Sunday, April 30, 2006

...on the American River

The bethren of the American River... the outfitters stick close together. No matter what back-stabbing crap goes on in the business end of this industry, or the crazy misdirects on the internet or the reality-show-type alliances, we support each other on the water.

I got the call in the office about an hour before our 3 boats were about to take-off from Camp Lotus. The crew was starting the 2nd day of a 2 day weekend trip and had just finished breakfast with a great group of people celebrating a 40th birthday party rafting trip on the South Fork American River. The crew was just bidding farewell to our field manager as he was taking off on his motorcyle after making a delivery of food, when that call came in. The call was immediately noted as the desparation of the voice sunk in. The other rafting company, we'll call them "Brand X", had somehow lost a reservation in their system. It doesn't matter how it happened; with today's technology, it could have been something as simple as a typo. The voice sounded so upset and so desparate. Don't worry, I said, we will take care of these people. I hung up and realized that we had just took on this other rafting company's predicament. Hmmm... maybe I spoke too soon!

I called Steve, got a hold of him even though he had his motorcycle helmet on; he heard his cell ring. I said, "Turn around, "Brand X" company lost a reservation and W.E.T.'s going to help them out. He turned around, grabbed a non-working guide and got another boat out of the warehouse. Then we had to go pick up these people who were meeting at the other rafting company's location. Enroute, our wetsuit dude, put together another 4 suits for these added people. Meanwhile, the food buyer added some more foodstuff to the existing lunch for the added paddlers. All was smooth except for one giant missing ingredient. The bus driver!

Now, we had to rearrange the shuttle because those extra four people from "Brand X" exceeded the spaces for the van. Call Tim for bus shuttle. No answer. Call his cell. No answer. Arrrgghhhh! Okey, drive back to Sac, get the other vehicle and drive back up the hill... at $3.10 per gallon! Ack!

As I slapped my forehead in frustration, I wondered out loud: why did I say yes? Why didn't I just let the other outfitter deal with their own problem? Why? Because, we all love river rafting, and we all want to see the clientele, our enthusiastic paddlers have a great time. No, it did not matter, at that moment, that these weren't our customers. It didn't matter that "Brand X" was one of our competitors. It didn't even matter the extra costs to our company or even the aggravation of our own customers (we had to make them wait a bit to accommodate the timing). What mattered was getting all these people on the water for the time of their lives... because, you see, the more people have a great time river rafting will be the same people who will talk about it to their loved ones, their family and friends and their collegues. They probably won't even remember who the heck took them down the river! But, they will remember the river. They will remember that awesome first rapid and they will be back... and maybe with us next time or maybe with another outfitter. All that matters is that we've help convert more people to the sport and recreation of rafting. And that's all that matters.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

SUMMER already?

Yikes, it's HOT! The weather is starting to feel more like the beginnings of summer, and the rivers are starting to really roll. Almost everyone is calling about the high water on the South Fork American. Another big water year is in store. Flows are ranging from 5,000 to 6,000 cfs daily. Fun, big water with rolling waves. Over on the Middle Fork American, flows have been fluctuating on the high side of 3,500+ cfs. Too high to run Tunnel Chute and it becomes a serious "expedition." On the North Fork Chamberlain Falls run, the flows are on the upward cycle. Also, too high for commercial rafting this weekend.

Those of you who are true rafting enthusiasts, get on the best runs this week. Best high water flow for the next week or so will be on the South Fork American and Merced River. It is going to be a blast this year! Even this summer, we won't be having low flows (like so many of you complain about during "regular" years!

Check out this pic from last weekend's high water South Fork American River! That is a horizontal shot... no shzzzz! The holes are big and feels like a rollercoaster ride:

Get out and paddle!
The sun is SHINING!

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Flow Info on the NoFo American

Another concern for the North Fork American is the inordinate amount of snowpack that we are experiencing in the Sierras (180%... and that's not slightly above last year!). Some of the websites are claiming that the NoFo won't be runnable until late June or July... WHA? Come on... that's definitely inaccurate. If Lake Clementine flows are measuring 3,300 cfs then you know that the side creeks below Chamberlain Falls is kicking the cfs up. In reality, the flow at the put-in is approximately 300 - 400 cfs below the Clementine gauge. The NoFo is runnable today. And remember, the watershed for the North Fork American is smaller than for the other sections of the American River.

Anyway, the higher flows on the North Fork do demand experienced, athletic aggressive paddlers. We do not recommend beginners at flows above 2,500 cfs or at any other flow. Respect this river... it demands it.

Wha' Up with the Flows?

