Monday, February 2, 2009

Scouting from On High

I once saw a tourist in a Starter jacket gaze carefully over the edge of the 90 foot cliffs that make up Class V Rip Gorge (on the West Branch of the Penobscot in Maine) and casually remark: "Honey, isn't Class V the biggest? It doesn't look too bad from here." She had a fanny pack and everything. Too easy.

It demonstrates a point though. It is never a great idea to scout from on high. Looking down on a rapid from an elevated position flattens out it's hydrological features and might goad you into a poor decision. It's a spatial trick of the eye to lose the depth of field proportional to the distance from the object.

Sometimes, of course, you have no choice but to clamber over rocks and up to some promontory to see around the next bend or get a better angle on an OK-but-not-quite-good chute on the other side of the river. Still, scouting is best done from river level and then complimented with an overview later.

* * *

So, just now I was looking at satellite images of Sheep Creek Rapid in Hells Canyon on the Snake River and thinking to myself; "Well now, it doesn't look too bad at all... I bet I could sneak up river right no problem..." The sat image showed the river to be about 2 inches wide with a few tiny, blurry comet-shaped white splotches depicting the Class IV/V monster; the point of view was probably 1000 feet up.

I reached down into my fanny pack for my chap stick, grimacing and clicking over to the next sat image.

All text Copyright Alexander Martin 2009