whitewater class question from a novice

agree with that
There are some waves so you cant call this Class C moving flat water but the whitewater “features” really don’t rate more than a Class I.

One the other hand, given the very strong current, it would not be appropriate to say this is easy Class I appropriate for a beginner.

A pretty good example of the limitations of the whitewater classification scheme. Take away the waves and it is a good example of how hazardous rapidly moving flat water can potentially be.

thanks all!
I learned more here about WW classification than all I knew about it coming in. It does seem to be taken as a simple system when in fact there are many more considerations…

I’ve been paddling whitewater for about 15 years, and in that time the rivers I am familiar with have not changed in rating, either officially or informally.

What was the name of the drop that handed you your beatdown, and who downgraded it?

I’ll givethe videot a II

– Last Updated: Sep-26-16 4:20 PM EST –

...see it's kind of subjective- may not meet the aca's "difficulty" standard for a II but exceeds the "danger" standard in my book

shore eddies are getting smaller to nonexistent, some debris is moving around, paddler doesn't have float bags but pulls it all off, including ferrying in front of a bridge piling, all because of their good boat control.

The eddy lines get stronger and the current differential is greater with the increased flow in the video- none of that is in the definition for a II but for me it counts. So I give it a II. I think you can make a strong case that self rescue would be more difficult than what is normally considered class I, and may even exceed the standard for class II. The important thing to ask is "how will I do on that stretch of water" Only the individual paddler can answer that.

In the Southeast, the Ocoee River was pretty routinely considered a Class IV river years back with Grumpy, Broken Nose, and Tablesaw all receiving a Class IV rating. These days, most paddlers consider these rapids Class III+ at worst with the entire river rating a Class III.

The upper Tellico (Ledges section) was rated by some Class V back in the day with its up to 13’ drops. These days, many good southeastern paddlers consider it a Class III+ run.

I remember when Double Z rapid (AKA Sunset) on the New River Gorge was considered a Class V rapid. No more.

The best thing…
…to do after looking at the rapid, is to ask yourself if you would want to swim it.

Benchmark rapids

– Last Updated: Sep-28-16 1:00 PM EST –

The most recent revision to the US ratings system I'm aware of was in 1998 when American Whitewater added a list of benchmark rapids to the code. Most of the rapids you mention actually are in that list:

Entrance/Grumpy is a class 3. Broken Nose and Tablesaw are both class 3+. Double Z on the New between 1.5 and 2' is class 4-. Based on my experience, those are spot on. Likewise, I think it's accurate to characterize the Ocoee as a class 3 run. Nothing on the middle Ocoee at normal release levels approaches the difficulty of Double Z on the New (or High Falls on the Cheat - another 4- benchmark).

The Nantahala often gets called out on this board as a river that keeps getting downgraded. The only downgrade I can think of was the correct identification of Nantahala Falls as a benchmark class 3 rather than calling it a 4 or 5 as some of the really old guide books used to. Patton's Run is benchmark class 2+. Delebar's Rock is class 2. Again, I would agree with all of those ratings and have not heard people claim otherwise.

[Because the antiquated software that supports this forum does not handle punctuation in URLs gracefully, you'll have to copy and paste the links below for them to work.]




– Last Updated: Sep-28-16 2:22 PM EST –

Yes, I am aware of all of the American Whitewater benchmark rapids.

Those are the widely accepted current class designations for all of those rapids. But I have been paddling for somewhat longer than 15 years.

You asked about examples of rapids that had been down graded. There was a time when Grumpy, Broken Nose, and Table Saw were widely accepted to be Class IV rapids. On the Nantahala Patton's was frequently considered a Class III. William Nealy even called it a III+ in his classic "Whitewater Home Companion" (c. 1981). In another classic, Wildwater West Virginia by Davidson, Eister, and Davidson (c. 1985), Double Z on the NRG was said to be "An honest Class V".

No argument there
Yes, 80s and earlier ratings tended to be higher than they are today. I grew up in MO, and the standard Oz Hawksley guide book when I was growing up called the St Francis a class 5. At sane levels, it’s now generally accepted to be class 3.

