Feasibility of running the Stikine: posts on Mountain Buzz.com

In March 2010, somebody posted what sounded like a joke on Mountain Buzz about running the Stikine, asking for beta and partners. I didn’t know about the post, but started getting a large number of link referrals from the forum, where somebody had linked to my “Short History of the Stikine”. When I back-clicked, I found the thread. After reading the posts, it was clear there were many people interested in the river and run, but not much knowledge of it.

I haven’t posted on a forum since 1996, but I made an exception since all the questions involved events I had been a part of, or things I directly knew about. I ended up making several posts in response to additional questions. All of these involved what was necessary to prepare for the Stikine.

The gist of the whole thing is that an experienced kayaker can run the Stikine if he prepares carefully and thoroughly. This lays out some of the issues.

If you’re interested in a detailed analysis of specifics, look at the long article titled “The real measure of skill” in my book Whitewater Philosophy. It is an in-depth email to a guy who attempted the Stikine in a group that was not prepared adequately.

The following are the initial posts and my primary responses.

There are another 90 or so entries, which can be found at Mountainbuzz.com. These include some later feather ruffling by some people that degraded into smack responses from various paddlers, wandering into personal conflict that included odd things that seem to be at least 15 years old. I don’t want to dwell on any of that, because it is the product of misperception, and frankly it isn’t worth the time to correct such things. People will always think what they want.

Here are the Mountain Buzz posts. They start with the initial one requesting partners and beta about the Stikine

  • Doug Post 14 (Some background on the Stikine)
  • Doug Post 46 (Excerpt from DougAmmons.com)
  • Doug Post 48 (More comments about what is necessary, Lunch Video, Reggie Crist)
  • Doug Post 52 (reply to posts questioning Rob Lesser)
  • Doug (Letter to the original poster, David Lew: Treat the Stikine as a treasure)

Original post
2-28-10
Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Howdy! I'm going up to Alaska at the end of August to run the Tatshenshini (class III/float). However, doing some research, it looks like it wouldn't be too far out of the way to go fire up the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. This would also be at an easier water level to run this (August-Sept being non-highwater). It is a class V+ big water run. One of the classics on the North American Continent.
So, I may go look to fire it up either on the drive up to Alaska in mid-August, or on the way back in early September.
Just an idea at this point, though I'm starting to do the research on it. Anyone here run it? Know anyone who's run it? Anyone want to run it with me?
Thought I'd drop the line to all of you buzzards a few months before the trip to see what info I can find.
I will be driving my station wagon from Colorado to Haines, AK for the Tatshenshini trip, so I could carry a boat for someone up there potentially.
st2eelpot

Post #14
3-8-10
Some background on the Stikine  DOUG AMMONS

This is a reply to the post about the Stikine. People were being directed to my website for background; apparently somebody linked to an article I'd written (the text to an article for Kayak Session a couple years ago).

Frankly, at first I thought the post was somebody having fun, but I guess it's legit, so what's said below assumes the person was serious (if he's still pulling our leg, then that's pretty amusing).

Kayaking is about freedom to do what we choose, so I'm not going to dissuade the original poster about trying the Stikine. If he feels he's ready, then more power to him. But I think a few comments and a little perspective are in order.

Trying to get information and potential partners for the Stikine by posting on the internet is approximately like finding info and partners for a trip to climb Everest on a climbing forum. Maybe it will work, but it's not a very serious way to proceed given the objective difficulty of the place you're going.

Outside of the Tsangpo, the Stikine is the closest thing we have in kayaking to a major Himalayan climb. The great things about it are these: it is very hard, but nearly every rapid is runnable, it's a stunningly beautiful and intimidating place, and finally, anybody can drive up the Cassiar highway and put on. There aren't any permits needed, just stop at the bridge, pack your boat, and head down the river.

