Friday, February 24, 2017


The first thing one notices is the sound of rushing water coming off the hills.  In some spots it's a muffled refreshing gurgle while in other places it's a downright roar. Once dry, ditches, gullies and creeks beds are now hydraulic jets of rushing of water that carry just about anything downstream in a debris strewn torrent of eroded soil, rock and trees. Area rivers have swelled out of their banks, beat up levees, brimmed over reservoirs and buckled some dam's spillways while bursting over others.

Localized flooding has been commonplace in Northern California this winter, all thanks to a drought busting parade of storms that are setting the stage of what could be the state's wettest winter on record.  Atmospheric rivers, a weather phenomenon of a long and narrow bands of water vapor  formed over an ocean, carrying enough moisture to roughly equaled to the average flow of the mouth of the Mississippi River have dumped massive amounts rain and snow across the state once reaching landfall.
“After several years of drought, now we’ve got too much all at once,” Jeremy Hill, a civil engineer with the Department of Water Resources flood operations team told the Los Angeles Times.

Nevertheless, these conveyor belt of storms have created what many call “once-in-a-decade” conditions for many area paddlers on the South Fork American River. Flows estimated as high as  30,000 cubic feet per second compared to a normal pace of anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 cubic feet per second have fashioned some of the biggest rapids anyone has seen on the river.

"It's been super fun." said Jeff Venturino of Davis, Ca., "It's been nuts, way too much fun. People have been getting on it at huge water. The biggest I have done it was like 10,000 to 12,000 (cfs), but people have been on it as big at 30,000 (cfs). The features are bigger, the holes are bigger. Most of the lines haven't changed much at this (6,000 cfs) flow."

Venturino and his group of paddlers were at local paddling shop The River Store to pick up a few things before taking on the South Fork this past weekend and like all groups on big waters safety was on their minds.

"We're seven today," said Venturino,  "Like I wouldn't do an after work for a two-man lap today, because if somebody swims which is not really an option, but if it happens you need extra people around. It's so continuous you might not be able to grab an eddy so now you've got to get them to the bottom. I have heard a couple of stories of people loosing boats or having to hike out. So it's still worth scouting if the flow is any thing different from what you have regularly seen before."

Meanwhile, just up the road at Marshall Gold Discovery Park, Melissa DeMarie and her group were dropping off vehicles and loading kayaks in the rain shower while getting ready to shuttle up to Chili Bar put in for one their group member's birthday paddle. Across the way they could see the South Fork flowing fast and yellow tape blocking off piles of flood wreckage from the weeks before, heaped up along its banks.

"It's been amazing. It's been huge, it's been brown" said DeMarie,  "There has been a ton of debris in the river. Things are definitely shifting around a little bit in there. Big trees, big logs and just a lot of other stuff floating down, so you definitely have to keep your head on a swivel and make sure you are looking around and see if there is a tree that is going to come and breach up next to you. But there been definitely days that I have chosen not to paddle like Chili Bar or the Gorge because there is like extra debris in the river. It adds an extra element to it and you gotta be really careful.

Local paddler Demarie with the California Women's Watersport Collective from nearby Cool, has been out on the river several times this season and says the high water of the South Fork is a treat for her and other strong confident paddlers, that been offering new looks after enduring years of drought.

"The water on the really high days is super silty and it just reacts differently and there features where there weren't use to be features before, " said DeMarie, "I definitely pick and choose the days. It is really cool to go on the huge days because it hasn't really happened in a really long time and who know when it's going to happen again."

And with the Sierra Nevada mountain snow-pack well above 100 percent, water officials expect area reservoir to recharge and rivers will be rocking providing more big water fun all the way into summer.

Friday, February 17, 2017



I’ve met kayakers who could not paddle for a year or even longer and then one day roll off the couch and do some of the hardest class V runs around. For most of us however, that is not the case. It’s been tough in California the past couple winters. We haven’t had much water and even our staple run, the SF American, has gone down to only one day a week releases. Then when we do get a little rain and everything runs people aren’t ready. A lot of folks choose not to go on their old favorites like Chamberlain Falls or E to P because they feel like they haven’t been paddling enough. Some other folks go anyway and some of them end up having a rough time instead of the enjoyable day on the river they were hoping for. Despite the scarcity of water, there are ways to keep yourself in paddling shape so you can be ready when the goods do run. Here are a few things that I do to help me stay in good paddling shape while there’s no water.

