So You Want to Run Big Stuff?
You’ve seen all those sweet creeks on LVM and you’re ready to be a big star, gonna go all the way. You ran the Numbers at four feet and survived Pine Creek Rapid over ten times, now you are ready for the Inner Crystal Gorge, right? Wrong.
Sure you can get to the put-in and maybe even make it through the first rapid, but will you be fully prepared? Probably not. Here are a few tips on how to progress from a class IV boater to a solid safe and intelligent class V river-runner.
First and foremost a comprehensive knowledge of river rescue and safety skills are a prerequisite for any river adventure. Learn how to use your throw bag, carry it with you always, and make sure your buddies have one too. If they don’t, don’t paddle with them, it’s that simple. (Slim Ray’s book, River Rescue provides a lot of practical river rescue knowledge, especially the Tagline techniques)
Before you head out on the river make sure you have all the necessary gear for a safe trip. Your river “kit” should always include these key components: shoes, suitable clothing, a solid helmet, a life jacket with rescue harness and towline, a throw rope and two locking carabiners. Other useful items include a breakdown paddle and First Aid Kit. Don’t ever get in your kayak without a pair of shoes on, not only will they save you some hard spills, but will help you give 100% in any rescue situation.
Rivers and creeks are two different beasts, practice skills on each. Pick your favorite class III-IV creek and practice all the class V moves you can find. Your friends may think it's funny when they see you running slot moves on the side of the play run, but they won’t be laughing when you’re out styling drops like “The Brain” and “Eldorado Canyon” on South Boulder Creek. Learn to spot inherent dangers in the river, such as sieves, undercuts and strainers, and develop your own personal plan on how to deal with these common hazards.
Talk about safety and the group dynamics before putting on the river, making sure everyone is on the same page. Discuss the specific river signals you will use and any known problem areas on the river. As you develop a strong, consistent paddling crew these things will become second nature, but never take them for granted. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the river level and that there will be sufficient time to make the run with room to spare. Some of the worst experiences I’ve had kayaking resulted from putting on rivers that were too high, too late in the day, or both. Remember, if something does go wrong on the river, time is of the utmost importance.
Finally, be sure to enjoy your river experience, always be aware of what’s going on around you and consider yourself lucky to be out amongst it, enjoying these wild places.
Daniel DeLaVergne died on March 8. 2006. RIP.