Less is More Part 1
The first step in making your life easier on the river is to have a plan. And by a plan I don’t mean plunge in and hope it all goes well- hope is never really a great plan. We want to act upon the river rather than be acted upon by the river. This is to say be in control of your destiny rather than at the mercy of the current.
Okay, that all sounds very fine, but how do we do it? By finding the patterns in moving water we will define our route into current, across or down the river, in and out of eddies. Moving water follows very consistent patterns, and by understanding and seeing those patterns we can quickly assess options and plan to use the water to our advantage.
A rapid requires three components: volume, gradient and obstructions. When water speeds up and is squeezed between obstructions it will form a rapid, the pattern of which is the classic smooth tongue or downstream vee, followed by a series of larger to smaller, evenly spaced standing waves or wave train. Behind the obstructions forming the rapid will be eddies. That’s our standard whitewater pattern.
When looking at a rapid- from shore or in the boat, we can quickly find these patterns and routes through. Any time we see a deviation in the pattern- a rogue wave that is not evenly spaced or too big for it’s location, a hole or hydraulic, etc., it represents another obstruction that we must take into account. This translates to one of two things: avoid the feature or use it to advantage.
What we are looking for within the patterns are the weak spots and easy water. Standing waves create wave troughs which become gateways to enter current and transport waves across river, holes and pour overs cause slack water below them, an obstruction will create an eddy. By recognizing the patterns we can plan our route to take advantage of these slower and smoother water areas.
Let’s say I asked you to make your way across a wide stretch of river to an eddy on the opposite side. You may say it’s not possible, it’s too far and you will get blown downstream. After looking for the moving water patterns and easy water that results, you might find that there is a great wave trough that takes you half way across the river. That’s a great start! Now, looking upstream from there, we may see a pour over creating some slower water below it or even an eddy that can be paddled up. From there you might find yet another wave pattern that, once you have attained up river in the eddy, allows you to catch another trough to the target eddy. Without reading the river and recognizing these patterns this move would not have been possible.
By understanding moving water patterns and finding the easy routes within, you become like a billiards player calling your shot- use this wave trough across to this eddy, ride the backwash of that hole to that downstream vee, and so on. You will never look at a rapid the same way again, and you will be well on your way to precision paddling.