Class IV in an open canoe

Another post prompted this, but not wanting to hijack.

  1. While ratings shouldn’t vary, they do, especially in that 2-3 range traditional canoes tend to be concerned with. I’ve taken a Grumman successfully through a “class IV” (according to the book) on the East coast. I was rather awed in an 18’ raft by what our guide called a class III in the Rockies.

  2. A class IV feature, say a single steep drop over a ledge with no keeper at the bottom, is different than a continuous class IV run down a mountain. On a warm summer day, I enjoy running canoes through huge waves if the price of failure is just a short swim in the pool below.

  3. People lie. They lie in both directions, for similar reasons. I have a friend who was a novice paddler, took a course, and at the end of the course they “Paddled loaded OT Trippers down a continuous class IV run for several days - carrying their own drinking water”. This friend believes it, but I don’t, especially considering that in the whole class of beginners in open canoes (no decks), no-one swamped or pinned on the entire trip. I can understand how an organization might stretch the truth, but not how one would actually take a class down class IV in open traditional canoes.

  4. Just like their SUV’s, people want capacity they don’t necessarily need or plan to use. As such, when people say they want a boat capable of class IV and trips, that doesn’t mean that they intend to trip through class IV loaded, but could be just an ideal or goal for the design direction.

    I tend to abide by the rule that if a typical open canoe can run it with a fair chance of success, it cannot be greater than class 3. Running loaded without swamping - it isn’t a IV. All this excludes playboats and of course C1s and decked canoes.

Class IV in a playboat
I’m probably swimming, or really lucky.

I stand a better chance rowing

My Old Town Disco 160 could be rowed through a lot of stuff but I don’t ever thing I got in any class 4. Infact I’ve never seen what I’d call Class 4 rapids in North Carolina. Rowing give me great bracing and turn and power application, a lower center of gravity. With bags and a pump I felt invincible except in really big dumping surf.

well written Mr. Canoehead

– Last Updated: Dec-04-09 8:45 PM EST –

Eckilsons and my local "limits" run is now a 3+, downgraded from a 4 of a few years ago, something to do with the riverkeeper (Jim M., quite the single blading legend) not wanting the parking areas closed off during real high levels. I laugh how the local boardmembers (97.6% kayakers)downgrade every rating AW sets,although I think AW is fairly ambitious in their numbers in some areas. Still trying to find that cl.3 in Riverton, Erik!
Personally, in response to the guys paddling their 6.5' yaks in cl.3 and calling it a 2, I explain that to people like TommyC1, Eckilson, and I, a class 3 is really a cl. 12, as we paddle TWICE THE BOAT WITH HALF THE PADDLE!!! ;-)

On our regional boards calender last year, there was a picture of a team tandeming a loaded tripper on the Great Whale River, I believe in Quebec. Awesome shot, a definite keeper wave/hole across maybe 70% of the river, and I'd say the sneak route the team was paddling was a 3. Spine tingling, just looking at the photo.. cl.4 tandem I maybe see on a big river, but not loaded, and most rivers I know get their designation by technicality and features, not sheer volume.

rapid ratings
are, um, over rated. many people cannot accurately grade a rapid. furthermore, some believe that a rapid’s grade changes depending on it’s remoteness, or the water temp. it’s not nearly as discernible as say, climbing ratings, where the environment isn’t as dynamic.

I would say the opposite, that many
SE rapids are now under-rated, through the familiarity-breeds-contempt effect. If somehow I could wipe your memory and send you around the bend and into Pattons Run with no scouting whatsoever, you would see why it used to be rated a class 3. And if people READ the AW rapid rating language, they would realize that much of what we call class 2 doesn’t qualify as class 2. Never was a great system, but it’s worse when people don’t read the criteria.

It isn’t hard to run a short class 4 like Bull Sluice or even Corkscrew in an open boat. In fact, Bull Sluice is actually easier in an open boat than it is in a (decked) c-1. The class 4 that gets you is the class 4 that doesn’t provide a chance for dumping or bailing. I saw some very long class 2+ on the Schroon in NY that would swamp all tandems and many open solos just because the rapids were so long and there were so few safe eddies to dump.

Class IV in NC

– Last Updated: Dec-05-09 12:32 AM EST –

Class IV in NC:

Put your Disco 160 on the Nantahala.
Paddle past NOC.
Go under the old iron bridge.
Keep paddling; you'll find one very shortly.

Then drive over to Watauga Gorge.
About a quarter mile off US 321 beweeen Boone, NC
and Hampton, TN.
Please post some photos; especially if you try Zorro, Hydro, and State Line Falls.
You'll be lucky if you still have a canoe after running just those mentioned.


Thanks Bob!
I’ve been in parts of thoses rivers years ago.

I haven’t run the Watauga in ages. But the section I ran came out of the dam and there were some nice little drops, but nothing serious there. Each drop had a nice flat water run after it. I guess farther down you get more creeky places but it seemed to shallow or to narrow to row most of the places I looked at. Wish I could have found others that wanted to try more of it at the time.

