Grades

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I have spent many years thinking about our grading system and how it seems that all rivers have differing types of risk. The current system 1 - 6 with a few plus's in between is good but open to differing interpretation and only looks at the risk of negotiating each rapid.

It seems to me that a Grade 4-5 Wairoa run in no way is similar or carries the same risk as a Grade 4-5 West Coast Creek run. Should you mess up the Wairoa help is near at hand and apart from drowning, any injury can be dealt with and extraction be affected quicky. Should this same senario occur on the Coast (Lets use the Arahura as an example) this extraction may take days intead of minutes/hours. Surely therefore the two rivers although graded similary are worlds apart when it comes to inherent associated risk. Surely these two rivers should carry a different grade as a result???

The 1-6 plus/minus system used currently seems to forget about the danger of isolation, temperature or even civil unrest etc and I feel that there maybe the oppertunity to have a new improved system that will address all of the above.

I have a few ideas but wonder what the current feeling is out there about this dilemma I have???

Would appreciate some input.

dean's picture

What about a more simplistic system like the ski run system, green, blue and black runs - just to give a general overview of the entire run. I think there is a danger on relying too much on how hard other people think a run is when ultimately it is the paddler who has to take responsibility for themselves. There is definitely a point where river grades are no longer applicable and I think that they are only really necessary for beginner and intemediate paddlers. Just my two cents worth.

Deano

pete1's picture

This is a very interesting discussion.

My feeling is that the key issue is effective communication. I think the point has been well established that to categorise a run/section as a single grade is potentially misleading.

To me it is obvoius that if you are going to grade a run then the a description of the grading system needs to be supplied also. You never see a map without a legend. You can measure and communicate the same distance whether you use inches or cm.

The obvious flaw in this idea is that there will be so many different scales that it will be even more confusing.. my defence to this is that eventually the most favoured system will emerge.

tobias's picture

I agree greg. how about this scale , easy= sweet, Hard= knarly. Its either sweet or not depending on whos looking at it.

ian2's picture

Sure Tim, what the vast majority of us want is a guide and not as you say a map or plan. Yes the river grading system is unusual in it's international acceptance and no we cannot afford to stuff that up.

What you say about a single numeric grade with descriptions is cool if you happen to read the language they are in. That's where a slightly more descriptive alpha-numeric grade may give us a wee bit more of an idea than the present system.

Even fellow English speakers from overseas use the grading system differently. For example here in NZ we tend to take less account of the danger factor in grading and rely more on technicality. Visiting (or immigrant as we have quite a few in my club) UK paddlers tell me that several rivers we call grade3 here would almost definitely be grade4 in UK. Also they say even on pure technical assessment our grade3 band is wider than theirs.

My local river, the Hurunui, is graded3. Most UK paddlers down it for the first time put it as "possibly a 4". A two figure alpha-numeric system may help overcome some of these anomalies.

I don't see this discussion as being about the need for a grading system, or arguments about holding peoples hands, but about making the grading system we have a little more transparent. If someone doesn't want to know the previously determined grade of a river they can always just bowl up and paddle it without reading a guide or consulting anyone else who has run it and take it as it comes. I don't believe that allocating a grade takes away any adventure element as it does not make the river any easier, just forwarns you a bit.

ian2's picture

Yes Donald, it's great fun to run stuff for the first time with limited or even no info. But we seldom paddle with a team up to that sort of thing so it's nice to have a bit of prep. I'm not saying wrap paddlers in cotton wool - far from it as I hate that sort of stuff - but a primer more adequate than the one we have would be nice.

tim's picture

I have been reading these responses. Basically it seems to me that it comes down to the individual paddler - a grade offers a perspective on what conditions may exist [I say may because grades are often linked to conditions like water level] and it is up to the paddler to determine if they have the skills, backup, equipment etc to then procede with paddling the thing.
It also seems to me that a second grade, that exists to account for a factor like danger or 'seriousness' [ie. are you in nepal or at a man made course to use two extremes], articulates something that has been apparent to paddlers throughout the ages. Indeed, pushy water is different to technical water, but the fact that there is a log across a pushy section of water that can't really be inspected, or that a techinical drop has a rock very close to the surface, are things that should be factored in when deciding to paddle, not necessarily things that can be attributed to an alphanumeric grade - arguably this 'grade' already exists, as when you look at a grade then look at a description, they will create an overall picture of what you intend to paddle. they may include things like "this section is steep and fast - watch out for logs" or "some of these drops are shallow".

