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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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How-To

Sep 09, 2019

How To Choose A Safe Whitewater Rafting Company

Whitewater rafting is a unique experience in nature, filled with adrenaline and excitement. Recently though, we have been reminded of the real risks involved.

WRITTEN BY

Benjamin Baber

Last year, headlines from around the world were plagued with tragic river accidents. Four Americans passed away on a rafting trip in Costa Rica. Two Australians passed away in separate kayaking incidents in Nepal. The southeast U.S. alone had four separate whitewater kayaking deaths. And these examples are only a small sample of the river tragedies that occurred in 2018.

While some accidents are unfortunately inevitable, there are many situations where an accident can easily be avoided. Unfortunately, most countries lack standardized rules that you might expect from within the whitewater industry. This is more common in less economically developed countries. However, it’s important to stress this doesn’t mean that all companies in less economically developed countries are unsafe. You just have to set a few basic standards, and know how to pick the best one! No matter where you are in the world, there are a few basic things to look for in a rafting company to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable whitewater experience.

Rafting in Morocco. Photo: Ben Baber

Leader to Participant Ratios

The whitewater industry has general safety standards for guide-to-participant ratios on commercial rafting and kayaking trips.  

A safe industry standard on a fourteen-foot raft is one guide to every six participants. Most companies won’t live up to this standard, but if you want the safest experience – this is it! Ask your company what their leader to participant ratio is! 

It all boils down to this – any raft can flip. When that happens, one guide is expected to rescue the raft, re-flip the raft, then save each participant. If you are one of those participants, do you want to be the sixth person to be rescued or the ninth? The better companies will reduce the number of people in the raft to keep the weight balanced, the trip safe, and to maximize the rafting experience.

Kayaking carries greater risk than rafting simply due to the fact that the participants are in control of their own boat, rather than a trained guide. Instead, the guide is usually in their own kayak telling you how to manoeuvre from a separate craft. Industry standards recommend a ratio of one guide to every four participants for kayaking and canoeing. However, this ratio may decrease and become 1:3 or even 1:2 as the whitewater gets more challenging and consequential.

Read next on TOJ: A veteran river runner turns 70, and heads off into the Peruvian wilderness to raft the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Safety Boats

Safety boats are your best friend on the river. If a participant falls from a raft, they run the risk of being swept away by the current. This is when the safety boat shines. It will pluck you out of the water and give you a safe ride back to your raft or shore. It is a recognized industry standard to never have a single-boat trip. If there are only enough customers to fill one boat, then there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft along with the participant-filled raft.

With multiple rafts on the river, there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft to support the trip. This may pose an extra financial burden for the rafting company, but it is a small price to pay to increase participant safety. Problems sometimes arise when companies try to cut corners, perhaps deciding to take a guide off the water and undercut the competition by 5 dollars. If your company doesn’t have a safety craft, find out why.

In some locations, it has become standard for single or half-day trips to not have a safety boat when they have 2 or more full rafts. The theory here is that the other boats on the river will provide safety for one other. This is a debatable standard, but in some locations, you might not be able to find a company that uses safety boats for shorter trips. Certainly for multi-day trips, no matter how many rafts, there should be a safety boat.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Cut-Off Levels

Every river rises and falls according to snowmelt, rainfall, or changes in upstream dam release. It can happen with the changing of the seasons, or it can happen in ten minutes with changing weather patterns. Companies should have a set cut-off limit for each river they operate on. This cut-off level should be based on their own expert knowledge of that river.

One good way to double-check a company is to find out the cut-off levels for several other companies running that river. Call them up, send them an email, check their website – whatever you need to do to find out. If your company’s level is much higher than the competition’s, ask why! Is it because they have more experienced guides and provide more safety kayakers or rafts? If not, it may be a money-motivated decision that could translate to a dangerous experience for customers.

Equipment

Properly maintained and up-to-date equipment is a vital part of whitewater safety. All participants should wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), closed-toed shoes, and a helmet. If the guide hasn’t checked that your equipment is fitted correctly, don’t get on the water.

The shelf-life of most outdoor gear is around 10 years. You can use this as a guideline when deciding which equipment will keep you afloat and keep your head intact.

