8ft canoe pole - Update

I spent about 1.5 hrs trying to pole upstream at 2 different rapids on the South Llano river this weekend. Both of these rapids were basically river wide gravel bars where the water depth varied from about 1ft to 4 inches over a 10-20 yard stretch of the river. I was not able to proceed up either rapid despite multiple tries. I tried both a sitting and a kneeling position. Kneeling seemed a little more powerful, but not significantly.

In both cases I was able to pole up to almost the shallowest point (fastest current). However at that point I just stopped in place. I could hold position for a short time (by poling as quickly as I could) but at some point the bow would swing enough that I could not hold it upstream. Once the bow swung around I was quickly pushed downstream. I made many many tries with the same result.

Some observations:

  1. I had a difficult time deciding where to grip the pole, ie what length was the most efficient.

  2. I was not sure what to do in the recovery phase. If I left the pole in the water and tried to just slide it up and forward I seemed to produce significant reverse force and slow the canoe. Lifting it out of the water seemed very awkward and slowed my stroke rate.

  3. I did pretty good poling in sections where the water depth was consistant. However when I was in sections where the water was rapidly shallowing (and in some cases deepening again) I had great difficulty in getting a firm plant and good forward force.

  4. In deeper water I could turn the canoe almost as quickly with sweep strokes with the pole fully extended as I could with a single blade paddle.

  5. Of all the advice I got on paddling in shallow water “get out and walk” was the best. A quick exit and re-entry got me across several bars where the kayaks ran aground. At some point I think I used every one of the different shallow-water suggestions except “get a short bent shaft”. The “get out and walk” also worked pretty good getting upstream through the shoal rapid when I finally gave up trying to pole.

  6. I am told that all the “rapids” we went through were not even rated, ie less than class I. At various points 2 people capsized, I was forced to brace and got enough water in the canoe that I had to stop and empty it to get stable again, a couple of people hit rocks and got turned and came through backwards, I got wedged sideways between rocks when I missed making a 75 degree turn, and we were repeated told that we had to make a hard right or left after a drop to avoid a strainer or being pinned on a high bank. If class I is significantly harder than these then I can not imagine ever doing a class 2.

  7. The South Llano River now has some excellent faux algae on many of the rocks as a result of my great skill in transfering the green Krylon paint from my repair work to those rocks which seemed to need a little more color.

    Thanks again for for all your help and suggestions.


Practice makes prefect

– Last Updated: May-06-08 6:54 AM EST –

and paddling in moving water does take a little practice.

I’m probably not the one to comment on good poling technique, but it sounds like you couldn’t get enough leverage to push upstream from a kneeing position. Standing with a 12’ pole would increase your leverage a lot. Might also have been easier to move upstream if you could have moved back in the boat to elevate the bow. This would keep the bow from getting caught in the current and sweeping you back downstream. Its hard to do in a solo boat though since the seat is in the way. Its easier to adjust the trim in a tandem. Try going up the same stretch of river standing in a 16’ – 17’ tandem with a 12’ pole, and I’ll bet you’ll have better luck.

Or get out and walk…

body mechanics
I just can’t picture the body mechanics that would make kneeling poling moderately effective. But, I’m sure there’s a “disabled” person out there with no legs and massive upper body strength that could make our jaws drop after a little practice.

Tough to go upstream kneeling
I agree with Erik…trying to get enough leverage to go upstream from a kneeling position could be tough. Also, it is far easier to lean and steer the boat in a standing position, because your feet are firmly planted, and you can use your entire torso and upper legs to move the boat under you. I imagine trying to torque the boat one way or the other with a shortened length of pole would be much much more difficult. Not impossible, and easier with practice, but nowhere near as easy as standing. Of course, that could be difficult in a tender solo boat, which as I recall is the reason you were trying the kneeling technique. But, if you’re going to practive, why not practice standing? If you get comfortable poling a solo canoe in a standing position, you’ll be able to pole anything!

On the other hand, I can see some advantages to snubbing your way downstream down a rapid in a kneeling position. More stable, a bit more control.

Keep it up!


Two poles, like ski poles
I’ve wondered if you wanted to pole a boat sitting or kneeling if that wouldn’t be the better approach. Maybe using 4-5 feet poles because they would need to be light to handle with one hand–clearly it would only work in very shallow water.

Has anybody tried this?

A couple of thoughts

– Last Updated: May-06-08 11:36 AM EST –

First, to those who can't imagine that poling while kneeling could be effective, or that the only reasonable method for poling is while standing, try to remember where this topic got started. Even the experienced polers chimed-in during earlier discussions to say that poling while standing up in a solo canoe would be strictly for the best of the best. Most polers use wide tandem boats, not squrrelly little solos.

Second, if you needed to make sharp turns to avoid being pinned, that wasn't an "unrated" rapid. A lot of times, just the need to maneuver a relatively crooked course is all it takes to earn a rapid a Class II rating (though usually there's greater wave size too). I can see why the really shallow riffles might be considered "less than Class-I".

Rating a rapid is somewhat "loose" at times. Here's a shot of a rapid that is a short and easy Class-II...


...but the guide books always call it a Class-III. I imagine it could be a III when the water is high. Books tend to over-rate rapids, while "experts" in the company of beginners sometimes like to under-rate them.

don’t think, in fact I’m pretty sure

– Last Updated: May-06-08 11:47 AM EST –

one handed poling wouldn't work on anything but dead calm water. Even a 4' pole with your hand on one end would be lousy leverage.
Funny about the classification system, but so true.
I remember looking up mjamja's boat specs. Kinda like poling the Encore, Chuck, or maybe a seakayak. Definite "X games" material.

