Friday, May 26, 2006

NoFo Last Sunday FINALLY!

North Fork American was kicking last Sunday. Another late put-in with the flow on the downside at around 2,700 cfs. Most of our guests were great paddlers and in good shape. Only trouble we had was a language barrier. How do the guides manage guests who may have a language barrier? Basic commands are easy to relay during the safety talk through interpreters and sign language; but how do you convey all the nuances of every situation ie, falling out of a boat, high-side, flips, wraps, swimming to an eddy, etc etc. As the safety talk unfolded, each guide takes his guests into his raft and continues with more conversations involving safety and their individual styles of guiding. Each question was greeted with nods and acknowledgements as the guides ran down commands and indiosyncracies of their own particular guiding techniques.

One thing that would really help is letting us know that there may be a language barrier. It would give us an opportunity to make sure that the interpreter was there during the safety talks. Though our international participants on our trips may speak English, I wonder how many really understand all the information for our whitewater rafting trips. We ask trip leaders to give us a heads-up and also help us during the safety talks by clarifying those nuances with their friends and our guests.

This upcoming Memorial Day Weekend looks like a busy one for the American River outfitters. All three forks are looking good. The Middle Fork American is still a bit high, but both the North Fork American and South Fork are looking like great runs this weekend.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Heard some rumblings from the peanut gallery... the crew is getting antsy to get back over to the North Fork American. We've been conservative and the guides are whining. The commercial cut-off for our company is 3,000 cfs though we've all been over there at 4,500 cfs. We just can't risk commercial clients who trust us to make the decisions for them. So we wait as the flows bounce around. Last Wednesday, the crew went over and had a blast.. just a little over 3,000 cfs since the side-creeks were kicking in.

Saul, Zack, Josh and others went over and did a late put in on the downside of the flow. The people loved the late put-in's and not getting up at the crack of dawn. The morning flows have been above safe levels but by late afternoon, the naturally flowing river drops so that a run can sneak in. The crew was back at the warehouse unloaded and unpacked by 7:00 pm... before dark. Some of the rapids were sticky as Zack could attest to the nice little swim he had at beefy Chamberlain Falls. Saul had a nice entry and felt a little stick in the hole... surf action! FUN!

Drew and his yak buddies went over to do the Rubicon run. We're talking sketch. Expert run only,... yeh yeh... they're all expert runs... but I'm not sh... kidding you... this is on the verge of nuts. They had estimated the flow extrapolating the data, figuring the numbers. So they went. Naa ah. Mistake. Drew got hammered in a swim in the first 1/2 mile. He wisely chose to hike out along with other expert kayakers. Limitations. That's what it's all about for the hardcore paddlers. Testing the limits.

Back to commercial stuff... busy weekend coming up and weather is predicting some crazy sh... stuff. From 98 degrees back to 70 degrees... and a possibility of snow? Wha', are they kidding me? Unreal. At least, the cooler weather will slow this melt down. How do we explain this crazy flow pattern to our paying customers? I feel the frustration coming on as each caller in their sweet innocence try to decipher flow charts, web advice and try to apply all of this to every river system. Keep in mind that each river is unique. Each river has its on variables and parameters. One river at 9,000cfs is crazy fun while another is just deadly; and another river at 400 cfs is more deadly than when it's at 3,000cfs. Huh? That's right. Don't try to look at numbers and classifications. They are only numbers and attempts to describe what mortals call rivers. But rivers are a dynamic entity only described by gods and dieties... always changing, always hiding its primal face. We lowly mortals can only attempt to describe each circumstance as we apply it to this watery force...

Over in the urban world of rivers, there's been an awful rash of unneccesary drownings from sheer stupidity. Just yesterday, a young kid near West Sac tried swimming in the Sacramento River near Discovery Park. He was overcome and disappeared into the murky mess. No lifejacket, no wetsuit... And those kids up near Placerville who were hiking around and rock hopping above the rapids; kind of like Russian roulette, you know? That kid ended up falling off a rock and disappearing into the rush of water. And in Sacramento, a group of total hillbillies took their plastic raft that was designed for a swimming pool into the Lower American. No lifejackets, no wetsuits. Overturned in a flash and nearly drowned. And what about the mom who let her kid go down with her inexperienced friend on a raging river in a rubber ducky with no lifejackets or wetsuits? Come on people. Get a clue. I'm sick to the core of my being when I hear about stuff like this. If you can't go with a professional outfitter at least protect yourself and wear a damn lifejacket. And parents, warn your kids to stay away from the edges of moving water unless they are wearing a lifejacket.

As professional outfitters, we go overboard with safety and implementation. We have to. We have your lives in our hands. Our industry takes this responsibility extremely seriously... and believe me, we'd rather our clients be pissed at us when we cancel a trip due to unsafe levels than to have them get hurt. So when you get the call or the email cancellation, appreciate that your pro outfitter is one that makes your safety their first priority and not the bottom line.
A rant from the manager

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mike's Story: Man and his Paddle!

