were some fish along the way – smallmouth bass and rock bass. Virginia Fish and Game Commission report that muskies and redbreast sunfish are in the Cowpasture, but saw none of these. We only saw one lonely turtle out sunning himself and we followed a blue heron a ways down the river that was scouting out lunch. We startled a covey of wood ducks a couple of times, but there were no deer or other critters to be seen.
A couple of times, there were some close calls. Mark got stuck on top of a big rock while trying to maneuver some riffles, but somehow managed to get off of it and not get dumped into the water. I am not sure how he accomplished this because I was busy trying to make sure the same thing did not happen to me.
In Botetourt County at Iron Gate, the Cowpasture merges with the Jackson River and there they become the James River. The Doobie Brothers’ song, “Black Water” came to mind after I started into the merge. It was really dark compared to the sparkling clear water of the Cowpasture.
The last set of rapids we needed to negotiate was the largest of the entire trip. You could hear them roaring for quite a way up the river. The broader part of the river had some serious ledges and after studying the situation, we decided that if we stayed hard to the right, closer to the bank, it would be a smoother ride. We maneuvered the black waters down to the Glen Wilton pull out without any incidences.
After we picked up the other truck, we headed to Clifton Forge to enjoy an early birthday lunch at Jack Mason Tavern. It was late for most of the lunch crowd, and too early for dinner, so we had the entire place to ourselves. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.
Published in the Day Tripper, a publication of Mountain Messenger in Lewisburg, West Virginia, October 6, 2013.