Friday, 26 September 2014

Are you ready?

Many thanks to West Howland for the photo and my good friend Adam for the flyer and the logo! 
Check out Mango Tree Resort, not a bad place to relax during the evenings..Couldn't organize the course without the help of Paddle Nepal family! 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Swimming, flipping and guiding at altitude

I stepped off my Jetconnect flight at Leh airport and made my way onto the shuttle bus. I noticed a slight shortage of breath which was expected as I was an elevation of around 3500m. A quick thought popped into my head " If I am short of breath now whats it going to feel like when we run flip drills & swimming sessions".

The Zanskar & Indus rivers were to be my home for the next two weeks. During this time I was to run a 6 day International Rafting Federation safety craft, guide & trip leader workshop. Hosted by Tsering Chotak of Wet N Wild Explorations in Leh. After a day of acclimatization in Leh I packed my bags and headed to the Wet N Wild base camp. My first mission was to kayak the commercial one day rafting section of the Zanskar river. During this run I needed to take a close up look at the river in order to plan the course in more detail. 

The Zanskar river is a typical glacial canyon river with big volume rapids and funky eddy lines. The Zanskar was going to provide us with plenty of entertainment during the course.  

Day one kicked off with a typical meet & greet session. The workshop had 9 attendees from India,Nepal & UK. We had a mix of first & second season guides right the way through to seasoned Himalayan guides with a wealth of experience. I did notice an air of nervousness among the team as many of them had never attended any type of formal training course before. To ease the nervousness I wanted to get the team onto the water as soon as possible. As expected the technical rafting ability of the group was perfect as the team could put a boat anywhere I asked. Having run a few courses on big volume rivers before I knew this would be the case. I also knew that safety talks & the technical stuff was where I would need to focus my attention. The end of the day also was the start of 3 days non stop rain. 

The road the Zanskar was closed due to a landslide so opted to spend day 2 on the lower Indus river to allow the guides to strut their stuff on some class 4+. The less rafted lower Indus took the team out of their comfort zone of the Zanskar river and gave them something new to look at. The lower Indus provided us with some long continuous large volume rapids. We paddled 40km with some tedious flat sections, by the time we reached the takeout the team thought we were finished for the day! I then decided to finish the day with flip drills. For those who don't know the standard IRF flip drill it includes a swim to the raft where you must climb in and flip the raft. You must then climb back onto the flipped raft, count your crew, re flip the raft and climb back in. For most fit class 4-5 guides this should not take long. I decided to lead by example and give a demonstration. It wasn't until afterwards I noticed how tiring a flip drill at that altitude was. The rest of the team agreed with me. 

Day 3 was spent at the Nimu rapid based next to the Wet N Wild base camp. During our dry land morning session we took a look into setting up various rope systems and rope work. The outcome of this session was quite simple: all of the guides needed to be confidently able to rig a basic mechanical advantage system in order to tension a rope or to move a heavy load. After lunch we took to the water to cover whitewater swimming and throw bag exercises. Towards the end of the day we spent sometime exploring foot entrapment skills. The team came away from the session with a clearer understanding that not all rescues need to be over complex, a simple approach is often safer and quicker. 

Day 4 started with a few tired looking faces but at least the sun was back out. Today we moved onto the class 3 lower volume section of the middle Indus river. We got to utilize the safety kayakers more. The group got to try various methods of getting a line across the river. We also set up tensioned diagonals & some mechanical advantage systems. The guides were starting to gel as a team and were starting to operate really well.

Day 5 
The sun was out, the road was open so we were back on the Zanskar river. Today was the scenario day. The safety kayakers were given opportunities to rescue multiple panicking swimmers. We also looked at dealing with unconscious swimmers from a kayak. The trip leader candidates were given 1 hour to solve a scenario including multiple swimmers, flipped rafts and all types of carnage including the decision to evacuate or not. The day was completed with a group evacuation exercise. The loose scree and relentless midday sun of the Zanskar tested the patience off all involved.

Day 6  
This gave us the opportunity to re visit any areas that the team wanted to look at. We tackled the IRF written paper and got stuck into the debriefs. All of my debriefs had the same theme, keep up the good work, carry the correct equipment & practice, practice, practice!

By the end of the week the group were tired (so was I) but the team achieved the following and all walked away with  
  • 2 class 4-5 trip leaders 
  • 5 class 4-5 guides 
  • 1 class 3 guide 
  • 1 trainee guide 

All of the candidates also gained an IRF safety craft award. 

My next courses will run on 1-5th December on the Marsyangdi river in Nepal. If last years course will be anything to go by it's going to be a blast.

Happy paddling,


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Booking a rafting trip

Booking a rafting trip with the right company could make or break a great experience

In this day and age we are always trying to make our money last a little longer.  There are some areas where saving a few extra dollars could cost you lots in the long run.
As a raft guide that has travelled and worked around the world, I thought I could share a few moments to give you a heads up and a few handy hints to follow when booking a trip.

