The toilet bowl is back! The Middle Fork American was run last Sunday with a great group of hardy paddlers. Earlier reports from our kayaking crew, led us to believe that the flow gauge was a few hundred cfs off the mark. Everyone, including California State Parks could not get a read on the actual river flows. -Taking the advice of our kayakers and 'ol school guides, we figured the flow out to be just below 1,300 cfs.
Saul, a 12-year veteran led the team and here's his eyewitness report for California rafting: "Heads up for changes out there on the Middle Fork American! My first trip down the Middle Fork this year was last Sunday on June 11th. I’ve worked for 12 years out there (on this river), and have seen many changes the river has been through, but this year it’s exceptional. The flow that day varied from 1,100 - 1,300 cfs, and starting at the very first rapid, 'Good Morning,' it was noticeably different. The rapid seems to start further downstream, and is more chunky and less of a wave train.
As with any first trip of the year, scouting is a good idea. We decided to scout the 'Tunnel Chute' to see if that geologically new rapid had changed during the winter floods. It had... the entrance has widened, making the top left-hand turn more pronounced. The biggest new feature is a big pillow coming off the top left wall. Avoid that , but don’t go too far right or you will tube-stand on the right, or pinball to the left and tube-stand/wrap there... like I did. No get-downs until you make the turn. Just like old times. (Note from W.E.T.: back in the 80's & early 90's, this rapid was like this) The rest of the read-and-run rapids remain read and runnable, but to those guides who have memorized the river; there are new beach shifts, and islands where there were none before. Also 'Cathedral' has changed and isn’t what it once was. Cathedral Rapid is two rapids downstream from the Tunnel Chute, right below the cave on the left, and it used to have a hole at the top, and then pillow into the side of the river right wall (looks like it has an imprint of a cathedral on it) making a left turn off the pillow. A huge island has popped up in the middle of the river diverting much of the water and making the hole at the top less significant. The rapid was never a big deal, but it was a fun soaker of a hole.
There seems to be a lot more water going to the right at 'Ruck-A-Chucky,' and since there were no guard lines up, we portaged the waterfall. Most of the portage path is gone, but its still better than back in the old days. There is a large boulder where passengers load back up making that a back-log problem for 12 people, it could be a mess when there are more. It looks like slight changes in the rocks below the guide-jump rock, but the water was high at that point. The rapids after Ruck-A-Chucky remain the same, but the high water line at Parallel Parking should be used. All in all, it was nice to be the only boats on a weekend, maybe these changes will lower the use and keep the Middle Fork American more pristine." Saul G. Senior Headguide::Official Post from the Field
We also got an update from California State Parks at the Auburn Recreation District regarding the calibration of the gauge:
"The Placer County Water Agency has advised us that as of Monday 6/12 at approximately 2 pm, a correction was made to the CDEC flow website as the result of a recalibration, adjusting the flow chart to read the same as the PCWA gauge station at Horseshoe Bar. The level at the time was between 1500 and 1550 cfs. The relation of actual cfs to the reading on the website AT THIS LEVEL should be considered accurate according to the PCWA.
However because the river channel has changed, more recalibrations need to be made for OTHER flow levels. Until this is done, please be aware that the readings on the CDEC site will become increasingly inaccurate if levels rise or fall outside of the 1500 cfs range (for example down to 1200 or up to 1800) at Horseshoe Bar." CA State Parks Post
Time for the MoFo! Keep in mind, with the new changes, athletic users should only raft this run. Especially keep in mind the portage situations. People need to be sure-footed and agile while scrambling over uneven ground. This is the "E" in W.E.T.; it's EXPEDITION-style rafting like in the good old days!