Saturday, March 12, 2011

Whitewater Rafting with Beth

by Beth Groundwater

Everyone who leaves a comment for Beth will have a chance to win a copy of her March 8 release, Deadly Currents.

Mandy Tanner, the sleuth in my new mystery Deadly Currents, is a whitewater river ranger on the upper Arkansas River of Colorado, the most commercially rafted river in the U.S. The huge volume of commercial and private boaters keeps Mandy and her fellow river rangers busy performing rescues, checking licenses and safety procedures, clearing dangerous debris, etc. Mandy knows the rapids like the back of her hand because, like most of the seasonal river rangers who work for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), she used to be a rafting guide, taking tourists down the Arkansas on guided trips.

And I’m one of those tourists who love to ride the waves of Colorado’s whitewater rivers! Many people think the experience must be terrifying. But the risks can be managed so the danger is minimized and the fun is maximized. First, you must:
1. Be in good health (heart attacks are the most common cause of rafting deaths).
2. Know how to swim.

Additionally, you MUST share your medical conditions (such as diabetes or asthma) with your rafting guide and bring along any essential medications or equipment (such as an inhaler or epi-pen). One rafting guide I interviewed said his first customer death on the river was a man who suffered from emphysema, didn’t divulge that condition on his paperwork, then left his medications in his car. The man fell in the cold water, was pulled back into the raft, but couldn’t catch his breath. That guide is still haunted by the man’s death, even though he could do nothing to help him and it wasn’t his fault!

You should know your limits, based on physical condition and experience level. If you’re a first-time rafter, you should raft a river section that doesn’t have any rapids classified higher than Class III, Difficult. And if you do tackle Class III rapids, you should have a professional guide in your raft.

The International Scale of River Difficulty rates individual rapids and river sections on a six class scale. They range from Class I, Easy, with small waves with no obstacles, through Class II, Medium, up to Class V, Extremely Difficult, with long, violent rapids. The highest is Class VI, formerly classified as Unrunnable or Danger to Life or Limb, which are only attempted by expert kayakers after hours of scouting and with safety lines and rescuers standing by.

Family “float trips” usually stay in the Class I–III range, and the roller-coaster adventure trips that I and other whitewater adventurers take are usually in the Class III-V range. I have set my own upper limit at Class IV. You should always be prepared to swim any rapid your boat goes through, because the raft may flip or you may be tossed into the water. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to swim any rapid higher than IV, even though I’m a strong swimmer for my age.

The photo below was taken during a trip with my husband, my son and one of his friends, and our guide on the Blue River of Colorado last summer, which was a Class II-III run and lots of fun.

Everyone in the raft wore a helmet and a PFD (lifejacket). Even if you’re on an easy float trip, you should wear a helmet in case you end up in the water, to protect your head from hitting a rock or floating debris. If you take a commercial rafting trip, the guides will educate you on how to swim a rapid if you wind up in the water. You lie on your back with your feet pointed downstream, so you can use them to push yourself away from rocks. And, most importantly, you hold onto your paddle, for the same purpose, and so when someone pulls you back into the raft, you can still perform your paddling job.

Never, never, never stand up in whitewater higher than ankle deep! Why? Because the force of moving water is very powerful. If your foot gets trapped between a couple of rocks and you fall down, the moving water will flatten your body. You won’t be able to hold your head up or reach back and free your foot. People have drowned in a foot of whitewater this way. Instead, if you fall out of a raft, either try to stay with the raft and get back in, or swim to the side of the river into a quiet eddy where the current is still and stand up and climb to the river bank.

Commercial guides also train you in how to anchor yourself in a raft, how to pull yourself back in if you get thrown out, and how to pull a raftmate in. This instruction came in handy for me when I took a trip down the Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River last summer. I was seated in the back next to the guide and behind my daughter with my feet wedged under the tubes of the raft, as directed. We hit a huge wave that bounced me up into the air and off my seat. I wound up with my upper body in the river, but my foot was still wedged in the raft. I reached up (while still holding onto my paddle), and my daughter and the guide were able to easily pull me back in.

Below are some photos from that Class III-IV trip. Most of us wore wetsuits on this trip because the water was mostly snowmelt and very cold, so the suits would protect us from hypothermia if we had to swim any length of time in the river. This trip was an absolute blast—better than any rollercoaster ride I’ve been on!


If you’re safety-conscious, whitewater rafting can be a fun, exciting adventure. The safest way to try this adrenaline-pumping sport is by taking a commercial trip, so that you have a trained guide in the raft with you. If you follow your guide’s directions, the only deaths on the river you should experience are those that you’ll read about in Deadly Currents and future books in the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series.

Have you ever gone whitewater rafting? On what river? What was the experience like? If you haven’t gone, did this blog post make you more or less likely to want to go (I hope more!)? Remember, everyone who comments will be entered into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.
Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) as well as the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities. Please visit her blog and go to her website for a list of other stops are on her virtual book tour. You can order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents from Black Cat Books (


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Less, Beth. :) It reminded me of those medication ads on TV that consist most of a lengthy and rapidly recited list of adverse effects. I'll be happy to get my thrills by reading the book. :)

Pauline Alldred said...

I chickened out when four of my workmates went white water rafting for a vacation. It sounds like fun once any fear has been overcome. I would definitely need a guide. And I'd guess ti takes at least ten years to become any kind of expert.

Beth Groundwater said...

