Swiftwater: Knowing is half the battle.

Saturday morning cartoons taught me that a) I could be a Pokemon master; and b) G.I. Joe quotes are awesome when used in a rescue context. Today, we are looking into an incredibly important yet often neglected aspect of boating swiftwater: beta.

For those who are not key on outdoor lingo “beta” simply refers to information. Information pertaining to an area, trail, climb, river, etc.. Beta can be as simple as physically knowing where the location is, or it can be a clue of what the conditions are. As unsexy as Beta might appear, its usefulness as a tool is greater than any rope system ever made.

As the snow finally melts here deep in the Colorado Rockies, our stoke rises along with our rivers and creeks. Here, in 2019, with its cold, wet spring shaping up to be a big, if not huge, water year. For some of us new to whitewater or from out of state this may be the biggest water you have ever seen. Some of us may be grizzled veterans of the historic high water of 2011 or 1998. Regardless of our varied experience levels, relevant and timely information will head off most dangerous situations before they begin. 

High water volume in our high alpine creeks and rivers creates unique challenges not seen elsewhere. The force of that extra water shifts rocks and boulders around, completely changing the nature and flow of certain rapids year to year. With the increased amount of avalanches this winter there is also a great deal more debris in our drainages than most years. These potential obstacles can create nasty surprises for even the most experienced river runner.  

Most beta can be gathered by simply going out with an experienced individual who has recently run that section. There are also numerous online resources for the 21st century paddler:

If you are more of a luddite check out: Colorado Rivers and Creeks II, by Banks and Eckardt.

When in doubt, any kayak shop worth its salt should have a few folks around that are familiar with the local scene. If all else fails, scout! Scouting rapids is my go-to if I’m running something I’m not 100% confident with. Most rivers in this state have fairly good access via road or trail. It should be good practice to eddy out and at least look what you are dealing with before you enter a rapid. Because “knowing is half the battle” and knowing where that strainer is will help you “use your head, and not lose your head.”