Saturday, November 03, 2007

Golden Rules of Creeking and River Running

Thats right, you heard it here. Creeking etiquette: what are some good general rules to follow whilst creeking? Here ya go:

Tha Golden Rules:
Sorting things out before putting on the river, Northern Quebec.
1. Always Bring a Rope.
I have been on too many creeks with people who have "forgot" their rope. Putting on a creek without a rope is "iffy" at best. As kayakers, we evaluate risk, run rivers and hard drops; however, sometimes, one cannot predict what will happen on the river. This is why we bring ropes--they are our backup plan and help lessen that "Oh shit" factor. If you have a rope, put it in your creekboat and leave it there until you need it on the river.

2. Bring Your Rope to Scout Rapids.
If you bring your rope with you on the river and lug it around all the time, why not take it with you when scouting? Oftentimes when someone runs a rapid, they do not want to stop and wait for someone to get a rope or camera set up. They simply want to go. Therefore, when getting out of your boat to scout, quickly grab your rope out of the back before you head down for a look. This is the most likely situation where you will use your rope.
Scouting a sweet 30+ footer in New Zealand.
3. Unsure of the line? Scout it!
There are lots of creeks out there which our friends run over and over again and know the lines to (Eg. Green River Narrows). Oftentimes, they would like to run the larger rapids just by telling you the line and going. This works most of the time, but if you feel like you would like to scout (for whatever reason), then do it. That is safer. Just because they have run that rapid a gazillion times doesn't mean that you are omniscient and know where the line is and how to paddle it. When in doubt, scout.
Also, if your party gets to the top of a rapid and is unsure of the line, but it is not something that everyone needs to scout, then send one person who is *good with giving directions* to take a look. You should always trust this person to give you the right line and good, accurate, and clear directions (guess what, that person should bring his rope when he is taking a look because it could save your ***).
While Kevin Dombey and Philly Williams are comfortable with the directions provided, Chris Sellers asks for more beta.
4. Standardize River Signals.
It is a horrible feeling when you are at the top of a drop, looking down at your buddies and they are giving you these weird hand signals that make no sense to you. At that point, you have no idea what the line is and you are thinking to yourself, "WTF!". Before you get on the river, have a chat with your buddies (in the car on the way to the putin, right before you get on the water, wherever) which standardizes river signals. Remember that not everyone has 20/20 vision as well, so they might not be able to see those hand gestures that you are pointing out from 100 yards. American Whitewater has a great resource HERE which explains the standard river signals, as well as some other very useful information (did you know that cold water can extend survival time for drowning victims? It is all there, check it out).
Kevin Dombey receives directions through signals from people on shore.
Kevin Stoked after getting good directions and nailing the line.
5. River Responsibility.
Do you know who you are directly responsible for whilst running a river? The person who you need to keep an eye on is the person *directly behind you*. Why is this? You can see the person in front of you; thereby, you will most likely know if something goes wrong. But what happens if the person behind you gets pinned? Most likely, you will be the first person to reach him.
Obviously, everyone is responsible for everyone while running rivers, but the person directly behind you is the person you are directly responsible for. If you are in the back of the group, you are responsible for having the gear in case of an emergency (med kit, breakdown paddle, duct-tape, whatever) and are also responsible for the safety of the people in front of you.
Adam Johnson, left, and Chris Gragtmans, POV, running the Doncaster river near Montreal, QC, Canada. Here, Adam is most responsible for Chris who is paddling directly behind him.
6. Know Your Limits.
Be prepared. Oftentimes, there is a paddler who is at the top of one group, but not quite ready to go on the same rivers as another group. Many times it is hard to evaluate the difficulty of a river from others who know it well or are highly skilled. Or, the other case is when the better paddler wants to take someone down a new river who may or may not be ready for it. It is that paddlers' responsibility to get some background information, evaluate the paddlers who invited you, and do the research to determine the difficulty of the run.
Paddle off of this tall one with rocks at the base? I think not!
For example, this past spring I took a friend of mine who had just started kayaking down Hopeville Canyon (Cl II-III) on the South Branch of the South Fork of the Potomac. He had rolled before, but his roll was weak, but seemed to enjoy other rivers such as the Arden Section of the Tygart above Deception (Cl II-III). Needless to say, I thought he was ready to paddle Hopeville Canyon. He put-on and did fine for the run, had a few swims, but, all in all, everything was OK. At the takeout, he told me he was "gripped" throughout the run. This is a good example of a skilled kayaker who struggled to properly compare the difficulty of this (mighty) class II-III run between the Arden Section of the Tygart.
Good shoes come in handy right here. Notice Philly (left) holding his Chaco's in hand.

Other things that are certainly "good ideas" to have could be:
Good shoes capable of hiking long distances (a good fitting pair of shoes can make you a better hiker, just as a well outfitted boat can make you a better creeker).
Extra Gear (biners, another throwbag, layers, etc)
Pin Kit
An escape plan (do you know where there is a trail to hike out?)
Someone who knows where you are and when to start worrying if you do not come back (in a certain time frame).
Matches! These come in really handy for those unplanned nights out on the river.
A solid, high functioning group you can trust.
Knowledge: knowledge is power. Everyone has a certain skill set. Someone in your group may be good at making fires or scouting or ghetto rigging broken gear--whichever. Always be prepared. Know where to hike out from if necessary.

There could be many more things that I am missing here, so feel free to write whatever I missed in the "Comments" section of this post as a continuing dialog.

Have a fun and safe time on the river. See you out there,
-Adam Johnson

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