Walking the Catwalk Under the New River Gorge Bridge

It is impossible to get the full breadth and sense of scale of West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge in any one photo. At one point it was the longest steel single-span arch bridge in the world. Now there are longer ones in Asia, but it is still the longest bridge of this type in the Western Hemisphere! The roadway towers 876 feet above the rushing waters of the New River. To get an idea, you could stack two Statues of Liberty and one Washington Monument and they would fit under this bridge!

We were recently in the area, participating in the New River Birding and Nature Festival. Gail signed me up for an activity that was new for this year: a walk across the gorge on the narrow catwalk that is just underneath the bridge! The “birding” attraction was to hopefully see the local hawks and falcons that love to stalk their prey from these dizzying heights.

So we arrived at the Catwalk Tour place, signed waivers, and got fitted for our harnesses. I confirmed with Gail that she knew where my life insurance papers were. She was too chicken shit to take the walk herself, but brave enough to sign me up!

We were taken to a spot where we could access the catwalk, and were given instructions on how to enjoy the walk and how not to die.

That’s me and my favorite naturalist and birding guide, Mark Garland. Gail and I plan to visit him at his digs in Cape May later this year at the time of the fall migration.

As you can see in the picture, we walked through the locked gate and under the bridge to this end of the catwalk. The catwalk itself is about a yard wide, with thin steel railings about waist high. From the moment I put my foot on the catwalk I could feel the vibration of the bridge. That was weird, as we were still on the part of the bridge that is connected to land. The vibration got worse as cars and trucks drove by overhead.

We then attached a loop from a cord on our harnesses to an overhanging wire. I think the idea was to give us a false sense of security!

And we started our half mile walk, a walk that took about two hours as we stopped frequently to take in the awesome sights.

Far below we could see and hear the river. The “tiny” bridge in the distance was part of the old Hwy 19, which now courses on the bridge we are standing on.

At one point, our tour guide climbed up to another access point and took these pictures of our group:

It took about an hour to get to the center and highest part of the bridge, directly over the river.

Notice the old Hwy 19 bridge again, and the railroad tracks on either side of the river. There are railroad cars on the left side tracks in the distance. And BTW, when the train passed under the bridge, the vibration got much worse.

Also notice the set of rapids. I used my zoom lens to see closer:

Yes, the New River, and the nearby Gauley River, are famous whitewater rafting destinations for those seeking the thrill of class 3-5 rapids. Kayakers like these rivers as well:

Vultures were circling. This one is high over the rafter, but way below us on the bridge. Seeing them from above was an unusual and interesting vantage point for watching vultures. – At least on this day, the vulture missed out on a tasty kayaker meal! ;-)

On the other side of the bridge there were other rapids. You can see the toes of my boots sticking out over the water. Makes me a little dizzy just seeing my own picture!

And finally, the whole point of this walk, we did see a Peregrine Falcon!

This is a magnificent bird! Later in the trip we also got to see it zooming closely over our heads.

Thank you, Gail, for a most unique experience. I will never forget my catwalk tour on the New River Gorge Bridge! :D

Leave me a comment
  • Gail May 19, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    These are really great pictures! I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m glad I didn’t go!

  • Ferd May 19, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    It was super great!
    And I think you would have freaked! :-)

  • Katherine June 2, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    Holy cow Holy cow Holy COW! I would LOVE to do that! I am afraid of heights, unless I’m strapped in to a roller coaster. I would be shaking in my boots. But I would do it… ABSOLUTELY. You ROCK going on that. And your pictures? AMAZING!

    • Ferd June 5, 2012 at 12:12 AM

      You’d love it, Katherine! :-)

  • Comedy Plus June 18, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    I’d have been waiting with Princess Gail on both of these excursions. No way would I ever do either of these things.

    Have a terrific day. Big hug to you both. :)

    • Ferd September 28, 2012 at 12:02 PM

      A delayed Big Hug back at you, Sandee! :-)

  • Scott Gordon September 17, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    I stumbled across this blog as I was looking for pictures of New River, next weekend’s destination for fishing, camping, and relaxation. I feel I owe it the writer to thank him/her for the lovely pictures and birding/naturalism information. An appreciation of Nature’s finer things is something my generation is oft without. Thank you you again for the lovely photos.

    Dr. Scott Gordon, PsyD

    • Ferd September 28, 2012 at 12:03 PM

      Thanks, Scott! I hope you visited and enjoyed the New River Gorge area!