Aw, Liz, sorry you aren't tempted to ride the waves yourself, but you'll get plenty of chances to do so vicariously in Deadly Currents. :)

Hi Pauline,
I hope you do try whitewater rafting sometime. It's definitely better to go with a commercial guide, which is what I always do. You don't need to be an expert then, just be in good health and know how to swim--and hoot and holler!

Patti Brooks said...

Sure sounds like your novels set in this country will ring with authenticity! I've only done one mild WWR in Montana and loved it. As a writer of mysteries set in the horse world, I always wonder just how much horse info to include and not sound "preachy." I imagine you face similar challenges.
Patti Brooks

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Patti,
Thanks for your comment. I try to include only as much information about the Arkansas River, whitewater rafting, and ranger work as is needed to tell the story. I rely on my critique group, though to tell me when my "research slip is showing" and I've layered it on too thick. :)

lil Gluckstern said...

I feel like I just went for a ride with your blog. Just imagining these situations gave me a shiver-pleasurable to be sure. Sorry, age, and health means I get I get my thrills through your books. thank you

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi lil Gluckstern,
There's nothing wrong with living vicariously through books! I do it all the time. :) I hope you enjoy the whitewater thrill rides you get to take while reading Deadly Currents.

Dru said...

Hi Beth,

As I'm afraid of water, I won't be doing any whitewater rafting anytime soon, but other can enjoy the sport.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Dru,
Thanks for your comment! I used to be a swimming instructor and worked with both adults and children who had a fear of the water. It can be difficult to overcome, but it can be done. Personally, I feel it's essential to develop enough swimming skills that if you end up in the water after falling out of a boat or ferry or whatever, you can get yourself back to the boat or some other object in the water and keep yourself afloat until help arrives.

In the meantime, you can safely enjoy the thrills and spills of whitewater rafting by reading Deadly Currents while ensconced in your easy chair. :)

Jan Grape said...

I've rafted the Rio Grande in NM when water was low and it was a float trip. Then later in the summer with rangers and guides on the Chama River in NM which was quite exciting. Not sure of class but it was more the middle-type not the IV or V. But I loved it and would enjoy another trip for sure.

BBibel said...

I reviewed this for Booklist and had a great time reading it. The vicarious thrills are enough for me!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Jan and Barbara!

I enjoy a good float trip, too. Last summer my husband and I floated down the Guadaloupe River in the Texas hill country on 3 inner tubes--one each for us and one for the beer cooler. :)

I owe you a HUGE thank you for your good reviews of both DEADLY CURRENTS and A REAL BASKET CASE, the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series. I'm so pleased to hear from you and to know how much you enjoyed reading my book!

Anonymous said...

My grown daughter got a pretty good dunking when the raft she was in went vertical in the water. Yes, she can swim and she had to handle herself for a while until her boat could reach her.

Too much excitement for me, but she loves it.

Christinekling said...

I've sailed all my life, but I've never had a chance to go whitewater rafting. I would love to give it a try someday. It's on my bucket list. And your book is now on my TBR list since I have a special love for books with strong female protagonists on the water!

Kim said...

Hi Beth,
I went rafting on the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last year. It was a toss up which was more fun-the rafting or para gliding down from the top of the mountain!
Wishing you continued success on your tour!
Kim Piddington

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Marylynne, Christine, and Kim,
Thanks for your comments!

I bet your daughter has fun retelling her story of that exciting dunking. :)

Thanks, Christine, for putting Deadly Currents on your TBR list, and I hope you get to that whitewater rafting item on your bucket list soon!

And Kim, paragliding is something that I'm not sure I want to try. You have quite an adventuresome spirit that should serve you well in your writing career. ;)

Shannon Lawrence said...

Definitely more interested! The pictures are great. Do you stay fairly warm in the raft from the work you're doing or is it cold?

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Shannon,
Usually it's a warm, sunny summer day when you're rafting, and yes, you're paddling, so you're generating some of your own heat. The water is often very cold, though, except in the late summer, because it is snow melt. So, you often wear "farmer john" wetsuits when you go on the more exciting runs where you're bound to get wet. These are wetsuits with leggings that end at your ankle and a tank-style top, leaving your arms uncovered. You can't tell with all the waves surrounding us in the final picture, but most of us in the raft (except the guide in the back and my son in the front) are wearing farmer john wetsuits under our PFDs. Great question!

Beth Groundwater said...

Many thanks to all of the Poe's Deadly Daughters for having me as a guest on your blog! I'll still check for late comments, so readers don't be dismayed if I've moved on to another blog, you can still enter the free book contest by leaving one.

Beth said...

My kids and I rafted on the Nantahala a few years ago and LOVED it! The description of your trips have me revved up to try some of the rivers in my neck of the woods (California). By the way, I HATE rollercoasters, but find rafting and canoeing on swift rivers to be among the best thrills around. Can't wait to read the first of your series!

From one Beth to another...

Sheila Deeth said...

How can something look so fun and still leave me sure I'll never dare do it? (Ah, but I can read about it.)

Beth Groundwater said...

Beth and Sheila,
Thanks for your comments!

Maybe you should try a rafting water ride at an amusement park first. That should whet your appetite for the real thing "out in the wild." :)

I'd love to go back and run the Natahala River again sometime. It's in such a beautiful setting. And yes, don't we share the world's greatest first name? :)

Anonymous said...


white water rafting tennessee said...

Even if I have so many experiences in white water rafting I will stay in the Class I – III range. I love extreme sports but I love my life too. I want that Deadly Currents book by Beth! I’m trying to gather some more knowledge in white water rafting because I want to experience being a guide but only to the float trips.

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