Trip classification and other information.
Our trip difficulty ratings are based the international scale of river difficulty, and indicate the greatest difficulty the paddler is likely to encounter. Ask the trip leader when you register for the trip if you are not sure. Be honest with yourself and the leader about your skills.
On whitewater trips, a range may be given. For example: Class 2-3. This usually indicates that most of the trip is class 2, with some class 3 rapids. If class 2 is near the upper range of your skill, you may need to scout or portage the class 3 rapids. Discuss this with the trip leader.
Water level can change the rating of a rapid or a river. For example, Tohickon Creek down from Stover Park at a normal normal dam release level of 1.6 feet is a class 3 run. At a levels above 2.5 feet, it becomes a class 4 run.
Personal flotation devices (PDFs), otherwise known as lifejackets, must be worn and properly fastened by all participants on AMC trips whenever on the water. Appropriate whitewater helmets are required for all decked boaters on class 2 and above rapids, and for all open boaters on class 3 and above rapids.
Flatwater to Class 1, Beginner to Novice
We list all flatwater trips as class 1. This covers everything from motionless water to fast moving water with riffles and small waves up to about a foot high. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed. Risk to swimmers is slight and self-rescue is easy.
Examples: Ponds and lakes, most of the Delaware, most Brandywine and Schuylkill trips, Pine Barrens trips.
Class 2, Novice Whitewater
Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class 2+”.
Examples: Most of the Lehigh River from White Haven to Rockport, at a summer level of 750 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Class 3, Intermediate Whitewater
Rapids with moderate (3 foot and above), irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class 3-” or “Class 3+” respectively.
Example: Lehigh River, Rockport to Glen Onoco, at 1500 cfs. Tohickon Creek at 1.6 feet, the standard release level
Class 4, Advanced Whitewater
Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class 4-” or “Class 4+” respectively.
Example: Tohickon Creek at high water, Black Creek into the Lehigh River.
Class 5, Expert Whitewater
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.
Class 6, Exploratory Whitewater
Whitewater that has not yet been successfully or regularly run and poses a extreme risk to life and limb. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class 6 rapids has been run several times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5 rating.