A spring snow pack and early rains in the Southern Appalachians are hopeful signs that the 2010 Whitewater season will be every bit as good as last years. Steady rainfall kept rivers flowing through the summer heat providing a big boost to the industry.
Commercial outfitters start gearing up for the season in March which typically runs from the Memorial Day holiday to the Labor Day weekend. This applies everywhere except Kentucky and West Virginia, which have a fall season.
Amateur kayakers seeking the thrills and challenges of untamed waters are the first to christen the waters in the spring thaw.
It's a booming industry that gains followers annually and provides an economic shot in the arm to local economies. Enthusiasts have a choice from the mild to the wild with a variety of rivers that range from free flowing to dam released.
Whitewater rivers are ranked on six levels which are referred to as a "class" and followed by a degree of difficulty from I to V.
Class I: is the easiest with a small steady flow and no significant obstacles.
Class II: contains rapids of moderate difficulty but passages are clear.
Class III: has numerous waves, rocky passages with strong circulation and currents requiring expertise in maneuvering a boat.
Class IV: features extended rapids, high waves, dangerous rocks and undercuts and boiling eddies. These rivers should only be navigated by experienced paddlers with good equipment and require scouting.
Class V: extremely difficult with high standing waves, long violent rapids that require mandatory scouting. Chances of capsizing are high and only veteran and professional paddlers should guide a boat through these treacherous waters.
Class VI: use to be classified as un-runable until some intrepid kayakers performed death defying stunts through some of the world's most foreboding rivers.
The grade of a river or a rapid will change with fluctuating water levels. High water produces dangerous hydraulics and paddlers should always stay off a river that is at flood stage.
The popularity of whitewater sports continues to grow in the Southeast ever since the first commercial outfitter emerged in the early seventies. Whitewater rafting is a relatively safe sport as long as one respects the river and does not try to exceed their skill level. Never paddle alone and first timers should always use a professional guide.
In the coming weeks I'll be profiling several of the popular river destinations as well as the lesser well known. Tips will be provided to help make your vacation adventure a more memorable experience.
See you on the river!