Class IV skills and qualities that make for an ideal paddling partner - Mountain Buzz

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Old 01-19-2016   #1
San Jose, CA, California
Paddling Since: 1998
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 570
Class IV skills and qualities that make for an ideal paddling partner

Hi MB,

I was wondering what the community believes are the essential skills every class IV kayak should have or be working toward assuming that they want to paddle with and be a positive addition to a class IV crew?

According to class IV is defined as: "Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. For kayakers, a strong roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively."

Based on that definition and the question above what would your list of skills/ expectations be?

I think my top three would be the following:

1. Demonstrates solid boat control in class III/IV rapids. Can, role, eddy catch, ferry, brace, and effectively drive a boat trough a rapid by reading the river from the boat or shore. In short, they can pick and effectively execute a class IV line.

2. Carries and is competent in using emergency / rescue safety and equipment. Example: Breakdown paddle, throw rope, rescue vest, first aid kit, pin kit, float bags.

3. Is dependable, level-headed and easy to plan trips with in advance of a trip.

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Old 01-20-2016   #2
Chief Niwot's Avatar
West of Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1998
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 684
Here is another description of Class IV :

Class IV: Advanced. Water is generally lots colder that Class III. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise swimming in turbulent water. Swimming may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards. "Must" moves are downgraded to "strongly recommended" after they are missed. Sensation of disbelief experienced while about to swim large drops. Frantic swimming towards shore is alternated with frantic swimming away from shore to avoid strainers. Rocks are clung to with death grip. Paddle is completely forgotten. One shoe is removed. Hydraulic pressure permanently removes waterproof box with all the really important stuff. Paddle partners running along stream look genuinely concerned while lofting throw ropes 20 feet behind swimmer. Paddle partners stare slack-jawed and point in amazement at boat which is finally pinned by major feature. Climbing up river bank involves inverted tree. One of those spring loaded pins that attaches watch to wristband is missing. Contact lenses are moved to rear of eyeballs.
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Old 01-20-2016   #3
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 82
An ability to swallow pride and shoulder a boat down a rapid if they aren't comfortable paddling it. This is a quality that I appreciate in paddling partners.

We all get in over our heads sometimes, which is fine on occasion, but I think this is the best way to avoid dangerous situations on the river. Kind of like abstinence lol
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Old 01-21-2016   #4
canon city, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2011
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 53
This is too funny Chief!
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Old 01-21-2016   #5
Beersheva, Utah
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Nov 2013
Posts: 33
Not necessarily a skill, but certainly the most important quality (IMO): time. Be willing to put in the time, a lot of it, and you'll be surprised at how much you can gauge your own progress. Don't rush.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
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Old 01-22-2016   #6
Bisters, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 422
I really enjoy paddling with people progressing toward Class IV. There is however a world of difference between running a Class IV rapid, and safely boating a Class IV run. This reality is always a big shock to the up and coming Class III boater who has gotten comfy with the couple IV- rapids on their favorite run. Swimming Class IV is an experience that shapes most folks ambitions. Unless you're doing it on purpose, it sucks...

One thing I try & encourage is to catch every eddy possible. It may sound obvious, but until I see that Class III boater in full control of their downstream progress I probably won't invite them on harder runs.

They may however be standing at the put-in, geared up, ready to set shuttle on said harder run...

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Old 01-22-2016   #7
slickhorn's Avatar
Seattle, Washington
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 517
as an IKer, well, swims are part of the game. That 700lb float bag is a big asset.

