Coaching, Kayak, Thinking

Walking away from a river…

Towards the end of my last trip to Scotland it rained, I mean really rained, all night, and the following morning was our last paddling opportunity.  My friend and I had all our gear, the river we wanted to paddle was rising rapidly, and I was sorely tempted to get on.  But we didn’t paddle, and I thought I would share the things I considered when making this decision…

Is it Unknown or Familiar?  The first factor to consider is how well you know the river.  If none of your group have paddled the section before it is exciting, but might also mean you have to be on your toes and allow time for scouting rapids.  (In our case, neither of us had paddled the river before)

What are the levels doing?  A rising river always presents more risk than a falling river, especially if it is heading into flood conditions.  A river can be a radically different proposition at different water levels, even changing grades, and this part of the decision process loops back to the first question i.e. if you do have experience of paddling the river before, what level was that at?  (In our case, the river was still rising quickly)

Comfort or Stretch?  What grade is the river and is that in your comfort or stretch zone?  How much of the river is actually at that grade?  What is the nature of the river i.e. are there recovery areas or is it continuous?  (In this case there were several rapids that were in our stretch zone, but it wasn’t continuous at that grade)

So who’s in?  The number in the group and the spread of experience is key to success.  Are you a tight knit group of four to six who paddle together regularly?  Or do you have a big spread of abilities, a larger or smaller group or paddlers you’ve never been on the water with before?  (We were a group of only two paddlers, but experienced and regularly paddle together)

What kit did we bring?  Are the boats you have safe choices for the river, or is there some risk?  Do you have the right outfit for the conditions and the safety and survival kit appropriate to the river environment?  This is especially vital if the river is going to take you away from the road network.  (We did have river running boats and all the gear we needed to deal with likely rescue scenarios)

So in this instance, for me the key factors were that we were a group of only two, neither of us had paddled the river before, parts of it would be outside our comfort zone and it was on the rise.  So even though we are experienced paddlers with good equipment, we walked away.  The river will always be there…

Moriston River Race, Scotland

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