But if you do that, you'd better have a real good idea of what's down there. For example, it's harder than any of the Sierra multidays, and a totally different kind of paddling. It's certainly doable by a good, highly experienced team of paddlers. But there have been epics in there. If Bob McDougall and more recently Jay Kinkaid and Taylor Robertson, can get their butts handed to them in a sling and see God, then the rest of us can too. So keep that in mind. When people like Rob Lesser, Lars Holbeck, Tommy Hilleke, John Grace, Tyler Bradt, Oli Grau, Olaf Obsommer, Scott Lindgren, and Charlie Munsey come out of there with their eyes wide, then that should tell you something. Lars once told me "Sometime I should go back to see if it really is as scary as I remember." Scott told me "It was like being in Vietnam and coming back alive." Charlie just said - in great Munsey style - "It's still the truth". Just last year Tyler Bradt emailed me to say it was an incredible run that deserved everything ever said about it, and whose exploration seemed so difficult it baffled him.

It's a place to plan carefully for and savor, and a place where you need to decide what paddling means to you. If you find somebody who knows it, and follow them down without doing the thoughtful sifting that should be done, you might make it to the take out. If you don't, then I guarantee you won't be a happy man. If you do, you'll probably say "That was the most outrageous river I've ever done", but you'll also have a trip that means less than if you treated it like your own first descent. Have the courage to make it your own first descent. You already know it’s been done, so you know more than we did. Figure it out yourself, like we did. If you approach it that way, it will be the hardest thing you ever did, and the most meaningful.

Some specs: It's a 60 mile long, three or four day Wilderness Class V+/VI run, big water, cold, very committing, vertical walled in many places, hard scouting, and portages; if you have to climb out and if you find a place to make it up to the rim, you'll be in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Ask Jay and Taylor what that's like.

The poster says he's done the Black Canyon of the Gunnison - a great run. The Black canyon would be something like the Stikine if it had about 10,000 cfs in it. Think about that. It's on a different order. It's not a guidebook run, or a place to have a pickup team. The poster also mentions the Fut - another great river. However, it gets commercial traffic and guided runs, all its major rapids have been run by an innertuber, or so I hear from a knowledgable source. The Grand Canyon of the Stikine will never be run by a tuber, nor will it ever be done as a guided run, nor will there ever - and I mean ever - be a commercial run done on it. I'd say it is between one and two grades harder than the rivers the poster mentions, and longer, more exposed, and sustained. When the best paddlers in the world come out of there collectively shaking their heads and blown away, then you should realize it's a different universe.

A doable one, so be inspired and prepare for it.

In my latest book ("Whitewater Philosophy") I have a chapter titled "The real measure of skill." It is a letter to a guy who wrote me after his team tried the Stikine. They made it down only the first three big rapids (out of about 25), were slammed, hurt, bailed out and got lost up on the rim, and ended up four days later getting rescued by a helicopter after they'd run out of food. It is a frank discussion of what's needed to approach the run, and what I consider to be "the real measure of skill". The real measure of skill is not what you do when you're at your best, it's what you can do when you're at your worst - hurt, beat, lost confidence, and still have to rise to the occasion. If your worst isn't up to the Stikine, then my suggestion is not to go until you have reached that level.

Hopefully in the next few months I'll (finally) publish a book on the Stikine that's been written for about ten years. It will give a riverrunning history and an appreciation for its stunning grandeur, intimidation, and difficulty. The second half will be the story of my solo run. That book and the chapter I mention above will answer some people's questions. Check out blogs with descriptions of individual runs done over the last three or four years (e.g., by Austin Rathman, Ali Marshall). My website has the general article which will give you a little taste (see www.dougammons.com), My book "Laugh of the Water Nymph" is available there, and has a story about another trip we did in there in 1998. "Whitewater Philosophy" is also available there. Scott Lindgren has footage from his several trips on his various great films; so check out his website, John Grace at Lunch Video Magazine has at least two shows that include their runs in there, with Hilleke, DeLavergne, and McDermott, et al., I believe in 2004 and 2005.