  • Low water gorge laps on the South Fork. It can be a little boat abusive in a couple spots but most of the rapids provide fun lines that offer great practice at tight technical moves. The moves can be challenging but there is hardly any current so if you do run into trouble you don’t have to worry about being swept away on a long and unpleasant swim. As and added bonus, you’re likely to have the river to yourselves for the day. There is never a crowd on low water days.
  • Touring and Sea Kayaking. Lake Tahoe is amazing in the winter on a calm day. It’s like paddling on a mirror and there is a good chance you’ll be the only one on the lake. This beautiful setting is a great place to work on your forward stroke and your paddling endurance. Paddling is paddling, and the strokes you take on the lake will benefit you when you get back on the river. If Tahoe is a little too far, Lake Natoma and the San Francisco Bay are also great spots to get a quick after work paddle in. You don’t have to do hours on end to get the benefits. A 30 to 60 minute trip around the shore once or twice a week will have you in great shape when the rivers do run again.
  • Paddle Boarding. Any of the afore mentioned locations are great to paddle board as well. Paddle boarding provides excellent cross training and really forces you to develop core stability. That improved core strength will pay off huge when you get back on white water.

Don’t let yourself be caught unprepared the next time your favorite run comes in. Make a little time in your week to get out there and dip a paddle in the water. When that rain comes you will be glad you did.

California based kayaker Pete Delosa is a member of Team Pyranha and sponsored by Immersion Research. You can catch up with Pete on his blog and watch his videos on You-Tube
Outside Adventure to the Max is always looking for guest bloggers. Contact us at if you are interested.

Friday, February 10, 2017


Photo by Gareth Tate
The might and power of water are on display once again this winter as another series of storms blow through California dumping rain and snow across the state's northern tier.
A large portion of the Oroville Dam Spillway unexpectedly eroded away during this week's rain Department of Water Resources employees noticed pieces of concrete during a water release from Lake Oroville, the release was halted and water officials discovered about 200 to 300 feet of the spillway disappeared. Officials say Lake Oroville has enough storage to handle storms over the next three days. There is no imminent danger to the public

Meanwhile, the flow out of the Nimbus Dam was increased to 15,000 cubic feet of water per second earlier this week and is scheduled to more than double to 35,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Natoma by the end this week.
"The increased releases are based on changing conditions and are necessary to maintain space in Folsom Reservoir for projected Sierra runoff," the Bureau of Reclamation said in a news release. "Current storage in the reservoir is around 158 percent of its 15-year average for December."
Low-lying portions of the American River Parkway will likely be closed for a second time this winter, due to flooding, along with the Campus Commons golf course and Discovery Park.

At the rain-swollen Lake Clementine near Auburn, the cascade over the North Fork Dam roars like a mini-Niagara Falls of aquatic force echoing through the canyon and drawing river watchers like Gareth Tate.

"After seeing the amount of overflow going over the dam," wrote Truckee based photographer and kayaker, Tate in an email to Outside Adventure to the Max, "I decided to take out my drone and go for a flight. Quite a beautiful perspective of this rare scene."

The lake is a four-mile-long and narrow waterway in the popular Auburn State Recreation Area, fed by the North Fork American River. It was formed in 1939 when the Army Corps of Engineers built the dam to prevent gold mining debris from flowing downstream. A short hike upstream from the 730-foot-tall Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California, the lake is popular for boaters and water-skiers during the summer months. However, like many of state's flooded waterways, this winter visiting the lake is not advised till the water resides.

"Although the flooding can be damaging," wrote Tate, "It is hard not to feel a sense of relief for California with this record-breaking snow and rain season. My fingers stay crossed that temps will stay cold for the rest of the storms this year so that the water can stay stored as snow and released gradually but after the last few years it is awesome to see the rivers so full."

You can check out more about Gareth Tate and images and videos on Facebook

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

Friday, February 3, 2017


Trump Rapids by Debbie Klenzman
We are all paddling down an uncharted course. It all started with a little rough water and around the bend, we hear the giant roar of raging rapids. We think to paddle to the safe side, but there is no safe side. We back paddle hoping and fighting to go upstream, but the current is just too strong and pulls us to the abyss. There is no turning back, we are swept over the falls, hoping for the best and hoping to survive.

That is what these last couple of weeks have seemed like to me across the United States. Almost immediately upon taking office, President Donald Trump has begun fulfilling his campaign promises of gutting, targeting its spending and planning to halt much of its work, along with trying to silence his critics on global warming and muzzling staff at the national parks. He has put the long-debated Keystone XL pipeline back on track and signed executive actions to begin cracking down on border security, including a travel ban and building a border wall with Mexico.

"I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me," Trump said during his candidacy announcement speech in June 2015,  "Believe me --and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."

"We have also come because of the looming atrocity that might well occur down here under the Trump reign " wrote Alan Kesselheim in op-ed piece for Canoe & Kayak' Online, "Who knows what stupid shenanigans will take place along this fraught and contentious border country full of history, skirmish, war, culture clash, and complication that Trump thinks a wall will take care of. A big, beautiful wall, he says, that Mexico will pay for." 

