Boating Into The Evening- Safe or No? - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-02-2014   #1
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Boating Into The Evening- Safe or No?

Watching the discussion unfold following the Crystal Accident Report, one thing that I kept thinking about and coming back to is the time of the accident. I know that it doesn't matter what time of day it was, that this accident and the strainer that caused it would have caused the same thing regardless of time, but it kind of made me do some thinking, and it made me think of this question....when it comes to putting on, when is too late to put on?

I know everyone will have a different answer because of their own experiences, and obviously no one is "right". But would love to hear what others think about this.

For me, in my personal experience, I don't like to launch on a boating mission any later than 5 pm. And even than that is only if I am doing a short (<5 miles) easy run, like a local town run. On a more technical mission, like class III or better, I don't like to launch later than about 2 or 3. Because, even on simple runs like my backyard Gunnison, a flip, a misplaced oar stroke, a slide under some trees, etc, can turn into a mini-epic really quick. I remember one time we had a full ducky wrap on a boulder in an otherwise flat and benign stretch of water. Normally no problem, but since it happened at 7:30 pm in August we had precious little time to try and remove it and then continue downriver. An otherwise tiny and minor job quickly became exacerbated by the impending darkness.

And that is why I don't care for evening boating: the lack of time to properly recover from a unexpected situation, leading to feeling rushed and ultimately having a higher chance of making a mistake.

But again, that's just like, my opinion, man..... What is yours?

"Don't f$&@ing eddy out, just run it! Whaddya doin??" -LMyers
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Old 08-02-2014   #2
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Just like you said, and just like all boating, its a risk vs reward assessment. Runs you are comfortable with, runs that are short and easy, you are more likely to take the risk and launch late. More difficult runs, longer runs, you are not willing to take the risk of problems compounding by darkness. Problems can happen on a < 1 mile class 2 stretch. Its all about personal/ group comfort and willingness to take the risk.

I have done a bunch of night boating. All of it has been on stretches I know well or that I am comfortable with. For example, ruby horse theif, the float in and out of cataract, browns, salida down,etc. I am always more alert and pay more attention in the easiest water than I ever would during the day, because of the escalated risk a problem could present and because well, its harder to see.

There is no right or wrong answer. Some wont launch after noon on browns and some will run it at midnight. Some wont surf little d and some will take ride after ride at midnight. Some wont run OBJ and some, well at least one, will run it at midnight. The key is knowing where your skills are and deciding what risk you are willing to take.
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Old 08-02-2014   #3
Thronton, Colorado
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Originally Posted by zbaird View Post
...the float in and out of cataract...
We floated out of Cataract once, it is one of my most memorable trips actually. Full moon, no winds, clear skies... Hit the boat ramp about 2AM. It was really a neat experience actually. But then again, it was FLAT water.

It's like anything though, depends on your skills, how well you know the river, how much risk you are willing to take, etc. I personally wouldn't raft late in the evening on anything but flat water, maybe class II, unless it was an emergency and I was trying to get out. Even then, I may assess the risks of running whitewater at night and accept the risk of waiting until morning for the emergency.
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Old 08-02-2014   #4
Denver, Colorado
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You are right that any problem that takes time could put you boating in the dark and it would be difficult to find missing gear or a swimmer.That said ,if you don't get into some committing run it is not that unsafe.We used to routinely meet to run Dumont ,lower CC,and Foxton after 6.We all knew the runs well and they are roadside ,more or less,and it stays light out until 8:30 /9. If we went by your suggestion ,there goes a bunch of days on the water for 9 to5'ers.

We used to run Boulder town on night releases in Dec./Jan . BRRR! there is some light from street lamps.Once we badly misjudged how long a run would take and ran a couple of miles of the Poudre in the dark.You can see better than you would think.Would not want to miss that takeout ,our camp was literally the last before the Narrows,even then there is a stretch of easier water for a bit.Cool to boat past campfires blazing in the dark.I love doing a shorty near camp at dusk then settle into cooking and beer guzzling by the campfire.

...Once put in for 1st D at 7 :30 ish AM and had much scouting and portaging got to the main, much larger river, late afternoon and I swam some bullshit ,got conservative and scouted a bunch.We got to the lower part of the gorge that I was familiar with but it was higher than I was used to so I commenced speed portaging while the guide book author I was with ran part of them solo.Then I swam again into the must make eddy above class VI.We finished the last mile with little light and it was pitch black at takeout.It seems to get dark faster in the tropics.We had food ,water,and some dry clothes but no shelter or sleeping bags just large hefty bags to survive the night would have sucked.
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Old 08-02-2014   #5
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It all depends on the familiarity, run length, and especially the consequences that are involved if things don't go well. Rather than a certain time of day, I prefer to think of it in terms of hours of daylight remaining and consider what's going to happen with the temps when the sun goes behind the canyon walls, and it gets dark all together. How prepared are you for the paddle out if you don't get to the takeout in daylight?

