River Level Classification System


PPCS uses the international river rating scale for trip levels. The club plans trips on rivers rated Class I-IV. Remember that the difficulty of a river run varies greatly with changing conditions. Temperature and water level play a significant role in altering the complexion of a river. The classification levels shown in the trip list are for the conditions that we usually encounter on that river at that time of year. However, recent rains can raise the water level and the difficulty class.

CLASS I: This describes rivers that may have stretches of fast current with few or no obstructions. We also classify most lake trips as Class I. People should start their canoeing experience at this level. RISKS: People can and do tip over on Class I trips, though the likelihood of serious injury is less than with higher river classes. SKILLS NEEDED: This is where learning begins. You should be able to paddle your boat in a reasonably straight line and steer around occasional obstacles. You need to be comfortable in the water and preferably know how to swim.

CLASS II: This describes a river that has straightforward rapids with rock dodging and medium waves. This is the level where you start learning whitewater skills. RISKS: Possibility of serious injury, though bruises are a more likely consequence of tipovers. Beginner whitewater paddlers should expect tipovers as part of the learning process, just as downhill skiers expect falls as part of the learning process. SKILLS NEEDED: Paddlers should know the basic canoeing skills, including basic strokes forward, backward, draw, crossdraw, and pry. The rudiments of hydraulics and route finding need to be learned. Eddy turns and peelouts should be learned and practiced. Canoeists should be comfortable overturning in moving water, and know self rescue techniques (see the section on tipover survival techniques). Kayakers should know how to do an Eskimo roll, or at least know how to do a wet exit.

CLASS III: This is real whitewater. Class III describes a river that has a strong and irregular current with lots of rock dodging, waves to 3 feet, and moderate drops. It requires a strong background in the basic whitewater skills. Scouting is advisable for unfamiliar stretches. RISKS: Possibility of serious injury or death, though scrapes and bruises are a more likely consequence of tipovers. Tipovers in Class III rivers often involve significant swims that can be frightening to people who are not accustomed to such adventures. SKILLS NEEDED: A canoeist should know all of the bracing strokes and be able to do them reflexively. Don't start Class III until you have had a lot of practice at Class II. Knowledge of route finding and hydraulics is necessary. Kayakers should have a reliable Eskimo roll.

CLASS IV: This is serious, heavy-duty whitewater. Class IV describes a river that has a very strong and irregular current with waves to 6 feet and strong eddy lines. Holes and recirculating waves ("keepers") become a factor. This level may require "must do" moves. Scouting advised. Some Class II or Class III rivers may have a few Class IV drops where less experienced paddlers will portage. RISKS: Very risky. Possibility of serious injury or death. If you tip over in Class IV it is unlikely that anyone will be able to help you, so plan on a long, unpleasant swim. SKILLS NEEDED: Class IV requires extensive prior experience and expertise in all whitewater skills including the ability to find a safe route in confusing currents. Kayakers need to have a bomb-proof roll.

CLASS V: The club ordinarily does not plan trips on Class V rivers because they are extremely dangerous. However, recent rains may raise a Class IV river to a Class V. Most experienced paddlers choose to avoid Class V, except perhaps for very short river sections with safer water below.

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