International Scale of River Difficulty
Someone asked an anonymous boater about his class IV comfort level and he
answered something along the lines of "I'm comfortable that I can usually
find an eddy to swim to."
Thus, the interviewer was inspired to offer this International Scale of
Class I: Easy Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Swimming is
pleasant, shore easily reached. A nice break from paddling. Almost all gear
and equipment is recovered. Boat is just slightly scratched.
Class II: Novice Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are
evident without scouting. Swimming to eddies requires moderate effort.
Climbing out of river may involve slippery rocks and shrub induced
lacerations. Paddles travel great distance downstream requiring lengthy
walk. Something unimportant is missing. Boat hits submerged rock leaving
visible dent on frame or new gash in plastic.
Class III: Intermediate Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be
difficult to avoid. Water is swallowed. Legs are ground repeatedly against
sharp, pointy rocks. Several eddies are missed while swimming. Difficult
decision to stay with boat results in moment of terror when swimmer realizes
they are downstream of boat. Paddle is recirculated in small hole way
upstream. All personal possessions are removed from boat and floated in
different directions. Paddling partners run along river bank shouting
helpful instructions. Boat is munched against large boulder hard enough to
leave series of deep gouges. Sunglasses fall off.
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.
Class V: Expert The water in this rapid is usually under 42 degrees f. Most
gear is destroyed on rocks within minutes if not seconds. If the boat
survives, it is need of about three days of repair. There is no swimming,
only frantic movements to keep from becoming one with the rocks and to get a
breath from time to time. Terror and panic sets in as you realize your
paddle partners don't have a chance in hell of reaching you. You come to a
true understanding of the terms maytagging and pinballing. That hole that
looked like nothing when scouted, has a hydraulic that holds you under the
water until your lungs are close to bursting. You come out only to realize
you still have 75% of the rapid left to swim. Swim to the eddy? What #%^&*#*
eddy!? This rapid usually lasts a mile or more. Hydraulic pressure within
the first few seconds, removes everything that can come off your body. This
includes gloves, shoes, neoprene socks, sunglasses, hats, and clothing. The
rocks take car! e of your fingers, toes, and ears. That $900.00 dry suit,
well it might hold up to the rocks. Your paddle is trash. If there is a
strainer, well, just hope it is old and rotten so it breaks. Paddle Partners
on shore are frantically trying to run and keep up with you. Their horror is
reflected in their faces as they stare at how you are being tossed around!
They are hoping to remember how to do CPR. They also really hope the cooler
with the beer is still intact. They are going to need a cold one by the time
you get out! Climbing out of this happens after the rapid is over. You will
probably need the help of a backboard, cervical collar and Z-rig. Even
though you have broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, missing digits &
ears, and a concussion, you won't feel much because you will have severe
hypothermia. Enjoy your time in the hospital, with the time you take
recovering you won't get another vacation for 3 years.
Class VI: World Class Not recommended for swimming.