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The World’s Wildest Whitewater: Ten White Knuckle Rides

Men whitewater rafting

A class-6 whitewater stretch is ‘unrunnable’: a Niagara Falls wipeout zone. So, this round-up of whitewater hotspots will whisk you to rivers that are slightly less murderous.

Class 5 means doable but brutal.

If you decide to ride one, keep your elbows in to avoid smacking anyone in the mouth as you row, during those brief spells when you succeed in staying aboard your inflatable.

Also, always keep your legs tucked in. That way, you avoid bashing your knees against rocks when you spill – as you will if you brave any of the world’s most explosive whitewater stretches.

Fataleafu, Chile

Futaleufu, Chile

Chile’s mighty Futaleafu River offers much more than your average whitewater rollercoaster. The Futaleafu mixes lovely crystalline purity with Yosemite-style scenery and Grand Canyon muscle as it barrels through the Andes, bound for the Pacific.

The Futaleafu’s roughest stretch, the Throne Room, is a nightmare, one of the world’s hardest places to paddle. In the Throne Room’s slippery clutches, even pro-paddlers and the boldest thrill seekers can capsize.

Others fall at a rapid neatly named ‘Terminator.

Gauley, Virginia

Gauley, Virginia

This West Virginia river, ranked one of the world’s Top 10 rafting spots, offers non-stop maelstrom action. Be prepared for five consecutive mammoth rapids: Insignificant (hoho), Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring and Sweet’s Falls.

In particular, the treacherous ‘Lost Paddle’ should keep you interested because it consists of four ‘sub-rapids’: First Drop, Second Drop, Third Drop and Tumblehome.

That is what you call a mauling.

Noce River, Italy

Noce, Italy

Popular with couples, the Noce meanders through the remote Val di Sole (Sun Valley) in northern Italy’s Dolomites. The Noce may seem an unlikely destination for crazy cascades – but it has a mean streak.

Fed by melting Alpine glaciers, the Noce dishes up some of Europe’s most spectacular rafting. Noce highlights include an electrifying string of class-5 rapids that blast and fume all summer long.

North Johnstone, Australia

North Johnstone, Australia

The North Johnstone River sounds stately. And the North Johnstone does a have a scenic slant -– it takes you through North Queensland’s World Heritage rainforests. But this thunderous river – supposedly named after someone who searched it for shipwreck survivors – is unrelentingly harsh.

It serves up bordering on a week’s worth of squirming fury. As you whirl along it, keep an eye out for saltwater crocs, pythons and eagles.

White Nile, East Africa

White Nile, East Africa

A tributary of the longest river in Africa, the White Nile charges like a rhino through Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. On its epic journey, the White Nile kicks up mountains of froth and is a blast. ‘If you ever get a chance to do it, then do it,’ says one blogger whose pictures drive home the degree of adversity.

Zambezi, East Africa

Zambezi, East Africa

The Zambezi may well crank out the world’s meanest whitewater. Zambezi’s waves rear up 24 feet (7 meters). That’s high. Just to rub it in, Zambezi rapids have names like Oblivion, Muncher, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, even Gnashing Jaws of Death.

Adding to the fun, hippos -– the world’s most dangerous animal — lurk in the swell. So do crocs. Enjoy the rush.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

In keeping with its epic proportions, the Grand Canyon churns up some mighty froth. Riding through the Canyon carved by the Colorado River is especially unnerving because its walls are so high that you cannot see the rim.

Brace yourself for giant wave trains that will slam your dinghy off the walls, creating juddering echoes. The biggest buzz must be Lava Falls, which is lethal — suitable for superheroes and extreme thrill seekers only.

Forks of the Kern River

1,447 feet (441 meters) from the top of Mount Whitney, California’s highest point, snowmelt turns to water. That water, in turn, gushes through the close-set, white-water producing canyons of the Kern River. One of the most dangerous whitewater rapids spots is a region of the river called Forks of the Kern, the point closest to the Mount Whitney drop-off.

There is even a sign placed along the stretch of highway that runs parallel to the Forks that shows the number of people killed (since 1968) trying to make it past that storied infamous trap. It currently stands at a staggering “257.”

As the LA Times succinctly put it: “if you survive the 10-foot waterfall there’s a suck hole 20 yards beyond. Hit that wrong, and your wife is dating again.”

Written by Toby Wilder

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