I don't believe that kayaking is defined by the harder things; its beauty is there for all of us at every level. The Stikine is a special place, and it should be treated like that - both for your own safety and life, and as an expression of the wonderful experiences our sport gives us, inspiration that draws all of us to the sport. If you want to take on the Stikine, then you really need to be ready for it. You should train for it in the same vein you'd train if you were going to do Everest. Tossing it on a trip you've planned to do the Tat, as if it's just another run, is foolish. I've been there four times and I wouldn't do that. I'd recommend about one or two seasons of really hard, top end paddling, technical big water Class V, aiming to peak for the Stikine - including a few weeks, or month on the NF Payette, which was always our training river. The post is flippant and casual, and the Stikine isn't a place for that if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Doug Ammons
www.dougammons.com

Post # 46
3-12-10
Originally Posted by “Short History of the StikineDoug Ammons Website
Rob Lesser has been the pioneering force for the Stikine, and in a real sense, is the living history of the expeditions there. He and I have talked about the river many times, and we agree the Stikine is the purest of expeditions. The power the place has had over us has led to an unspoken ethic these last 25 years. We believe that specifics should not be given except to identify certain lethal spots. The sense of mystery defines an essential part of the river's challenge, so every team should be given the opportunity of feeling the pressure, stress, and exhilaration of a first descent. The Stikine isn’t a notch on your belt, it’s a force of nature and a gift to us all. Keep your team small and let the canyon speak loudly to you. You won’t regret it.

I think in a lighthearted way we're all trying to express the above from Doug's article on the Stikine. It's cool that the beta is limited. The place is intriguing because it's mysterious and terrifying.

Post # 48
3-12-10
A few additional comments

DOUG AMMONS

I looked back at this thread to see what was being said, and can offer some opinions about what's being talked about, and a few more facts. Thanks to everybody for their interesting comments. It’s great that everybody is an equal and can offer their own opinions; the give and take makes for a lively discussion. I’d like to apologize to the original poster, and I hope he didn’t feel like he was treated unkindly. I admire his willingness to head out to unknown territory. My only worry was that he didn’t seem to have a clear idea of the lay of the land.

First, the sport has definitely progressed and people are doing harder runs in general. People like the Young Guns are doing in one season as much variety as we did in five years of paddling. Skills are great, equipment greatly improved, travel is easier, many more areas and rivers are known and worked out, and these guys are basically full-time professional kayakers really pushing themselves. However, most of those harder runs focus on steep creeks and waterfalls, not big water. That is a peculiarity of the younger kayakers’ focus, and it’s something of a fad. They have not gone after big water with the same relish – yet.

Even with that, no matter how much is done, there are certain places that will always be hard. Upper Cherry will always be hard, so will the NF Payette above 5500, and so will the Stikine. Doable, but hard. And even if you have the skills, the issue is whether you have the appetite.

Here are a few things I believe. I think collectively they mean kayaking will always keep progressing and finding new levels:

  • Anything that any of us ever did can be done by others.
  • Nobody is so good that what they do can’t be repeated and pushed even farther.
  • Everybody has great abilities that they will only reach if they allow themselves to try.
  • The best people from any era would likely also be excellent in any other era.
  • Ultimately, we’re all just human, and we share all the same weaknesses and strengths. It's the beauty of our creativity and personalities that these things can come out in so many different and striking ways.
Please check out the article I just did on the NF Payette, published in this month’s (March 2010) Kayak Session. In it there are some comments by Erik Boomer, certainly one of the top younger New School expedition paddlers, pointing out the differences between new and old school relative to the North Fork Payette and big water:

{NOTE: These quotes were not in the original post, I added them here so you don’t need to look up the Kayak Session article}

Erik Boomer:
New school paddling has a lot to do with special slides, drops, low volume steep creeks, waterfalls, play moves. None of that applies to the North Fork at high water, and its constant huge dangers. It’s the raw power the river has, and the super-solid river running skills it demands, done at 100 miles an hour in a place that can kill you.”

Erik also said in the interview:
Last season I came out from Hood River, Oregon after a big season of running waterfalls and steep drops that people thought were crazy. hopped on the NF at 5500, and it was by far the most hard-core thing I’d done. We didn’t even paddle Jacob’s Ladder; we scouted, it was past our limits, and we portaged. The power, complexity and continuousness are unreal. Downstream, my paddle broke and I swam and thought I was going to die.

Even on high end exploratory creeks, you can often screw up on a waterfalland then swim out of the pool, get your gear together, and off you go. But anywhere on the NF at high water, if you swim you’re dealing with serious consequences – with major injury or death. The consequences are always there, even as your skills increase. It doesn’t have the huge radical drops, but has moves and power to challenge anybody - plus the consequences that are always there makes it a really special.

