The path of least resistance offers little in return for navigating it successfully. It is for that reason we steer purposely into the roughest waters possible. As that’s the only place to find anything of value, that being simply a challenge. –Damien S. Wilhelmi
Winter is upon us and like most other outdoor enthusiasts generally do this time of year, I am enjoying the cold weather as best I can. Snowboarding, snowshoeing, and making the oh-so infamous snow angel wherever the imprint seems suitable. However, no matter how much I am able to enjoy the snow my mind always wanders toward the coming spring. When the snow melts, the rivers rage, and I can set my raft in to huck a little rubber over their rolling and rambunctious rapids.
But as year after year has taught me, not everyone shares this rafting enthusiasm and it seems to be due to the sole reason that most people don’t know where to start. Yes it can be dangerous and there are a number of points you must cover to ensure the trip has a chance of being completed successfully. But every danger in this world can be mitigated through proper understanding, planning, and preparation. It is with those points in mind that every outdoor trip should be conjured up.
If you are entertaining the idea of taking a rafting trip, whether it is a serious multi-day adventure or a simple afternoon delight, the steps to be taken are roughly the same. So if come 2014 you are planning a whitewater rafting trip of your own, be sure to read on to see the steps you need to take to make your trip enjoyable, memorable, and most importantly… safe.
Planning and Preparation
Safety cannot be left to chance, should not be relied upon hope, nor should it ever be left to wishing for the best. Any idea of luck, good fortune, favor all must leave you mind. Luck is nothing more than the residue of design, and before setting off, please be sure you have planned properly, have prepared adequately, and understand everything you are about to confront. Because any river, whether it be the Nile or the Lazy needs to be respected and never under any circumstanced should the be underestimated.
With that in mind, please don’t be deterred, just remain mindful and respectful of what you are attempting. Approach it with caution and there is no doubt you will notice any and all problems that both lay ahead and those that may arise.
Choosing Desired River
When choosing a river, the most important factor is to find one that is in an area that interests you and is one with an appropriate difficulty level for the group participating. The difficulty of rafting a river is based and measured on Grades. Be sure to understand the Grade of the river and what your group will be able to safely handle.
Once a river is found which your group is capable of and everyone will enjoy rafting, you will want to figure out if there are any special regulations or requirements to raft it. For example, you can’t fish in all rivers, you can’t start camp fires on certain lands, and some regions actually require you to pack out all and any waste produced, including fecal matter. Also some rivers, such as in the Grand Canyon at Harpers Ferry requires you to be on a waiting list and a permit is needed years in advance if you intend to go rafting. By planning ahead you will be able to wrap your head around any and all restrictions to be mindful of.
You will also want to take into account anything extra you or your party would like to do along the river. If there are any certain scenic points of interests, hiking trails, climbing routes, or peaks to summit, be sure to plot this out along your course and plan for it. The beautiful thing of rafting is it can take you miles away from civilization, and gives you the opportunity to come across spots that are otherwise difficult to reach. There will be many opportunities to take along the way, and gives a nice reprieve from sitting, being wet and jostled all day.
In the end, the most important thing you can do is map the exact course you intend to take down to the mile. Understanding the full scope of your undertaking is paramount. This means knowing exactly where you will set the raft in, where you will get out, the various sections of the river you will take, the desired routes, obstacles and hazards to avoid, where you will be camping, stopping for lunch, hiking, climbing, or any other point of interest. Know this itinerary well, memorize it. Make the party memorize it, and be sure to write it down for friends and family waiting home for you. Your itinerary should be followed and kept as if something goes wrong, rescuers can follow it, down to the day, and know where you should be or where you didn’t make it to.
Choosing the Correct Equipment
Of course, it is also very important to understand and know the equipment you will be using and needing. If you are rafting in Alaska, you may want warmer clothes and perhaps even protection from bears and moose. If you are rafting in Florida, sun protection and perhaps snake anti-venom would be wise to take. Point being, you will want specific equipment dependent on the region you are traveling and you should be sure to cover anything and everything that could be desired. For me, I am always overly aware of mosquitos. Don’t know why they just annoy me, but I know that and as a result am always prepared to do battle with them every trip.
Your camping gear will need to be though out just as well. Should you bring a Gortex winter bivouac to camp along the river in Texas? Probably not as it will be too hot. Should you plan on sleeping outdoors, under the stars, in Colorado? Not if you are at high elevation as it will no doubt become cold. This then goes into ensuring you have enough food and water (or ability to make safe drinking water) as those are essential. Then comes the luxuries of favorite drinks, snacks, books, games, and any other pleasantry you are thinking of bringing.
Then comes the rafting gear itself: The raft, helmet, life jacket, wetsuits, oars, etc. All of these should be inspected and understood. Keeping your helmet strapped, life jacket secured, and every other basic rafting principal should be known by every member of the group. How to patch a hole in the raft, splinter a fractured oar, and anything else should be rehearsed, known, and understood as well. To keep it in mind, if only one or two people know these things, all of the weight of making sure they are done falls on them. Those responsibilities need to be shared by all, and not to make it fair, but to ensure all the “knowledge” eggs don’t lay in a single basket. Because when that basket is lost, so are all the eggs.
Finally you will want to learn how to take everything you intend on bringing and figure out how to properly pack your raft. Depending on the craft used dictates exactly how it is to be loaded. You normally don’t want all of the weight toward the front as that causes the raft to nose dive under water. But the specifics depend on the actual raft itself. Whether that is a canoe, kayak, ducky, or regular raft. Investigate this yourself and be sure you pack your intended craft correctly.
This was in part mentioned before, but let’s goes over what an emergency plan should entail. For starters, tell every person in your group to tell at least one other person they know, whether a friend or relative, the itinerary of your trip. This means a day by day schedule of your trip, when it starts, where all you are going, and when you intend to exit the river. This way if you are not heard from, help can be sent to find you.
The next part to an emergency plan is planning out what the rest of the group should do if something was to occur. If someone becomes lost, concussed, breaks a bone, or any other foreseeable problem, the group should agree upon a plan of action to take and know what to do. This shouldn’t just be known by the leader or leaders because if something happens to them, what will the rest do? This means knowing surrounding trails that lead to roads or civilization, making sure the group has a proper medical bag, and generally just covering as many bases as possible. The more you plan ahead, the less you’ll have to scurry in a moment of crisis.
Choosing the Right Group of People
Lastly, be sure to choose the right people to take a rafting trip with. Take only those that want to go, those that may actually enjoy it, and don’t force someone into it as that only makes the trip worse for everyone else once they realize they don’t want to be there. Negative Nancy’s are abhorred by all in these moments.
Another factor you will want to take into account for the people you choose to invite is their physical endurance, mental toughness, and of course rafting skill and knowledge. A weak person can mean a weak paddler, a weak mind can simply mean giving up altogether, or worse yet, complaining so much it brings the parties overall mood down. If members of your group lack the knowledge or skill, then they are going to need to be brought up to speed. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. So make sure the strength of your chain is as strong as you would like it. Otherwise you’ll have to deal with repairing it later once it finally does give way.
- License: Image author owned
The author of this piece is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this article you can follow me on Twitter @CustParadigm. When I’m not writing about putting together the perfect Whitewater Rafting Trip, I can generally be found preparing my friends for future trips we intend to take.