Lessons In River Karma

Posted January 14, 2006 by Robyn Suddeth

Cherry Creek, Upper Tuolumne RiverI’m not usually a superstitious person, but I am a firm believer in what some people call “River Karma.” Although different missteps can result in a run-gone-wrong, River Karma usually manifests itself for the following reason: Failure to Respect The River- you get a teensy bit too sure of yourself, and the river gives you a few slaps on the wrist (or turns in a hydraulic) to put you back in your place.You are probably thinking that I’m crazy… that the river is obviously not a cognizant entity and therefore not capable of reacting in any way to our words or thoughts. My response- there are those who believe and those who one day will. So to save you undecideds out there from learning the hard way, I’ve recounted one of my own experiences…

My First Lesson- Tuolumne Training 2003

My initial exposure to river karma came when I was a naive first-year guide on a training trip on the Tuolumne River. I was in a paddle boat with two other guides, and we had been trading off rapids all day long. Throughout the day, I made one rash decision and two flippant comments before the river had finally had enough of my attitude and quite literally kicked me out.

My rash decision was made before we even got on the water. Because it was a guide trip, there was a plethora of gear and rescue equipment along. So as I put all my gear on in the morning, I thought to myself, “What’s the use of more?” and threw my flip line back into the truck. Very sensical.

The two flippant comments came one right after the other, during what seemed like an innocent exchange with a friend right above Sterns rapid. I was guiding as we approached it, and Joe looked back and teased, “Now don’t flip us in this one Robyn!” To both my companions’ horror I responded with, “I’ve never been in a boat that’s flipped before…I don’t really think you could flip in this rapid anyway.”

Flat Rock Falls, Upper Tuolumne RiverWell at that point the river must have decided that I needed a little reality check. 30 seconds later there we were, stuck sideways in the narrow channel, boat filling precariously with water. I’m sure you can all guess what happened next. My very first flip, compliments of over-confidence and, yup you got it; RIVER KARMA!

So next time you’re feeling you can tackle that next rapid piece of cake, I would try vigorously to suppress such thoughts and definitely don’t vocalize them.


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