Friday, March 18, 2016

OVER THE BOW: THE UPPER SOUTH FORK OF THE AMERICAN RIVER

PHOTO BY DYLAN NICHOLS
There is something about the rush of whitewater. The chaos, the churning and boil as the stream's thunder and roar echoes across a valley's chasm. It's a call of the wild few can resist. Naturalist John Craighead says, "The call is the thundering rumble of distant rapids, the intimate roar of white water. . a primeval summons to primordial values." While writer John Daniel reflected the same sentiment when he wrote, "The stream sings, a subdued music, a scarcely audible lilt, faint and fluid syllables not quite said. It slips away into its future, where it already is, and flows steadily forth from up the canyon, a fountain of rumors from regions known to it and not to me." Seeing that tiny trickle at the beginning, that was fresh snow only weeks before now building and turning into a sparkling river of rapids tumbling down through chutes and falls, pouring into pool after pool of effervescence.

For kayaker Pete DeLosa the call was deafening and couldn't be ignored especially after El Niño, a strong warm-water mass in the Pacific had pumped moisture and new life into the veins of the California water supply.
"Went from no water in California to everything being high! So great to see water returned to the South Fork." posted the Team Pyranha's Delosa on his Facebook page,  "There are several options farther upstream that have been getting consistent flow. The road side Kyburz section offers continuous Class IV rapids for several miles and just below that the Riverton to Peavine section has semi remote feeling with Class III and IV rapids."

This is one of California's top Class IV river runs, through the scenic beauty of El Dorado County east of Sacramento. Folks will only see flashes of the South Fork of the American River's tumbling white water while driving on along Highway 50. Most is hidden from highway view as the river drops into a deep canyon for the next 20 miles featuring a combination of dynamic rapids along the course. Brimming with new flows after some past years of low water due to drought, area kayakers are finding reasons to paddle and explore it again.

"A successful weekend of paddling at home." posted DeLosa, " I got a couple Kyburz runs in which I've been wanting for a while. It's great to have a few miles of road side class IV so close to home. The highlight however, was getting out on the river Saturday with a couple young paddlers and getting to take them on their first high water run at Chile Bar. Super exciting to see young chargers learning and getting after it."

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

THE RISE OF THE TIDE: THE RELIEF OF EL NINO

 
The rain has pounded against my window this week, leaving drops of water forming tiny rivers streaking across the glass pane. Each drop is deeper and wider than the last. The storms seem almost endless now after nearly five years of drought. The “Godzilla” El Niño which has formed in the western Pacific has sent one rain event after another into northern California much the delight of the kayaking and paddling community.

A parade of storms have continued to soak the Sacramento valley and pile up snow in the Sierra. Folsom Lake is rising so fast that,  the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Folsom Dam, opened the floodgates for the first time since May 2012 allowing a huge waterfall to spill down the face of the dam. The releases are necessary to deal with the runoff from this past weekend's storm and another expected wet weather system in the forecast. Bureau official Shane Hunt told the Sacramento Bee,  that dam operators will continue to watch storm-waters flowing into the lake as the week progresses. “We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “We may adjust up or down.”

Downstream from Folsom Dam and Nimbus Dam, the Sacramento police helicopter warned campers along the American River Parkway to consider moving to higher ground. Sacramento County officials were considering closing some parkway access points because of flooding concerns.
"Water levels on area waterways can rise very, very quickly if they start letting extra water out of the dam," Sacramento Fire Department spokesperson Chris Harvey told FOX 40 News, "Were advising people to use a lot of caution."

Veteran area paddler Mike Rumsey agrees, "The guy in the rec boat with his dog, short sleeves, shirts and no PFD might disagree with me." said Rumsey,  "But yeah it dangerous! Fast cold water.  A few years back when I was new to serious kayaking we did a trip from Sunrise to Miller Park on the Sacramento. The river was at 10,000 cfs going through Ardent Bar Rapid. The last guy in our group of three went over in his sea kayak. We hurried and did a assistance rescue, got him back in his boat let him go. A log sticking out then clunk he's broadside with the log trying to hang on. By the time my other partner got to shore and out of his boat, the guy on the log had went under. Good thing there were no branches on that log. That's a river you got to give major respect."

PHOTO BY PETE DELOSA
Upstream where the north and middle forks of the American River meet near Auburn, paddlers admired the raging whitewater. "I finally got to do the run below the confluence and experience the Gay Wave." said Team Pyrnaha's Pete Delosa, "Unbelievable world class surf wave down there. I may have a chance to get on Traverse Creek for the first time. Super stoked to fall off that waterfall. I've been wanting to do it for years but it only runs during rain events like this one. I'm supposed to drive to Washington for a race that could get cancelled because flows are too high. It's nice to cancel because it's high rather than too low which has happened to me a couple time in the past few years."

