How Do You Know You are Ready to Take on a New River?
Whether it is the Upper Yough, the Lower Yough, or maybe even Great Falls, you just want to run a harder river, move up in the ranks of paddling, take on a bigger challenge, and stand out and be bold…. But are you prepared? And do you have what you need to take that step responsibly, being master of your own fate? Or, will you be paddling on that thin edge between survival and calamity, swimming in the middle of unforgiving boulders, gasping for air, struggling to drag yourself into the closest eddy ? How can you advance your abilities and diminish your exposure to hazards that at this time are beyond your competence? How can you avoid placing the burden of rescuing you on your paddling friends? To take on a difficult rivers you must build inner resources.
Workout - Every paddler has a responsibility to bring him or herself to a white water river in good physical condition. It takes cardiovascular conditioning to be able to hold your breath while upside down for more than a few seconds in a fearsome rapid or to maintain good body position and boat control for a long day on the river. You should be able to control your breath and swim efficiently despite chilly water temperatures. Paddle, run, swim, bike, workout in the gym, and push your physical limits. The body has a way of renewing itself when you use it hard. Develop your athletic side.
Master the basics – Take lessons in kayaking and learn from skilled paddlers, then practice what you have learned until it comes naturally. If you feel awkward or not knowing what to do, go back and get clarification from your instructors. Practice challenging moves on easy and inconsequential features until you can perform them with relative ease. Understand what is effective and what is counter productive. Be a student of the sport.
Understand the river – Do not be reluctant to scout. Get out of your boat for an overview of the rapid and to make a rational decision about whether to paddle or to portage. View the rapid from every angle and evaluate various lines it will take to paddle it successfully. Observe the flow of water and the obstacles of resistance, and locate the waypoints of your line. Watch your more skilled friends paddle the rapid and learn to estimate whether it is within your abilities. Do not hesitate to walk around a rapid if your evaluation tells you it is beyond your skills: it often takes more guts to portage than to give in to the pressures to run it. Finally, understand the basic characteristics of the river you are paddling and be aware of what different river levels mean. Become a student of the river.
Build your confidence – You will become more at ease on the water with repeated success. Repeating failure will only build your frustration… or even fear. Stay within your competence and push against your limits, but do not try to jump ahead of your abilities and attempt what you cannot do. You must earn your progress in a sport such as kayaking, otherwise you will always carry tension and nervousness when you head to the river. Fear can put a serious damper on your fun. You know when you are exceeding your competence by the way you feel.
Be self-sufficient – It is not all about you. Do not become a burden for your paddling buddies. In case you make a mistake, respond quickly and work your own way out of trouble. Your friends can back you up, but you must have the inner resources to make your own recovery, and enough extra energy to help others in your group when they need you. Being accompanied by skilled paddlers is not reason enough to take on a difficult river. Develop you own resources.
Don’t go out there with defective gear – On the river you are often dependent upon your gear. Only you are responsible if your dry top leaks, or if your skirt pops off your boat, or if your paddle breaks. Find a boat that will help you accomplish what you want on the river instead of one that increases the challenge. The river is challenging enough; choose a boat that helps you. In the event your equipment fails on the river or causes you a great struggle to stay upright, your group may be affected by the effort to get you to the take-out. Be responsible for yourself and bring the right gear.
Paddling a river can teach you a lot about yourself. Develop your abilities step by step in a comprehensive plan that includes the items above, and you will be ready for new experiences. Overreaching your skills will only break down your confidence. The reason we paddle is to expand our experience – somehow bringing together in one place the excitement of the complete chaos of white water and the elation of being at peace with the river . But the experience is better when your mind and your physique are prepared for whatever the river has in store for you.