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! 😀

New River Gorge Birding and Nature Festival

Birding enthusiasts came from all over the country, and a few from abroad. It was the same with the guides, who were experts from all corners. It’s an annual birding event of the first order. It meets at the New River Gorge because of its unique geography on the Appalachian Plateau. The New River Gorge National River offers a wide variety of habitats in its 53 miles of river and steep V-shaped gorge. Riparian areas between forest and stream, mixed hardwood forests, old fields, and high cliffs provide for an array of birds nesting or living year-round within the borders of the National River. This area in southern West Virginia is at the heart of the upland, hardwood forests that are a crucial stopover habitat for the continued survival of several neo-tropical migratory species, including several Warbler species, and the Scarlet Tanager.

I was limited to two cold, overcast days because of my work schedule. Bummer. Gail had the chance to spend an extra, even colder day, 29 degrees at the crack of dawn, which is the typical starting time for these events. But even so, our group spotted 40 different species on each of the two days I was there. This is less than half of the usual. Photography was also less than ideal, though I will share at least a few of my pictures of the Yellow Throated Warbler that was my favorite bird of this trip.

Here is part of our birding group at the New River Gorge, with the famous New River Gorge Bridge in the background:

The New River:

Railroads parallel the edge of the river, dating back to the time of active coal mining that started over 100 years ago. Coal mining has long since been “tapped out” in this area, which is now a protected National River.

The Yellow Throated Warbler:

Sunday Scenery

We spent a few days this past week up in West Virginia’s New River Gorge. We were there for a birding trip, which is held during the week when many species stop during their Spring migration. It is particularly attractive for birding purposes as there are so many habitats along the length and depth of the gorge. There were birders in attendance from all over the country. Unfortunately, it was a cold and overcast few days, and I’m sure it limited the number of species we saw. It certainly limited the enjoyment of being outdoors. But that’s why God made sweaters, coats and gloves! I’m grateful for the interesting birds we did see, and for the rain holding off to the evenings and nights. At least we stayed dry!

Here is a picture of the famous New River Gorge Bridge. You can see a bit of the river if you look closely.

And from the bottom of the gorge: