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General discussion:

Rating rivers is a subjective enterprise second to none in generating good natured disagreement around the campfire and pool table.  My main goal has been internal consistency;  that is, if one river is rated III and another III+, the river rated III+ truly is more challenging.  In addition, I've tried to make my ratings consistent with American Whitewater's benchmark rapid ratings (class I-III benchmark rapids, class IV benchmark rapids, class V benchmark rapids).  Though I think some of the benchmarks at the low end of what AW calls class V are overly conservative, the number of commonly run class IV/V rapids is constantly growing, and if one category is going to become more crowded there is some merit for the crowding to occur in class V -- the class whose boaters rely the least on ratings.

Unless otherwise noted, the ratings are for moderate water levels.  A rating of III implies that the major rapids are all of similar difficulty and are class III's;  a III-IV rating implies that some of the major rapids are more difficult than others, with some arguably class IV;  a class III (IV) implies that most of the major rapids are class III's, but one is clearly harder than the others and is definitely a class IV.  Keep in mind that most rivers and creeks are more challenging at higher water levels (though this is not always the case;  see the description of the Watauga Gorge's Watauga Falls, for example).

 

Disclaimer:

No rating system can fully capture the multi-faceted and ever-changing range of hazards and opportunities a moving body of water presents.  Varying water levels, temperatures, winds, team strengths and weaknesses, unexpected strainers, paddler fatigue and paddler alertness -- among many other factors -- significantly influence a run's risks and challenges any given day.  Like shadows on a wall, my ratings are but hints of the nature of the dynamic environments they attempt to summarize.  Use them responsibly.  They are at best starting points to a decision-making process for which the user bears sole responsibility.

 

Resources and individuals consulted:

Though I made the final calls on all the ratings on these pages, I did so with the help of the following resources and individuals:  American Whitewater's benchmark rapid ratings series (class I-III benchmark rapids, class IV benchmark rapids, class V benchmark rapids;  I haven't always agreed with AW's benchmarks, but I have always deferred to them), the Keelhaulers Canoe Club River Ratings Page (conservative ratings, but its international scope and Keelhauler point system make it an excellent resource for assessing relative difficulty), the Monocacy Canoe Club's River Ratings Page (once again, conservative ratings, but its 180 ranked Eastern/Appalachian rivers are very useful for assessing relative difficulty), Monte Smith's Southeastern Whitewater:  Fifty of the Best River Trips from Alabama to West Virginia (yes, you guessed it, conservative ratings, but Smith's TRIP index provides an innovative means for assessing relative difficulty), Neil Baker, Jerry Beckwith, Lee Belknap, Larry Cable, Bud Chavez, Mike Faughn, Bob Fister, RC Forney, Daniel Fosbinder, Steve Frazier, John Kobak, David Lee, Jim Leutenegger, Betsy Mayers, Harrison Metzger, Hugh Munro, Susan Oehler, Steve Patch, Bradley Roberts, Robin Seylor, Jason Stancil, Karl Whipp, and Clay Wright.

 


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Copyright 2000-2003 [Chris Bell, Asheville, NC].
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Revised: November 12, 2003.

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