On many of our trips, we participate in whitewater rafting, which is a lot of fun (my favorite adventure activity), but can be dangerous. Of course, we only work with reputable companies and highly experienced guides, but if you are new to this sport, it’s important that you have an understanding about the rating system (International Scale of River Difficulty), where whitewater (usually rated as an individual rapid, but can be the entire river) is classed in 6 categories from class I (the easiest and safest) to class VI (the most difficult and most dangerous). The grade reflects both the technical difficulty and the danger associated with a rapid, with grade I referring to flat or slow moving water with few hazards, and grade VI referring to the hardest rapids which are very dangerous even for expert paddlers, and are rarely run.
- Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)
- Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
- Class 3: Medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)
- Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)
- Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering. Often characterized by “must make” moves, i.e. failure to execute a specific maneuver at a specific point may result in serious injury or death. Class 5 is sometimes expanded to Class 5+ that describes the most extreme, runnable rapids (Skill Level: Expert)
- Class 6: While there is some debate over the term “Class 6”, in practice it refers to rapids that are not passable and any attempt to do so would result in serious injury, near drowning or death. If a rapid is run that was once thought to be impassible, it is typically reclassified as Class 5.x rating.
Most guided trips fall in the Class II-IV range. If you love an adrenaline rush, the bigger the number the better, but if you are more on the conservative side, you can have just as much fun on a more mellow river with a few big wave trains.
Managing your fears
Rafting can be scary whether it’s your first time or you have hundreds of river miles under your belt. If you get on the river and it’s a little more action than you were mentally prepared for, keep in mind that your guides are trained and seasoned professionals who know how to read the river they are guiding. Pay attention to the safety briefing and know what to do should you or someone fall out of the boat, and have confidence in their skills and feel comfortable telling them if you are scared.
What to Bring
Note: This list is recommended for 1-day trips. Most companies will offer a dry bag or something to carry a water bottle and other personal items, but you may also opt to bring your own dry bag as well.
- For warm weather trips, you’ll wear your swimsuit and something that offers sun protection, like a light rash guard or long sleeve shirt. You may also want to wear a pair of board shorts or a skirt.
- A pair of sunglasses with a strap to keep them from falling off.
- Sunscreen and lip balm
- Water and snacks
You may opt to bring a waterproof camera, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to use it when going through the rapids unless it is attached to your body or the raft and does not require the use of your hands since you’ll need them for paddling.
Oh, and one last piece of advice… be prepared to get hooked! This is one sport that will keep you coming back for more!