The same points are perhaps even more true for the Stikine.

Hilleke, Grace, et al. are fantastic, absolutely exceptional paddlers. Tommy approached me and Rob Lesser in 2005 to ask what we thought of a one-day attempt on the Stikine. Rob didn’t like it and said, “It’s such a great place, I’d want to spend more time in there rather than less”. He also didn’t like the idea of making it into some kind of timing or race contest. I understand Rob’s reluctance, but I also think the attempt is a worthy challenge – condensing a full expedition run down into a single day. In fact, I was going to do it back in 1994, had it all planned, had trained for it (earlier that year I’d soloed the CF Yellowstone in a day, done 8500 vertical feet on the NF in a day, and soloed 200 miles of the Susitna and Devil’s canyon in just over a day) but for several personal reasons I decided not to. In contrast to Rob, I cheered Tommy on, telling him that it was a great challenge, and that he and Daniel et al. should just decide based on their feeling at the time and what the river level and weather were doing. They pulled it off, and I think it is one of the most impressive things in the history of the sport. As I recall, DeLavergne said something like it was the most mind-bending day of paddling he’d ever had. I believe that.

The Stikine sees more traffic now, but for example, in 2006 four teams attempted the run and only one succeeded. The Stikine is difficult, but it is accessible if you are very motivated, an experienced paddler, have prepared for it, and are lucky with weather and level. If you are unlucky, then it could easily be your grave. From the Lunch Video crew, John Grace has swum there, Fred Coriell took a horrendous swim at Wasson’s, As did Austin Rathman. So even the best of the anointed can get slammed.

Reggie Crist is an incredible athlete, and his situation demonstrates what is required. First, he has been a professional athlete for much of his life. When he went to the Stikine with us, he had paddled for much, much longer than three years. Basically he’d paddled for ten or twelve, but only truly focused on hard Class V for three years. That's where that comment came from. Nat Geo liked the drama it created. However, he paddled most of that with Gerry Moffatt – one of the great all time paddlers. He’d done the NF Payette yearly for a long time. And, as people pointed out, the man is a world-class downhill skier a World Cup contender, two time Olympian. He also was past his limit on the Stikine though, and as he put it, “I rode on the energy of the team, these guys carried me through”. He broke down at the take out, dissolved in tears as he was thanking us for helping him at V-Drive. And that's one difference between physical skill and mental control. You can have the physical skill to deal with something, but not the focused strength to do it when it absolutely must be done, when you're tired and intimidated. It was a phenomenally experienced team – at the time, accounting for 9 of the 11 runs ever done of the canyon. So there you have it: if you’re a two time Olympic downhill skier, a National ski team member and World Cup contender for 10+ years, have paddled for ten or twelve years, go with the most experienced team in the world, then you can run the Stikine after only focusing on hard whitewater for three years. That seems to say the same thing as what we’ve been talking about.

The problem is that the NG people wanted to dramatize the three years, and omitted most of the rest of the context.

I deliberately chose Everest as a metaphorical example because of what one later poster mentioned: Everest is now known and can be done by an experienced climber. The difference is that you can take a guide up Everest, use a prepared trail, fixed ropes already set, and if you are in good shape and acclimatize well – and nothing out of the ordinary happens – then you can make it. But doing the Stikine, everybody has to run the rapids themselves. There’s no rope, no protection other than your own skill and mental strength. A team in kayaking can only give you some information and moral support. They can’t prepare the route for you. You make every paddle stroke by yourself. That is the beauty and challenge of our great sport.

Thanks to everybody for some interesting questions and comments.

Doug Ammons

Post 52
3-13-10
Reply to comments about Rob Lesser
DOUG AMMONS

I don’t want to belabor the issue, but several people made comments about Rob Lesser and his age (53) at running the Stikine in 1998. You have to know Rob to realize how much more there is to it than just his age.

