Bobbing Down New Rivers
There has been a significant amount of discussion in the club, both online and in the real world, about how fast paddlers in the HCC should advance and who should decide how fast club member should advance. To ease the semantics of the debate, we’ll call this hypothetical, fairly novice, paddler Bob (since if he gets in over his head he may be swimming). Allocating this decision—whether Bob should run a certain river—is a bit of a high-wire act.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to do it. The first is to adopt a sort of control system, where a trip leader, generally an experienced boater, decides if Bob can go on a certain trip. The second option is to adopt a relatively laissez-faire approach, allowing individual paddlers to decide whether they’re ready for a particular river, and leaving the decision to Bob. On one hand, we have safety as a consideration. If boaters get in over their heads, they become a danger to themselves and to the group. On the other hand, paddling is a fairly individualistic sport, and many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of giving one person veto power over our decisions to run a particular river.
Once all of the dust settles, the control system looks like an untenable option. Placing the bulk of the responsibility of the safety of a trip on one leader puts a heavy burden on that person’s shoulders, and could result in depleting an already small group of trip leaders. Moreover, adopting a control system approach undermines the all-for-one, one-for-all approach cohesive teams use when approaching paddling safety.
We need to leave the decision of whether Bob runs a certain river with that paddler. However, we still need to keep safety in mind when putting together paddling trips, and safety must always, always take priority over the worry that we might step on someone’s toes. If anyone, trip leader or otherwise, familiar with Bob’s abilities doesn’t think he’s ready for a river, that concern should be voiced.
In the end, it is the responsibility of each paddler to appraise their skills and decide whether they are ready for a new run. It may be difficult for some new boaters to know if they have the skills for a certain run, and if that’s the case, they need to start asking questions. What is the character of the run? Big water? Creeky and technical? Are there a few big drops that garner a Class IV rating, or is the entire run made up of continuous Class IV maneuvering? What is the hardest move on the run? Answers to these questions should give Bob an idea of whether he has the skills to approach a particular run, and should allow him to improve his skills at his own pace while paddling new rivers.
None of this is to say that groups as a whole don’t retain a sort of veto power. If Bob is paddling with six people, four of whom don’t think he should run the
I would suggest that, generally speaking, the following skills are requires for safely paddling the following classes:
- Class I-II
- Wet exit
- Forward stroke
- Sweep stroke
- Class III
- Reliable eddy turns
- Reliable roll
- Decent draw strokes
- Rope use
- Ability to boat-scout Class II
- Proficiency in basic hand and whistle signals
- Class IV
- Bombproof roll
- Accomplished boat handling, including compound strokes and ability to catch small eddies
- Rescue skills
- Throw rope
- Pin extraction
- Basic CPR
- Boat-based rescues
- Ability to read water
- Ability to boat-scout Class III
- Class V
- Ability to run continuous, demanding rapids
- Significant physical endurance
- Expert level boat-handling skills
- Ability to catch micro-eddies
- Ability to maintain control in steep, confused water
- Expert water-reading skills
- Expert rescue skills
- Ability to work as a cohesive, interdependent team
At breakfast, we tied in with Brock, Brian, and a substantial group of other boaters. We got on the Falls since it doesn't run very often and serves as a good introduction to the creek runs on the South Shore. Things started out with Powerhouse Falls, a 10 footer or so with a somewhat complicated move to setup, and then off of a sweet spout. It's a full-on start to the run, and a few of us fired it up, while the rest of the crew put in below. It was followed by a number of fun little ledges/slides, none of them carrying any big consequences.
Everyone in the group had a full-on creekboat, aside from Jeff, who was trying to be a hero in his Big EZ. It was not to be. After smashing through some rapids on his head and pitoning a somewhat significant ledge, putting a baseball sized dent in the nose of his boat, he walked out.
Then there was asshole, an out-of-character drop compared to the other ledges, where the whole river is funneled into a narrow, steep slot, partially blocked by the "hemorrhoid" rock which tossed lots of the outflow into the air. Many carried, and a few of us ran it (my run was fine, but a little shaky). Then there was a fun 6-8 ft ledge, followed by a mandatory portage around a tree. Back in the water, we hit another 8ft ledge, and after a slight respite we ran a series of small, close ledges, all fun little boofs. Zach joined the swim team there, getting caught in the hole at the bottom, but he was fine after an easy rescue. Two more significant ledges remained, the last which was a fun slide into a boofable 4 footer or so. Lots of fun. After a fast run through a dam and past the fishermen near the river mouth we were done.
