Most of us have experienced a time when a member of our paddling crew says, “there’s ____ (x amount) of scouts on this section”, or, “I’m going to scout the next rapid.” I want to be clear, I have no problem with scouting, I absolutely encourage it. My issue is that most of us perceive scouting to mean one thing, getting out of our kayaks, walking on shore, and ‘land scouting’. I’d argue that for most of us this is what we picture when we use the term ‘scouting’. It can, and should bring to mind, much more.
To best unpack my issue of this singular mindset, it’s worth defining scouting in its most basic form. I believe that scouting at its foundation is the gathering of information in order to make an informed decision. If we can agree (at least for the sake of discussion) on that definition then we should be open to the idea that there are numerous types/methods of scouting (these may be novel ideas for some and revisiting frequent practices for others). Some of these methods of scouting include:
Scouting Remotely: Using guidebooks, local knowledge, online resources, etc. to gather information about a river section or specific rapid(s). By using the information that’s accessible to us we’re able to make thoughtful decisions regarding whether or not we should pursue paddling a particular section of river. This could include: level of difficulty, recommended water levels, old/new hazards, access points, etc.
In order to make thoughtful and informed decisions we need to be able to effectively see the features that we may encounter. If we’re unable to process everything in front of us due to our speed or the quantity, size, or complexity of the features we need to slow the decision making process down by employing one of these scouting strategies. To recap, we need to select an alternative method of scouting that matches the environment if we can’t see what we need to, a rapid or line looks overly complex, or we’re simply moving too fast.
Scouting allows us to be more deliberate and mindful in our paddling. By using thoughtful scouting practices to clearly identify and select a ‘line’ before proceeding through a rapid we are able to more objectively assess our performance. The objective is sharing these thoughts is to encourage paddlers to broaden our perceptions of ‘scouting’, and to do it constantly.