Rob is one of the all time characters of the sport, and I’m very grateful for having him be a close partner and friend for a long time. In absolute terms he wasn’t in outstanding shape on that 1998 trip, but to understand why it was still reasonable for him to go, you have to consider the wealth of experience and skill that lay behind the decision.

He’d been up there five times, and scouted extensively several other times. He pioneered that river, figured the place out first, and has more attempts, more descents and more time in the canyon than anybody else. Additionally, look at his resume: he’s paddled the NF Payette probably at least 500 times at all different levels. He’s done a hundred or more multiday trips on wilderness class IV and V rivers, and probably 50+ first descents (Amusingly and poignantly, he doesn’t have a list of what he’s done but shrugs his shoulders and says, “it’s just the fabric of my life”). He had already done the Alsek, Susitna, Stikine (four times), Braldu, Bio Bio, and hundreds of other runs before that 1998 trip. He is old school, but always open to the new. He wasn’t paddling as well as he did in his prime, but he has such incredible depth ofexperience, knows his own limits and pace so well, and is so familiar with dealing with big water class V, that you really can’t compare him to anybody else.

And given this, it’s something of a logical fallacy to think that because Rob did something at 53, it means that somebody else could do it at that age. The posters were not really saying that, but for purposes of illustration, I'll draw out the analogy: it might be like thinking “Reinhold Messner climbed Makalu and Lhotse at age 42 without supplemental oxygen, and I’m 42 so maybe I can do it too.” Best to be cautious about such a conclusion, because there’s far more to it than age. In Rob, we’re talking about one of the all-time greats of the sport, somebody who has more experience doing rivers like the Stikine than virtually anybody else. Tommy Hilleke, Tyler Bradt, or Rush Sturgus could paddle rings around Rob in certain circumstances, but Rob has been in a class of his own for a long, long time doing what he does best, which is cannily, knowledgably taking on the biggest whitewater and staying within his limits.

If you’re interested in more about him, you can check out the profile I wrote of him for Kayak Session, the text of which is on my website. He’s a quirky, thoughtful, intelligent, interesting guy and one of the sport's treasures.

I’d like to add that NONE of what I say above means that you can’t reach your own personal goals, so please don't take it that way. Rob is an inspiration for what can be done. He shows what is possible, and it’s really our own personal challenge for us to take that inspiration and stretch for our own highest ideals.

Doug Ammons

    Doug (Letter to the original poster, David Lew: Treat the Stikine as a treasure)
I corresponded with the guy who originally posted to start the thread. See below:

Final email to the original poster, St2eelpot

I emailed to Dave Lew, who wrote the initial cavalier-sounding post, but who turned out to be an accomplished paddler and climber, and certainly could train to do the Stikine. I expect he will.

Howdy! This is Dave from the Mountainbuzz (st2eelpot) who has been asking around for beta on the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.

I appreciate the post you put up, and have some very simple questions about the run.  I am well aware of the difficulty and commitment of the run- that is exactly why I am so interested in it for one, and looking to get more information on it as well.

However, the information about the run is challenging to find.  I'm fine going in there and treating it as a first descent armed only with the knowledge that it has been run, though it seems somewhat silly to go in there without knowledge of what people have already done.
That being said, here is a list of questions:

  • What are the names of the Rapids?
  • What is the order of the rapids?
  • approximate distances between each of the rapids?
  • Are potential camp spots somewhat frequent? non-existent? Any recommendations on camping?
  • Obviously people have hiked out, although I won't go in without the confidence everyone in the team can run it, where have people hiked out previously?
  • What are the details on the take out? I understand my Subaru Outback can drive the road, what about ease of finding the take out from the road? How hard is it to find the take out from the river? Does one simply drive directly to the river, or does one have to hike the boat and gear 5 miles back to the car?
I'm looking for any logistical information such as this that you know of.

Cheers! Dave

Dave:

Thanks for your email. I appreciate your extending your hand. It does put me in a slight bind as I'm reluctant to give much beta. Before I say anything about beta, I'd just like to mention a couple of other things, and suggest a few places where you should spend some time. I encourage people to do their homework with the things that are available. From my own paddling, I know it takes more effort, but in the end you'll get a hell of a lot more out of the overall experience.

So...