If you read the rapid classification
language and apply it strictly, it is going to be hard to rate the rapid in the picture as class 2. Traditionally, some rapids even harder than the one pictured (Pattons Run on the Nantahala for example) are rated as “only” class 2, but it doesn’t work if one follows the text of the rating system.

The other thing I would say is that the paddler in the picture you reference is running a chicken route. This is the same thing I did when running Nemo Rapid for the first time, alone, on the Emory in TN. I had read the guidebook written by my friend Monte Smith, and I went down the right side rather than bulling through the big ledge hole in the center.

I have often been grateful that guidebook writers, particularly of western guidebooks, have been correct and conservative in rating class 3 rapids. Shoving rapids down into the class 2 category just because they are easy for us, is not doing any favors for novice boaters coming up.

Another idea
Rather than pole in either a sitting or kneeling position, which limits the abilty to torque the boat by twisting the upper body and leaning into the pole thrust, how about trying to pole on one knee? Like a genuflection to those of you that do that church thing. The pole side of the boat is the side that you kneel on, while the other foot is planted on the opposite side. This gives a bit more mechanical advantage, and still should be a relatively stable position in a solo boat. This would be analogous to the traditional polers stance where one foot is placed forward of the other, and all poling is done on the back-foot side (as opposed to a racing stance where the feet are planted opposite each other, and poling is easily accomplished on either side of the boat).

With practice (which is the same for poling on one side while standing), you should be able to control the direction of the boat adequately from one side. Try it in shallow flatwater first. For upstream work, you will definitely need to figure out a way to get weight off the bow so it rides above the effects of a current. Also, pad the bottom or try to make the surface a bit more tactile, so the feet and knees do not slide around at all.

One of these days, I’ll try this technique in the SRT. I’m interested now and seeing how it feels. Intuitively, this modified stance would, I think, be superior to both standing and kneeling in a twitchy solo boat. But I’ve been wrong before, so the wife tells me.


I will give it a try.
The conditions at the rapid where I spent the most time poling were a little more severe than I really wanted for my first practice. However, this was the place I could go right at the park and practice solo. When I was traveling with the group I only took some time to try poling at the very end of the trip while everyone was pulling out their kayaks.

I did some rough calculations that said the current speed was between 4 and 6 mph right where I was getting stalled going upstream. That matched pretty well with my impression of my speed when I just let the current carry me over the gravel bar.

I am going to try to find some shallow flatwater in the next week so I can practice on just forward technique rather than have to deal with all the boat control issues in the stronger current. I will give the single knee kneeling position a try.


what is impossible this time
will be probable a few times from now

enjoyable awhile after that

relaxing in the end.

Keep on plugging away and trying different things.

One of my favorite things about canoeing is the un-ending learning curve with moving water.

Chicken Route?

– Last Updated: May-06-08 5:33 PM EST –

If I recall correctly, there are three nearly identical chutes you can take down the section seen here, and I took the one on the far right because with the water being so low, it was the only route that clearly did NOT have a rock waiting to smash the bow at the bottom. With the other two chutes, I could tell the bottom of the chutes quite likely had rocks, which most likely were deep enough not to hit, but I saw no reason to test that judgment. In any case, I'm looking forward to hitting that river again at higher water. It was much less challenging than everyone said it would be; kind of a let-down, really.

All the books say this is a four foot drop, overall, but to me it looks more like three when viewed from below (in this view, it appears to be about half that). The books must measure the drop to the base of the tailwaters another 80 feet downstream in order to come up with that four-foot figure. At higher water they say there's a four-foot curling wave at the bottom, but again, I wouldn't be surprised if it's closer to three feet (I haven't been there at normal flow - the last two summers have been very dry). Still, I think it's safe to say that in high water, such a drop with such a wave would be a "short" Class III (so maybe a III-?). I've never known someone who would call a three-foot drop a Class-I, except people who routinely do stuff befitting Mountain Dew commercials (as well as "experts" talking tough).

Okay, I just found this. I don't know if it's legitimate or not, as I seldom pay attention to these things:

"Class I: Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Class II: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class II+".

Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated "Class III -" or "class III+" respectively."

At low water, you CAN verify that any particular chute at the pictured drop is passable if you are comfortable perched near the edge, but that's something a novice couldn't do. Novices definitely need to scout this to pick a route (you can't see over the edge from a novice's safe distance), so I think that makes this an easy Class II according to this text. As to this being a Class-III when the water is closer to normal flow, they say swamped canoes are a pretty common occurrance here, so I'd guess the Class-III rating in that case wouldn't be too far off, but again, it's an easy Class III because once through it, what remains in front of you is minor.

Like I say, I really don't pay a lot of attention to this stuff, and I'm pretty low on the experience scale in whitewater, so maybe I'm way off base in this case. I think you are correct in figuring that it's better for a guide book to over-rate a rapid, just to play it safe for those who might not be prepared for what they are getting into.

I guess I missed the one-handed…
…thing. I thought he was using both hands, so I must have read it too quickly.

I was using two hands. I think the one-handed comment was in reply to SeriousSummer’s comment about using 2 single hand poles like you would use for cross-country skiing.


yup, in response to SeriousSummerNM