My original question was directed specifically at thebob - this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him tell that story about getting a beatdown on a ‘downgraded’ rapid, but he never names the rapid or where he got his bad beta from. He just says that “everyone” is in the business of downgrading class 3 rivers to class 2. I just was calling BS on that specific claim.

I got my ass handed to me on my first class 3 run when I accepted bad beta from a ‘leader’ who I later learned got his kicks from setting first timers up for carnage. That doesn’t mean that ‘kids these days’ are skewing river ratings. It means that particular guy was a jackass, and I learned that sometimes you have to read people as well as reading water.

Dumbing down the classifications?

– Last Updated: Sep-29-16 6:23 AM EST –

I don't think people are dumbing down the ratings, but with better skills and equipment, more people are able to run more difficult rapids, so yesterday's class IV becomes today's class III (or class III to class II). I don't think there is any doubt about that. I was on the West River in VT last weekend - Ball Mountain Dam to Jamaica State Park. In the old AMC guide it is a III/IV. On AW it is a III. Many boaters today would call it a II/III.

As has always been the case, you need to make good personal decisions about who you paddle with, where you paddle, and when you walk. My first time down a new river I try to scout the bigger stuff and make my own decision regardless of what people say it is rated. Not everyone is willing to spend the time for scouting/walking.

It goes without saying that the guy that took you down your first class III is a real jerk - the type of guy I would never paddle with again. Yikes - that is really bad.

familiarity leads to downgrading…
once upon a time, folks used to run double z on river left and then would find themselves cutting in front of butcher block rock (before my time, sometime prior to 1978 this line was commercially run). If you were totally unaware of “the line” in z you would probably head left- looks like the logical choice from the top and is actually an easier but much higher consequence line.

I know about two fatalities in double z rapid- one at butcher block and the other happened on the front side of table. Also, A very well known and respected kayaker had a near death experience in that rapid while leading a clinic. At the end of the day, the important thing isn’t what you rate the rapid but knowing the hazards and how to avoid and minimize them. Something scores of people do everyday and thus the downgrade at Z.

How to boat Z at 1.5 to 2 ft. It is not intuitive. Folks typically follow someone through the safest route:

Boat angle to right, hug behind small covered rocks just behind “eagles beak”, “scary ferry” to river right past “oughter (not hit) rock”, cut sideways through small ledge (boat angled left), paddle hard through funky water at bottom of small ledge then abruptly kill momentum and adjust boat angle back to river right, drift but then paddle very hard through very stiff hit from diagonal wave (experienced kayakers can creek behind it), cut back left behind table and away from holiday rock.

I’ve only boated the Ocoee once over two days (thirty years ago). My impression was that the difficulty level was consistent with a more continuous class III but that I wouldn’t want to swim on it. Not particularly well “padded”. Throw in a lot of commercial raft traffic, some who are intent on running doubles or pushing you out of the way, and you’ve got a recipe for some emergency room carnage.

Nantahala falls difficulty increases with a little more water than normal which leads to a stickier hole and less punchable hole at the bottom and thus a lot of swimmers. With slightly higher flows than normal the recovery will be more difficult if you swim. In those circumstances I’d probably still give it a III but if someone else wants to call it a III+ that’s okay with me.

Classification is a good starting point but there is always more to know. As one climbs the ladder of difficulty the danger typically increases as well. Lines get adjusted at times due to changes in water levels. The goal is always to stay safe and come home in one piece. Risk management is a huge piece of the ww puzzle. Classification is a just a tool to help. I like having multiple tools in my tool chest.

I’m probably just splitting hairs

– Last Updated: Sep-29-16 9:30 AM EST –

Modern gear definitely has flattened out the learning curve and made it easier for people to run harder water. A couple of years ago, I ended up paddling the Lower Yough in a friend's Jackson creek boat instead of in my canoe. I know K1 is easier than OC in general, but I couldn't BELIEVE how stupidly easy that tank of a kayak made the run seem. Felt almost like cheating.

I'm probably splitting hairs in wanting to distinguish between individuals not applying the ratings criteria correctly versus the criteria themselves changing.

there’s a reason why I like big fat
creek boats- forgiving!