Something that hasn't really been addressed is the fact that paddling is inherently dynamic - the action of paddling, the environment it is practiced in. In an ideal world a grading system would account for the fact that we are operating in a dynamic way in dynamic conditions, but I reckon this would have the potential to be increadibly complex. Perhaps the current grading system [coupled with river descriptions and guides] is more of a 'guide' than a map or plan - But I don't think this is a bad thing.

The fact that there is a worldwide, almost universally accepted grading system is reasonably unique [for example, compared to the various climbing discipines, even compared to road rules - every country has their own!] and I don't think there is an inherent failing with it that would necessitate another grade.

cheerio

Tim

river.action.nz's picture

Its not as much for the stupid people out there, they will do it anyway!! Its for those that want the information about what they should expect to face prior to heading into the great unknown. Blind probe can be fun but not always the safest option.

brendon0's picture

Quite fair comments, re the grading system.
As for "stupid people do stupid things" This is not limited to 'stupid' people, people do stupid things and kayakers are no exception.

the.duck's picture

When kayakers go travelling to far flung places we need to drive on the other side of the road, eat different food, learn a new language and many other simple things in life change.
At this time in our lives there is one thing you can do is go kayaking anywhere on the globe and get a recomendation on what sort of difficulty of river trip you are about to embark on.
When we paddle a river for the first time (some of us are lucky enough to have done that) you don't get to hold some one elses hand and follow their lines.
To me that is part of the adventure of kayaking and it is a wild sport that is done by people who love to have adventures and go explore wild places while gaining skills along the way.
As long as we don't live in the USA i would like to be able to have some of those adventure and let people go out and learn to have adventrues and find out some things about the river and yourself for yourself.
Getting emotional about failing to rescue some one from a rapid that some one told some else that they could paddle is not going to change by changing the grading system.
Stupid people will still do stupid things.

ian2's picture

A grading system is not about taking away personal responsibility, it's about giving paddlers a heads-up before they put on. Can't say I mind walking either. Better a live wimp than a dead hero.

ian2's picture

The can of worms is open I see.

I see Greg's point but still agree with Kayne that some sort of system is needed. Who is going to fly totally blind into a previously unrun West Coast gorge? Very few. Those that do will most likely have been poring over maps for ages and/or tramped it and maybe heli-scouted. When (if?) they come out us mortals will want to know what it's like. "Just go and see for yourself and if you don't like it don't run it" doesn't cut it any more. Hence the need for a grading system. It also gives people a rough guide to what they may be able to attempt, especially when thay are after new (for them) rivers to do.

Given all that, the grading system is a bit lacking. I think Addison has some good ideas but perhaps not the final answer. I am unsure about an open ended technical mark for a river. Graham Charles mentions in his books the need for a "Make my day" grade, but that seems more based on the fact that 'harder' rapids being run now deserve a higher grade for their danger factor rather than technical difficulty (like some on the Hollyford). I tend to agree with Kayne for now that a 3 point system could be confusing, although it certainly has the merit of being very informative if everyone knows how it works.

I reckon for now that a 2 point system would be the best way to go. I'm not sure have the right answer either though and still more thought is needed. Like Kayne says, we don't want to end up with different systems in different countries.

river.action.nz's picture

I try to be very objective and totally agree that with a vey quick look any paddler worth paddling with should be able to assess whether they are upto running a section of river. Its just that at times we do not have the luxury to be able to see what is on the river before we get on it. Sometimes we have to go off what has been written as a guide and then use our scouting skills to back the information up.

I dont have a beef with the paddlers that are taking on the water. I am just concerned that when we delve into what is now the grade 4+-5+ realm there is so much difference to the difficulty levels associated with each river even though they carry similar or even the same grade.

