Thanks for all the positive feedback.
I wouldn’t read too much into it David. Although the game of trying to classify runs is endlessly tempting, I think there are more interesting problems out there to solve. But I’ll try to answer the question anyway.
As I believe I’ve mentioned on this board before (perhaps contradictory to what I tell Tom), my opinion is that if we continue to use the current rating system, we have to readjust the ratings of many runs that were rated decades ago to make them more accurate for our modern boating perspective. You were getting at as much in your Stikine report. Although the Stikine is extremely difficult, challenging, and committing, it may no longer be accurate to say that it is the pinnacle of river achievement held by only a small band of the world’s most elite athletes.
I would first distinguish between being a class V paddler and running class V rapids. Despite the self-deprecation, Bob makes a good point that it is more sensible to call yourself a class X boater when X is the water that you can dominate day in and day out without constant struggles, uncertainty, and fear. So in some ways it does make sense to say, Bailey is a class IV run with a couple class Vs and if I can dominate most of it, I’m a class IV boater who maybe can step up to run an occasional class V.
Secondarily, as I was alluding to, since V+ is the most difficult runable rapid in our current rating system, on a relative scale, USB probably ought to be downgraded a bit unless we’re talking about high water runs. Which brings up the third point, that my first run was at a lower level which was not as stout as a higher flow. V+ would be running LW at high water, the Stikine, Ian paddling SSV at any level, or paddling class V without knowing how to roll, like Sean Lee.
Lastly, characterizing USB as a moment where I finally felt like a class V paddler probably had more to do with comparison to my peers than with matching a specific set of run criteria to a classification scale. Humans are notoriously bad at classifying things without context, but much better at relative comparisons. As such, it makes sense that we tend to compare ourselves to our peers. Since around here water is limited, people of many different skill levels end up converging on the same runs frequently. I think we all build a mental hierarchy of boaters: those are the class III boaters out of their element and those are the class V boaters are who eddy hop through the meat of Gore with aplomb. So part of that statement was feeling like I could do a difficult run with a crew that I considered hard class V boaters and hang without feeling totally outclassed and over my head.