Friday, February 29, 2008

Look Around

It's usually pretty easy to look at a photo and tell whether the paddler is going to be successful or get worked. It's not always so easy to make it all come together on a river or creek run that's pushing your limits.

Have you ever mentally been here?
"OK, big rapid, I can do this. Big breath. Peel out with left angle for the first drop. Little bit of speed, not too much, now right boof and go! Got to carry my speed, now left boof, turn the corner and accelerate towards the launch pad - big right boof! Look out for the hole, keep my weight forward, and I’m through! Oh man, what a line! That was perfect, I am the best kay….

Wait a minute – where am I? I don’t know where to go, all I see are rocks. Where’s an eddy? There’s one, but I don’t think I’m gonna make it, don’t want to run this backwards. Too late, just close my eyes and hold on, I hope there’s no sieve. Whew made it, that was a close one…"

Sound familiar? If you've spent much time creeking, or even river running, you've likely come through a rapid that you just scouted and suddenly realize that you have no idea what’s down stream. Most of the time things work out, however it does create a lot of unnecessary stress. And unnecessary stress is something we can all agree is not desirable when creeking. So to keep our buddies from laughing while doing the mad hamster scramble at the bottom of a rapid always remember to check downstream for at least these three things

you run a rapid:
  1. Find a good eddy and make sure you can stop in it. This really serves three purposes. First, it keeps us from running the next section blind. Two, it puts us in a position to set safety for other paddlers. And three, it allows us to pump both fists in celebration for the line we just stomped.
  2. Check to see if there are more drops downstream. If there are and you can’t see them in detail, or you can’t see any eddies closer to them, it’s a good idea to walk down there and check it out beforehand. (Remember, just because there’s an eddy above a drop doesn’t mean you should catch that eddy. It’s a bad feeling to catch that last eddy above a drop and realize that you now have no choice but to commit to the rapid. Make sure if you catch an eddy to boat scout you have other options to leave the eddy, besides simply running the rapid)
  3. Be aware of your surroundings. Always be scanning for a place where you can get out of your boat, even if there aren’t any more big drops downstream. Why? Because it is your responsibility to run back upstream to help your buddy if he needs it. All this sounds incredibly simple, but in the heat of the moment it’s surprisingly easy to forget to check downstream.
You can also apply a similar method to boat scouting. In my opinion, boat scouting is one of the most important aspects of creeking - primarily because of the time it can save you on the creek. One of the biggest creeking challenges, especially on longer or more remote runs, is the time factor. When done correctly, boat scouting allows you to move quickly downstream and save the bank scouts for when you need them most. To be a good boat scouter, you need good vision.
Here’s some tips on improving vision:
  1. Lift your vision. Whenever you’re creeking (and especially boat scouting) you want to avoid getting tunnel vision (only looking at the line right in front of you).Lots of times a line that looks good at the beginning can turn out badly farther downstream.Lifting your vision will allow you to take in the characteristics of the whole river, determine alternate lines, spot hazards, locate eddies, and find safety set-up positions.
  2. Always try to look and think at least two moves ahead of where you’re at.
  3. Catch lots of eddies. Creeking can seem really fast and often times when you’re starting out it’s difficult to lift your vision and look two moves ahead. By catching lots of eddies you’ll slow everything down and give yourself time to look around from the safety of that eddy. (You can practice looking two moves ahead on your local run, or on a familiar run that you're comfortable with. Practice this on class two/three first, instead of waiting until you get to class five)
A word to the wise. Boat scouting is something that is learned over time. Once again, practice on easier runs before you move on to harder ones. Most importantly, always take the time to scout if you can’t see the bottom, can’t see the next eddy, or you feel uncomfortable with the information you have. So go get out on the creek and remember to look around!

Andrew Holcombe Team Dagger NOC Instructor

Andrew will be teaching this years creek week at NOC on March 9-13, 4 days of creeking with all meals, lodging, transportation and equipment included for $900.

For more information or sign up call 888-905-7238