Guide to River Trips
The primary aim of this guide is to assist new paddler's in figuring out whether a trip is a good choice. It is meant as a guide and if you are unsure ask either the organiser or a more experienced paddler. It is not meant to be definitive and you need to remember that you need to assess whether you want to take part in a sport which has an element of risk. Hopefully this will help.
Please note that anyone under the age of 18 must bring along a completed parental consent form (PDF download) which should be given to the trip organiser at the meet point, otherwise they cannot come on the trip. We suggest that they reclaim the form at the end of the day to bring on subsequent trips, the club does not store these forms (other than for the pool) and the organiser will destroy any forms he/she has been left with. Any questions, contact the trip organiser (or a committee member) in advance of the trip.
A vital skill before undertaking white water kayaking is the ability to swim confidently in often cold rivers. You will be wearing a buoyancy aid, which will keep you afloat if you end up swimming, but it will not ensure that your head is above water nor direct your path.
As you learn to white water kayak you will inevitably end up swimming at some point and it is therefore important to be able to deal with it calmly and effectively. When you are swimming in a river you are pushed downstream wherever the current dictates. To avoid hurting yourself you should adopt a defensive swimming position lying on your back with your head upstream and your feet on the surface so that you can see what is coming and use your feet to deflect any potential impact. Generally speaking only when you reach the still water at the side of the river should you flip on to your front to swim hard and get out of the river.
Rivers are graded between 1, which is moving unobstructed water, and 6, unrunnable apart from in certain conditions with a high risk of death or serious injury. Due to the changing nature of the river environment grades are only an approximation and different people will grade things differently. There can also be a wide range of difficulty within a grade and continuous grade 3 water may be more difficult than running an individual grade 4 rapid. More on grades...
EKC River Trip Levels
EKC river trips are publiciced with one of the following levels - as with river grades these are for guidance on roughly what sort of trip to expect.
Beginner (Grade 1/2)
Trips in this category are for those that are new to river kayaking. Those new to the sport should do several trips in this category before progressing to improver trips.
These trips provide an introduction to moving water and the basic techniques for entering and leaving, breaking in or out of, the river flow. The rivers on which these trips will take place tend to be fairly flat with some small easy rapids. This type of river tends to be fairly large with plenty of time to react. Beginner trips are, as the name suggests, the ideal chance to start putting the basic skills you have learnt on flat water into practice in a river setting.
There may be a harder rapid on the river, but this will be easy to spot and get out above; depending on the leader’s and your own feelings, experience and confidence you can either walk around it (portage), or if you are not bothered about getting wet, inspect it and consider whether to run it or not.
At this level the river leader and experienced paddlers are very much in charge of the group, they will be leading on the river and it is normally expected that they will provide advice and assistance on basic paddling skills and how to read the river.
It should be noted that even once you are well past being a novice paddler, it is still useful to go on these trips to improve your ability to lead, back mark and assist with rescues in an easy environment. Demonstrating skills on the river helps you to remember and perform them better when they are needed later in your paddling life i.e. when you are paddling something harder.
Improver (Grade 2/3)
The introduction of this category of trips is to provide a bridge between beginner and intermediate trips, and to help avoid the problem of people having only done a couple of relatively easy beginner trips before ending up on an intermediate trip that for various reasons may border on being advanced.
These trips are for those who have been on a few beginner trips and want to progress to something slightly more difficult and further develop their river running skills. Depending on conditions, trips in this category may take place on the same rivers as beginner trips, but may concentrate on the more difficult rapids, and the development of more advanced skills (e.g. developing river reading skills and the ability to pick a line rather than just follow the leader). Other rivers used will have less flat sections and more continuous small rapids with a few slightly more difficult rapids.
Before you progress on from this category to paddling intermediate rivers you should have developed a good upright paddling posture, the ability to pick your own line down a rapid of this standard, and be able to stay upright with the use of adaptive support strokes as needed. Hopefully, you will also have begun to develop a working river roll.
These trips will still largely be leader/experienced paddler led, but will have more input from the less experienced paddlers as they learn more and acquire the ability to pick their own lines and start to develop leadership skills.
Intermediate (Grade 3/4)
These trips are for those that are confident running rivers at the improver standard, have a better ability to stay upright, and either have the makings of a working river roll and/or do not mind swimming and want to try paddling more challenging water.
There are a huge variety of rivers within this category, but in general the rivers will have fairly continuous stretches of what were considered difficult rapids in the improver category. In addition there will normally be at least one harder rapid, the running of which will necessitate taking the correct line, which may not be immediately obvious. Portaging the more difficult rapids is normally, but not always, straightforward. Swimming down some of these rapids is not pleasant and there is a risk of injury.
At this level the more experienced paddlers will be happy to offer guidance on best line(s), may give tips on how to execute moves, and if needed provide safety cover. However, at this level, there is a greater emphasis on picking your own lines and learning how to tackle the river. The ability to hop between eddies will be further developed, building on the skills learned during trips on easier water.
As you progress in this category, there will be more opportunities for you to develop your leadership, river reading abilities and river awareness.
Advanced (Grade 4/5)
Trips at this level can have serious consequences and therefore should only be attempted once you have paddled plenty of intermediate rivers and can run them with relative ease. Advanced paddlers who have paddled with you will be able to tell you whether they consider your paddling skills and confidence to be up to the challenge.
For this level of water you must have good river reading/running skills, a bombproof roll, be mentally up for the challenge and be able to nail your lines.
Although there will still be some aspect of leadership on these trips, it is down to the individual to make their own decisions on what to run, while generally the other paddlers will set up safety.