Mike started rafting a couple of years ago. He came on a few of our trips as a paddling client. He started contacting us to get on trips as a lone reservation. He was hooked on rafting. We started referring him to other outfitter's trips because we could tell he really loved rafting & when we get that type of client we want ot share our love of rivers, too. He did all three forks of the American River with W.E.T., the Merced, Tuolumne, Yuba, Cherry Creek and many other rivers in California. He was seriously hooked. This year, he approached our staff and asked to actually train in our guide school! W.E.T. has a funny guide school... not really open to the public. If you can get passed the front desk, you'll probably get accepted into the guide school. Mike was welcomed and invited to join the 2006 guide school this early spring. Here is his personal story...

"Spring break 2006 will live in my memory for the rest of my life. In the weeks and days coming up to this time, I was filled with excitement and fear. I was heading off to guide school, but this was no run of the mill guide school. You needed to be invited and no slackers were going to make the grade. I had been a commercial paddler many times, but I knew it was different being a guide. How different? Who knows? The real question was; can I do it? I know it has to be harder than it looks. I hate to fail. I told myself I was going to embrace the challenge. Fortunately, I had paddled commercially with a great group of people and I was lucky to be accepted to a well-regarded tightly knit company's education program! At least I knew I had good support. Once I arrived at guide school, more apprehension overcame me. Will I be able to pull this off? Can I really get a boat down the river? Fortunately there were a great group of folks around to show all of us trainees/newbies the ropes. Andrew (lead guide instructor for W.E.T.), Zak, Maggie, Saul, Jonny, Justin, Ryan, Jason and many others who I have probably forgot to mention, and for that I apologize.

The first day was a blur. We all got to know each other a bit and get oriented with the great South Fork American River. I told myself long prior to the school, when the opportunity came about to be the “guide,” I was going to jump on it. Well the first try was ferrying the raft over to our great spot at Camp Lotus. What a humbling experience!!! So damn hard! Well, I told myself I was still going to jump on the stick when the next opportunity came about. Well…I did not have to wait long, the next morning the offer came to lead our crew of newbies from Chili Bar, and I seized the moment. I blurted out, “I will do it” with as much confidence as possible, but inside I was thinking, “What the hell am I doing! If I screw this up I will be in the starring role of an upcoming campfire story for who knows how long." Fear was truly a factor. Fortunately, I had a great crew, Gavin, Josh and Jeff paddled on command and somehow the river gods took it easy on me. I also knew Eric our safety kyaker had our back, thank god! We made it through the Chili Bar section without incident, but after that experience I knew just how good the vet’s really were; they made it look so easy (I so want to make it look easy).

The rest of the days were filled with various adventures. Drew was/is always trying to give us various swimming experiences, such as good swims at Blue House, Chutes & Ladders or any other good drop (all a bunch of fun). Then, there is the Guide Olympic drills we put together. Again, this just goes to show you veteran technique will always beat inexperienced enthusiasm. To Drew and his crew, one day, maybe I can get you! Drew, I still want to get you on the golf course. Then, there are the days where some folks decided taking the “right” line at Fowler's Rock would be cool. Well, I think that resulted in an “epic” swim. Thank god the SFA and the river gods can be so forgiving. Speed forward and you get those days I am convinced to take a 13 ft boat at over 6,500 cfs down the SFA (R2 style). What the hell did I get myself into? I do know this, moves need to be made very early, or you will be swimming the hole at the end of Meatgrinder and doing the taco in the hole at Maya (BTW, this SUCKS!!!!). After many fun-filled days, my fear has dropped slightly, but I have an amazing respect for the river. I also crave additional experiences. I want to hone my skills, become a better guide and really earn the title “professional.” I want to be able to bring my love of the river to others just as the great crew at W.E.T. River Trips has done for myself. I have just completed the first chapter of a life long adventure, oh what fun it should be. Thank you all for contributing to a great time and I look forward to working with you!

Mike; our official newest trainee on staff::

Thursday, May 04, 2006

'06 Flow Predictions from State & Feds

Snowpack and flow updates were presented yesterday to the South Fork American outfitters by a joint meeting of agencies that included El Dorado County, California State Parks and Bureau of Land Management. Flow predictions and safety issues were addressed for California's rafting industry. Some outfitters sent representatives while other companies were represented by the actual owners; Steve Liles of W.E.T. River Trips, Norm Schoenhoff of Whitewater Excitement and Scott Armstrong of AllOutdoors were participants of this discussion. Safety in numbers ie. travel in groups, extra gear such as "cold kit" for addressing hypothermia, safety kayakers and/or safety oarboat escorts, and minimum age requirements for youth participation were addressed by each outfitter or representativel.

A handout was presented outlining historical averages and predictions based on water content of the snow pack. Here is a brief outline of what was presented and a "prediction" of what's to come.

2006 Flow Predictions (click here for the chart/table)

Keep in mind that other factors weigh in such as future storms, high day and evening temperatures, etc. Also, each river has its own set of parameters and variables. You can run 10,000 cfs on the South Fork American, but you can't do that on the North Fork American. You can run low flows on the Tuolumne in late summer, but you can't do that on the Kaweah. Call the outfitter and ask about flows. Most of the long time outfitters in the state have a good instinct about what their rivers will flow based on past experiences. Just ask, discuss and this year, make sure that the athletic paddlers are participating during the early season high flows. Have lesser athletic users paddle during mid-June, July, Aug, Sept & Oct. AND for all you high water, big water junkies; get your splash on now!