As a whole Kiwi paddlers have good skills and are pretty safe on the river. It is not very often that we hear of a paddler coming to grief in a river. Normally tourists and those that have no idea. I am just wondering if there is a better way. If not what we got works but if we can improve it, why not???

brendon0's picture

I have read the list of replies on this article. It appears to me that many people are passionate about this one. However I believe there is a discription of the grading system in Graham Charles' book. I also recall somthing regarding not wanting to take away the personal responsibility conected with kayaking. A grade in a guied book is only an indication of what sort of skills would be required to have a safe and enjoyable trip. Having a more complex system of grading may prove to be confusing.
I have never regreted walking any drop I thought I could not run or not paddling a river I did not feel confident on.
Take the responsibility for your safety yourself.

greg3's picture

Kayne'o 0- are you saying that you are not objective. I have seen many a blind gorge while paddling and made the call not to go into it...its a bit foolish to enter especially if you are aware that the teams skills aren't up to the grade. Time and knowledge will enable you to make those calls when you are agin in that situation.

Best grading system is stuff you'd paddle and stuff you woouldn't and that goes for anyone you take on the river with you. You should know your limits and theirs and be bold enough to point out to thenm when they are exceeding their limit and also be able to pass on running something yourself. Don't belive everything you read in books.

river.action.nz's picture

You would care if I had to extract a dead mate of yours out of a incorrectly graded blind Gorge that he/she thought that they could paddle "Cause the guide book said so". Just after you had spent 2 hours trying to save their life (Unsuccesfully) then climbed for 3 hours and walked through bush for another 6 and in that time only travelled 5km to get to help.

At that stage I think I am safe to say that you have have differing take on this topic. Whatcha reckon.

greg3's picture

Who cares. You either paddle it or you don't.

river.action.nz's picture

All good, but again the system (Addison) is open to its own problems. The two number system would give a better indication as to what is there, but when people read a bunch of numbers they start to mix things up "Whats first? Skill required or element of danger?" A 5.2A rapid read the wrong way around (2 skill-5 danger-A isolation) will result in some serious problems. I am an advocate for a change to the grading system but I dont beleive that this change should have an element of confusion attached to it. If it is not very simple to change it will not be accepted.

We will need to be careful that we donot end up with two different grading systems like the whole climbing predicament. The European system is similar to the Addison scale but there are many still using the system I was taught grade 1 - whatever (50 one day maybe??) therefore I have no real understanding of their grading system and this leaves me open to danger should I climb elsewhere in the world.

That would again be a problem for overseas paddlers or us going overseas. We already seem to find that the tourist paddler finds that NZ has a "lower" grade attached to alot of the water that they are in search of especially the back country stuff.

I beleive that the 1-6 plus/minus is good (We need to have a cap) people need to know that G6 will kill you without asking, but we need to have an up grade. How about a grade 4-A attached to the Kaituna, same grade as we have now but shows ease of extraction, warm etc or a 4+B on the Rangitikei, a bit colder and more isolated. Both of these will show the character and hold a grade that we are used to.

I dont think I have the answers, but I do think that this is an issue that we all need to look at.

