Speaking of rapids

The rapids where I got to practice a wet exit are “class 2”.

I was youtubing for class 2 and the a LOT of the “class 2” that people on there are making movies of look a lot like what the river trail maps call “riffles” when I have gone through them, and at least one section of “riffles” just below Oil City was a whole lot choppier than a lot of those “class 2” vidieos.

Of course if I look up Oil City rapids, they all show the water when the flow is way down. Is that the deal? Are rapida classed at the minimum flow rate?

Anyway, what are the rules for class X rapids?

Classification often changes

– Last Updated: Jun-18-14 9:44 AM EST –

based on flow level. So a rapid that might be a Class III at normal flows can become a Class IV or above at higher flows. Sometimes it works the other way, in that a rapid can become more challenging at lower flows.

The key takeaway is the importance of learning what is happening on the river at the specific level you're paddling, rather than relying on general descriptions. When in doubt, scout, and it never hurts to follow someone who knows the lines when you don't.

is it regional also?
…sort of like how a black diamond ski run in Michigan would only be classified as an intermediate run out west?

The AW classification for class 2 is all
screwed up. There are many rapids that meed the written definition for class 3 but are stuffed into the class 2 category just because of the kayaker-familiarity-breeds-contempt factor.

Assume that some of the class 2 rapids you’ll see are stronger and more technically demanding than you would ever expect from the AW rapid description.

No precise rules or definitions
The classification most commonly used for rivers in the East and Midwest is that of the American Whitewater Association which grades rapids Class I through Class VI:


The American Whitewater Association also maintains a list of benchmark rapids of the different classes which are found on popular whitewater streams:


Rapids on large volume rivers out West are often graded on a completely different scale of 1 to 10 in difficulty.

Often two experienced whitewater boaters might disagree on a river or a rapid’s difficulty rating. The situation has been rendered more confusing since many rapids and rivers have been downgraded over the years as equipment, experience, and skills have improved. Old quide books will often rate whitewater runs and rapids as more difficult than modern ones. Whitewater rafting companies will often call Class III rapids Class IVs, I suppose to stroke their clients’ egos.

In general, Class I rapids can usually be run by boaters with little whitewater experience. They might have waves and small drops but the waves are too small to swamp an open boat and generally if the boater(s) has enough control to keep the craft pointed downstream they will do OK.

Class II covers quite a bit of ground. The AW scheme describes “straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels” but actually some Class II rapids can be quite technical requiring fairly good boat control and quick maneuvering. They are still not difficult enough to be graded Class III because the usual water level at which they are run is not “pushy”. As a lot of Class III rapids were downgraded, they got pushed into the Class II category which became a bit crowded as a result.

I would not necessarily go by the rating someone posting a video on youtube gives a rapid. I have seen straightforward Class II rapids called Class IVs fairly frequently.

The degree of difficulty of whitewater rapids are assigned a class (I thru VI). Something that is very important is NOT factored into that classification; individual paddler’s skill level.

The degree of difficulty of a particular rapid may have been assigned by an expert paddler.

An expert’s class II can easily be a class III for a beginner…

A beginner has no business on a technical class III rapids until they have mastered technical class II rapids, in my opinion.

A rapid that is a straightforward class II in low flow conditions, may turn into a technical class III rapid, in high flow conditions.

Make good decisions; avoid nasty, natural consequences.

Or not; your option.


pblanc, I have been out west a lot, but
I’ve never seen the old 1 to 10 scale in use.

As for the AW classification, it badly needs another step between class 2 and class 3.

Calling Pattons Run and Bump just class 2 is thoroughly ridiculous.

Colorado River
The 1-10 scale is used very commonly on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

learning the different parts of rapids
really helped me…fwiw.

I’ve heard that, but the folks I know
who have run it, have not used 1-10 at all. I think it’s a holdover among commercial rafters.

is a vid of the “rapids” that looks nothing like what I have gone through there in a canoe or now the kayak. That must be a later in the year vid. There isnt enough water there to get your shorts wet and I was unable to touch.

If you look at the beggining of the vid, that is about where I lost it, The water was choppy and there was enough height to fully swamp one canoe and the rest bailed at least a little. Except for the scouts in my 17’ Grumman. 2 light scouts with a little gear and that barge has just bumped across the top of that section every time. Anyway, thats where I decided to demonstrate wet exit for the scouts. My story, I tell it my way.

You have to consider the consequences of a swim as well as the difficulty of the rapid.There’s a huge difference in safety between a rapid that ends in a quiet pool and a similar rapid that is followed by more fast water and hazards.

Look downstream past the rapid. Are there easily accessible eddies? Sand or gravel beaches? Smooth, rounded rocks? Or do you see jagged undercut rocks and no easy exit from the main flow?

