* PASSING ON: You can't lie to yourself when you kayak Class V, expert-only whitewater -- or even when you scout it from the bank, especially the high-altitude meltwater creeks pulsing down the rough-edged flanks of the Rocky Mountains, whose peaks, even in June, are layered with deep snows. For steep-water kayaking -- as I learned last week in Colorado when pondering Homestake Creek, Lake Creek, Pine Creek and Oh-Be-Joyful Creek, the last a gorgeous run of waterfalls and long rockslides with a staggering gradient of 400 feet per mile and located just outside the Alpine dream-town of Crested Butte -- is not something you can fudge and fake your way through. You either belong on that water or you don't; and if you don't, and you get on it, watch out.

This time around, with ribs sore from an earlier mishap and fingers beginning to swell from the altitude (over 10,000 feet) and from the tight wrist gaskets on the drytop jacket, I knew on that day I didn't belong on Oh-Be-Joyful. So I left my kayak at the put-in for a friend, a pro paddler, to use on his second run, then took pictures and eventually hiked the mile down and out to the 4x4.

Yet walking away also can be a sign of a deepening understanding of something truly loved. You can plan to paddle close to 300 days this year but that doesn't mean you are ready for the highest levels, especially the snowpack-fed chutes and creeks out West, where "the rock is sharp and rescue difficult, the water is cold, and swims often last a long time," as the "Colorado Rivers & Creeks" guidebook memorably puts it.

Steep creeking, increasingly popular among kayakers, has intense rewards and demands. It is a kind of art when done well. The water usually is faster, more constricted and often filled with more hazards than rivers (logjams, undercut rocks, and in Colorado old railroad trestles, discarded machinery, hanging fence wires, etc.). You have far less time to get out of trouble than, say, if you exit your kayak in Mather Gorge on a summer's day on the Potomac River, or even on Maryland's challenging Upper Youghiogheny.

Rescue skills are key. Do you know CPR? Do you know how to retrieve a rock-pinned boat? Do you know how to get a friend's dislocated shoulder back into place? These are a few things to think about when you head out to the Class V creeks, whether in Colorado or West Virginia, or even the hard part of Difficult Run, which surges into the Potomac after a heavy rain. A good way to start is to check out the Web resources of the American Canoe Association (www.acanet.org) and American Whitewater (www.americanwhitewater.org), as well as the "Whitewater Rescue Manual," written by Charles Walbridge and Wayne A. Sundmacher, and Slim Ray's swiftwater rescue guides, which can be found at www.cfspress.com.

* UP AND AWAY: The Blue Ridge Section of the American Alpine Club will head to Seneca Rocks in West Virginia for two days of climbing starting Friday. The plan is to stay at the Seneca Shadows campground. Contact Simon Carr at aac_brs@hotmail.com.

-- John Mullen

mullenj@washpost.com