Ben wrote:
>
> Addison's Scale
>
> Corran Addisons appraisal of the current river grading system
>
> Addison's Scale (The examination of a static rating system in
> a dynamic sport by Corran Addison)
>
> The problems lie in the very foundation of the system. With
> one number, we have attempted to describe the difficulty,
> element of danger and exposure. Combine this with the fact
> that the latest breakthroughs in equipment and techniques
> have allowed us to push the limits of the possible, and that
> the system has a cap, and we find that the last digit of
> class five has as wide a range of rapid difficulties as all
> the proceeding numbers combined.
>
> What the system fails to see, is that the elements of danger
> and difficulty (the principal concerns) are not the same
> thing. A rapid can be dangerous, but easy to run (a wave
> train requiring no boat skills, but with an undercut off to
> one side). Another can be technically difficult, but with
> very little danger (a series of waterfalls into deep pools).
> The third and seemingly less important, though it is not, is
> exposure: if things go bad, how long will it take to get
> help? An hour; a day; a week?
>
> Given that our sport is still young and developing, we can
> continue to assume that the limits of the possible are still
> being pushed, so to have a cap on the system places
> unnecessary pressure on the lower scales, or packs too many
> variables into one number. Considering that our sport takes
> us to the most desolate corners of the earth, the element of
> exposure is also an important one. A broken leg on a roadside
> run an hour from a major metropolitan area is no real
> concern. A broken toe in the most remote corner of Tibet is a
> very real concern. As such, you are more likely to take
> chances on your local run than on an expedition where even if
> there were medical help, it would be questionable.
>
> So an effective system would include the element of (1)
> Difficulty (what is the absolute minimum amount of skill
> needed to successfully run this rapid), (2) Danger (if I make
> a mistake, what are the consequences of that mistake), and
> (3) Exposure (once I have made a mistake, how long before I
> get help).
>
> Point (1).
>
> As stated before, it needs to be open ended. No consideration
> for the consequences should be used while addressing this
> rating. It is a pure and cold assessment of the minimum
> skills needed to run the rapid. It should be open ended (no
> cap), with the current rating difficulty used as a starting
> point, spread over one to ten, with the ability to add
> eleven, twelve and so on as needed.
>
> Point (2) is much simpler.
>
> Again, using our current rating system as a base, we give
> this a one to six assessment. One, the is almost no danger at
> all. Three there is the possibility of minor injury,
> including bone breakage, serious cuts and bleeding (basically
> you're in serious trouble, but death is unlikely - depending
> on point 3). Five there is a high probability of serious
> injury (spinal breakage etc.) and a very real possibility of
> death. Six, you die. This has a cap, as you can't be any more
> or less dead. The key to remember here is the Œmost likely
> scenario. You can drown in a small ripple, but the chances of
> it are so slim that it is not realistic. You might also swim
> out of a hole that has killed many people before you, but
> again in assessing the danger, you need to keep in mind that
> IF you swim there, you will most likely die.
>
> Point (3) is linked to point two.
>
> A broken rib with some internal bleeding one hour from a
> hospital is not a very real concern. However, a day or more
> from help, and now you have a problem. This is broken into
> three letters. A is less than an hour to receive help. B is
> more than one hour but less than 24 hours, and C is 24 hours
> or more. This rating considerably changes the importance of
> the first two points.
>
> So to recap
>
> the system reads like this. How hard is it for me to run
> this, and if I blow it, what'll happen to me. Some examples
> are: Niagara Falls 3.5A (3 for difficulty - not that hard, 5
> for danger, and A for help). Five Falls on the Chattooga at 4
> ft, 6.3B, and the upper Zambezi above Victoria Falls, 2.5C
> (easy, but if you swim you get eaten by a crock or hippo and
> you don't want to be treated in one of those hospitals). The
> effectiveness of the system is realised in the following
> scenario.
>
> A class five (technically) paddler (scale 1 to 10) looking at
> a 5.2A. No problem. The rapid is challenging, but the
> consequences of a mistake are nominal, so go for it.
> Challenge yourself and progress. However, this same paddler
> looking at a 5.4C should be walking as the skills to deal
> with a mistake in the rapid are not there, and the
> consequences of the mistake are severe.
>
> This system, which I have been using for several years (and
> is jokingly referred to as Addison's Scale by my paddling
> partners) has proven to be very effective in describing a run
> to paddlers familiar with it's workings. Because of its
> effectiveness, I am now making a push for it's international
> acceptance and use. Such a system (which has evolved to its
> present form over about ten years use and modification) could
> very effectively eliminate many of the problems that arise
> constantly from our current system.
>
> If you support this system, please mail a letter to the
> effect to Corran Addison, I will use these letters of support
> for such a change to lobby the governing bodies all countries
> involved with whitewater paddle sports.

ben6's picture

Addison's Scale

Corran Addisons appraisal of the current river grading system

Addison's Scale (The examination of a static rating system in a dynamic sport by Corran Addison)

The problems lie in the very foundation of the system. With one number, we have attempted to describe the difficulty, element of danger and exposure. Combine this with the fact that the latest breakthroughs in equipment and techniques have allowed us to push the limits of the possible, and that the system has a cap, and we find that the last digit of class five has as wide a range of rapid difficulties as all the proceeding numbers combined.

What the system fails to see, is that the elements of danger and difficulty (the principal concerns) are not the same thing. A rapid can be dangerous, but easy to run (a wave train requiring no boat skills, but with an undercut off to one side). Another can be technically difficult, but with very little danger (a series of waterfalls into deep pools). The third and seemingly less important, though it is not, is exposure: if things go bad, how long will it take to get help? An hour; a day; a week?