The most important questions you should ask yourself are: 
  • What kind of rafting trip am I looking for? 
  • Do I want an easy, relaxing trip or more challenging whitewater? 
  • Does this trip match my expectations? 

Pre trip research
When purchasing or booking anything nowadays we research our purchase online beforehand. Booking for a rafting trip should be the same. Websites such as Tripadvisor provide a great place to start your research but let’s all be aware of the happy clappers & trolls when reading through comments.

“Fantastic experience”
5 of 5 starsReviewed August 4, 2014
This is a must do when in Queenstown. Professional company with great equipment. Guides are extremely knowledgeable and along with the beautiful surroundings, they point out interesting landmarks as you raft down the river. Chief our guide was both funny and concerned for our safety. My self and my partner had a great time rafting and would recommend it for anyone going to Queenstown.
Visited July 2014
The comment above is brief and to the point. When reading through comments, notes about the ease of booking and pre trip information are big clues as to the quality of the company.  Rafting companies that take the time to reply to reviews normally care about the service they offer their customers and are generally good companies.
The company’s own website should be able to give you a clear outline of the quality of their operation.  A quick browse through the site will be able to give you a few clear indicators.
From each trip you will need to get at least the following details:
  • Classification of the white water on the trip
  • Trip distance & time length
  • Transport, food & accommodation
  • Departure dates
  • Cost

Take the time to also have a look in detail at the following finer points.
Every rafting company proudly boasts to have some of the best guides in the world. This is a bold statement to make; what makes a raft guide the best guide in the world?
A mixture of international experience and a solid training background will normally put you in capable hands. Look for the following qualifications:
Any guide holding an IRF qualification will have been trained to an internationally recognised standard. 
Any guide holding a trip leader award will have been trained to a high standard including their handling of an emergency scenario.
All current IRF qualified guides must possess a current first aid qualification in order for their IRF award to be valid.
Any guide qualifications can be checked here via the IRF online register.
Rescue 3 training sets the world standard in swift water & white water rescue training.  A guide holding a Rescue 3 certificate will have attended an in-depth training course based on safety & rescue in a river environment.
First Aid
All guides must have a first aid certificate as a minimum.  Outdoor specific first aid qualifications are a bonus. Wilderness first responders (WFR), EMT & Advanced wilderness medicine are adequate certificates for those venturing out onto multiday trips.
Companies that invest in the training & development of their guide team will benefit from this training.
Photo gallery
A few moments in the photo gallery should give you a few ideas to the quality of the company.  Pictures of rafts flipping and general carnage may mean the trips are focussed on flipping & swimming. These types of trips normally attract gung ho style guides & customers. Make your own decisions!

Pictures showing smiley faces in rafts, professional looking guides in control of their raft will give a much more professional feeling of the company.
Take a look at the quality of the equipment the company is using. Quality maintained professional rafts are a must along with helmets & personal floatation devices. If you are rafting on cold water will wetsuits or dry suits be provided? Steer well away from any companies that do not provide you with certified equipment.
The main certifications you need to look at are:
CE 95 for Europe and the US coastguard for the States and the Americas.
Professional companies will constantly be renewing their kit.
The age old saying that a picture paints a thousand words should come to the forefront of your mind when viewing the gallery.

The booking office
The first part of your rafting experience starts with the sales or booking office. Always try to book direct with the raft company. Agents are actively after their commission at the end of the day and will tell you anything to get their hands on your cash.

Have a good look around the office and get a feel for the place. If you feel uncomfortable in the office this should be a sign of things to come.
Don’t be afraid to ask the most simple of questions. If these questions cannot honestly be answered, consider another company.
Ask questions about transport to and from the river, security of personal articles, first aid provisions, dietary requirements.
Likewise responsible companies need to ask you the 2 big important questions:
1 Can you swim?
If you are going on a rafting trip, yes, you need to be able to swim or have basic water confidence.
2 Medical fitness
Any professional company will want to take care of you to the best of their ability. Please do tell the company of any pre existing medical conditions you may have prior to the trip starting. A responsible company will be able to help you more efficiently if they are made aware of any problems beforehand. Also take good look at your travel insurance to see what you are covered for whilst participating on a rafting trip.
In my personal opinion walk away from any company that fails to ask you these questions at the time of booking either verbally or on a booking form.
All companies should also remind you at the time of booking that being under the influence of alcohol & drugs will not be tolerated on trips.
Take the time to read through the companies’ cancellation procedure again. If this is not readily available, little red flags should start to pop up in your head.
Just by reading through the points above hopefully you will now have a better idea about pre booking your trip. Remember to only part with your hard earned cash once you are 100% happy with the chosen company. 

Happy Paddling,