When is high...too high?

No…it’s not about that. I gave up being a stoner a while back.

I’ve only been on rivers for the past year and a half or so…so still consider myself to be a rookie. I may not be one after my river run tomorrow.

We have recieved a good rain over the past 30 hours, on and off…around Iowa. On the South Raccoon, where there is no gauge, you have to eye the river and feel it out. You can only run this {large creek-50’ wide) river after good rainfall periods. I went to scope out the put-in and take-out and except for a little debris floating down from up-river…it looks ok…but fast as hell.

How do you know when the river is too high to paddle? Any signs I should look for?

Good question but not an easy answer.
My first thought is you know by experience. Experience in having done it. Maybe having ran the river in low water and then had something to compare it to. Perhaps been down there before in the safety of others who know the place. Perhaps walked and driven it to know what is around the corner.

By looking at it, is the debris large logs and branches or just small branches. Ask yourself, could you swim it and if you did what could happen.

How big are the waves of that creek? Are their holes and safe eddies. How much water is going ovef submerged rocks and how big are those rocks, is water into the land and how much water is up there at the shore. If you swim and you are trying to crawl onto the shore will you get trapped? Enough said by me…

you have done it in low water before so you know what to compare it to. Maybe

it looks ok…but fast as hell.
“fast as hell” is an indication that it’s too high… maybe. Consider that if the river narrows or the pitch gets steeper it will get faster.

Current running through brush and trees might make it dangerous and difficult to take out. So that might be another indication.

American White Water often uses “virtual guages” when there is no guage for a particular stretch. This might be another, nearby, stretch of the same river or a different nearby river. Those must be combined with local knowledge to be trusted.

Local knowledge is your best bet. If there are other folks running those rivers you should talk to them and get an idea of what they consider safe levels to run at. Around here folks will paint “paddlers guages” on bridges or rocks. There’s a wealth of local information when you know who to ask. Keep in mind that what is a good level for your local class V hair boaters will probably be too much for the rest of us mere mortals!

I think if you have to ask…
then it must be too high.

Lots of times a higher river of that size is a lot easier to run than when it is low.

The biggest danger would be sweepers and undercut rocks which in low water probably wouldn’t be a problem.

I would say if you fear it then don’t do it. If you know the river and it looks like it would be an awesome run, then go for it.



no big jumps in flow rate for me
I incrementally step up my experience level with different flow rates without big gaps in beween.

As someone famous once said, “you never paddle the same river twice.” I don’t want to get vastly more than I had bargained for.

Sounds like you’re looking agt a pretty big gap to me.

Ask an experienced paddler
Skip it unless you know someone who is a skilled paddler and familiar with the river in its various stages. And if you do decide to run it do not do so alone. Go with someone who knows rescue techniques.

I look for
Muddy water with unnatural eddies and swirling or turbulent current, standing waves or wave trains where there were none before at low water. Strong upstream wind is another problem. Check islands to see if they are underwater with just the trees sticking up (not good). Check places where there were holes before, many times they are completely washed out at high water leaving behind what I call funny water that can be very tricky to navagate because of cross currents caused by the rock formations under the surface.

If in doubt and lacking a gauge don’t do it unless you are with someone that has run it before and knows the river. And ask yourself,Do I trust this persons knowledge of the river.

Ask locals they are many times the best sorce of good info.

But the best thing you can do is know you own limits and the limits of your equipment.

Don’t Go! There was a flash flood
warning near that area yesterday. Clearly indicated on NOAA site. Your familiar creek will have some changes after receeding , as well, so paddle with caution and take a saw.

Learn about your watershed and establish your own guaging indicators. If you live nearby, scout the river under different conditions and keep notes. Know where the water upstream comes from so that you have a good idea of how much water is coming downstream and how long it takes to get there. It takes a little effort, but is worth it.

‘Paddling Iowa’ is a good book to own. It says that you can check the South Racoon guage at Redfield. “A pleasant level is 600cfs.”

Just checked Redfield guage.
It’s 2600cfs. Only 2000cfs over “pleasant”. It may take a while for streams/rivers in your area to go down to a safe level.


– Last Updated: Sep-12-06 1:42 PM EST –

I DO own nate's book, Paddling Iowa....and he states that there is no guage to go by on that section between Nations Bridge and McCammond. I also called both local outfitters and they said....basically....be safe and have fun. You think the outfitters right there in Redfield would have at least said maybe to wait. This section can only be hit once in a while with higher water levels.

Well...I'm loaded up and ready to go so I'll check out a few spots and decide after getting there.

thanks everyone!!!!!! I'll let ya know later how and if it went!

Last weekend I did a Gila run at high
water. It was moving fast and at first glance, quite worrisome. However, it was the easiest I’ve ever paddled it. There was enough water to move around and the normal obstacles were either washed out or not even present.

High water I would not consider to be the same as flood stage.

I think your question is not easily answered. I tend to not trust people’s opinion with which I personally haven’t paddled with. Yet since I usually paddle solo, that doesn’t leave much input.

So I read and search the web as much as possible, hang around all the Yahoo groups and ask questions, and in the end err on the cautious side if I haven’t paddled that river before. If you’ve done it before, that would be the baseline for a judgement call.

Piece of cake
Thanks again for all the tips, folks. It was a 5 hour run and easy peasy. The rapids were a hoot…as was a ton of wildlife including pissed off beaver and 2 rattlers. This was an awesome run and I learned a lot about reading rivers and how to act on my own confidence and inner voice.

As I said above…the readings a few were getting had nothing to do with the section I was running. What was happening near Redfield…was not happening near Stuart or Dexter. Totally different rivers.

Thanks again for the tips…many were noted. I just moved myself up from rookie to rookie with experience.:slight_smile:

glad to hear it
Have to ask, how did you sleep last night?

When is high too high?
When it’s the front deck of the new Eddyline Fathom


slept well but not long
How did I sleep? Like a little baby. But only for about 4 hours!

Glad you had a good time.
In case someone else is considering the same, a reliable ferry and ability to catch an eddy is necessary to paddle these conditions safely. Heavy rain and fast water tend to drop trees in the stream. Skills are needed to avoid these hazards.

Also, local outfitters have steered us wrong a couple of times. As others have said, you need to know who you’re talking to and be able to apply the information to your situation.