Adventure boating tips, how to suffer needlessly

So what I like to do is “adventure boating”. I like going places that are new to me. Usually just a day trip into a “pocket wilderness”. Often there is some ww involved. None of this stuff is first descents but some of it is off the beaten path…the river or creek less paddled. So a recent ops thread was about “complicated rivers and lakes”- It got me thinkin’ about my style of boatin’, adventure boatin’ . Full disclosure- I’ve only “lost” one person and they were found within a few hours and they have since managed to get “lost” quite successfully without me. Typically these adventure trips involve wood, portaging, and a bit of ww. Throw in some navigational challenges and weird water levels and you have adventure boating.

  1. get/hire professional help. I’m not as young or skilled as I once was so if it is really complicated I’m going to get help. I’ve got no problem forking out the cash to see a stretch river that is on the upper end of my skill or fitness level. Or enhance your own conditioning, pay for a skills class to enhance your skill level and follow it up with practice and seat time. If you can no longer do the heavy lifting it is okay to hire help. Just be sure they understand your limitations.

Be upfront with other paddling partners. Sometimes the experts are folks you met at the campsite or the put in or via a message board. Discuss safety and gear before hitting the water. Who has the first aid kit, pin kit, swift water training? If you are new to a group discuss your concerns, health, and expectations. While a run may be familar to you there may be others who are having a personal first descent and looking for guidance and support.

  1. manage your expectations, bite off small chunks, keeping skill increases (difficulty) distances and times short. In the winter that means starting early in the day (limited daylight). Unfamiliar shuttle roads take longer than familiar routes so factor that in. If you are on the upper end of your skill level realize you may find yourself portaging, eddy hopping, or scouting more than others would (like the class V boaters who wrote the guidebook). Gopro tends to flatten everything out and diminish gradient. You are more likely to be tired and finish later than expected and the rapids might be bigger than they appeared in the video. Being stressed and tired is more likely to occur after not paddling for a while- think a winter layoff combined with holiday eating, and limited roll practice.

  2. Pack light but take essentials. On many adventures, boating wrestling and wrangling often occur- lining or portaging around rapids can mean dragging over boulders or around wood and nobody wants to get caught in the dark. So here’s some basic stuff that helps- a flashlight (headlamp), snacks, and extra water. I also keep a very basic pin kit- throw rope, webbing, a couple of carabiners , and a prussik. The webbing and biner are important even if you are not doing ww. I use the webbing as a sling to wrap over my shoulder to drag the boat around. You’ve got to have good foot wear- think hiking as much as boating. You really need to dressed for the conditions. You can always peel down if too warm, but if you don’t have it with you, then you can’t put it on. Too much gear makes your boat heavy and a pain to portage.

  3. Manage your day and the group. Keep a rough idea of where you are, where everyone else is, how fast you are traveling, and how much daylight you have. If you are the weak link then stay in the middle of the pack. Don’t rush or hurry but keep moving. Use group strengths to keep moving. “Will you share your extra water? Why don’t I take a turn dragging the heavier boat, let’s pull this boat up together etc”. Stop and deal with first aid issues, or just a case of the heeby jeebies, or a needed rest/water break but then get back on track. It is okay to buddy boat- keeping an eye on each other.

  4. Understand and use paddle and hand signals- all ahead, all stop, I’m okay, are you okay. Signaling is especially important on one boat eddy rivers and creeks Add some strainers and pin potential and you’ll find you want to paddle with familiar folks who can automatically read each other’s body language.

  5. Keep an eye on the sky- thunderstorms, wind, a tornado, maybe even a derachio- hate it when that stuff happens

  6. Keep an eye on the rest of the group- know where everyone is or break into pods (big groups into small groups) , keep spacing sufficient to effectively rescue each other but do not get in each other’s way. Ask each other “are you doing okay? how’s it going? need to stop? water break?” Keep others in sight.

  7. Be flexible- don’t be afraid to alter the plan when the conditions warrant changes. Pre-trip beta, goals and trip plans are necessary for planning but real time conditions should influence decision making. Accept help if you need help. Provide help if it will benefit others. Leave your pride at home.

  8. Collect beta. On-site engage the locals. Chat folks up. Use them as probes if they are available… Often local paddlers have the best data for river access and river levels. Club and facebook groups that paddle in the area can also offer advice. Be sure to read the comments section on aw and collect guidebooks during preplanning. On really tricky or remote stuff, spend a day driving to the access points, hike in and scout conditions first hand. Measure and calculate gradient between access points but realize some gradient comes in chunks.

  9. Don’t be afraid to say no. Maybe it’s not such a good idea, but once you’re out there then just keep smilin’. You can rebound from being cold, wet, tired and hungry. It looked like such a good idea on google earth!

I’ve got plans to do Upper Glade and Shades of Death Creek (both upstream of Babcock state park (grist mill) WV) this Spring. Some class II/III adventure boatin’ if you get bored. Anybody got any beta on those?

You left out a couple of cardinal rules.

Don’t forget the toilet paper, and

No damn whining!


Yeah I forgot to mention tp, mine seems to always get damp. As far as whining, that’s kind of rare but I do notice that I go through quite a few paddle partners. I’m not the most rugged physically and have to stop more now and use others more for assistance. There is no advantage of complaining if you’re not going to do anything about your discomfort. If there is something we as a group can do to remedy the discomfort then complain away until we address the situation.

We talk about the perfect boat, paddling techniques, and how to have the perfect day. I don’t do any of that stuff very well. There’re a lot of days I want predictable and easy but sometimes I like to roll the dice a bit.

I don’t like getting caught in the dark unless it is planned event and not particularly fond of trips to the emergency room . Calling the authorites to look for someone who was lost was my low point.
This particular individual seems to have a knack for that and it seems to be a recurring event for them (without me along). I take some solace in that. The rest is all pretty good in my book.

In case you get really bored, a sampling from the wvwa message board. Let me know if the links don’t work so I can delete them

too much wood

crazy low flow (ELF) dries run

blind horizon line

high water and a new takeout

charlie, brent, and myself all on a first personal descent

after dark shuttle adventures

lost gauley muck

My favorite agony is a run where you have to portage multiple times around logjams, through poison ivy fields and green briar, lifting and dragging boats over fallen trees, with mosquitoes buzzing all around.

Additional agony points apply if it is raining.

Suffering is mostly a result of bad planning.
Attitude is everything on a canoe trip.