It was so much fun we decided to do it again. I half expected the second run to be somewhat uneventful, since we knew the lines. It was not to be. I had a marginal run of Powerhouse, getting knocked off line at the lip by a little flake. I hit the pool at the bottom with too much angle and fell into a hole created by the falls. It flipped me, and I rolled up under it. Then one of our crew swam at asshole after getting flipped in the bottom hole and getting pushed into some rocks; I bagged him out and it wasn't a terrible swim, but it could have been a lot worse. Then Steve ran the wrong side of one of the multiple ledges and got his boat pinned under a birch tree that hit him at about the waist. He managed to walk out of it, but it was scary. Then Zach got thrown into a wall at the dam; he broke his paddle and cut up his hand through to the fatty tissue.
While the rest of the Indiana boys were done for the day, I was still up for more boating. I went off with Brock, Tenzin, and Steve to do the Upper Silver at pretty high water. I walked the first major rapid, Hail Mary, a 3-parter that looked do-able, but it was the 3rd run of the day on 3 hours of sleep, and I didn't really want to take any big chances. The boys ran it smoothly though. Brock told me "things pick up after Hail Mary." He was right. We dropped into about a mile or mile and a half of continuous class IVs, each stacked on top of the next with few eddies in between. Lots of slides, and a few clean ledges, all of it pumping. Things went well, but if they would have started to go wrong, they would have probably gone wrong for a long time. We then all took out at the Cabin Section, usually class V, which was in the high reaches of V+ with all of the water. Everybody took out, though Tenzin and Brock looked at it for a lot longer than I did.
After driving around and looking at some waterfalls, we had drinks and dinner at the Canteen and headed back to the hotel. Duffy and the Arkansans (ar-can-sans, mind) partied pretty hard, while the Indiana boys crashed out, needing more than 3 hours of sleep this time around. Apparantly they had a fun (albeit loud) time, and the birthday boy managed to sweet talk the poor desk clerk a bit.
On Saturday we headed to the Lower Silver, which Brock described as a lot of fun, mostly boat-scoutable class IV. It was fun, but he was wrong about the IV bit. With the water level high, things got busier. We had a swimmer after the first drop, and after we managed to fish him out and look at the next major drop, three of our group of seven walked off of the river. The remaining five of us ran a complex set of ledges, and then took out again in a small eddy, tying our boats to trees so they'd stay in the eddy, to scout a three-tiered class V drop. The line was there, though complicated, and 2 of our group decided to portage. Tenzin, Brock and I ran it, with clean lines all around. 100 yards down, we scouted another pretty big triple drop, this one with a more straightforward line, which was run by everyone. After some flatwater, we scouted the Railroad Rapid, a confused flume that pushed toward a large, jumbled, river-wide ledge that contained a tree, which most of the current wanted to push you at. 3 of us ran that one, with good lines again. After one last class IV flume, we were done. Or, I was anyway.
Brock and Tenzin went on to run Silver Falls, a V+ jumbled waterfall with a tricky lead in and a huge hole at the bottom, which was just below the take-out. Tenzin had a clean line, and Brock had a great start, until he wedged his paddle blade in a crack about halfway down the drop and snapped the right blade. He remained upright, but hit the hole at the bottom like a ton of bricks. He was flushed out, and then it took him a while to roll on his 1/4 of a paddle blade. Tenzin eventually had to ferry my paddle across to Brock so he could make it back to our side of the river. It was a full day.
On Sunday, we did an early morning lap of the Falls in order to get the boys on something steep (they had done the Rock the day before, which was apparently a little underwhelming). Tommy was with us, a friend of Kev's who hadn't really done any creeking before. It was interesting for me, since it was just the four of us and I was leading a river I had run twice, but things went well. I was the only one to run Powerhouse (I had the same line I had the second run on Friday) and we had clean lines all around.
On our way back home, we hit the Peshtigo at high water, which was pretty fun. Fun, big-water lines abounded, and Zach even did a few unintentional creekboat rodeo moves in a big hole. We ran into some of the other HCC members on the way down, and paddled out in sunshine and 75 degree weather.
This is the last trip before Colorado, since a funeral and finals fill up the rest of the weekends. It was a fun trip though, and the new helmet held up well.
After the face-smashing a couple of weeks ago, I ordered a new helmet. Its a WRSI Current with a FPS (face protection system), basically a removable chinguard. My old helmet, a Shred Ready, didn't fit me real well, and if it took a big hit it could slide back on my head a bit. Made me nervous. That's the big selling point of the WRSI; the design is completely geared toward keeping it on your head and especially on your forehead.
It also fits the bill since I can use it without the mask for playboating and with the mask for creeking (like this weekend, woot). Seems like a solid lid, and it fits well. It's a little tough to slide over my gourd with the mask on, but once on it's comfy and spacious. We'll see how it goes this weekend.
