What is class II WW?

-- Last Updated: May-23-05 9:45 PM EST --

Since the topic of river classes and safety has come up from time to time, and recently in a couple of threads, I thought I would show you a picture of protypical class II rapids. Making the eddy turn at the bottom of the rapids is my wife Connie. Notice the rocks. It is possible to get pinned on one of those rocks and I did so earlier in my paddling career.

class II
easy rapids w/ waves up to 3 ft.,wide,clear channels obvious w/out scouting.some manuvering required.

This is the definition I found. It seems this is somewhat objective a clasification as I have been on rivers considered class I , but have been just a challenging or more , due to the current speed and passage size.

Fits the definition perfectly.
Easy paddling, one small wave (which you can’t see), wide, obvious clear channel in the center, and some maneuvering required to avoid the rocks.

Remember that …
Any class rateing on any given rapid can change with water level Paul

I think
classifying rapids is like measuring waves. It seems a lot bigger when your in it rather than observing. Also folks may exaggerate (sometimes unknowingly) about conditions.

to show the range in classes…
This is a picture of Ziemer Falls on the Red River (Dr. Disco should be familiar with it) and it is rated a class II+/III. Although this is on the upper end of a class II, it would be a particularly dangerous rapid to run in a rec kayak due to the large possibility of pinning.


To see a slight step up from this, here is a picture of a class III rapid on the same river (Monastary Falls).


River/Rapid Ratings
Unfortunately ratings are broad, lump very different runs/rapids together and are inconsistantly applied.

The middle section of the Souhegan in Wilton, NH, class II, is typicaly more rocks than water. Pinning hazards abound but rarely involve more than exiting your boat to get free due to the relativly mild current. At moderatly high levels it tends to wash out and get easier.

The lower West river in Jamaica, Vt, class II, has fairly powerful currents, some decent wavetrains, but not a lot of rocks. It would be unlikely to pin there but if you did it would take a fair bit of skill and a good pin kit to get free. At moderatly high levels the current gets stronger and the waves bigger.

While I technicaly disagree with the statement that ratings change with water levels thare is no doubt that difficulty and hazards do. It is not uncommon for a class II run at high water to be more difficult than a class III at low water. It’s not uncommon but not something you can count on unless you have seen those rapids in those conditions.

That is why it’s important to get the skills and experience. So that you can look at a rapid and say either yes I can handle that in my playboat/river runner/creekboat/recboat/tripper/pool toy etc. or no, this one is a walk around.

If you don’t have the skills and experience then hook up with folks who do, take lessons, join a club or three.

It ain’t the boat, it’s the paddler. But look at what the good paddlers are paddling.

Good choices.
Here is another picture of Monastery Falls.


It shows more clearly why it is called a falls. Getting endered and flipped in the first hole is a common occurrence.

Basis for river ratings being static?
“I technicaly disagree with the statement that ratings change with water levels” I’m sure you have a reasoned explanation. I would like to understand it. Thanks in advance.


Static river ratings
That’s just the way I was taught.

The problem I have is that every paddler I know has a different take on how accurate ratings are and how to modify them for different levels. Stronger paddlers tend to underrate and weaker tend to overrate.

An example is the time I did my first runs on the Magaloway in Maine. While the rapid is rated a III the guidebook (Classic Northeast Whitewater) said at the release levels for that day the first rapid was a IV. Too hard for me I thought. The trip leader, who I had a lot of confidense in said it was still a III. I guess he was right because I could see the lines and I didn’t swim. My buddy who did swim is holding to the IV theory :wink:

I’m inclined to read the guides and ratings with a grain of salt then go look for myself and decide if I can run it that day, in that boat, at that level.

While it’s clear that different conditions, levels, water temp, ice and trees in the water can change the difficulty of a run or rapid, my take is that changing the rating just adds to the confusion.

hmmm… i learned differently

– Last Updated: May-24-05 9:56 AM EST –

Basically what I was taught was that a class III is always harder than a class II and that rivers can change classes dependant on river levels. All the guide books that I own also specify varying classifications based on the river level. For example, on another local river, a particular stretch of rapids is rated a class II. It's mostly just a technical rock garden. However, during the spring melt, the eddies wash out, a meaty hole develops, and there is an undercut that becomes a bit hazardous. At that point it is a class III rapid. The picture of Monastary falls above is at a class III level, but at flood stage, that would be class IV rapid. As the classes are the determination of the difficulty of navigating the river, and as the river features change based on the water levels, a static rating doesn't make sense.

different class at different levels
I’ve only seen a few places in guide books where someone gives different ratings for different levels.

If that is commonly done, consistent and generaly accepted where you paddle I have no argument against it.

