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Marshall Expedition: Buchanan, VA to Sandstone Falls, WV

A lot has happened in the last few weeks on the Marshall Expedition. At last writing the crew was holed up in Buchanan, VA waiting out the rain with about 65 more up-river miles to cover. The river increased in difficulty as the level rose and rapids came in quick succession. We reached the head of the James River on Tuesday, May, 1 and as expected the journey became increasingly difficult. Though we only had 25 miles to cover on the Jackson, we would pick up over 200 feet of elevation in that short distance; nearly a quarter of what we had done over 200 miles on the James.

Using a pully to ascend a rapid on the Jackson

Through seemingly endless rapids we clawed our way up the Jackson River with ropes, pulleys and determination. At one point the boat was sunk in order to fit underneath a low water bridge, and the last two nights of the trip into Covington the crew worked until midnight. Exhausted but elated we made Covington early in the morning on Saturday, May 5th where we had our boat on display at a folk heritage festival, and joined one of our sponsors and fellow river history buffs for the Virginia Canals and Navigation's Society annual conference.

Crew upon arrival in Covington

Sunday evening we trailered the boat over the Allegheny Mountains to the Greenbrier River and put in at nearly exactly the same spot that Chief Justice John Marshall did 200 years ago. In the last week the crew reveled in the beautiful scenery of the Greenbrier River as we meandered through the mountains. Swollen by recent rains, the Greenbrier presented very few navigational challenges and we relished the feeling of running rapids downstream after a month of climbing up them. West Virginians have been incredibly welcoming, and we have been hosted by many individuals who were strangers only a week ago.

Fire light on the batteau

Yesterday morning we passed into the mighty New River, where our biggest challenge to date awaits fifty miles downstream: the New River Gorge. After negotiating several technical rapids, we have arrived at Sandstone Falls, a 23' vertical drop. Skirting the main drop on the far left bank, the Mary Marshall is moored up just above the falls, awaiting a team of draft horses that will carry us around the falls tomorrow morning. Listening to the roar of whitewater, I think of little else but guiding our 43'x 7' vessel down the high volume class IV whitewater that awaits downstream; it is going to be a wild ride.

Bacon's falls on the Greenbrier

To find out more about our journey please visit our blog at

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