So we drove out to Webster Springs and got in around 1am. The drive wasn't too terrible, though a little sketchy due to Crush's driving. We crashed in the bunkhouse, and rolled up around 8am and went to a little cafe to grab breakfast (mmmm... biscuits and gravy). Then we headed to the Upper Meadow with some other HCC paddlers to do a little baby creeking. The run was good, and padded out a little as the day went on. The shuttle was pretty rough though; we did some plowing with the trailer hitch on Crush's trailer. I lead a lot of the run, even though I hadn't run it before, since it was fun class III-ish boulder gardens and since I just like leading that kind of stuff.
After resetting the trailer's leaf springs, which sucked, we headed back to Webster for dinner at the cafe, and ran into some other paddlers from our group. Then we headed back to the campground/bunkhouse. We caught some local musicians jamming on a little stage, chatted with some people about levels, and crashed. I ended up pitching a tent outside since the bunkhouse was pretty hot and crowded. We caught some rain throughout the night, but not too much.
The local talent:
The next morning there was all kinds of debate at breakfast over what there was enough water to run. After an hour or so of kicking out a couple ideas and then rehashing them ad nauseum (a problem when you're rolling with a group of 20 paddlers of mixed abilities), we decided to go down to the racecourse to see what the locals had to say. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, so I spent most of the hour gritting my teeth and trying not to take anybody by the shoulders and shake them until they agreed with me. Once we conferred with the locals, it became clear that we were running the middle Cranberry.
When we arrived at the Cranberry, our hearts dropped. It looked really low. After some protracted shuttling, a group of us were standing around waiting for the shuttle vehicles to come back, and Zach, Kev, Scarecrow and I decided to start out early and break the group up a little bit, since we couldn't easily run with 15 people in the group. We started down, boat-scouting everything as we went. The run was great; full of technical rapids that I would probe, grab a setup eddy, see the line, and we'd all run down. Nothing too scary, but plenty of stuff to keep us busy. We had a bit of a worry that we had missed the take-out, but finally came upon the cars.
Since we figured the main group was going slowly, we loaded up our boats and drove to the put-in. We found Fufu walking out, and she hopped in with us to run shuttle. We started a second run, and caught up with the group maybe halfway through the run and lapped them.
Once everyone was packed up it was back to the campground for dinner and a shindig. A bluegrass band was playing, there was beer on tap, and pizza next to the beer. And fraternizing paddlers. It was fantastic. I did a bit of dancing, hung out with the Marshall Whitewater Team, and got to bed at about 2am in the midst of a healthy rain.
I awoke the next morning to another debate over what river we should run. The rain fell on saturated ground, and all of the rivers were up. After more debate and teeth-gritting, we decided to run the Back Fork of the Elk.
Though we had originally planned to split the group up, we ended up gelling together when we came to the three big drops. Armed with the idea that these were just plop-and-drops, I let Zach scout and tell me the line. He said that I had a big hole in the center, and that I wanted to go left over two boofable ledges. I lined up middle left, and as I came over the lip I saw a big hole feeding a nasty seam. I looked to the left and saw the line he had described all the way on the left bank. "This is bad," I thought, and tried to boof the hole. I got my bow up, but didn't have the speed I needed, and was typewritered into the seam. I braced right and left, and thought I had gone under, when I realized that I had been shoved through the hole and into a cave. I was upright and dry and behind the curtain. "Bad," I thought. I tried to paddle out and got flipped by the curtain; when I rolled up I was in the clear.
Just about everybody else rand the drop on the right, aside from Zach, who ran our intended hero line.
The second and third drops were both run clean (though I looked at the big one this time around, not trusting second hand beta).
The problems started on a river-wide, irregular ledge further down. Most of the group ran a long rock finger with a few inches of water running over it; Zach and I ran a hero line on the river-left over a large-ish hole.
Then the debacle started. I outlined the entire story and safety issues HERE, but the cliffs notes version is that we had a swimmer, people tried to rescue both boat and swimmer, failed at both, and then people followed the swimmer through a small ledge drop and plopped sideways into the hole themselves, on top of said swimmer. Then we had 3 people in the water, and since only two of us were still in our boats, we had a hell of a time pulling everyone out. At one point I thought I might be pulling out a body. At the end, everyone was ok, but shaken.
Then, on the last drop, Sharron flipped and caught a rock with her face and almost blacked out. She was rescued, but had her two front teeth slammed backwards to the point that she couldn't close her mouth. She had a trip to the emergency room in her future.
We finally headed home at about 4:30, and rolled into South Bend around 2:30am. It was a good trip, though it brought up some concerns about the safety consciousness of the club. Hopefully we'll be able to get on some more good water this spring.