Saturday, June 16, 2007


The Best Whitewater in California, Third Edition 1998 (book review)

River guidebook for intermediate and advanced kayakers.

Lars Holbeck and Chuck Stanley have written a great guidebook for boating on class III, IV and V whitewater rivers in California. It covers 180 river runs, including many of the popular runs and some obscure ones. Many runs are suitable for both rafting and kayaking, but there are additional runs that are primarily suitable for kayaking. Woven throughout the river guides are the great adventure stories of the authors traveling around California and doing the boating needed to get the information to write the book.

This book was a major resource for planning my river trips as I advanced to become a class III and then a class IV kayaker. Originally I was put off by the minimal maps in this book, but now I appreciate that advanced boaters do not need or want a map to show the location of every river hazard. Part of the adventure is to be constantly observant and figure things out as you proceed down the river. I do want a guidebook to give a general rating for a section of river and this book does a great job of that. I want to kayak on sections of whitewater that are difficult enough to be challenging, but not so hard that I will spend the whole day portaging or swimming. I appreciate the information the book provides about how river difficulty changes with flow rate, but with the right skills and equipment many of these rivers are runnable over a wider range of flows than the book indicates.

The second and third editions were minor updates of a book first published in 1984. Equipment and techniques have changed a lot over that time. Pictures of 12 foot long river kayaks and stories of first descents are interesting, but must look like ancient history to the new generations of young boaters. Fortunately the rivers have not changed much over that time frame, so the river guide aspects of the book are still as accurate as ever.


Holbeck & Stanley wrote on page xv: "Safety. The sport of kayaking revolves around the use of good judgement, and no information in this book is intended as a substitute for your own. Our assessment of the difficulty of various runs has been pegged against the standards used by the International Canoe Federation (see the section on whitewater classification), but an unavoidable degree of latitude exists in the interpretation of any standard. Our sincere recommendation is that you use our description of difficulty as a guide, while remembering that the final responsibility for a safe and enjoyable trip remains, as always, yours."


This excellent book by California river explorers Holbeck & Stanley was a critical resource during my class IV boating years. I think this book is out-of-print, so pick up a copy of this book wherever you can find one. Some of the same river guide information is now available on various websites, but you may still want the readability and portability of a book. (**** - my rating 4 stars out of 5)

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