RAFTING: East Vs West. by Alex Wilson

I moved out to Colorado this year with my homies, ready to experience the natural flow of snow melt on the Arkansas River, known in the raft industry simply as “The Ark.” My very first private trip through Browns Canyon was with my brother, and it was amazing! Big train waves, gorgeous views, but still not big water for this area.

When I got back, my boss asked me, “How was the Class 3 + run?” I looked at him like he was crazy!!! Class 3+ run??? I’d been guiding on the Dirty Bird for the past two years and that was Class 4, I thought!

Now I look at classification differently. I’m sure the Pigeon River (which I love) is a Class 4 river at certain CFS levels. It had never been a Class 4 when I took custys down. Owners of outfitters on the Dirty Bird need to stop selling trips billed as such that are easily Class III.

Browns Canyon is NOT a Class 3+ river to me either. It is Class 4 in my opinion. I was part of a river rescue that took way too long this year. It was a private boat trip involving an older gentleman.

The canyon walls block cell reception. One of our guides had his phone and ran to the top of the canyon to make the call. We came across the incident on a commercial trip. Our trip eddied out to help, and it took an hour and a half for search and rescue to get there, and the whole time we were working on the older gentlemen as his friends looked on. He didn’t make it. It was my first experience with trying to help, but couldn’t on the river. It broke me.

I love to crush it. To shred it. To hit every hit. It’s hard now to see the line you want to crush and send, but in the back of your mind, Mark is there. We did what we could; he didn’t make it. The evacuation alone, to me, makes this a Class 4 river.
When it comes to The River, respect Her. Every second.

Never get complacent.

You have bodies in your boat that you are responsible for.

Don’t take that for granted.

We live a fast life.

We live a life where anything is possible, but only if everything goes just right.

Never let your guard down.

And always have your head on a swivel.

As guides, we live a spectacular life. How many times have you heard, “Do it while you’re young!” Or, “Man you sure are living the life.”

Yes we are living the life.
We are young.

We are old.

We are adventurous.

We are crazy.

We do what we do, and what we do, we are good at.


So, in my opinion the classification is absolutely bull shit if you are commercially guiding. Keep them in the boat. Quit going for the carnage cash. You can make money off of them next year if you give them a nice fun run that is safe. If a customer is in your boat , it is all Class V.

If, as commercial guides, we all think that we are guiding Class V then I think there will be a lot less people in the water. Just a thought from some little Pigeon Guide.

Live, love, eat, drink, be merry, and shred the gnar gnar (safely)
That’s all for now.


EDITOR’S DESK: Alex Wilson is a longtime DBP Admin, prior contributor to the Magazine, and an original member of Rage Cage. He’s competed in many raft competitions, including the Nationals, and has been part of a few winning teams. I’ve boated with Alex, and he isn’t afraid of any private Class V run, but he’s grown in his appreciation for safety and respect for Wallace in commercial settings. 

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By Chicago Mike

Editor-in-Chief "Chicago" Mike Toughill is co-founder of Dirt Bag Paddlers and former Peshtigo River Manager at Kosir's Rapid Rafts in Wisconsin. He's been Wallacing since 2003.

2 replies on “RAFTING: East Vs West. by Alex Wilson”

Curious what was the CFS when you were on the Ark? It’s definitely more of a III at 1500 or less. I did it at 3700 once and it was pretty big. I’m doing the opposite, just moved east from Oregon/Colorado to Pittsburgh. Haven’t hit any water yet. Headed to Gauley Fest, curious to compare.

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