Until today, it had been quite a while since I made the journey down to Coloma to paddle the South Fork of the American. When I first moved to Lake Tahoe almost 10 years ago I used to go there all the time.
But gas prices kept rising and my motivation kept waning. Plus, the addition of the Reno Whitewater Park kept me fairly satisfied as long as it was above 800 cfs.
But this paddling season has been short lived due to poor precipitation this past winter. Many of us boaters are left feeling a little unsatisfied, and the only river that has any decent amount of water in it within a 2 hour drive of Reno is the South Fork.
The Gorge section is good fun, but if you are serious about playboating then the Chili Bar section is the way to go. The wave at Maya is a blast, and what is even better is the play hole at First Threat.
First Threat has changed for the better. It used to be a bit disorganized and a little thrashy, but now it is much cleaner and offers a lot of opportunity for some powerful moves and tricks.
The other notable rapid that offers some fun is Troublemaker. If you want to make the rapid a lot more interesting try running the far left side. Be advised that if you do, you will definitely want to throw a strong boof stroke at the horizon line.
Situated at the base of the Sierra Buttes and in close proximity to Sierra City, California, the Wild Plum section of the North Fork of the Yuba is a wonderfully consistent class IV run.
Roughly eleven miles in length, this section can actually be combined with Moss and Rosasco Canyons to make it even longer. However, I suspect that you will have your fill by the end of the day.
There are a plethora of fun rapids, all of which are very runnable, and if you are a solid boater your only primary concern should be several downed trees in the river. There are some significant holes, including the one at the bottom of the blown out dam, and obviously the run gets harder the higher the water level gets.
The way the North Fork of the Yuba drainage works, flows are actually highest in the afternoon. The Dreamflows’ gauge for Sierra City is off by 12 hours, and regardless, it is just an estimate. The day I ran it the flows were at the high end of their projection at around 650 cfs.
Hopefully this video provides a good depiction of the run. This time I went with a classic and often used song that I like nonetheless because it always reminds me to appreciate each day, especially on the river, that I have. One of these days I’ll get a camera with better stabilization. Until then, I’ll keep trying. Thanks to Kevin Drake for the photos. Where are we going next?
This past Sunday I made it down Giant Gap on the North Fork of the American for my second time this season. The flow was somewhat lower at around 850 cfs, but it is still a quality run even at that flow. The scenery alone is spectacular.
The video does includes a couple of scenes from my first trip, but I felt important to include them in order to give a more comprehensive picture of the entire run.
It is difficult to capture many sections of the roughly 14.5 miles simply because the canyon walls are quite steep, friends are often impatient about waiting while I set up, and I have a hard time stopping to film when I really just want to run the rapids. Despite a certain amount of diligence, there are still many other fun class IV rapids that are not featured in this video.
On another note, I still struggle with the public release of information regarding special places like Giant Gap. But my firm belief is that knowledge is power, and the more people that appreciate the beauty and remoteness of places like Giant Gap, the more chances we have to continue to protect and preserve places like them.
Countless travelers zooming up and down Highway I-80 between Colfax and Truckee, California would never know of the beauty that lies just beyond their vision. Just over the eastern crest resides Giant Gap, a canyon of immense depth and beauty.
Because of the continuous nature of the river, and the fact that it is quite difficult to get out of your kayak, I was able to capture limited footage of the run. Nevertheless, I hope you at least get a taste of this California classic.
Giant Gap is an upper stretch of the North Fork of the American, which is formulated by the snow melt of the High Sierras surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin. Primarily fueled by the Granite Chief Wilderness area, Giant Gap offers crystal clear water, an abundance of rapids, and spectacular scenery.
The Gap itself is framed by vertical cliffs that would be almost impossible to climb out of if attempted; therefore, it is wise to be prepared. You should expect to run several class IV-V rapids over the course of 14.5 miles.
To access the river you must carry or drag your boat 1.5 miles down the Euchre Bar Trail. Once headed downstream, it is not long before you are encountering rapids that continue for several miles before relenting.
The ones of most note are Nutcracker, Locomotive, and Dominator.
Nutcracker is to be approached in the center of the river right channel with a slight left-hand angle. Drive hard through the first hole and expect to immediately punch another head on.
Locomotive is to be run on far river right, but should not be attempted at all at flows higher than 1200cfs. There is a difficult portage on the right that requires some 5.5 climbing and boat beleeing. At higher water you can get out of the river on a small rocky nook on the right, and then belee someone downstream as they walk through the water to the easiest point of ascent.
Dominatrix into Dominator can be run river left or right, but should be scouted no matter what. You will know you are approaching the rapid when the geology of the river begins to change to a lighter colored rock.
In between each of these Class V rapids are numerous class III-IV rapids that are also worthy of respect and careful negotiation.
After winter, it is always a bit awkward dusting off the paddling gear and heading for the river. Arms feel like small rubberbands, and reflexes are still in hibernation. But after instinct and experience begin to recall their responsibilities, your body slowly remembers what it loves about paddling on a river.
It was quite nice to descend down from the snow covered Sierras to the beginnings of spring in Colfax. Chamberlains is a perfect class III-IV warm up to kick start the paddling season and remember what it is all about.
Here is a little off-the-couch production that depicts the first days of river recollection, hanging out with some Cali folks.