Adventure ClassifiCations


Our river trips are active participation adventures by nature and involve various levels of physical exertion. Some of our river trips take place in remote settings where exposure to the elements—including cold water, sun, wind and rain—is a given. What we offer isn’t a theme park ride. Because our river trips take place in varied water environments they naturally increase the odds of participants falling in the water. The risk will vary depending on the trip chosen. For example, joining a class IV or V whitewater trip represents a choice to embrace relatively high odds for a swim and becoming a swimmer.

The level of participation, physical exertion and exposure to risks varies from trip to trip. It’s not our intention to reduce your enthusiasm to engage in these trips, but you must understand the inherent risks can’t be entirely avoided without compromising the unique character of our trips, and it’s important to know in advance that real outdoor adventures such as our trips involve real risks we can’t completely remove. By joining one of our trips, you are acknowledging you understand and accept some of the known and unknown risks described in the “Acknowledgment of Risk” document that all participants are required to sign. For each of our trips, we’ve tried to provide an approximation of what the level of adventure is (from EASY to VERY CHALLENGING) that you should expect to encounter under typical circumstances. Many trips are suitable for reasonably fit first-timers, but all our trips are made more enjoyable by a certain degree of personal fitness and an adventurous spirit.

About River Classifications

This is the American version of a rating system used to compare river difficulty throughout the world. It was created by the American Whitewater Affiliation. This system is not exact; rivers do not always fit easily into one category, and regional or individual interpretations may cause misunderstandings. It is no substitute for a guidebook or accurate firsthand descriptions of a run.

River difficulty may change each year due to fluctuations in water level, downed trees, recent floods, geological disturbances, or bad weather. As river difficulty increases, the danger to swimmers becomes more severe.

As rapids become longer and more continuous, the challenge increases. There is a difference between running an occasional class-IV rapid and dealing with an entire river of this category. The six classes are provided below as well as our opinion for suitability.

Class I: (EASY) Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy. Suitable for age 5 and older including the physically challenged.

Class II: (EASY) Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class II+”. Suitable for the same as class I.

Class III: (MODERATE) Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class III-” or “Class III+” respectively. Suitable for those who don’t mind getting a little wet from splash, minimum age 10.

Class IV: (CHALLENGING) Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class IV-” or “Class IV+” respectively. Suitable for those 12 years old and older, in good physical condition and comfortable with the prospect of swimming for self-rescue. This level is recommended for firsttimers, and those with prior experience.

Class V: (VERY CHALLENGING) Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc.… each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0. Suitable for adventurous individuals who can swim and comfortable with the prospect of self-rescue. NOVA requires all participants to take a supervised practice self-rescue swim before the trip to help demystify the self-rescue experience and test your swimming fitness. Minimum age 16.

Class VI: These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.


The “Glacier Adventures” are dependent on your comfort, speed, strength and expectations. Your guide decides what is appropriate for you based on conditions present at the glacier, your ability to adapt to walking with crampons and your overall athleticism which influences steep versus shallow routes and surface conditions. The “Ice Climbing” instruction generally travels to one location that offers several grades of ice to climb from shallow to steep.

Glacier Hikes (EASY) These are short walks with crampons on your boots. Adjusting to walking with these devices takes focus on foot placement and a conscious effort to not trip. It’s learned very quickly by most participants. The guide adjusts the route and speed for the slowest and least athletic individual.

Glacier Treks (MODERATE) Same as the hikes but travel farther into the glacier in hopes of seeing more interesting features. The optional “Ice Climbing” introduction as part of the trek is not done on any steep vertical ice unless you’re clearly strong and capable.

Ice Climbing (MODERATE to CHALLENGING) These are instructional and the strength and athleticism of the individual will influence the grade of steepness and height.