Another weekend of high water on the American River. Again, the flow charts were wrong for the North Fork American weekend for 4/22 & 23rd. We have bookmarked the CDEC flow sites so our paddling clients can find the actual flows. I'm not sure why the NoFo flows are incorrect on three of the popular flow sites for the past two weekends, but it is imperative that we have accurate data. The flow gauge on the North Fork became problematic last year and engineers were at the gauge station trying to mainipulate and extrapolate data for their flow charts. We think there might be a problem at the data feed that is skewing the data on these popular flow sites.

North Fork is finally coming down to manageable paddling levels again. Today's flow is at 3,380 cfs and dropping. Check the following links to the flows for the American River for the SoFo, NoFo and MoFo. These charts are the best for accuracy and most outfitter's also look at these sites with the most relevant information.
All three charts are there describing stage levels and actual cfs levels.
For all the rivers throughout the state; levels and actual cfs levels.

The USGS site was stuck at April 22nd like the other flow sites... someone fix this, please!
Here is what it should look like:::

South Fork American

Chili Bar Discharge

South Fork American Flow from CDEC

Middle Fork American

Middle Fork American Stage from CDEC

Middle Fork American Flow from CDEC

North Fork American & Giant Gap

North Fork American Stage from CDEC

North Fork American Flow from CDEC></P> </p> <p><font color=

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Shzzzz... Get Your Splash On!

W.E.T. River Trips six day guide school, that started April 8th, officially just ended; and knowing the weather forecasted during that time, created a heightened sense of adventure and focus on the unknown (ergo: what would five consecutive days of rain provide for us?).

The North Fork immediately ran high... too high. The roads to other California rivers became blocked and travel became limited at-best. However, the South Fork of the American pulled through for us, our trainees and our clients as well. Everyday we had flows of at-least 5,500 cubic feet per second (CFS) and some days, we had over 6,550 CFS. Compare that to a good summer flow of 1,500CFS, and the ingredients for fun and excitement are obvious. Every day was a complete blast even with relentless rain and grey skies... the South Fork was prime!

Even the most seasoned and veteran guides (Andrew?!?) left the water with huge smiles and accolades for the days on the water. We did Chili Bar, the Gorge, Full River, and two day trips in every conceivable combination as we ended up spending 8 out of ten days on the water. Eric and Zack took a day off and they are back on for another long stretch. Jonny, Maggie, Saul, Jason, Ryan, Andrew, Zack, Alex W., Eric C., Justin, Steve, and Walter all had a part in the show. A fantastic start to HIGH season!!!! (Jeff, Mike, and Josh were troopers!)

Now that the rain has stopped (hopefully) we can take stock of the incredible bounty of the cold, moisture-laden snow pack. (Kirkwood has had over 800 inches of snow this season).

Sidebar: Nate called the W.E.T. office Easter Sunday evening as he sat in the patrol hut at the top of Kirkwood's chair 10 where he would have to spend the night while the resort dug out and Highway 88 was cleared (88 opened Monday afternoon). When he called we made plans for his return to duty: safety kayaking and guiding the three forks of the American and the Cal Salmon.

We'll be back on the North Fork American this weekend and up to the California Salmon as soon as we can... a straight week of clear sky's and mild temperatures will make for a great weekend to come!
An Official Big Poppa Post!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

CONSPIRACY? North Fork American

Yesterday, we checked a well-known flow site for the NoFo. Go to index page, click on to the California West slope... just like we do everyday for the past few years... let's see... hmm the North Fork Clementine flow is gone! Weird. So we look around and find a link for other flows. Click onto that and the identical page comes up with a different URL, but there it is finally. Hmmm, weird. The flow shows a 1,000 cfs bump up from yesterday. That's really weird. What's going on here? So we go to the actual CDEC gov site and find that the flow is actually only 3500 instead of 4800 cfs. It's like the whole chart was bumped up for the last 3 days. Impossible! Weird. Hmmm... is it the Doolittle camp? Are they trying to make sure no one goes on this river? Is it an attempt to destroy the numbers of people who enjoy this run? Ooooooh, a conspiracy of sorts... by the dam builders.

North Fork American flow is actually at 3300 today. We'll keep watching the flow for the NoFo but we'll get the info from the CDEC sites. More on this mystery at a later date...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jaded: High Flows? Not Yet!

The core crew is already jaded over the high flows... it's only 5,000 cfs... March 18th was our first start date on the rivers in California. March was cool since the crazy storms hadn't hit yet. Most of April has been spent on the American River since other rivers were running so high that the flows were just not safe enough. The sun came out and most of the runs are starting to come down to manageable levels. At 150% water content in the snowpack, let us pray for a slow melt this spring... This week W.E.T. River Trips is on the South Fork American and the pristine North Fork American. Both have been at challenging levels. SoFo's 5,000+ cfs has been great for the athletic novice rafter; a great taste of Class 4minus rapids on the upper sections at Chili Bar. The NoFo flow is still too high ... even today at 3,800 cfs; tomorrow's run will probably end up on the Full River South Fork. We should be over on the NoFo this weekend with our guest paddlers.

