New ratings explanation for Classes I-V

One of our local outfitters posted this recently, I have to say it is the most succinct and graphic explanation of the grades of whitewater I’ve read yet. Having once survived (barely) the 7 hour trip down the class III to V Cheat Canyon, I can totally relate to all the scenarios.

EW River Ratings explained:

(used by permission Michel Neray)

Class 1: Easy. fast moving riffles with small waves. Swimming is pleasant, shore is easily reached. A nice break from paddling. Shore is easily reached. Almost all gear and equipment is recovered. Boat is just slightly scratched.

Class II: Novice. straightforward rapids with nice clear channels which are evident without scouting. Swimming to eddies requires moderate effort. Climbing out of river may involve slippery rocks and shrub induced lacerations. Paddles travel great distance downstream which require lengthy walk. Something unimportant is missing. Boat hits submerged rock leaving visible dent on frame or new gash in plastic.

Class III: Intermediate. rapids with moderate irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Water is swallowed. Legs are ground repeatedly against sharp, pointy rocks. Several eddied are missed while swimming. Difficult decision to stay with boat results in moment of terror when swimmer realizes they are downstream from the boat. Paddle is recirculated in a small hole way upstream. All personal possessions are removed from boat and floated in different directions. Paddling partners run along the riverbank shouting helpful instructions. Boat is munched against large boulder hard enough to leave a series of deep gouges. Sunglasses fall off.

Class IV: Advanced. water is generally colder than class III , intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise swimming in turbulent water. Swimming may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. “Must” moves are downgraded to “strongly suggested” after they are missed. Sensation of disbelief experienced while about to swim large drops. Frantic swimming toward shore is alternated with frantic swimming away from shore to avoid strainers. Rocks are clung to with a death grip. Paddle is completely forgotten. One shoe is removed. Hydraulic pressure completely removes waterproof box with all the important stuff. Paddle partners run along shore looking genuinely concerned while loft throw ropes 20 feet behind swimmer. Paddle partners stare slack-jawed in amazement at boat, which is finally pinned against a major feature. Climbing up riverbank involves inverted tree. One of the spring-loaded pins that attaches watch to watchband is missing. Contact lenses are moved to rear of eyeballs.

Class V: Expert. The water in this rapid is usually under 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Most gear is destroyed on rocks in minutes, if not seconds. If the boat survives, it is in need of about 3 days of repair. There is no swimming, only frantic movements to keep from becoming one with the rocks and to get a breath from time to time. Terror and panic set in as you realize your paddle partners don’t have a chance in hell of reaching you. You come to a true understanding of the terms maytagging and pinballing That hole that looked like nothing when scouted, has a hydraulic that hold you underwater until your lungs are close to bursting. You come out only to realize you have 75% of the rapid left to swim. Swim to the eddy, what the %#*% eddy! This rapid usually lasts a mile or more. Hydraulic pressure within the first few seconds removes everything that can come off your body. This includes gloves, socks, neoprene socks, sunglasses, hats and clothing. That $900 dry suit, well, it might hold up to the rocks. Your paddle is trash. If there is a strainer, well, just hope it’s old and rotten so it breaks. Paddle partners on shore trying to run and keep up with you. The horror is reflected on their faces as they stare at how you are being tossed around. They are hoping to remember how to do CPR. They also really hope the cooler with the beer is still intact. They are going to need a cold one by the time you get out. Climbing out of this happens after the rapid is over. You will probably need the help of a backboard, cervical collar, and a Z-rig. Even though you have broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, missing digits and ear, and a concussion, you won’t feel much because you have hypothermia. Enjoy your time in the hospital, with the time you take recovering you won’t get another vacation for three years.

Clever, but does not solve the problems
with class 2-3. Many rapids just don’t fit the existing definition for class 2 at all, but are no longer regarded as worthy of class 3 classification.

The vast majority of paddlers doing whitewater are doing class 2-3+, but we have a classification system that is quite misleading. I’m an American Whitewater Affiliation member and have talked to the AW people in charge of the classification, but because they are super paddlers, they focus on class 4-5-6.

Best Recent Pnet Post

that might be fun to share
at our beginners whitewater clinic in a few weeks. Its more of a carnage scale than rapid rating- but an entertaining read.

just one shoe?
wait…let me check…can’t feel other foot…

Four stars. nm

ratings are a broad brush
ratings need to be vague. there is just too much variety. consider class III. is it class III big water, class III narrow technical creek, class III because of the move at the top, class III because of the move at the bottom, etc…

plus, throw in changing water levels, temp, etc…

use a rating description as an overall feel for what a river or rapid is generally considered, and assume give-or-take of up to a full class based on conditions. then look at it for yourself and make a decision on run or not to run.