Wednesday, November 11, 2009
River Rookie Romps, 4-0
For more pictures, see this CA Creeks page about the South Fork American.
My friend Chris borrowed a kayak for his friend Matt, a rookie. We wanted to do the Pillsbury run of the Eel, but it was only 140 cfs, so we went to the South Fork American with scheduled release of 1400 cfs Saturday and Sunday 9:00-12:00. We camped about 1/3 way down the river and planned to run the lower 2/3 on Saturday, which starts off easy, and the upper 1/3 on Sunday. Matt had paddled a canoe back east, class 1-2, but had never held a double-bladed paddle. He quickly decided he preferred feathered to straight. In one of the first class 2 rapids, he ran over a rock, but the boat did not flip. Gradually he was gaining control and placement. Chris gave lessons, and seems to have a knack for kayak instruction.
Despite a 10:30 start, we kept getting ahead of the water, so we stopped early for an long lunch. The fall colors were beautiful, with yellow cottonwood trees and red poison oak bushes. The increased flow passed us, so we pushed off again. However by the time we got to the class 3 rapids in the Gorge, we were ahead of the flow again. I had never seen Fowler's Rock so low. Lost Hat was rocky but straightforward. Then we got to Satan's Cesspool. Holy smokes that thing is steep at low flows! It is a >1 meter waterfalls in kind of a horse-shoe arrangement, a fun creekin' style drop. I suggested we wait for the water to come up and run it again. Seeing this rapid change from 300(?) to 1400 cfs in just several minutes was my personal highlight of the trip. Chris and Matt took conservative routes, but I went into the teeth of the hole and had a nice tailstand, or as a kayaker corrected me, "stern squirt." The rest of the Gorge was the usual fun, including all the rapids down to Salmon Falls bridge, usually covered by Folsom reservoir. When we took out at Skunk Hollow, there were a few minutes of sunlight left to dry our boats.
After a great dinner at the Sierra-Nevada House and a long night of sleep, we got ready for the Chili Bar run. Matt had no flips on his first day, but the upper rapids are more difficult. He ran Meatgrinder perfectly, hit the heart of the hole in First Threat, and kept going for the big stuff in the lower Threats. Impressive balance. Lots of rafters were on the river, which seemed odd, because on the lower run there were only kayakers. We decided to scout Troublemaker, within sight of our tents, and decided to run just left of Gunsight Rock, rather than finesse it by going right. Some friendly campers took pictures including this one of Matt hitting the line perfectly. Score 3 for the hard rapids, plus 1 for running Satan's twice, 0 for the river.