Flows are a mysterious thing. You read the data, you look at the charts... what does it all mean? Don't just look at the numbers. Make sure you understand the parameters of the actual river. One river can be at 10,000 cfs and totally boatable while another river becomes deadly. With commercial outfitters, we have a huge incentive to run well-below the maximum flows on any river. Namely; life, lawsuits, loss of insurance, loss of government permits, etc etc. Outfitters need to be safe so that they can remain viable businesses. What good is it to run unsafe trips? W.E.T. recommends that you try to stay with proven outfitters who have been around a while. We're not saying a new outfitter may be more sketchy, but they might not have a proven track record of safe trips. Better to stick with the ol' outfitters... they've been doing it so long that you know they'll be around next year!

Our friends in Northern California have been rafting on lots of kayaking rivers. The kayakers have been creekin' like crazy for the past few months. Some of our surfer friends have been in kayaks enjoying a different type of surf action. Now that the sun has come back to life, we expect a lot more action on the rivers. People are sooo ready to go outdoors again and enjoy themselves instead of being glued to the XBox and the latest Battlefield 2.

Shopping, Skiing and Rafting!

San Francisco was in an especially dramatic mood. Sky was threatening with dark clouds. Easter weekend is a pilgrimage of sorts. Every year, our family visits the graves of our ancestors and honors them with flowers. The wind was so strong and the grass was so saturated from recent storms, that we had to shorten the visit to accommodate the younger members of our group. After our annual ritual, we went into the downtown area and shopped around. Some of the teens wanted to go to Urban Outfitters for new spring clothes. We ran into a bunch of friends there as we all compared our newly purchased stuff.

We could tell that the youthful teen group was planning to dress for the chance of the sun shining soon. Shorts, t-shirts, flip flops were stuffed into bags. Squeals of delight were punctuated with comments about spring and summer plans. A bunch of us were going to Squaw this week to ski and hang out. Some of the group were combining a North Fork American River trip to highlight a skiing and rafting week. Only in California, dude... was the most common refrain.

The flows have been wild all around the Central and Northern California rivers. Storm after storm has boasted the flows up for a back to back year of high water. Most of the trips in the past couple of weeks have been on the South Fork American. This popular Class III+ river is kicking up a storm of big rapids and big holes... and to top it off; this week, the sun is shining!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here Comes the Sun Da Da Da Blah

Okey already. Mom Nature... I'm growing mold. Moss is growing on the sidewalk. Okey, already. It's been raining for weeks. A small speck of sun peeked painfully through the dark-grey, marshmallow goo today. Just a few days of sun... please.

Just watching the rain through my window... the gym is depressing. At this time of the year, you're suppose to be gardening, planting the annuals in their planter boxes; playing basketball, hoopin' it with your best buddies; kicking a soccer ball, playing with your youngest child; or stripping your shirt off, rafting on the American River.

Relentless dripping from that leaky downspout... I'm watching... drip rivers into the flower beds. All that water dropping into crevases worn into the rocky surroundings... acting like funnels into a greater cavity. The rock acts as obstacles and the water travels through the places where there is the least resistance. Carving, carving into the weak areas, a creek, a stream, a river forms. If the gradient is steep, then you have serious whitewater.

Oh, Mom Nature. I stand humbled by your mighty powers. Could you just cool it for a little while?
Hey, it's sunny today... prayers have been answered!

Monday, April 10, 2006

High Water a Gift from Mother Nature

Berkeley-ites descended upon us this past weekend. On Saturday, one of the departments at the school rafted with W.E.T. River Trips as part of their recreation program. A good group of paddlers, the flow was around 7,500 cfs. We had the sweep boat (oar boat), 2 safety kayakers and the paddle boats mixed in along with the guide school group. All the guides were seasoned experienced paddle captains. The oarsman was a guide with over 10 years experience. He flipped in Meatgrinder. Lost the lunch. After righting the boat and gathering back together, the rest of the crew gave him sh$%t about his flip. Lots of ragging and lots of hard teasing began. He'll never live it down!

Once they floated back in to Lotus, our field manager gathered a lunch back together to feed the hungry horde. After much discussion, the UC Berkeley paddlers decided they wanted to keep going through the Gorge section. The people were having a blast. Big flows, like the Grand Canyon rollers, met them through Haystack Canyon. Keep the boat straight when you hit the wave! Pumping at 7,500 cfs plus, the river is a giant roller coaster ride. Not as technical, but more flippy, the river moves fast.

