Tall snow banks lined the highway as we passed by the Northern California city of Truckee. There was a heck of a lot more snow in the mountains compared to last year. The temps were warming up, the rivers were about to burst. Unfortunately I hadn’t done much paddling in California, and I had no idea what was in store for me. After a couple quick Facebook shout outs, the infamous Jason Hale (the voice of the Green River Race) contacted me. Jason and Ben Coleman were looking to paddle Yuba Gap (one of the best single days of kayaking in California) the following day. Immediately, I said yes!
In between messages with Jason I delved into some internet research to see what I had really signed up for. Darin McQuoid’s web site gave light to the awaiting arena. After a quick scan of photos, a couple video clips, and a quick read it was hard to fall asleep. I was buzzing with excited anticipation.
The original plan was for a 7:30 am departure, but with cool early spring temperatures and the water level holding steady at 280 cfs (a perfect medium flow), we pushed it back to 8:30. We put on and quickly started falling off polished granite. California boating was living up to the hype.
Giving and understanding concise beta is imperative on class 5 rivers. So often these class 5 sections limit our ability to scout (walled in, swirling eddies, siphons, etc.). Being comfortable both giving and receiving quality beta is a skill every boater should constantly work on. After traveling for a while now, I feel relatively comfortable showing up to a new group of paddlers and getting limited beta from someone I have just met for a difficult rapid with high-stakes consequences. Thankfully so, because our crew was mobbing down Yuba Gap with Ben Coleman shouting out a couple of precise nuggets of beta before each towering rapid and that was all that I was going to get.
This section is only seven miles long, but is stacked full of complicated horizon lines. Our descent was a quick, four-hour foray, but without a confident guide like Ben sharing concise beta this section would have been an all-day affair.
Giving good beta is a difficult skill. Each horizon line, complicated rapid, and additional paddler creates compounding opportunities for problems. Here is a quick list of what I usually find pivotal in giving and receiving good beta.
Confidence: I love hearing confident beta. This means no “Uhms,” no, “I thinks,” just a solid, certain, “Go there.”
Where to be at the horizon line: This is two-fold, the reason we are scouting in the first place is that you can’t see the features of the rapid. It’s also the basic information needed to venture into the unknown… Where do I start?
Where are we going: In longer and more complicated rapids it may be necessary to pass on information about where to go once you are in the rapid. Simple, unmistakable landmarks, and/or specific distances are imperative here.
Why: This is at the bottom of the list for me; if someone is giving me confident beta on where to enter the rapid and where to go, I could care less that there is a hazard on one side or the other…unless the “Why” is notoriously in play.
Having good communication in a new group under high stress is hard. It will also vary between skill level and choice of craft. Class 3 beta might have more information than class 5 beta, because the more skilled paddler will intuitively understand, for example, to punch the lateral, or boof the horizon line. Try practicing on your local run with your established crew, and develop this imperative skill.
"Having good communication in a new group under high stress is hard."