The system for classifying whitewater from 1-6 has been in place for many years, and although it has the benefit of being simple, many of us have long felt that it cannot possibly encompass the variables of whitewater in such a small range of numbers. For example;
What makes a class 5, a class 5?
Is it the actual skill level you are needing to be able to handle the challenges of that river or is it the risks you are facing, and the dangers of that river?
A class 5 river at higher flows may not be a class 5 at lower water levels, so why should that run still be considered a class 5?
Rivers come in many different shapes and sizes and each with their own dangers. Grading a river will always be subjective but we felt the need to try and close the gap on information and provide access to a new system, which we hope will allow people to make better, safer decisions when choosing whether to put on or not.
With this new system we want to honour some of the structure that is currently in place throughout the kayaking world, but improve upon it. Instead of a single number, we want to incorporate a two number system. This allows you to separate the skill level required to handle the challenges of that river, from the consequences or risk you may face. Below is how it would work:
The consequence number is not meant to be an incremental system for measuring a kayakers progression. Just because someone has run a 4.4, doesn’t mean a 3.8 is below their skill level (4.4 means you have more room for error, whereas a 3.8 has very little to none). The consequence numbers are there to give a better understanding of what kind of risks you may face on the water, the 1-5 skill level number is where you will measure your progression.
The split between the difficulty of whitewater and consequence grading rivers will allow you to look at rivers/rapids as a whole and better understand what kind of run they’re heading into. For example, a 4.3 is great for someone looking to step-up from a 3 skill level since they will know the risks are lower. Whereas a 4.8 clearly means there isn’t going to be much room for error, such a run might be riskier than they’re looking for as they look to progress their skills.
The idea is to provide more information to people. This is especially necessary when it comes to a person making the choice of what river to get on or choosing to kayak down something at a new water level.
One goal for this system is to fill a need to allow for rivers with a wide range of water levels to be graded accordingly, since you can adjust skills needed as well as consequences for missing lines based on the flow. Some rivers get easier at higher water but often more dangerous and some rivers simply get harder and most certainly more dangerous at high water. Being able to say that a 3.3 run at high flows becomes a 4.5, would help give a better perspective to someone who is unsure if they are ready for that step-up to those flows.
Another hope is to provide two grades for rivers, one with portages and one without, to open up access to a wider range of rivers. Just because a few rapids are much harder than the rest of the run does not mean the entire river deserves that grade. An example of this is the Green River Narrows, which is accessible to a wide range of paddlers if you portage the “big three”. Without the “big three”, the river is still consequential but doesn’t require the same level of skill and risks are minimised, all be it still there! Using this grading system, the Green without those rapids could be rated as 4.5-4.6, which gives much more information about the run than simply the class I-V scale. If there are rapids that can be portaged, the rest of the run is still open to those that don’t feel ready for those harder rapids.
No matter what system you use or what the grade of river is these ratings will still need to be used wisely. There are other factors to apply, like ability to catch the eddies to portage, difficulty of the portages, and the margin of error in the rapids leading into portages. In the end, there are rivers out there that people should be able to experience, even if they aren’t running the biggest rapids on that section. In this way, they can experience new sections of whitewater while also getting a first-hand look at these harder rapids, and potentially set-up new goals for their progression.
Ultimately the goal of this system is to allow all to make better and more reasoned decisions.
Stay safe and stoked out on the water,
Examples of this grading system on well known rivers:
Green Narrows 100% 6-10” : 4.6
Green Narrows 200% 11-20” : 5.6
Little White 2’3” : 4.5
Little White 3’4”: 4.7
Little White 4’6” : 5.7
Little White 5’+ : 5.8
Upper Jalacingo : 4.6
Upper Gauley : 3.5
Garganta Rio Claro : 4.7
*Note: These river ratings are only meant as examples of how this system could be applied. Grading will always be subjective.