First, The Stikine is something to be savored, and there is absolutely no reason to rush up there and do it. it should be your total focus, and the decision to do it shouldn't rest on being up in the area for the Tat.

For one thing, to have a really good trip you need to be super well-prepared, not just with a little beta and a pickup team. The place can easily kill you. And even if you do fine in there, you have to be sure that whoever you're with will too.

Also, it's worth taking it a little slower at least in part because it is far beyond any of the places on your list. Your list is great, and it's clear you're a really accomplished and serious paddler regardless of how long you've been paddling, but the Stikine is harder than any of the things you list. It is longer, weirder, more committing, more complex, and more powerful. It's a gnarly, fantastic, really striking place. It is the only place I've ever been, for example, where you can get killed by rockfall while scouting, and even when in your boat in the middle of the river. It's certainly doable, but you really should take care in preparing for it.

So, that being said, here are some prerequisites. I'm not going to give you a rapid by rapid list. The less you know, the more intense your trip will be. And I just ask you to believe me that if you go in there as if it is a first descent, you will have the greatest trip of your life. It will be that much harder because you'll be that much closer to your limit.

It sounds like you know much more than me about climbing, but think of this in terms of Messner and "fair means" - here it's not in terms of using bottled O2, or extra bolts and fixed ropes, and in effect decreasing the altitude and difficulty, the "fair means" in kayaking is in not simplifying the river, the difficult choices, and demands on your judgment. All those things will be lessened if you have lots of information about lines in rapids, levels, where rapids are, where portages are, where to scout. Everything comes alive when you don't know, because you're forced to be on your game at every fucking moment.

So you say that limiting beta is silly, but I call it the real shit. It's how I recommend every group approach things, and especially the Stikine. Before there were many runs in there, we just didn’t know much, and it made sense to find out what we could – which was not very much. It’s different now after another 25 years. We know that 25 or so teams have done it, while maybe ten have had to hike out. It’s clear it is possible, and that the odds are fairly good. So less is more now. The simplest way to put it is, the Stikine is a treasure, you'll probably never find another river that has its qualities, so I strongly urge people to not do anything that makes it easier, either physically or mentally. And frankly, anybody who is contemplating it should be good enough to deal with it by fair means. Otherwise, they really don't belong there.

It's like Tejeda Flores' essay on climbing games - style comes from taking the rules of the simpler game and applying them to the much more complex game - so Hillary and Tensing get up Everest in a huge siege expedition, Messner and Habler do Everest supported by a larger expedition, but without bottled O2, then Messner takes the game up a couple of notches by soloing it without O2, Batard does it solo in 24 hours (but on a fixed route), and so on. The end result is approaching the hardest expedition like a 5.15 solo, or even a bouldering problem at the extreme - with minimal equipment and essentially no support. I don't think anybody has free soloed the Trango Tower direct, but that has to be on the map, at least logically. And I apply all this thinking to the way I run rivers. It gives more depth, difficulty, and intensity to the experience. And if you're looking at the Stikine, please ask yourself why you would want to do the hardest thing out there in a way that makes it less hard. Fair means.

And if you've done a lot of first descents (or ascents) then you know the game. Beta takes a grade out of the difficulty, at least.

If you were doing a run at a new level, say 20,000 or 25,000 cfs, then it would make sense to know more because the challenges are greater and less is known. But if you’re going in at the usual time and level, then make it a bigger challenge. If you do that, then you will understand much better what the original runs were like.

Treat the Stikine like a once-in-a-lifetime treasure.

As I said above, I'd recommend you do the Susitna and Alsek first, and get a taste of the bigwater runs up north. Neither is as hard as the Stikine, or as long and committing, but the Susitna is great if the water is above 20K (and good if below), and the Alsek is a five-star, incredible wilderness trip with challenging whitewater even at low water. If the water is really high on either run (say above 25,000), or the Tweedsmir glacier is surging and seracs are calving in above Turnback canyon, then it’ll be all anybody can handle. Really, if those latter things are going on, it'd also probably also better to chopper around the whitewater. Both are great trips all by themselves, and great training for the Stikine.

So background: I don't want to sound simplistic, so please don't take it that way, I just want to list these things off.

