Friday, October 16, 2015

OVER THE BOW: THE SOUTH FORK OF THE AMERICAN RIVER


Wild rivers are earth's renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning. --Richard Bangs and Christian Kallen, River Gods

"This is why we came here." said Erik Allen, "We came to surf Barking Dog."
Maybe that is why he came. I was just trying to the learn my way down the fabled South Fork of the American River. The rain had stopped a little while after getting on the river. That didn't mean, I didn't find away to get wet. Right away,  I caught the edge of an eddy and rolled my kayak over. An unceremonious dump into the river.

During the spring and summer the South Fork in northern California is a playground for whitewater kayakers and rafters of all different levels.  The river descends at a steep gradient of 30 feet per mile. The first 5 miles from the Chili Bar access are chocked full of exciting Class III whitewater with rapids with scary names like Meat-grinder and Trouble Maker. The so-called easy section is the next, nine miles through the valley consisting of a number of Class II rapids including Barking Dog. After that, the river enters what paddlers call "The Gorge." It's mostly a series of challenging Class III rapids descending at 33 feet per mile toward Folsom Lake.

About mile down river from the Highway 49 bridge, the river makes sweeping curve to the right and then plunges into two standing waves and hole between as it turns again to left. The river's velocity, turbulence and converging currents have created a steep hole in its path making it an appealing and challenging site for area play-boaters.  Local legend says this Class II rapid got its name when a neighborhood dog barked loudly at the rafters and kayaks as they went down river.

Erik along with the rest of the play-boaters line up like kids, waiting to ride the roller coaster at the amusement park. Inching forward one by one to test skills their skills one at a time in the churning boil. Its cross between ballet and bull riding. A choreographed dance of spins, flips and rolls all before the wave spits them out and then back in line to try one more time.

Erik dips the nose of his Pyranha play-boat into the turmoil of the Dog, heading straight into its current. Skimming, then flipping at the edge of the standing wave.  He loses momentum and is buried by the water crashing down on him, only to roll back on the surface, surfing into the wave. Up right again he spins again on the wave in another maneuver .

Over sixty years ago Sigurd Olson said, "As long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wildness in their souls, rapids will be run." It still hold true today at places like Barking Dog Rapids on the South Fork where souls sing and surf in the rolling whitewater.

Over the Bow is a feature from Outside Adventure to the Max, telling the story behind the image. If you have a great picture with a great story, submit it to us at nickayak@gmail.com