Courtesy of NPS

Last December, Kesselheim and company took their red tandem canoe along a muddy stretch of the Rio Grande River downstream of Big Bend National Park,  known as the Lower Canyons in a place he calls loneliest river miles on the continent. Deep inside canyon walls climbing 1,5,000 feet, Kesselheim found what describes as haunting beauty, but at times focused on the purposed border wall.
"The specter of it forms the backdrop for our lovely holiday journey. It shadows all the spectacular side canyons we walk up, all the rapids we run, all the springs we drink from, sours the company of all the wildlife we see going back and forth. Hour after hour, day on day, our red canoe rides the currents of water eddying back and forth between arbitrary borders on a map. Mile after mile we marvel at the true beauty of canyon walls rising sheer out of the river – intimidating, harsh, craggy, lovely walls, courtesy of Mother Nature"

Courtesy of NPS

The length of the border with Mexico is 1,954 miles, as defined by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission. The land border stretches 675 miles, while the length of the border along the Colorado River and Rio Grande is 1,279 miles. Trump said construction on his highest-profile campaign promise would begin in months. On his journey down river Kesslheim, says he asked every single person from shuttle driver to ranch worker, from park employee to waitress to hotel owner what they think of the wall. And while many admitted to voting for Trump, most thought the wall was "a really stupid idea," and that it should never happen.

 "Don’t get me started on the complications involved in building this stupid barrier, or the short-sighted, myopic cluelessness of it. Minor matters like the logistics of actually constructing a 2,000-mile, impenetrable wall along a border as environmentally intimidating as ours with Mexico. Or the mind-boggling cost of such a project and the very good possibility that it won’t work anyway. Then there are the thorns of history that still fester centuries later along that border. And don’t forget the native peoples’ claims to land and culture that predates our occupation. If we really want to talk about entitlement, let’s talk to some Apache."

It seems from Alaska to Florida our public lands and waterways are in under threat. Last week, in one of a number of high-profile orders, Trump also instituted a ninety-day hiring freeze across the executive branch, a heavy blow to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other chronically short-staffed agencies.

Courtesy of NPS
While this week U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution to dismantle the Stream Protection Rule. Members of Congress are using the Congressional Review Act to take aim at the rule, finalized by the Department of the Interior in December 2016, which safeguards streams from pollution created by mountaintop removal and surface coal mining. The House passed a resolution, 228-194 and the Senate to approved the resolution  sending it to the President’s desk.
The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the stream rule, introduced in the dying days of Barack Obama’s administration, “unfairly targets coal jobs.”
Environmentalists say surface coal mining has devastated thriving natural ecosystems and entire communities like those in Central Appalachia. The Stream Protection Rule modernized existing regulations. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Senior Director of Water Policy Chad Lord says, Congress is taking a troubling step backward by dismantling this rule that protects the small businesses and families that depend on clean water. This what he said in a statement released by the NPCA.

"The Stream Protection Rule would prevent toxic pollution produced by mining operations from harming waterways. These are the same waterways that people hike by or paddle on in national parks including Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Bluestone National Scenic River and New River Gorge National River. Will Americans continue to want to visit these national park sites and spend millions of dollars in surrounding communities each year, if polluted waterways greet them upon arrival? Rather than blocking these important policies, Congress should work to ensure our national parks and surrounding communities have the clean waters they deserve."

So as fears and setbacks swirl in the rapids of President Donald Trump and Congress'  environmentally unfriendly rhetoric, environmentalists and naturalists are sounding the alarms from the mountains and rivers they have sworn to protect. Columnist Wes Siler wrote this in Outside Online.

"Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. Along with the Republican Party’s reign in Congress, will be an unmitigated disaster for the environment. A witch hunt is already underway for federal employees who support the science of climate change. Protections for the 640 million acres of public land you and I own in this country are already being stripped away. Oil and gas extraction on public land is expected to be deregulated, and even coal—a heavily polluting, inefficient energy source the market has rendered obsolete—may see reinvestment."

The Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune also released the following statement:

“This a pathetic marketing scheme by Donald Trump, not a way to run a country. The Presidency is not like QVC - letting this polluter-packed administration pick off vitally important clean air and clean water safeguards in a fire sale will do nothing less than put lives at risk. What this means is that for every restriction on immigration or tax break for big oil companies that is put into place, Donald Trump will also be able to throw out two clean air and clean water safeguards. The safeguards that Trump wants to throw out are those that ensure we can fulfill and implement laws deeply valued by Americans, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, meaning this shameless pandering is willfully ignorant of Congressional mandates. This is a dangerous, deadly plan to undermine the laws that protect our environment, our workplaces, and our families and Trump should expect fierce resistance.”

Courtesy of NPS

And back on the Rio Grande, Kesslheim looked out over the bends of the quiet river pondering its future and ours.   

"And that’s where we stand today, in the process of confronting just that sort of exclusionary nationalism, symbolized oh so clearly by the ludicrous, impossible, and all too real 2,000-mile wall no one thinks will actually get built but which also empowered Donald Trump’s election. The longer we are in the grasp of that relentless downhill momentum, under the blue dome of winter sky, in the cool shade of looming cliff, in the company of life that never entertains nationalist seduction, the less I feel a part of the recent American enterprise, this vote that just took place, these sentiments shouted in angry arenas. In some fundamental way, I truly can’t fathom that it happened."