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Know When To Say When

Mar 16, 2017

 

A few years ago I traveled to California for a ten‐day kayaking vacation with

the hope of finally boating some of the world‐class High Sierra multi‐day river trips.

At the top of my to‐do list was the world‐renowned Middle Kings River. I first

became enamored by the mystique of the Middle Kings when it was featured in the

Liquid Lifestyles kayak video in 1997.

After collecting beta about the current water levels and snow pack from

some of my local connections prior to leaving for my trip, it looked as if all of the

rivers on my list were going to be either too low or too high. As soon as our plane

landed we studied the river gauges in order to formulate a game plan. The Middle

Kings level had been consistently dropping for a few days prior to arriving; it

seemed our luck had changed and we were going to be able to attempt the canyon.

After a cross country plane ride and a full day of driving, we woke up in the

beautiful Sequoia National Forest. With our kayaks packed full of gear and weighing

nearly 90lbs, we began our 12 mile hike into the canyon. After a grueling uphill hike

we had made the five mile walk to the crux of the trail at Bishop’ Pass. We arrived

to a snow covered mountain with no resemblance of the switchback trail that heads

over the mountain. The snow was deep and slick, and the condition was sketchy.

My kayaking partner had boated the Middle Kings two years prior and noted that

during his trip there was no snow on the mountain. It was definitely possible to

make it up and over the mountain but what was our chance of succeeding? How

much time would we lose with the rough hiking conditions and with this much snow

on the mountains and the pending sunny forecast, would the river become too high?

We deliberated these issues and decided to bail on our expedition. This was a hard

decision to make, not only had I dreamed of kayaking the Middle Kings for many

years, but at the end of the day I would have carried a ninety‐pound kayak up and

down a mountain for a round trip of ten miles, for nothing!

It turned out that the water levels rose over the following days and we were

glad to not be in that canyon at high water, which did provide us with some peace of

mind.

Setting our ego aside and walking away from a river or a rapid can

sometimes be a hard choice to make. It’ important to evaluate your probability of

success in contrast to the risks involved before making your choice to run a rapid.

There is a saying in the whitewater world that I’e heard over the years, “nyone

can paddle over the lip of a big waterfall, and most will” In rock climbing if a person

desires to climb a 5.14d route, that doesn’ mean that individual will be able to climb

such a challenging route, and statistically speaking will probably never be able to

climb a route that difficult. (In case you don’ know anything about the rock

climbing rating scale, 5.14d is extremely difficult and if you were capable of climbing

such a route, you would probably have a few sponsors) So unless you’e one of the

best climbers in the world, chances are you most likely wouldn’ get any further

than a couple of feet off the ground. Unlike our anti‐gravity counterpart, in

whitewater kayaking anyone can paddle any rapid, at any time. Since whitewater is

more accessible, any person can attempt some of the most challenging whitewater

in the world just by simply shoving off into the current. This leaves our sport with a

unique problem: it can become difficult to control our ego when the reward of such

an accomplishment is waiting for us at the bottom.

It’ important to understand the various risks involved in running a

particular rapid and to contemplate our level of comfort with the possible negative

outcomes. There is another old whitewater saying that I’e enjoyed over the years,

“ayaking is 75% mental, and 25% skill.”I believe this statement is an exaggeration

to make a point, but it’ a good one. If you cannot be completely focused on the task

at hand, then you won’ perform at your full potential. This is a key element in our

decision making process. Remember, our decision is based upon the probability of

success in contrast to the possible negative outcomes. The possibility of success can

decrease considerably if fear becomes an overwhelming factor.

Knowing ‘hen to say when’is a skill that is learned through experience and

may become easier over time. I have seen plenty of seasoned adults that are new to

the sport and are fully competent in making sensible decisions in their everyday life,

but haven’ quite developed the same whitewater maturity. As in life there is only

one way to gain experience, and sometimes we learn these lessons through trial and

error. “ood judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad

judgment”Will Rogers.

Unlike many endeavors in life where the consequence of bad judgment

results in having to overcome some kind of hardship, Mother Nature may not grant

us a second chance. In the mean time, be careful to not allow your ego or the

prestige of running a specific rapid or river cloud your decision making process.

Draw upon the experience of others and heed their advice; you may not be as lucky

to have the same result and walk away after making a bad decision. Remember that

whitewater challenge won’ be going anywhere, and will be waiting for you when

the time is right!



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