I have quite a bit of experience in slower moving water, Class I and the occasional class II. I’m ready to start exploring more class II and up floats and have a question about scouting the rapids- Given my experience, there is little scouting involved, so when it comes to bigger water, ledges, etc… without getting out to scout, what should I be looking for? Is there any “golden rule” that you look for first and then go from there.

How do those of you that have the experience set up for your run?

Class II
by definition has relatively little chance of major consequence if you screw up.

So, if it really is class II, and you have a clear sightline through the entire rapid, if you’re feeling good, just go for it. (I’m assuming you are with buddies).

If you don’t have a sightline, certainly you would want to get out and scout for strainers or other obstructions.

If it’s a wide, or long, or “big” rapid, you might want to get out to scout for the “best” line, or features you either want to avoid, or want to hit.

Just a question

– Last Updated: Dec-20-07 3:08 PM EST –

Have any WW organizations done ratings or other descriptions on any of the stretches you are considering? It's unclear whether you need a way to identify stuff that is class II versus stuff that is class III, or have that information and and are just looking for a way to get a better read of how extreme things are running within the known ratings on any given day.

Yes- I have figured out from research they are class II+ I’m just wondering when I finally approach them, what is the best way to navigate them ( In a canoe, always tandem)


wait for warm water,
… paddle at low to lower moderate water levels, get out and scout, kneel, use flotation, swim on the upstream side of the canoe, keep your feet up higher than you think you need to, reapeat as necessary.

Have a ball. Doing class II+ with a good tandem partner is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a canoe.

But keep in mind, it can be dangerous.

Read "Path of the Paddle"
Bill Mason’s “Path of the Paddle” provides more detail than you actually need to know, but it’s a great resource for any basic paddler looking to improve their whitewater canoe skills. In my experience, I’ve seen that most people who have a modicum of light whitewater experience but no formal training are never fully aware that there’s a whole new world of maneuverability at their disposal once they abandon the notion of simply pointing the canoe in the direction they want to go, in a manner similar to driving a car (I was one of those aim-the-boat folks too at one time). “Path of the Paddle” is as good as any book I know for introducing more advanced paddling techniques. I’d wager that your ways of evaluating rapids and choosing your route will change a lot after reading this book. Your on-the-water practice time will be more productive too.

From experience

– Last Updated: Dec-20-07 6:17 PM EST –

if I can't see my way through I stop and scout. Real Class II is getting close to the edge because of the various ratings and that is another topic of discussion. I paddle alone so I have no one else to worry about which also means there is no one around to help me.

I look at a Class whatever and take in the whole picture because where I want to go may not be where I get to go. Study the rocks, logs and everything. Consider being in every place on the hazard and consider turning over. Looking at the hazard also doesn't tell you what it is going to be like in a canoe or kayak. And never underestimate them because it was the esay ones that kicked my ass the most. On solid Class II and above I never consider making it through and I look at what will happen and where I'll go if things don't go well. Because I use a rec kayak I don't try to roll it in rapids. It's easier to swim and recue the boat.

I guess this boils down to; Plan for the worst and go for it.

Be safe and have a great time "neighbor in the mountains".

Paddlin' on

Get EJ’s river running basics video
It is the best out there for teaching you how to read whitewater.

Celia, the problem is that most paddlers
and paddling organizations are not following the written text of the AW river rapid difficulty ratings.

Moreover, changes made by AW people have resulted in the rating of class I, class II, and easy class II rapids being muddled and fudged so much as to be useless to the great unwashed majority of paddlers who need them most. All the focus is on arguments about how to rate class 5 and 6. Suggestions that some rapids rated class 2 (Pattons Run) are actually class 3 are greeted with derision, and some even argue that Lesser Wesser is only a class 2.

Published guidebooks are usually more conservative, and more consistently correct, in rating rapids. However, many streams are not rated in detail in guidebooks.

"Without getting out to scout"
why don’t you want to get out to scout?

especially if you are looking at Class II plus.

If you cannot see what is on the other side of that big boulder that is in the middle of some WW then you should scout it.

If you can see and pick your line, then go for it, but if not and you have never been there before than scout it.

I hope you don’t mind, but I looked at your profile to see where you lived.

The perfect river for you to paddle next season would be the Nantahala River in western NC.

When you make that first turn after the put-in you will quickly realize why it is adviseable to scout the unknown.



When in doubt…

– Last Updated: Dec-20-07 8:06 PM EST –

When in doubt; get out & scout.

Don't paddle into big drops where you can't see the bottom, or rapids that are hidden behind boulders, unless you know what is there. Just because you ran it safely one time before & there were no hazards, doesn't mean there is nothing new there. That is need to know information. Many rivers change at different water levels too. What you don't see may be a strainer, a rope, barbed wire, a length of cable, a trapped boat, an old tire, a barrel, and any number of obstacles. The items I mentioned are items I've personally seen on class 2+, and class 3 rivers.

3 things that will help you immensely is the ability to do eddy turns, peel outs, and back ferries.
You can use those skills to scout while moving downstream.

Go with more experienced paddlers that will help you learn skills/techniques you want/need to know.

I second JackL's & g2d's statements regarding the Nantahala river in N.Carolina. It may be class 2, class 2+ or class 3; I don't know & don't really care. Great fun river to learn on. When you come around that hard right turn & see Patton's Run, you'll understand why it would have been nice to have scouted it "before" you ran it. Have run it about 20 or more times; haven't swam there yet & don't want too!
Have seen people swim it; they didn't look like they were having any fun at all. Ask jboyd; he swam it! My advice; stay.....way.....right & set up to be there early.

Scouting is good.........If nothing else you get to stretch your legs, take a leak, have some refreshment, take a few photos, and slow down your mind a little.
Watch out for snakes when scouting. You can hurt yourself "real bad" jumping from boulder to boulder in wet river shoes.


I heard someone say…
…as we approached a drop which none of us had done before:

“You will always have other chances to get out and look, but you have only one chance to run it totally blind.”

You realize of course, he was joking.

The Cube
With the type of rapids you’re going to see in Spring, it’s best to have The Cube (90-beer cooler) in the middle for stability and balance. Especially Devil’s Jump.

II+ and up
are getting out of the category of “floats” and more into the range of “runs.” Not just vocabulary: Class III is best run with a bit of aggression, not passively. Look where most of the water is going, that’s usually where you want to be. But you shouldn’t be totally blind. If you’re running that level of water for the first time you should be with others who have been there before. Not that I follow that rule, having boat scouted the Upper Ocoee pre-Olympics.

the golden rule
from my ww days is “When in Doubt, Get Out and Scout”

I dont want to start another discussion but if your paddling anything above class II it would be a lot safer if you were in a group. This is even more critical in cold weather. An experienced paddler told me when I was starting out if you have 2 paddlers in your group all you have is a witness and 3 or more you have a rescue if you get in trouble.

also if
in a group, one of you can spot a car at the take out and then you don’t have to walk back to the put in carrying your kayak(or leave it at the take out for someone to steal)

Thanks- didn’t realize
I have been told that a class 2 out west is often what would be called a class around here, so it appears there are at least regional diff’s. I wonder how long there will be highly focused interest in class 5 or 6 given the likely number of people that paddle it.

Beyond me for now- I’ll be happy if I can get to making an upright 75 yard class 3 run thru the Zoar Gap this season.

also water level
effects the ratings. What is a class II at one water level could be a class III or IV if the level gets higher or lower.