It is not about the grade.

Over the last few weeks I have been asked again about the white water grading system. I think this is in part to the fact the White Water Nepal has just been released but also I think that its down to the frequency that I paddle. Perhaps where experience is the key component. I have touched on this before, here.

On one of my local runs I met a group of kayakers who were having difficulty, in hindsight the river was at the upper limit of the groups ability although they insisted that they were able to paddle at the grade of the river, although they thought the river displayed characters of a harder grade river once they got on.

The question I think that we, as a unit, need to ask is how do we grade the class of a river. I think we agree the following:

1. Within this class we see still water, no hazards .

2. Little ripples of water, small jets.

3 Navigation skills required to move around the river but lines are obvious from water level.

4 Navigation skills to be used to a great extent to avoid problems on the river

5 Extreme end of the classification system, limit of navigation.

6/Portage. Unrunnable rapid, often rapids graded as a 6 are paddled and thus must by definiton become a class 5+.

The rivers grade or class doesn’t change with its volume (for the most part) a class 3 can be both large or small, Sun Kosi Nepal and River Dee Wales are the same grade on paper, but have a wide hydrolic difference, for example.

Exceptions are that a flood stage river that flows at class 4 in normal flows can be a class 5. A large volume grade 3 river in drought can be a class 1 or so. It is only subjective in as much as the river is fluid, not so that the grading system changes on either a creek or volume river. Turnback on the Alsek will always be a class 5 as will Cauldron Stout.

Within each we allow for a + and -. So we get rapids that are 5+ or 4- for example.

Around camp fires, forums and bar rooms all across the globe paddlers will have conversations, never quite understanding that this system is not a closed system – like water it is fluid.

One eddy line, to the left – another wave to the right; enough. A thousand paddle strokes is never enough, we can only answer the truth of it from our experience. Some choose to chase the grades, upping the game at each river. Some plateau due to personal reasons, from commitments to pressue of the self and more.

Is it that important to our enjoyment that we class a river by the grade. Is it so much to ask that the river itself is enough. The small drip of water from the tip of the paddle. The cutting of the water as the hull glides from left to right. Glassy waves and thumping hydrolics, rocks littered by gods own hand in the gorge below. White sand beaches still, but alive sand- watching the sun dance in the sky. Deep grey clouds empty the buckets of water in haste and in abundance. Surely this is what matters.

This is what we really crave, this is the point of it all. We need not dance around the linguistics, we need never concern ourselves with the 6 point classification system. All that matters is the moment, the time we are seated in the flow, the time we pull our paddle and dance with the flow. On a personal level how much does it matter that the river is class 1 or class 5. On a personal level it is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do I want to dance with the river today, will it matter if I dont? For each yes we reach a pot of gold. It is for us alone. A place of magic, for our our eyes only. It matters not what our friends say, it matters not in the slightest for our own place of fun.

All that matters is our pot of gold, our journey at the rainbows edge

For a day of rainbows.’I believe that if you could stand before God and ask Him for a key to unlock the Truth, a key that would allow you to go where Truth was laid out before you, then I am sure that one of the many paths he might send you on would be a huge river that ran through the wild of the north country […]. He would put you there alone on the Alsek River at sunset […]. He would put you on the scoured black walls of the Stikine […]. He would put you at the brink of a waterfall and not allow you to see the bottom […]. He would just lay Truth infront of you to deal with as best you could. And your job, given that key, would be to find the Truth and make it a part of you.’ D. Ammons – Whitewater Philosophy.

I cannot write as clear as Doug Ammons, above. I doubt that matters, the Truth is all that matters. And the volley of ideas and analysis of the grading system will not change our quest for the Truth. Our need to have a grading system only masks the Truth we crave, positioning it in the reflection of a filthy mirror. We will never get the Truth if all we are concerned with is the grade of the river we paddle. A river is a living thing, its whispers are subtle but solid. The river is selfish not converned by our methods and madness. We must care. It matters that we dance with the river, to hold on to its hand as we twist and waltz. The sparkle of the water reflecting the pleasure in our eyes. The train speed heart beat, echoes the cascade. We are a partnership – a courting pair.

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