What I don’t like is getting into a discusion where paddler A says such and such is class III over 500 cfs, paddler B says it’s really not class III until 800 cfs, paddler C says it’s realy a class II and the guide book just calls it a class III. That’s a pretty common scenario around here and IMO it just adds to the confusion of a highly subjective and simplistic rating system.

If someone asks me what a run is rated I’ll just tell them what’s in the guide book or on AW. If it’s running high and I know that’s going to make it harder I’ll tell them that. If it washes out and gets easier I’ll tell them that.

They (we) still have to look at the river and make their (our) own decisions about running.

definitely understand your point

– Last Updated: May-24-05 12:30 PM EST –

maybe it's a midwest thing as there does seem to be some consistency in regards to varying classes on water levels in the guides. AW also mentions multiple ratings based on flow. Here is a picture of gauging the flow on the Red River.
Also, AW has ratings such as II(III) in their river descriptions which is to hint at the fact that higher levels could mean harder rapids.

Still, your observation as to the discussions between paddlers is spot on. Just like wave height, inexperienced paddlers will overrate the rapids while experienced paddlers can possibly underrate them. In looking at two of my river guides published at different times, the river classifications on the older guide seem slightly higher than the newer one. Basically I get the feeling that as skills improve and as what is considered "runnable" changes, classifications change. Kayaking the Grand Canyon probably used to be classified a class VI death gorge but now it is a strong class IV-V+ depending on the stretch.

"What is class II ww?"… It’s fun! It can be splashy, and fast, and “busy” too, even a little unnerving, and it’s never risk-free. But it’s mostly fun.

Once it stops being all-fun and you have to control the butterflies a bit more, that’s class III. (I’m not into measuring waves.)

While class IIs still require skill to navigate cleanly, they are relatively easy and with fewer consequences.

The step to class III involves harder moves that you really feel you want to make to avoid a swim in a place you’d prefer not to swim. (And class IV+: moves that you need to make to avoid a swim in a place you should not swim.)

Class IIIs require you to paddle more agressively to cross faster currents, whereas novices can often coast through many class IIs unharmed.

Of course, you can paddle a class II like a class III by choosing harder lines and workin’ it to catch every little wave and eddy; but in class IIIs, there may be no may be no way of selecting a class II floaty line.

How’s that for subjective?

Other factors: how remote are you? how cold is the water? how strong is the group? what’s the weather like? how late in the day is it? how strong is the current? what’s downstream? While these factors don’t technically affect the classification of a rapid, they should be taking into account.

The past 2 weekends I paddled 2 very different “class II” rivers. One with many long class I stretches followed by short, easy class II corners/wave trains, and the water was low/slow. The other with constant action, always with rocks and holes mid-river and lots to do all the time, and the water was quite high/pushy (but the rapids were still straight forward and not too steep).

The problem with “class II” is that it’s used to describe a huge range of rapids! Unfortunately there seem to be dead-easy class IIs that almost anybody can paddle, and there are challenging class IIs that require significant experience.

I often find it useful to talk about “class II+” rapids. Beginner canoeists can paddle “class II” fairly quickly, even for learning, but many experienced canoeists never graduate beyond “class II+” or easy class III; so, for canoes (for non-super-heroes) almost everything falls withing the “class II” range.

In my experience there is no doubt that the flow in a river does change the classification of run, no question! There’s a rapid I paddle at low water only that, even then, is a pushy rock garden; at high flows those rocks becomes big holes and the current is rippin’. Many rapids can easily change from class II to IV depending on the water flow. It’s common for guidebooks here to give diffent classifications for low vs. high water.

Bottom line: classifications are subjective and they are almost worthless unless you have some relative information/experience about the person (or guidebook) that is providing you with the info.


I agree that when comparing 2 rapids, the harder run, for whatever reason, would get the higher rating: A class II rapid can’t become harder than a class III rapid (and still be called class II).

Rivers are dynamic. This applies to water levels as well as channel shapes, and the introduction or removal of wood, boulders or other debris and restrictions.

Although it’s still subjective, judge a rapid based on it’s present condition.

What was a class III rapid this weekend could be class II next weekend. What was a class II rapid this season could a class IV next year.


The original AW classification, with
talk about clear channels, is not observed much these days. Many rapids routinely called class 2 today just do not fit the AW definition. I would agree that what Dr Disco pictured is a class 2 rapid, but all the rapids between Pattons Run and Lesser Wesser on the Nantahala are routinely called class 2, which in a few cases is quite a stretch. Some bozos insist that Lesser Wesser itself is only a class 2. But 40 years ago, some considered it a class 5, which is equally ridiculous.

As for water levels, some rapids actually become easier at higher water. The upper Chattahoochee in north Georgia has several rapids, including Horseshoe, which are much easier at moderately high levels, while at lower levels they require great skill to run clean.