Vail Daily letter: A different view on rivers |

Vail Daily letter: A different view on rivers

Matthew Sargent
Vail, CO, Colorado

In a My Views column published July 20, the author talked about progression on rivers. We were told to start on class I stretches, slowly progressing, just as a skier would start on greens, progressing to diamonds. Although well-sounding, this logic doesn’t hold true to river trips unless learning to kayak, a solo endeavor. It was apparent that he was referring to guided trips, where a trained guide is in charge of navigating.

He encouraged novices to start on float trips. Float trips are a great way to see amazing vistas, but even my nephew at the age of 3 begged for more waves during a class II float.

We were told jumping into advanced water was a product of a society based on instant gratification, fueled by the hype of extreme sports.

On a daily basis professionals take beginners down class IV/ V stretches of water. All it takes to enjoy these stretches of water is a moderate sense of adventure, decent fitness, and the ability to follow directions.

Guides know the rivers and can educate the uninitiated as to the basics of paddling. It’s simple two strokes, forward and back. The novice need not know river hydrology. Guides educate guests to potential hazards, types of rapids, and even make sure paddlers appreciate the scenery of Colorado’s canyons and gorges.

We were also scared, told, “class V swims result in injury or death.” Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to swim class V rapids nor watch anyone else.

Professionals make a concerned effort to keep people in the boat, yet occasionally rafters become swimmers. If one follows the directions outlined in the safety talk before any rafting trip, rarely are they seriously injured (unless you count bruised egos). I’m not saying everyone should jump into class V, as not everyone is mentally prepared (generally speaking the most traumatic experience is mental anguish).

However, when told class V is as brutal as we were, the assumption is that class IV trips must be nearly as terrifying.

According to Wikipedia, class IV is “very difficult,” depicting two people paddling a canoe. If the initiated can paddle a canoe (imagine paddling a bathtub,) the uninitiated surely can follow a guide’s commands.

I simply want to assert level IV trips are exhilarating and beginner friendly if approached with an open mind and willingness to throw in the occasional “Forward two!”

I offer this advice as a professional guide who has taken many beginners down class IV and V trips. I’m not selling anything to anyone. I just want people to go enjoy the inspiring rivers Colorado has to offer, be it class IV, not cowering to fear-based advertising.

Matthew Sargent


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