With all this water, experts still say,  California has seen only an average amount of precipitation this year. “February was incredibly warm and dry,” says David Pierce, a researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography told The Atlanitc, “If you look at the curves of El Niño, February to April is when we see rainy years differentiate themselves. It’s already March. There’s another six weeks of wet season, then that’s all she wrote.” The rain totals have differed throughout the state. Northern California has had a great year, while the southern part of the state still seems gripped by drought.

This year's Sierra snow pack should offer some banked up moisture. Melting snow accumulated through the winter slowly released through the dry spring and summer will keep those rivers running and filling the upper reservoirs. The snow pack had been doing well. At the end of January, it sat at 110 percent of normal, but in February sank to 80 percent,  according to Pierce.  However, this weekend, another storm is expected to drop an extra two to three feet of snow above 4,000 feet, putting the snow pack above normal again.

PHOTO BY KATHY MORRISON
That's good news for paddlers this summer with those once thirsty rivers are flowing again in northern California. "Heck yeah I'm stoked about the up coming season." said Rumsey,  "I spent most my river time on the South Fork. It hasn't had water like this since I started paddling. It's looking like water all year as long as there are no warm storms melt the snow pack. This season were going to step it up."

"From a business perspective I hope this rain means more people are going to be able to get out more often." said DeLosa, "I hope people who are not yet paddlers will see the opportunity to get involved in this outdoor community.  New paddlers coming in and taking lessons and experienced paddlers excited about the upcoming season buying new gear are both good for the industry and the community can't survive with out the industry any more than the industry can survive with out the community. I'm personally looking forward to helping folks progress their skills this spring. I hope to see a lot of people taking on new challenges and having success with all this water."

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Foul Weather Fan




  No epic adventure started with "On a bright sunny day. . ." tweeted adventurer Sean Conway.

We were grateful for the rain. It has been very dry since Christmas. Raindrops bounced off the windshield in big thuds before the wipers could push them away. We were driving down a winding road to the lake after leaving the highway. Gray clouds were everywhere as the lake came into view.  As we parked and began unloading the sky unloaded on us.

What is about adverse weather that makes my boat trips more memorable? A man vs nature type endeavor.  I'm not saying, I don't like bright sunny days. I really do. Nothing is better than kayaking along while being kissed by the sun. In a state known for its sunshine, I have experienced lots of dazzling days this past year. However, across most the country unfavorable climates and kayaking coexist. Snow, rain. sleet and fog are paddled through heartily.

Both Canoe & Kayak and Adventure Kayak magazines always publish photos of boat men and women manning up against the harsh environment. Sarah Outen and Justine Cugenven pounding through heavy wind, rain and waves while making their way through the Aleutian Islands, while kayak adventurer Daniel Fox's expedition from Victoria B.C., to San Francisco experienced a full blast of nature making his trip come to an end.
"The wave literally fell on me, and within a second the kayak was broken in two below my  knees," Fox told, Canoe & Kayak, "It was quite a swim."

The heavy rain didn't last long. Just long enough to send two fishermen running for cover and get our gear and kayak seats a little wet. This was the first time my kayak partner Erik Allen had brought me to Rollins Lake. The lake at 2,100 elevation is on the western side of the Sierra near Colfax, California. It is 900 acre reservoir with 26 miles of shoreline, perfect for paddling year round. Erik was on mission to scout out some trails near the mouth of the Bear River. Our plan was to kayak up the lake and river as far as we could before the current pushed us back.
 The water looked like green emerald under the gray skies. We kayaked along the rust color shore, breaking up the quiet water. Around the bend loomed a bank of mist hanging over the lake. Erik, who grew up close by has paddled the lake many times before, but for him there is always something new.
"Rollins Lake is always changing," whispered Erik, "It never looks the same."

Lakes are like that. I thought back to my paddling days in Minnesota, remembering the way the snow looked along the shore of Red River Lake and the way the rain came down in the early spring on Beers Lake in Maplewood State Park. The day's conditions has framed many of my paddling memories. My sons will always start their tale of camping with, "Remember how cold it was or how it rained when we went to..." The day's weather has added to our experiences whether it was fair or foul.    

A layer of fog engulfed us as we paddled farther along.  It was like floating on a cloud. I let Erik  paddle up farther ahead so I could get a photo. Before long he disappeared in the white haze dropping into the unknown.      


Our paddle through the mist added to the magic of our trip to the lake. The rainy and foggy weather are now etched into another paddling memory.
If you wait for the perfect day. You will never go. "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating," said English writer John Ruskin, "There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

This article was originally published in Outside Adventure to the Max February 20, 2015