Friday, September 19, 2008

James River at Irongate - September 2008

Just beneath the Route 220 overpass in Irongate, Virginia is public access to the James River. I arrived on a cloudy afternoon after a 35 minute drive from my home for about an hour of paddling. The river is accessed by a steep gravel road down to the river where you must carry or wheel your boat over rounded river stone to get to the water itself.

The access road is short, but steep, and I would not attempt it without a four-wheel drive vehicle (it's much steeper than it appears in the picture below). There is parking at the top of the road for numerous vehicles, but there are no other public facilities. The water was fairly shallow at the put-in and required that I walk the boat ten or more feet out into the water before I could get in.

This section of the river gives the flatwater paddler about 1/4-1/2 mile of water before encountering rapids which require portaging. The first upstream rapid is a ledge about 1-2 feet high, and the water cascading over the falls was pleasant to hear. List to a short (15 second) clip of these waterfalls:


A beautiful cliff of layered and folded sedimentary rocks line one side of the river near these falls. I didn't get a change to go over and have a look, but they appear to be limestone interbedded with a little bit of sand - hardly uncommon in this part of the Appalachians.

There was more flatwater downstream past one minor riffle. A slow meander in the river revealed a continuation of the steep limestone cliff on the cut bank, and the wooded point bar on the inside of the bend. The water here was deep and clear, and it allowed me to stoke harder and pick up some steam. The next downstream rapid actually flanked around an island in the middle of the river. I didn't attempt to go father downstream, but I think it would be fairly simple to paddle back up through this rapid or do a very short portage.

The Irongate access is a likely location for James River trippers, putting in or taking out. Easy access and varied scenery, however, make this short stretch of river also attractive for the flatwater paddler. View this location in Google Maps by clicking here.

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