Whitewater Rafting

Revised Spring 2008, Shires

As you launch your boat off down the river, you start to get that turning feeling inside you that you may not have made the right decision. You try to ignore it by engaging in conversation with the rest of the boaters, but nothing seems to come out of your mouth. You hear the roar of the rapids in the distance of the waves crashing into one another. As you get closer, you can see the tops of the water breaking as each wave smashes into the next. At the very bottom of the hole you can see an apex that is eating everything that comes through its path. Your heart is pounding with fear and excitement, and you can’t even hear yourself think. “This is it.” You ask yourself, “am I going to make it?"

Whitewater rafting is one of the most extreme sports out there. It has become somewhat of a domesticated sport in which there are varying levels of difficulty. There are some lower levels pertaining to children and beginners, up to the very most expert levels. However, on any day, no matter what the class, accidents can happen and these not so difficult rivers do not seem so tame.

I’ve been a whitewater river guide for five years now, I started when I was 17 years old. But with being a guide I’ve seen a lot of rules. Some of them I agree with, and others I just can’t seem to understand why we have them.

Here are a few of the Juridic Controls over whitewater rafting.
There are a few unspoken rules that are plainly obvious. Such as one must use a raft and a paddle to go rafting. Secondly, one must arrange a pick up or shuttle service to prepare for your arrival at the take out or end point. Lastly, there is your most prized possession, or at least you should think that it’s your most prized possession. Ones lifejacket. This single piece of equipment is responsible for saving more lives in the water than anything else. However, people do not seem to think they way that I do. I’ve seen a lot of carelessness out there even to the point where I’m just plain shocked. But these are the juridic controls that should be enforced, and are necessary. I have a few others that I question.
To be able to go on certain rivers one must receive a permit. This may sound pretty easy, but the waiting list for rivers can be extremely long. For example, to get on the Colorado River going through Grand Canyon National Park the wait is over a year long. Now there are two sides of the coin, one says that it controls the preservation of the park and river. It keeps every Tom, Dick, and Harry from just going out on the river with no experience and getting themselves killed. On the other side, experienced guides who actually know about preservation of wilderness, respect it, and know about rivers and how to navigate down them are not given this right easily. There are guided trips that take you on a weeks adventure trip on a motorized boat but it is very expensive. The thrill is to challenge yourself and friends by oars and it can take up to 2 weeks in that vast wilderness. Since it’s regulated, one will never see anybody else out there.

Another control is damn regulated rivers. Two of the most technical rivers in the U.S. are in West Virginia. The Gauley and the New, two very popular rivers. But because its damn regulated, the only time to hit the river is in September, so the weather is usually pretty nice, it's not too hot during this time. But September is when everyone is back in school. For anyone looking for excitement in West Virginia, there is a small window of opportunity.

My last example hits close to home because it’s the Yellowstone River, which happens to be the river I have guided on. There is good rafting on the Yellowstone in the Town Section of Gardiner, and the famous Yankee Jim Canyon. But with mild winters, we do not see the big water we used to when I first started out guiding.

However, in Yellowstone Park there is a section known as the Black Canyon that contains class IV and V rapids. There are other sections of the Yellowstone that has many more rivers and better rapids than outside of the park. But of course, the Juridic control on that is there is no boating of any kind in the park, with the exemption of the lake. People are able to rock climb in Yosemite National Park, raft in Grand Canyon National Park, but they throw the book at you if you pick up a pinecone in Yellowstone. In fact, if you are caught boating on the parks rivers, it’s considered a federal offense with a 10,000 dollar fine and five years in jail.

The park officials could estate a permit service like the Grand Canyon does, so that you could regulate the amount of people that go through the park. But I guess it would be pretty difficult regulating three million people a year that the park oversees.

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