Get on Google maps and take a look. You have access to satellite photos there as well as topographical maps and can - and should - study and compare them. You can't spend too much time looking at the area and surroundings. What you won't see is the 1000 foot cliffs coming right out of the water. They fall back in some places along the canyon, but boy they are really something when you're sitting in the gut of the place looking up, and trying to find a place to climb out and scout.

Second, get a topo map from the Canadian Geological Survey of the quads that cover the canyon. You can get 1:50000 maps and intuit from the contours where the main rapids will be. In fact, you can see where most of them are from the satellite shots on google and match them up with your topo. As I said in the post, that's more information than we had.

One of my own laments of how the sport has changed is that so many people don't seem to use simple things like topos, but instead rely on beta from others. What that does is define the sport and challenges purely in terms of other's experiences right on the water, and omits any freshness of perspective, and ignores the surroundings and environment. In the Stikine, the whitewater is just one part of the experience, and if somebody only focuses on that - as incredible as it truly is - then they've missed most of the real drama of the place.

All my trips have used topos, as yours in climbing probably did, just a kind of groping into the darkness. We never had satellite photos. You should always carry topos; I can’t imagine going on a trip without one, both for the specific information it gives, and also for a clear idea of the surroundings. It’s pretty short-sighted for people not to have one – they’re basically assuming that everything will go great and they’ll never be off the river. Before, only seldom did we get word-of-mouth info, because most of the time nobody had ever been in the places we went. If somebody wants a real heady experience, then the more you limit the beta, the wilder, more tense, and harder the trip will be - and the more rewarding. Not having this additional beta will make this or any other river a grade or even two grades harder because it will demand that you make all your own decisions, completely unravel the place through your own skills and judgment. The beta allows you to focus on the technical ability, but not having it forces you to focus on everything – all the judgments, all the decisions, all the mental games of dealing with the unknown. In particular, not knowing where the rapids are is essential in this, not knowing where to get out and possibly portage forces you to be mindful of every paddle stroke you take, and to truly look and see what is there. If I tell you where Wasson's is, then it's already restricted your experience of the river - you'll be looking for the features before Wasson’s when you should be paying attention to the canyon around you.

Search out the blogs on this. There must be at least ten extensive blog postings that I've seen where people give some pretty detailed info and photos. One of the guys who posted on your thread had written an account and linked to it. Look at that one, and find the others. Those are the places to start. There also are a number of Youtube videos with overviews, point of view, and other footage.

Like I said on the post, the Futa, (and the Zambezi) are not necessarily very good reflections of the type of paddling required on the Stikine. Neither is very technical although they are big and powerful. Both are commercially run and both are a grade or two less than the Stikine - and without its distinguishing features: commitment, wilderness, must run rapids, self-contained. If that's what defines the Stikine, then you should do some somewhat less difficult (but still very challenging) runs that reflect those things, like the Susitna and Alsek for example. If you get either at really high water (about 25,000 or 30,000) you will really have your hands full – maybe too full. Or the Clark Fork Yellowstone at a stiff flow – it’s still smaller volume, but really demanding of all-round skills, which it sounds like you have. If you go into the CF Yellowstone box without beta you will have an incredibly hard trip - anybody doing that will get a very difficult and involved trip. Great practice for the Stikine, even if it’s not “big water”.

The Black Canyon is basically a steep creek run, and doesn't really apply unless you go in with a bigger flow. If Futa and Zambezi are the harder big water runs you've done, then I'd strongly recommend you log a few dozen more such rivers in a systematic way (As Scott Lindgren says, "the Zambezi doesn't even have any rocks"), including the NF Payette at as high flows as you can.

Go to the NF in the early summer and see what it's like at 4000+. If you can run all the rapids on the NF Payette at that level, in control, feeling comfortable, multiple times, then your skills are good to go for the Stikine. If you've only done the NF at 1500, as you say, then you're really in for a surprise. The NF gets at least two grades harder, if not more, by 4000 to 5000 - it's a big water steep creek, and great training for the Stikine. However, if you look at it at those levels and say, "holy shit" and portage any of it, then probably you're not ready.

Good luck, and keep me posted.