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First Timer's Guide to Reading the River

Are you new to paddling on rivers? New paddlers often gain some experience and confidence first on lakes and flat water. The ability, then graduate to rivers which will throw you some new curves. Middle River is a particularly good “beginner’s” river because it has mostly Class I-II rapids, which are the mildest rapids a river can have. Of course, it is still possible to flip... or as they say, "go for an unscheduled swim."

  • · Class I: Moving water with a few small waves. Few or no obstructions to hit.

  • · Class II: Easy rapids with smaller waves, with obvious clear channels between the rocks. The ability to steer and maneuver may be required.

Imagine that you are floating downstream and you can hear the roar of a set of rapids coming up ahead. How will you know where to paddle and where to avoid as you go into the rapids?

You will need to read the river. Reading the river is looking ahead at the water’s various colors and shapes for clues about where the rocks are and where the water is deep and swift so you can pass through without going for an unscheduled swim. On lower Middle River, you can most often read the river without ever leaving your boat.

But in parts of upper Middle River, on any river where you are unfamiliar with the landscape, or where the river is more challenging, you should read the river by scouting. Scouting means that you paddle to shore above the rapid, you get out of your boat and walk down to below the rapid and look at it from below. Looking upstream at the rapid you will more easily see where the best places are to go through, and you can more easily see the rocks that you do not want to hit.

We picked out a couple of short videos that will help a new river paddler get started with reading the river.

  1. How to read the downstream V

2. Watch this run of a small rapid and see if YOU can see the downstream V as he chooses his path

3. Here is a slightly more advanced step towards learning to read rivers:

4. Lastly, the following is an excellent video about ALL the basic safety knowledge beginner paddlers should have. Some of the sections of river shown in this video are more challenging than Middle River, but nearly everything demonstrated in this video applies to Middle River, too. Highly recommended.


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