Progression of Rivers 

An Old Timer’s View
by Chuck Lunsford
Reprinted from Feb 96

Many years ago (the mid 70’s) some of us were just beginning to participate in a form of canoe sport (whitewater touring) which has since grown beyond anything we could have imagined. However, as equipment and techniques have evolved, some basics are unchanged. It is still recreation - it must be enjoyable or you shouldn't do it. Over the years a list of lessons learned have been compiled. What follows are the fundamentals which promote a pleasing experience and which should still be observed.

1. Develop your skills over time. This is (or can be) a life long activity. Don’t try Niagara Falls for a first run. Build your skills sequentially so you are continuously challenged but not scared out or injured by going too far beyond your capability too quickly.

2. Know what your current skill set is and the risk you would take by running whatever is being proposed. Make sure both you and your equipment are up to the challenge you are considering. Manage the challenge to a level with which you are comfortable. In the beginning, when you can’t assess your skill or equipment, go a little more cautiously.

3. Never run something solely because of social pressure, and never impose such pressure on others. You alone are accountable for your decisions.

In line with this philosophy, we established some easy guidelines. In essence, the concepts were that:

1. When a paddler could play proficiently with a rapid of some grade, then they were ready to run the next higher grade.

2. No one should run a grade IV or higher unless they could do Eskimo rolls reliably under the expected conditions.

3. Water level changes the risk, so no one should be attempting any whitewater stream unless they recognize the importance of this factor, have access to suitable information about it, and use this information.

4. The effect of being cold is probably the most serious concern of all. Proper equipment must be used. This is true in whitewater or quiet water. Never ignore the importance of cold water (or air).

5. A river is always easier if one is familiar with it. Don’t underestimate its difficulty for one who is not familiar with it.

6. Accessibility drives risk. If it’s easy to walk out, a greater challenge can be accepted.

7. Avoid Trees and Strainers!

8. Rivers don’t necessarily resemble campfire descriptions!

For those just beginning their experience in this new world you might consider this sequence of increasing difficulty rivers (Progression of Rivers). Note that the factors mentioned previously and thus the order. Try to increase the difficulty at the rate of increasing skill. Go with other paddlers who have been there before.

Beginning Level (Moving Water):
Fall Creek
Flatrock River
Whitewater River

Novice Level (Starting into Whitewater)
Elkhorn Creek
Big Pine
Middle Youghiogheny
South Bend East Race

Intermediate (Easy to Medium Whitewater)
Cumberland below falls
Section III Wolf
Upper Clear Creek
Red Gorge
Middle Meadow
French Broad above Hot Springs
Chattooga III
Lower Youghiogheny

Advanced (experienced only-solid Eskimo roll)
Clear Creek Canyon
Nolichucky Gorge
Section IV Wolf
Big South Fork Gorge
Cheat Canyon
Lower half of Gauley Canyon
New Gorge
Colorado Grand Canyon

Experts (very experienced)
Chattooga IV
Upper half of Gauley Canyon
Upper Youghiogheny

Russell’s Fork
Lower Meadow
Lower Niagara Gorge
Bio Bio (Chile)