In and Around
The Learning Curve
This is one paddler's opinion of a possible sequence of (mostly) regional rivers that paddlers may wish to run as they work their way up the learning curve. It's absolutely NOT objective: what I happen to think is easier/harder may be way different from what you or guidebooks or other paddlers think is easier/harder. It's also limited by what I've personally done: e.g. I've never been on the North Branch of the Potomac, which is why it's not listed here.
This also reflects my opinion of what it means to "run" a river: just bombing down rapids it isn't enough. Paddling under control, with the ability to make complex moves at will -- including making every available eddy, executing difficult ferries, performing attainments and exploiting river features as an integral part of maneuvers -- is "running" a river.
So given all that, should you pay any attention at all to this? Maybe. Or maybe not. It's probably best used by paddlers of novice through intermediate ability, who are still developing the ability to gather information from various sources (guidebooks, other paddlers, direct observation) and using it to make decisions like "Do I really want to run the Staircase at 7 feet?". Viewed in that light, this is just another opinion, not the best or the most experienced or the most reliable or anything else.
Why does this learning curve get sparse at the top end? Because you need to rely on your own judgement and experience if you're thinking of paddling things in that vicinity, not some list on the Internet. If you can't -- you shouldn't be paddling them. You're not ready.
Note carefully: some of these include notes on flow. That's intentional: most streams are very different experiences when paddled at high water levels. It's generally not a good idea to attempt anything at high water until you're not only familiar, but very comfortable with it at low or normal flow: things can happen much faster, and some of the things that can happen are bad. Some rivers don't change all that much: the Brandywine, with the exception of a couple of dams that become runnable at higher levels, is really not much more difficult at 4000 CFS than it is at 200 CFS. On the other hand, the Nescopek radically changes character at high flows: it screams downhill, and the eddies are mostly imaginary and in the trees. So don't head out to to the Lower Yough at 5 feet and expect an intermediate-level trip.