On a couple of the local rivers there are play holes just upstream of nice pools. They’re great places for novices to try new skills because when you get flipped you’re immediately flushed into quiet water. The same hole at the top of a rapid would be something for a novice to avoid.

Was there a link
to a video that go left out of your post.

Oh, here is a link


Oh, here is a link


so your learning there’s

– Last Updated: Jun-19-14 8:53 AM EST –

a lot of variation in how rapids are rated and how different or even the same rapid looks like on a different day. The ratings and guidebook descriptions give a general sense of what to expect but that's about it and the rating system is very useful in helping to decide the overall difficulty of a run.
What you want to develop on the water is a critical eye for each individual rapid you encounter. Worry less about what class it is and instead focus on how to successfully navigate it with minimal consequences to your self. Conditions change- be it your skill level, type of boat, water level, water temperature, and realize new hazards may appear (strainers and debris) and of course your own fitness level may vary and change how you evaluate a rapid.

Last summer I probably ran Woods Ferry Rapid on the middle gauley river in wv, 7 or 8 times, the line, difficulty, and hazards changed with the amount of flow. Here's an illustration of how this one rapid changes with flow.

at 600-800 cfs you start center and then run far right the whole way down over a couple of two and three foot drops as the pinning rock behind the juicer is out of play (pretty simple line, easy III)

at 800-1500 cfs two options: start center, work left into rocky eddies, boof across corner of what is known as the elevator shaft or you can try option 2) run center and then right and then you must do an aggressive upstream ferry in front of julies juicer which is a larger flat boulder with a crease (a legitimate class iv line either way, but easier at lower flow to make the ferry, or higher levels to make the boof)

above 1500 cfs- 2600 cfs a sneak line opens up- work center then left, then left again into eddies which are now less rocky and now bleed out into a series of one and two foot steps- simplest of all runs (easy class III)
at 1500 up to 2600 you can tackle the elevator shaft head on,which is what the commercial rafts do. Its more of hole and less of a ledge as the water level increases and then do an aggressive upstream ferry at the bottom in front of the juicer rock (class iv to easy easy class iv depending on water level)

The rapids on any river get downgraded when they have a "standard release level". When the water level is constant people become more familiar with the river, features, and lines. It becomes predictable- and thus the rapids seem easier. The Nanty is a perfect example of this phenomena. Because we've got it dialed in we downgrade the whole thing to class II.

Your a step ahead of the masses. Your thinking for yourself, noting how the run changes with the water level. That's good, your on the right track.

My friends must be old-fashioned
I have a number of friends who have paddled the Grand quite a few times including one who does so every year on non-commercial trips and they all seem to continue to use this rating scheme.

The seriousness of that guy

– Last Updated: Jun-19-14 12:38 PM EST –

I looked at a few of the videos in that series last night. I got a kick out of the guy talking about how useful his spray cover would be while running that rapid, how (as I recall) he scouted the rapid on two successive days, carefully deciding exactly where he was going to go, and then his comments after getting one tiny splash above the gunwale that thanks to his spray cover (which didn't even wrap over the edges of the boat, so whatever water landed on it would end up in the boat anyway), there wasn't much water in the boat. Oh, and his spray cover was a shower curtain, tied down about about as securely as you'd expect of an unmodified shower curtain.

I'm sure he had a fine trip, but the serious tone of his narration about such a mundane rapid cracked me up.

Not class II at that level
and pretty safe for people, but that is a perfect level for pinning a boat. It happened to me a couple of years ago in water very similar to that.


It took five guys about three hours to get the boat unpinned. If you are looking for an example of a class II rapid, I’d say this is one.


It does take a right turn that requires some maneuvering, but otherwise there is a clean line and the rocks are easily avoided. Some rapids become more difficult at higher water levels - this one just washes out.

One thing about videos – they definitely tend to flatten out the river. Everything looks bigger in person.

ok, that is a lot closer

– Last Updated: Jun-20-14 8:28 AM EST –

to what that section looks like with water in it.

It was like where the canoe goes into the dip right before the drop. The bow dives to beneath or right at water level. Thats what swamped the one canoe that had the big feller in it. Water over the bow, breaking across his face at times.

Figure about 20 of those across the path starting before the bridge then change it up and have 5 that are at a 30deg cant to the left just after. No rocks.

I am just trying to figure this river reading out. I know why I went over, lack of experiance. It is a lot different in a 2 man loaded canoe than a loaded kayak. I know that when I hit the next set that wasnt quite so rough but still a lot more substantial that the vidieo, I powered through and kept the nose pointed in the right direction.

Boat 1 in this clip did what I did, except I stayed with mine, just had the nose out of joint a bit and got dumped. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-FpcnzbHbA