Monday, March 28

Trip Report: American (South Fork "Gorge" - High Flow) - March 27, 2005

Run: Greenwood to Salmon Falls
Difficulty: III+ to IV-
Flow: ~ 3500 cfs (unconfirmed)

Map of the River

Headed up to the South Fork regardless of the fact there was a winter storm warning that was supposed to hit that afternoon, not something that I'd advocate. We were gambling on the fact that it wouldn't hit until late in the afternoon. It turns out the gamble paid off since we didn't get bombarded by rain until we were past Sacramento on the way back to San Francisco.

It ended up being a very nice day, partially cloudy with very little wind. The water is still very cold, but it was comfortable in a dry top with a couple of layers underneath. I'm still using a long wetsuit just in case.

By the time we were putting in at Greenwood Creek the flow was looking pretty high, higher than I've seen it. Even Greenwood Creek was running into the South Fork at a pretty good clip. It didn't take long to see that the flow was indeed higher than I've ever personally seen, but I'm assured that it was typical for the time of year. Not having boated much in the Spring it was a new experience for me.

Many of the spots that are usually not much more than riffles had turned into mini-wave trains, very cool. But, wait a minute, what does that mean for the big stuff?! We were soon to discover.

The run down to Fowler's Rock had some nice spots, including that nice surf wave about a quarter mile upstream from Fowler's, which was really moving. Surfed on that for a few until it ate my bow and then ate me. But from Fowler's on into the Gorge the water got increasingly pushy. The entrance to Fowler's was fine, but the volume of water certainly made me pay attention since it was clear that this wasn't my "usual" routine Gorge run. Although the water was high, Fowler's was just fine and very manageable. Now it gets interesting.

All the wave trains through Upper Haystacks were way bigger than I've seen and although they were a lot of fun, I was certainly focused & paying attention since the consequences were higher than summer flows. I also found myself taking some more conservative lines, rather than jumping right into some of the nice holes, I was taking the tongue or skirting the edge.

We decided to eddy out before hitting Satan's and as I got closer all I could see around the corner was this huge plume of white. I tend to eddy out on the left way before Satan's, but others tend to like eddying out on the left RIGHT on the rapid. I need to try that again, haven't done it in a long time. So we jumped out of our boats to scout it, even though both of us have done it many times. As we checked it out, it started occurring to me that we hadn't seen one other soul on the entire river - not sure why that was, could have been because it was Easter Sunday or perhaps because of the questionable weather, or because of the flow! Anyhoo, Satan's was pumping hard and I didn't feel like getting pummeled like I was laundry in the high spin cycle since it was highly probable I was going to flip. If I could have seen a couple of others slip through I would have felt better, but since the rest of the run was still an unknown, we decided to give it a miss. Since there was so much water, the sneaky channel on the right was available to bypass it. When I've seen the right channel open it's been boney, but it was wide open that day. We eddied out briefly before hitting Son of Satan's (which we approached with caution), but it grabbed us and spat us so fast there wasn't time for anything to happen!

Scissors & Lower Haystacks were more of the same huge wave trains, manageable but with consequences since many of the rest spots between rapids were gone and the only eddies were very small ones that were harder to hit. Like I said before, the water was just PUSHY! Very cool.

Bouncing Rock came up and there was enough water to actually sneak by the hole on the left if you got the line correct - my buddy nailed it but my stern got sucked in and I had to roll. The recovery spot after Bouncing Rock was gone and so you were basically right into Double Dip before you had time to think about it.

Hospital Bar was just ridiculously large, not surprising really. I'd considered trying to sneak by, but I was convinced by my buddy that you might as well commit to the hole rather than get sucked it by surprise. Off we went and I ate it as I came back up due to the laterals coming in from each side, but my buddy corrected at the top of wave to slide along the lateral and punch right through. Very nice move.

Now for the true "surprises" - the run down to Folsom Lake from Hospital Bar through Recover Room was EXCELLENT. Huge wave train after wave train with some killer spots. We also discovered "Pre-Surprise" about a quarter mile upstream from Surprise about 3/4 of the way through Recovery Room. We rounded the top of one wave and all of a sudden were faced by this huge wall of water, definitely a heart pounder since I have never seen anything like it in that section before.

Surprise was just as expected, but bigger! Then it was basically just like another Recovery Room all the way down to the lake with another nice long section.

A great day and a lot of fun. Although it was nice to have the river to ourselves, it was a little sketchy since they were just two of us in such big conditions.

Chili Bar might be coming up next weekend for the first time this season....