All PFDs from the United States must be approved by the United States Coast Guard. They will be marked to show they have been through a standardized testing process. You will see this written as “USCG Type V.” Any product from Europe must have a certification “EN ISO 12402-5 / 12402-6.”

Find out more information on IOS standards relating to PFDs here.

For Helmets, look for the CE standard CE EN 1385. This ensures your helmets is suitable for whitewater and has been tested accordingly.

Further reading:

Buying a canoeing & kayaking helmet – what does the CE mark really mean, and Sweet Protections guide to Helmet testing.

Whitewater Kayaking in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Alcohol

It is forbidden for guides and participants to consume alcohol on the river. Intoxicated participants can pose as much of a threat to the safety of the trip as an intoxicated guide. Take note of the company’s alcohol policy, and if you have any concerns that your guide or another participant may be intoxicated, make sure to raise those concerns.

Qualifications

There are various different qualifications for whitewater guides. From the British Canoe Union, to the American Canoe Association, to Rescue 3 International. The trouble is that certifications cover different skills according to the river and country in which the certification process took place. However, no matter how much the certifications vary, every guide should have a minimum of a swiftwater rescue certificate, a First Aid/CPR certification, as well as some sort of whitewater guide certification and/or in-house whitewater training.  

Conclusion

Whitewater activities are risky. There is no way around it. However, with proper training, skill, equipment, and experience, this risk can be mitigated. Take the time to research the company you go with, and make it a lasting memory for the right reasons.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

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Travel

Oct 26, 2019

The Undeniable Beauty of Poland’s Gory Stolowe National Park

Visitors will find a rare-looking, 70 million year-old untouched land with rock formations and wildlife in this anomalous European landscape.

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WRITTEN BY

Jonatar Evaristo

Despite being a fascinating town, Karłów isn’t really top of the must-see list for most people visiting Poland. Of course, it’s not easy to compete with charming cities such as Warsaw and Krakow, but Karłów is also a stunning and interesting destination.

And the most surprising place I’ve visited in Karłów was, undoubtedly, Gory Stolowe National Park, also known as “Table Mountains.” For hiking enthusiasts like myself, it’s a place you must visit again and again. Located in South-West Poland and sharing territory with the Czech Republic, its 63 square kilometer mountain range offers a plethora of unique activities for its visitors.

The park area is a huge patchwork of hiking trails with over 100 km of traced paths. The reserve’s highest point is Szczeliniec Wielki, reaching 919 meters; and, along with Mały Szczeliniec, which reaches 896 meters, they create a massive and wide landscape scenario, with numerous cracks and deep canyons.

The Devil’s Kitchen is justifiably famous as a path, although hard on the knees, it is a spectacular descent.

Hiking to the top takes around one hour for seasoned hikers and the trail is not too challenging. However, to reach the summit, you must conquer the 665 steps carved into stone in the late 18th century by Karlów’s mayor, Franz Pabel.

What really sets the park landscape apart — among stone mazes and groves, also impossible to ignore — are the rock formations shaped like animals and humans, sculpted by Nature thousands of years ago. You can find an “Elephant,” a “Monkey,” and a “Mammoth,” among many others.

Rock formation of Szczeliniec Wielki.

When you finally reach the summit of Szczeliniec Wielki, however, you will find yourself in a completely different world. At the top, there is the unique B&B “Na Szczelińcu”, completed in 1845 in Tyrolean style, where you can see all the Sudetes mountain range.

After taking in all the splendor of the West view of “Table Mountains” in the Czech side, the way back may be done in two different paths: either by going down the same trail or through “Piekiełku,” which, in English, means “Hell.” And hear this advice attentively: going back the same trail would be an unforgivable sin. This path is packed with atmospheric mazes made out of stonewalls and massive slabs covered with moss, and the views are just breathtaking!

Preservation of this marvellous natural area that we call Gory Stolowe National Park is paramount. Either by climbing up the highest spot of the Table Mountains or by exploring cosmopolitan Warsaw, visiting Poland is always an unforgettable experience.

Natural geologic processes shape “Małpi Łeb” or ‘The Monkey Head’

Cover Photo: The Highest peak of Szczeliniec is a rock formation called “Fotel Pradziada or “Great Grandfathers Armchair”, which can be reached by metal stairs

All photos provided by the author. 

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