Given that our sport is still young and developing, we can continue to assume that the limits of the possible are still being pushed, so to have a cap on the system places unnecessary pressure on the lower scales, or packs too many variables into one number. Considering that our sport takes us to the most desolate corners of the earth, the element of exposure is also an important one. A broken leg on a roadside run an hour from a major metropolitan area is no real concern. A broken toe in the most remote corner of Tibet is a very real concern. As such, you are more likely to take chances on your local run than on an expedition where even if there were medical help, it would be questionable.

So an effective system would include the element of (1) Difficulty (what is the absolute minimum amount of skill needed to successfully run this rapid), (2) Danger (if I make a mistake, what are the consequences of that mistake), and (3) Exposure (once I have made a mistake, how long before I get help).

Point (1).

As stated before, it needs to be open ended. No consideration for the consequences should be used while addressing this rating. It is a pure and cold assessment of the minimum skills needed to run the rapid. It should be open ended (no cap), with the current rating difficulty used as a starting point, spread over one to ten, with the ability to add eleven, twelve and so on as needed.

Point (2) is much simpler.

Again, using our current rating system as a base, we give this a one to six assessment. One, the is almost no danger at all. Three there is the possibility of minor injury, including bone breakage, serious cuts and bleeding (basically you're in serious trouble, but death is unlikely - depending on point 3). Five there is a high probability of serious injury (spinal breakage etc.) and a very real possibility of death. Six, you die. This has a cap, as you can't be any more or less dead. The key to remember here is the Œmost likely scenario. You can drown in a small ripple, but the chances of it are so slim that it is not realistic. You might also swim out of a hole that has killed many people before you, but again in assessing the danger, you need to keep in mind that IF you swim there, you will most likely die.

Point (3) is linked to point two.

A broken rib with some internal bleeding one hour from a hospital is not a very real concern. However, a day or more from help, and now you have a problem. This is broken into three letters. A is less than an hour to receive help. B is more than one hour but less than 24 hours, and C is 24 hours or more. This rating considerably changes the importance of the first two points.

So to recap

the system reads like this. How hard is it for me to run this, and if I blow it, what'll happen to me. Some examples are: Niagara Falls 3.5A (3 for difficulty - not that hard, 5 for danger, and A for help). Five Falls on the Chattooga at 4 ft, 6.3B, and the upper Zambezi above Victoria Falls, 2.5C (easy, but if you swim you get eaten by a crock or hippo and you don't want to be treated in one of those hospitals). The effectiveness of the system is realised in the following scenario.

A class five (technically) paddler (scale 1 to 10) looking at a 5.2A. No problem. The rapid is challenging, but the consequences of a mistake are nominal, so go for it. Challenge yourself and progress. However, this same paddler looking at a 5.4C should be walking as the skills to deal with a mistake in the rapid are not there, and the consequences of the mistake are severe.

This system, which I have been using for several years (and is jokingly referred to as Addison's Scale by my paddling partners) has proven to be very effective in describing a run to paddlers familiar with it's workings. Because of its effectiveness, I am now making a push for it's international acceptance and use. Such a system (which has evolved to its present form over about ten years use and modification) could very effectively eliminate many of the problems that arise constantly from our current system.

If you support this system, please mail a letter to the effect to Corran Addison, I will use these letters of support for such a change to lobby the governing bodies all countries involved with whitewater paddle sports.

ian2's picture

Found the article Sam was talking about. It's at http://www.kendo.freeserve.co.uk/river%20grade.htm

Check it out. Looks pretty cool to me.

ian2's picture

I wondered when someone was going to throw this one up. It's been something that's bugged me for years too. One way that could work is to use a number/letter grading system with 1-6 being technical difficulty and A-F being the objective danger factor (extraction time, remoteness, consequences of error etc.). If you did this the Wairoa might rate 4-5C and the Arahura 4-5E for example. Most people I've thrown this one at over the years have not been keen on it, believing it to be a can of worms not worth opening. In some ways I agree, but since I see the system as inadequate I'll keep plugging for a change anyway.

It will take a lot of work getting agreement on a new system though and even longer to get to the point where people can look at a rapid and say "Looks like a 3B to me", "Nah, I reckon it's a 3C - see that log?". Keep the ideas coming and we might just overcome the intertia and get a change.

sam11's picture

Corran addison from riot has been trying to change the grading system for years. He has a few different numbers all grading things like how difficult getting out is, big water or technical etc. There are links on riots site, and i think th address for this website is www.2imagine.net

sam