The consequences of a swim or raft flip / wrap in October or March on Westwater suddenly escalate at 5 pm vs what it's like in July at the same time. When making the call, ask yourself, "what's it going to be like if something goes wrong and we spend a couple extra hours on and in the river getting things cleaned up, have cold wet people?" Even if it's just flat water on the float out, it'll be dark, cold, etc. and you may have someone going hypothermic if you don't have a sleeping bag (or if your bag is soaked).

Lots of things to consider in the judgment call.

Be safe out there,

Nothing in the world is more yielding and gentle than water. Yet it has no equal for conquering the resistant and tough. The flexible can overcome the unbending; the soft can overcome the hard. - Lao Tse
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Old 08-02-2014   #6
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I generally like to give myself an hour leeway from intended takeout time to sunset when running whitewater. That said, I have enjoyed some beautiful full moon rises while floating. A lot depends on flow, time of year and familiarity with the run.

I have some friends that did a full moon birthday trip down pine creek and numbers in August. I wouldn't have done it myself, but they had a great time.
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Old 08-02-2014   #7
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Participated in many full moon floats on easy class 3. Fishing water until it is so pitch black we couldn't find the take out ramp and there was a bridge to mark it. Usually made it to the kayak take out doing surf sessions on a mile long class 3 drop.

But we were very familiar with the runs. Not that it makes it better when the shit hits the fan but.....

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Old 08-02-2014   #8
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Done lots of fun floating in the dark.

Also done some not so fun accidental dark floats prior to having the experience to know better. The beginning of my second season kayaking, myself and another newbie launched Lower Taos box at 3 pm. In march. Having never done it. It got dark right after powerline. When we were in the rapids, we could see the whitewater and generally tell where to go. The scariest parts were listening to an impending rapid in the pitch dark flat water above. Got to camp at 9:30 or ten to some very worried ladies.

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Old 08-02-2014   #9
Durango, Colorado
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Running the shit in the evening is the only way to have a good job and be a good paddler. Does it lessen the margin for error? Sure. But it's usually on runs you know well, which makes a big difference. Plus, in this neck of the woods, we can't scout or set safety anyway. You just need to know what you're getting into.

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Old 08-03-2014   #10
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Thanks everyone for all your replies. Lots of great thoughts and contributions. It kind of drifted into "night float" territory, which I think is kind of a different discussion, but that's understandable and no biggie. Just a couple of quick questions for people-

Jmack- Totally understand your reasoning and agree. But, as you say, the shit in your neck of the woods is kinda hairy. Do you ever worry about getting into a bad situation late in the evening? If you had a swim at Rectilean (sp?) and ended up in an eddy between rapids at like...say...8:15 pm....what are your thoughts on the situation ending up like that? Obviously I understand that boating is boating and you guys are still going to rally it, but does that thought come up? What do you tell yourself when you have that thought?

Dave- That sounds terrifying. No thanks.

Carve- Like you say, runs you are very familiar with. But, our late evening ducky wrap happened on the class II town run we run five days a week. "A mile long class III rapid" sounds pretty easy when you think to yourself about how you have done it a hundred and a half times, but still, regardless of past history, a lot of of shit can go wrong in a mile long class III rapid. So how do you justify doing it when one blown move could end up in a really shitty situation quick? Not attacking, just genuinely curious.

Logan- An hour seems like a good idea, I kind of like the sounds of that.

I keep hearing a lot of folks talk about "familiarity" of the run. I get that, and to some measure I agree, BUT, the shit can hit the fan in any run at almost any time. People die on class II runs all the time. So even though one can be intimately familiar with a run, it does not rule out the possibility of something happen. If anything it may lead to a sense of over-confidence, a feeling that nothing will happen because it's "just a backyard run". How do you justify and explain the reasoning behind doing it? Is there really a belief in the hope that nothing will happen? Or is there a thought that if something does happen it will be minor and inconsequential? Again, not attacking anyone, just trying to get a little bit more explanations.

Thanks again to everyone who has joined in!
"Don't f$&@ing eddy out, just run it! Whaddya doin??" -LMyers
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