Be Adventure Aware - Decision Making for WW Kayakers
Updated: May 16
Making the right decision at the right time is a crucial skill for white water kayakers. Which river should we paddle? Do we need to get out to inspect or can we boat scout? Should I paddle the river's main event today?
The importance of good decision making is true for skiers and mountaineers as well. They use a decision making process called Be Avalanche Aware to avoid getting caught in avalanches. Giles Trussel at Glenmore Lodge saw its relevance to all adventure sports so I thought I'd share this concept in the context of white water kayaking.
It uses a 3x3 system. Three phases of the journey and three factors that we need to consider at each phase.
The three phases 1) Planning - The weeks, days and hours before setting out
2) Journeying - Once you start traveling to the river and down it
3) Key places - Planned moments where you expect to make a crucial decision
The three factors 1) Weather forecast and current river conditions
2) You and your groups personal skills and experience
3) The river and surrounding landscape
Planning - This is the most important phase to have a safe and fun day out. Weather forecasts, river gauges, guidebooks, social media updates and group conversations all help you build up a picture of what to expect and pick a suitable river. 60% of decision making occurs here.
Your journey - This starts as soon as you leave your front door. Driving to the river, first glance of river levels, checking the river gauge, first paddle strokes and continually as you journey downstream. 35% of decision making occurs here.
Key places - Locations that you identify during your 'planning phase' that will require a big decision. The most obvious ones are getting on the river and the hardest rapid of the day. 5% of decision making occurs here and hopefully you are just confirming what you were expecting to do.
Weather forecast and current river conditions - How much rain is forecasted? Is there going to be any snow melt? What is the gauge reading? Is the river rising or falling? Is the current weather what we expected? Are there any trees down from the recent storm?
You and your groups personal skills and experience - What are the group members abilities? Has anyone run the river before? What are the groups aims for the day? Are people feeling on their A game or a bit rusty? Could we rescue a swimmer if required?
The river and surrounding landscape - How steep is the catchment? Is there a dam holding water back or releasing it? Is the river committing or can you get off anywhere? Is it pool drop or continuous? Is there a blind bend coming up?
By considering all three factors at each phase of your paddle, you should be armed with lots of good information to make good decisions. As paddlers we will likely be doing a lot of this already but by using this structure, I hope it will improve your decision making, helping you to have safer and more enjoyable days out. Happy paddling!