I thought the Nantahala was class 3 but I did get dumped in it a lot years ago. Once I got the 40 inch wide boat with the better oars, bags, and electric pump I did better…most of the time.

I miss going out there an tring it in the summers, now I paddle flatwater and occasionally at the coast.

No class 4 in N.C. ???
You need to go back and read the book again.ALMOST every river west of Hickory has one or more IV.

Wilson Creek



Raven Fork

Grag Prong

Big creek

That’s just a SHORT list. As a matter of fact,W.NC has the second most class 4 runs in the U.S.A.[look at the AW flow pages] TN has the most, that’s why I live in E.TN

The only thing you forgot to throw…
into the mix is the levels and CFM of the particular rated rapid on a given day or time.

For instance if you start out on the Nantahala prior to the water being let out early in the morning, those rapids that are normally II’s, will only be flat water.

Go in any WW river a day or two after a all day gully washing rain storm, and many of the III’s will be basically fast but flat water, while some of the II’s now are III’s, and what on a normal day would be a I, now becomes a II or even III.



agreed, and washouts

– Last Updated: Dec-05-09 8:19 AM EST –

sometimes are deceiving as well. I've done my local stretch
I'm guessing 150 times. It's accurately rated as a 2, at prime (not peak) levels I'd say it goes to 2+,people new to this river stretch run into issues, so maybe a 3 for them.
At high levels it will wash out and be fairly monotonous, but then at flood levels, smelling of fertilizer and brown like the Mississippi, it will be flat but tricky, as the underlying current is real strong, will grab your paddle and provide a big surprise if you're not careful.
Of course there's the slalom folks who do "class 4 moves in cl. 2 water" as well as those familiar with a run who can find the "cl.2 line in cl.4 water."
Never paddled NC, but I'm aware of what a ww destination it is. C-boats has a lot of guys from that area, and NOC is down there with a lot of great rivers to run.

The saga continues...

Bob doesn’t mean Lesser Wesser, the
class 3 a long block upstream of NOC. He means Worser Wesser, a nasty rapid downstream of the bridges below NOC. Worser Wesser, was created by dynamiting through a meander loop to get the river out of the path of the railroad. Worser Wesser would not be all that difficult except that if you DO flip, you are going to be dragged over some unnaturally sharp rocks.

Lesser Wesser, or “Nantahala Falls,” is one of the most-run class 3 rapids on the continent. For open boats, it takes skill to avoid taking water on the long approach to the final drop, where additional water intake is to be expected.

Worser Wesser is gonna go bye-bye
They said they were going to do “IT” last winter.

Don’t have a link to info,but am looking for one.

Big plans were made, so far nutn beez doded

It’s the boater not the boat
What are these typical canoes? Tandem tripping boats?

You know folks ran class IV in Grummans when that was what they had. Then they ran them in Old Town Trippers, Mad River Explorers and Bluehole… aw nuts I can’t remember the name of those big old Bluehole tandems. But they did it.

Nope it’s not impossible. Not easy. Not as much fun as in a playboat. Far more risky than most portages if your home is in the boat.

But for someone with the skills it’s certainly not impossible.

Haven’t heard about it, neither in our
Georgia newsletter nor on Boatertalk, dominated by southeaterners. Let me know if you have a link.

I know Payson Kennedy and Claude
Terry used to run the class 4s on Chattooga section 4 in shoe keel Grummans. But that’s a pool and drop river with opportunites for bailing and recovery. I also saw one-time National Open Canoe Slalom champ Mike Rainey and his then wife Andrea run that section tandem in a Tripper.

BUT I agree with Bob that it is not possible to run that section tandem with full camping gear. Summerweight stuff, maybe, but not the type of gear you have to carry for a week in Quetico.

My experience
I began serious WW 30 years ago in NorCal, right after Jim Shelander ran every rapid in the Grand Canyon in an open Mad River Explorer. That was part of the sales pitch for the boat when I bought it.

Two years later I moved to the NE and continued my WW education all over that area (including lessons from John Berry on the Schroon River, which is actually fairly easy for a competent OC boater to run dry), West Virginia, the South and Oregon.

My observations and experience:

  1. In every decade the rating of rapids has been difficult and subjective, for all the reasons others have cited.

  2. There are many rapids in the various places I have paddled all around the country that should be inarguable “4’s” to most people in all decades.

  3. I have seen all these 4’s run competently by both tandem and solo OC’s such as OT Trippers, Blue Hole OCA’s, MRC Explorers, Perception Nantahala’s, and even a few Grummans muscled by old guys in wool shirts and Bean Boots with tire tubes squished under the thwarts (the Grumman WW era was ending by 1980).

  4. Running an open canoe “loaded” presents a different issue – safety and risk tolerance on a wilderness trip. If confronted by class 4’s on wilderness trips, paddlers can portage everything, portage the gear and run the boat empty, or run the boat loaded. What do they do? Depends. I imagine different folks at different times have done all three, with all possible outcomes ensuing. Prudence would counsel not dying boatless in the wilderness, even if the the paddlers consider the rapid generally runnable for them.


Photos of Stateline Falls~ Watauga
A good line running State line on the Watauga…in a canoe! (see the link below)