Yes boat design has improved across the board- self bailer rafts, pedestal seating in canoes, shorter rounder kayak hulls that resurface quickly are just a few of the improvements that make running rapids easier…but I think the biggest factor for the downgrade of classified rapids are their sheer popularity.

Anything that gets done with frequency seems to get downgraded more readily. How many of the downgraded rapids are on controlled dam release rivers where water levels are more consistent and lend themselves to many users getting 'dialed in"? Meaning they can repeat the same rapid many times at the same water level.

Some folks downgrade rapids based on “standard water levels”. On the gauley, iron ring at 1600 cfs was something I portaged. At 2800-3200 the downside is a lot less (you’re less likely to get tossed left and wedged in a crack) but some who have only run or viewed it at standard release (2800-3200) rate it a IV or IV+ instead of a true V. At high flows two big holes form in iron ring, so there is actually a pretty narrow window for the “easy level”. During the dry water years when the army corp released less water on the Gauley the overall carnage went up. When iron ring was originally viewed I believe they rated it a VI and portaged it.

We choose high profile rapids as “benchmark rapids” because they are well known by many users at a certain flow. Because they run consistently. folks get them dialed in. Unfortunately, we may be doing a disservice to an individual paddler who is paddling at something other than a standard release, who is unfamiliar with the line, or has nobody to follow that already has it dialed in.

Perhaps the “old ratings” had more meaning when there were more variables like fluctuating water levels and there were fewer experienced folks to show others the way down. Before online gauges you would just show up and decide to boat based on what you saw at the put in.

downgrading rapids

– Last Updated: Sep-29-16 12:13 PM EST –

Starting around the later 1980s and early 1990s skilled paddlers started running stuff that had previously been considered "unrunnable" Class VI. Some of these runs are now done so routinely that they might be considered only stout Class IV runs these days.

As these "Class VI" rapids and runs got progressively knocked off, and even routinely run by good paddlers, one could no longer call them Class VI.

A five-tiered rating system has a lot of appeal. Most of us can get our minds around 5 different levels, and we can count them on one hand. But it might have been better to just expand the ratings system upwards, making Class VII the new Class VI, etc.

What happened instead was that as a rapid previously considered Class VI was repeatedly successfully run and reclassified a Class V, one could no longer have much easier/less consequential rapids in the same Class, so they got pushed down to Class IV. Likewise, the "easier" Class IVs got shoved down into Class III, etc. I think Class II wound up getting perhaps most crowded in the whole scheme.

I do think that things have perhaps stabilized somewhat in the last decade or so. I am not saying that the limit has been reached, but there is not the same explosion in the walls of the "envelope" that there was back in the 1990s.

is the discussion not un-imaged reality. And Wenona changed the video from last month…?

Right, comments are relevant to the OP. Remebring posters are floating straight thru there no problem.

A 3 is a strong current relatively flat zig zag course thru obstacles or a drop with a maneuver.

My intermediate opinion, for a novice the stream flow turn past eddy 1 then precise control for a to your screen left under the bridge support current roll between eddy n bridge support is class 3 for a novice.

Given the water level n floating trash. Remember yawls dissing actors in the utube strainer rescue videos ?

So the classification here is an outline applied to a real time situation when you arrive at the landing. Classifications before leaving are a different framing of what you’re about to try paddling.

Continuing, try following NWS river n stream reports, American Whitewater, and Google Images for images of the course…river names plus towns/road names at bridges… Goo Imagery has images of hi and low water.

Ratings don’t change based on skill
level. A class III rapid is a class III rapid for great paddlers and for beginers.


– Last Updated: Oct-01-16 10:53 AM EST –

The maneuvers shown in the video do not exceed a Class II level of difficulty.

Dana Henry is basically executing what is called an S turn through an eddy, the eddy being behind the bridge piling support. The current is brisk and the eddy line distinct, but it is a large eddy, easy to hit, with an unobstructed and clearly visible entry, and the maneuver is certainly within the capability of most intermediate paddlers, although perhaps not all novices or beginners.

It is possible to practice Class III moves in Class II rapids, or Class IV moves in Class III rapids, but that does not change the difficulty rating of the rapid. Rapids are generally rated with consideration to the level of skill required to simply run the rapid successfully, not the level of skill required to run the rapid in the most difficult fashion possible.