On Sunday, another UCB group came and paddled. They just loved the good ol' South Fork American. The "class 3" river kicks butt at this time of year. Some had done this river in the summer and they could not believe it was the same section. Some even thought they were rafting on another section of the American River... ha!

Each rapid changes; some become more difficult while others become easier. And the rocks that you see during the summer, become giant waves and holes ready to swallow a raft if you don't enter straight. I love the big water. It's so awesome. The power of the river is just unbelievable compared to the mellow summer flows. Try to do all the California rafting spring runs this year. It's unreal that we are having a season of high water again. Mother Nature's gift to all the paddling enthusiasts is here for 2006!

Friday, April 07, 2006


W.E.T. River Trips is looking forward to good weather ahead. Dreary skies are gone today. North Fork American is still raging at around 4,500 cfs today. Most of our NoFo paddlers will be over on the South Fork American this weekend, though by Sunday, we should be able to have a go... as long as no new storms come in. We feel like farmers over here... farming whitewater. Watching the sky, watching the weather reports and praying like crazy that the storms will start bypassing Central California. We need a reprieve from this nutty spring. And of course, as soon as it stops, it'll suddenly become summer. That's the weather here in California. One day, cold and raining; the next 100 degrees.

We've got guide school going on this week along with great, adventurous guests who don't care about a "little rain." Hardy souls who love the outdoors and enjoy being on the river. Almost all of our guide staff are back with us. A couple have gone on to "real" jobs, but will still be out here on weekends. They just can't get it out of their systems. One newbie is a past guest who is paddle crazy. He's been hanging around our crew (uh oh... tainted already!) and enjoying several river trips with W.E.T., Trib, Echo, Sierra Mac and other rafting companies. He's done more river miles than most first year guides. He loves rafting. He's got a real profession and doesn't need to be a working guide. He's addicted... that's what the river will do when your heart is totally open.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sunshine is Finally Here

With a promise of better weather ahead, Mr. Sun came out today smiling. The glow almost hurt my eyes. Colors seemed harsh as the light washed out the deep colors of spring. There was an energy indescribable filling the air as we looked skyward for the new storm coming in tomorrow. Just clear, blue skies... seems unreal since we've had so much rain the past 30 days.

Our guide school starts on Saturday. Again, we limit it to a very small number. W.E.T.'s guide school is a funny one. Not really opened to the general public. Most have come from referrals from within our staff or other sources. Last year, the guide school had people that were just not guide material, so this year, we pulled back on advertising and marketing of the program. It seems that we get better student guides from referrals.

This year, we have a few coming aboard to boat with our staff the next few days. They will be acclimated first on the South Fork American and learn the ins and outs of guiding rivers. Drew is in charge this year of the school and he is a tough, disciplinarian who excels not only in river running, but he is an absolute stickler for organization. He will be demanding and up front with the newbies. He will also be leading this group towards becoming professional guides; not private boaters. They will learn the basics of packing and loading, boat repair, ropes, safety issues, reading the water, handling the guests, blah, blah,... Drew has worked for W.E.T. for a long time and he is someone who takes his profession very seriously.

The newbies will arrive excited, enthused and filled with childlike wonder. We'll all get a buzz from their energy and hopefully, we'll find some promising students for our guide staff.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Big Water on the South Fork American

Lots of action this weekend on the South Fork American. Rafters, kayakers were out in full force enjoying the high flows. California Rafting W.E.T. River Trips had a trip on the water with crew members, Saul, Jason & Jonny. People had a blast. Our trip had an adventurous group who hung with the crew enjoying the big waves on the upper section. Meatgrinder Rapid was raging with lots of big holes and surf action. One 2 day group had to be brought over from the
North Fork American since the flows came up around 3,500 cfs over there. Estimates for the South Fork were about 7,500 cfs though the flow charts everywhere were stuck at 5,000 cfs. With sidecreeks, flows are usually greater than the charts will indicate. Best bet for educating yourself about flows is to call the outfitter on that particular river. We have to extrapolate and estimate the flows from past experience and historical use. Safety kayakers and sweep boats are being used now during this higher flow. It's going to be another great season this year!

Our creeking kayakers are in heaven. Lots of creeks and streams are enticing the extreme kayakers. Just heard from Ryan (he's back from Brazil) this morning; he's heading out for as many creeks as he can kayak. He'll be back at safety kayaking soon... after he gets the creekin' madness out of his system.

Another round of storms is coming in this week. We're sick of the rain; don't we live in California? Our Oregon rafting friends just laugh since this type of weather is the norm up there!
W.E.T. River Trips