The biggest tip I can think of is, swim the line!

swims ain't equal, but if you swim off the line, well, that's gonna be punishing. So, try to swim at the bottom. Failing that, after you negotiate the crux. Failing that, at least swim into the water that goes safely through the crux!

you'd be surprised how aggressive swimming techniques can let you make III-IV moves even without the boat.

be proactive! and, please post the footy.
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Old 01-22-2016   #8
Santa Rosa, California
Paddling Since: 2013
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 4
I would say that it totally depends on the type of the IV whitewater that will be run. ie. having kayaked the Ottowa, a class IV river, and also swam it, I would say that it required almost zero class IV boating skills and zero swimming skills aside from keeping your legs up. However I have also boated other smaller class IV rivers (north Feather, near Chico) that would be far more punishing to swim, so boat skill matters a lot more.
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Old 01-22-2016   #9
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Dundee, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1989
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 731
I think your list is great, but your #3 is my #1. I have seen big talkers get their asses kicked and made everybody miserable doing it. You get the right person, even with little experience, and they can do some big stuff. Judging by your post I'd say you are good person to boat with, because you are looking to contribute.
I'm at the point where I care more who I boat with than where or in what. the people I boat with I trust, with my life, and now my kid's lives when I take them. (and I take them a lot, weather permitting)
Like Slickhorn, I started as a ducky boater in the 90's. He runs some serious shit though, I miss the hell out of his blog. I met Fish one day on the white Salmon, that was cool. I agree with with a lot of the points made, I never boat a rapid I couldn't see myself swimming through safely. I keep a cool head, even in the midst of chaos, my chaos or other's. I remain teachable, I will walk a rapid if I don't feel it, and I will say the shit that nobody else wants to say.
There are a lot of people on this forum that do much more challenging stuff than I do. I am happy in III's with the occasional IV. I rarely overestimate my abilities. Always assess the people you go with as well. There are some people I just flat will not go with anymore. If you can find a solid group that works well together and you can mesh with them, that is ideal.

Good luck
Wishing I was on the river instead of surfing the web...
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Old 02-01-2016   #10
Ft Collins, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 213
Perhaps a bit too serious for this thread, but I'd also put #3 first - if a boater is level-headed and makes good decisions, the rest follows. But here's a list:

What's really required depends on the river. Class 4 covers a huge range of difficulties and consequences. If you're talking big-water cl IV on a warm, pool-drop river, then solid cl 3 skills and a reliable roll are all that's needed (of course with a level head). If you're talking the Poudre at 4.5 feet or the Ark at 2500 in May, then I'd want a very solid roll, and solid class 4 boating skills.

Regardless, what I expect is that a class 4 river runner rarely swims. This means they hang in there and attempt to roll at least a few times before pulling the skirt. This is a big deal, and I think the difference between a cl. 3 & 4 boater is often their ability to stay calm and set up for another attempt to successfully roll. A class 3 boater can routinely pull; a class 4 river runner can't. A class 4 boater, IMO, rolls 100% of the time in flat water, and almost always in whitewater. You should roll unless you're getting totally hammered, stuck on a bad eddy line, against a wall, or there's some other extenuating circumstance. I'm not sure I'd be that serious back east or other places with warm water and pools, but in Colorado a lot of class 4 boating involves very continuous, cold, and rock-infested stream beds, and if nothing else swims are a royal PITA. It often takes a long time to collect gear and boaters, and get everything back together. I don't expect to lose boats on cl 4, but paddles are another story. If you want to be a good companion on Cl 4, then it's very important to maintain a solid roll. I'll forgive a lot if someone tries really hard to roll. I'm not very sympathetic chasing gear when someone pulls their skirt on the way over.

And of course one needs suitable river running skills. I guess this means cl 3 is easy - eddy turns, running the meat of drops, solid ferries, reading water, etc. You should be confident surfing and playing in cl 3. Most cl 4 is read-and-run, but depending on the rapids and conditions, scouting may be desirable for solid 4 and usually the first time down a 4+ rapid.

All that safety gear sounds nice, and we usually carry it on wilderness runs, but for the most part runs it's more important to avoid accidents. I don't expect aspiring Cl 4 boaters to own and carry everything - and we almost never carry a breakdown on a roadside run.

We were all a beginner at one point, and everyone has to move up if they want to get better. It's a real pleasure to introduce well-prepared and motivated boaters to harder water; not so much fun when someone seriously overestimates their abilities and swims in the first difficult rapid.

Now I'm packing my ski gear, and tomorrow I'll be packing powder so we'll have water this spring!!
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