By Diana Gerstacker
Most paddlers make their way to Class III and IV rapids and enjoy the thrill without incident, but there are a few extreme thrill seekers who just can’t help but try to take on the most wild, explosive, and ultimately dangerous rapids.
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of conquering Class V rapids or plunging off a waterfall into a pool below, but there comes a point when the excitement turns to danger. It’s imperative in whitewater paddling to know your limits and to know what’s ahead.
From North America to Africa, there are no shortage of dangerous rapids. Kayakers wind their way through the narrow chutes of Dipper Creek and rafters paddle from beneath Victoria Falls — one of the seven wonders of the world.
There are many dangerous rapids out there, plenty of deadly waters and insanely challenging routes. We’ve highlighted nine of the most dangerous rapids from around the globe.
Celestial Falls — White River, Oregon
Popular with daredevil paddlers back in the day, these Class VI rapids (described as extreme and exploratory) are now legally off-limits to kayakers. Park officials closed the 50-foot-high falls to kayakers for safety reasons, but the upper river still delivers some great thrills with class III to IV rapids.
Victoria Falls — The Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia
Regularly called the wildest one-day whitewater trip in the world, you’ll begin by paddling out from under the mist of Victoria Falls — one of the seven natural wonders of the world. From there, you’ll take on some of the most notable Class V rapids anywhere — Stairway to Heaven, Devil’s Toilet Bowl and Commercial Suicide, just to name a few. This adrenaline-packed thrill ride is one you won’t soon forget.
Section Two — Lochsa River, Idaho
(Photo: Jason Merideth / Shutterstock)
Over the course of 57 miles on this river (from Crooked Fork Creek to Lowell), you’ll find 63 rapids graded Class III and higher, so don’t expect a break on this wild route. Unending, explosive rapids are especially tough on the second section and when the water rises above six feet the rapids often run into one another, creating a continuous trail of rough water. Though commercial rafting companies run this river, it is plenty dangerous and it has taken many lives.
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Upper section — Futaleufú River, Chile
Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe this 14-mile stretch of Class V rapids, but the names of the rapids themselves are a little more descriptive. The Perfect Storm, Gates of Inferno, and Wall Shot paint a picture of long, wild, and inescapable rapids — especially when the waters are high. Certainly not for beginners or the faint of heart, the upper section of the Futaleufú is for extreme experts only.
Whirlpool Rapids Gorge — Niagara River, New York
Currently off-limits to paddlers, the Niagara Gorge is a deadly section of exploratory Class VI rapids. The deep rapids reach speeds of more than 20 mph and are some of the most extreme in the entire world. Even so, a commercial rafting venture was attempted in 1976 and according to American Whitewater, that came to a stop when, on their 12th run, the raft flipped and four people drowned.
Section 4 — Chattooga River, Georgia and South Carolina
(Photo: JayL / Shutterstock)
Section 4 of the Chattooga River is perhaps one of the best known dangerous rapids around. As American Whitewater put it, “more legends exist about Five Falls of the Chattooga than almost any other set of rapids.” One of the most difficult sections being commercially run, this section may not seem as dangerous as others on the list, but section 4 has taken many lives.
Dipper Creek — Squamish Valley, British Colombia
Epic falls and tight canyons are trademarks of this incredible stretch, and the scenery makes it almost worth the risk. The narrow nature makes this a tough run for rafters, but it has been done. From the tight drops and small pools of Vertigo Gorge to Rock Snot, a 40-foot drop onto rocks, Dipper Creek is the ultimate thrill for extreme experts.
Cherry Creek — Upper Tuolumne, California
(Photo: Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center)
Narrow, steep, and boulder-ridden, this run is certainly one of the toughest sections of whitewater out there. A whopping 15 Class V rapids punish paddlers from mid-summer to September, because the high flows of spring make Cherry Creek just too dangerous. Be prepared for drops, undercurrents, and lots of boulders on this tough and technical section.
The Inga Rapids — Congo River
(Photo: Greg Von Doersten / Red Bull Content Pool)
The world’s largest and deadliest rapids, many have died trying to navigate these waters. In 2011, freestyle kayaker Steve Fisher and his team of three other kayakers were the first to survive the Inga Rapids. According to National Geographic, who named Fisher an Adventurer of the Year in 2013, Fisher said that they didn’t conquer the rapids. “We navigated from top to bottom without a portage. At best, we survived,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes at the end.”
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