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Return to The Tuolumne River Canyon: Images of Transformation

May 13th, 2014 Jamie Low

Last summer the Tuolumne River canyon was the epicenter of California’s third largest wildfire in recorded history, abruptly cutting short our rafting season and leaving a moonscape of destruction behind. In December we were able to drive into the canyon to see for ourselves the extent of the damage, but until recently we had not been able to access the river canyon by raft.

Fast forward through months of worry to late March, when we were finally given the chance to bring the boats down into the canyon.  Together with the US Forest Service, various water management agencies and representatives from each of the outfitters, we ventured to see it for ourselves. We were hopeful, but concerned. Nobody really knew what to expect.

And we certainly didn’t expect this: while the fire damage was remarkable, so were the emerging signs of life.  The scorched earth and incinerated trees were in stark contrast to the brilliant colors of spring, providing us with what felt like the most beautiful day we’ve ever seen on the Tuolumne.

We’ve assembled this slideshow using photos from both of these trips to help showcase the Tuolumne canyon’s road to recovery:

  • March 2014: Deep green colors cover the lower canyonPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: A First LookHard hats were required during our first visit into the canyon. Photo: Scott Armstrong
  • Dec 2013: Driving through devastated areas of the Canyon Photo: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: Jawbone RidgePhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • March 2014: Jawbone Ridge comes back to lifePhoto: Jamie Low
  • Looking down into the Tuolumne River canyon Photo: Jamie Low
  • December 2013: Driving Toward Put-InPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • December 2013: Looking Upstream at Ram's Head RapidPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • A word of warning from the National Forest ServicePhoto: Jamie Low
  • March 2014: Rigging the boats at Meral's Pool put-inPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Signs of life Photo: Jamie Low
  • a stark contrast in affected sides of the canyonPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Cal Fire crew prepares for hazard removalPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Inspecting downed tree to be removed from Ram's Head rapidPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Scott Armstrong rows past the downed tree in Ram's HeadPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Paddling towards Clavey CanyonPhoto: Jamie Low
  • California poppy flowers were in full bloomPhoto: Jamie Low
  • All-Outdoors' owner Scott Armstrong taking photosPhoto: Jamie Low
  • an oar covered by debris from the firePhoto: Jamie Low
  • Below Clavey Falls: The river is colored dark brown from debrisPhoto: Jamie Low
  • The shade trees at Indian Campground were sparedPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Indian Campground from downstreamPhoto: Scott Armstrong
  • A Bobcat walks past scorched tree trunks Photo: Jamie Low
  • A downed tree comes to rest along the riverbankPhoto: Jamie Low
  • Floating past grapevinePhoto: Jamie Low

The Tuolumne River and Cherry Creek seasons have already begun, and despite California’s drought conditions, we will thankfully be exploring these river canyons all summer long.  If you haven’t seen “The Mighty T” in awhile, we strongly recommend the return trip.

If you’re wondering what all of this means for your prospects of taking a trip here, know that the view from the canyon rim will give you the impression that nothing survived this fire.  It’s an impressive sight, and it will take many years for the canyon to heal.  But once at river level, the scenery reveals a rich and robust ecosystem, almost making you forget about the fire ravaged landscape above.  It’s a stunning contrast that really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated.

 

Jamie Low started guiding for All-Outdoors in 1990, falling in love with whitewater boating, rivers and a local girl in the Sierra Foothills of California, where he now helps his clients “optimize” their search marketing communications strategies. Connect with Jamie on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn

New Video: Cherry Creek Rafting

May 13th, 2014 Malina

When it rains it pours: awesome videos from Nate and Char, that is!  Here they serve up a Class V slice of Cherry Pie.

Shot on Cherry Creek just before (like the day of. Literally.) the Rim Fire swept through the canyon.

And, did you know that the Cherry Creek season has already started?  We’re running trips now all the way until September 1st, 2014!

 

New Video: Tuolumne River Rafting!

May 13th, 2014 Malina

Our new video (courtesy of guide Nate and Char) is a magical look into the Tuolumne River.  Shot on a two-day trip in 2013, before the Rim Fire. Enjoy!

Why the Men’s Journal Is Wrong About Whitewater Rafting in California This Year

April 25th, 2014 Jamie Low

Ok, look… we’re a bit miffed. The Men’s Journal published an article claiming to highlight the “The Best Whitewater Rafting Destinations for 2014“, and with the season here underway we were excited to read the list.  But not only did they fail to mention any of our favorite rivers here in California, they even went out of their way to paint a picture of bone-dry rivers with nowhere to go boating in the entire state:

“California is normally the America’s capital of whitewater rafting, with massive Sierra snowfalls feeding dozens of cascading, granite-lined mountain rivers. Unfortunately the Golden State has been wrung out by one of the worst droughts on record. For rafters, kayakers, and stand-up paddlers that means it’s time to look elsewhere.”

They followed it up with a Tweet that described California as “wrung out” by the drought:

And the author even went so far as to characterize the prospects for the entire season as “poor”:

Wow. That would be really depressing for us California boaters… if it was actually true.

The Men’s Journal is Missing Out. (But You Shouldn’t.)

We can understand why a national publication might be left with the impression that California’s rafting season won’t have much to offer; it’s hard to read anything in the news these days without hearing about the drought. And reliable information is tricky to obtain during a year like this; we’ve had to attend a lot of meetings and make a bunch of phone calls just so we can get the most accurate up to date information we can about the upstream water supply, and new information is still coming in. (As are the storm systems; it’s dumping outside while I write this.)  And to be fair, their article was written a few weeks ago before we had a lot of new information from the utilities that manage upstream releases.  Without the benefit of that knowledge, it’s reasonable to assume that a drought year would leave our boats high and dry.

This is a big perception problem that we have been struggling to overcome in the press, and we’ve been fielding a lot of questions from people inquiring about the season.  If there’s a drought, there must not be enough water for rafting, right?

Wrong. Absolutely, categorically wrong. Shockingly, surprisingly, thankfully wrong. (Did I mention they were wrong?)

Thanks to the river gods (and an assortment of upstream utilities, government agencies and late season storms) we have plenty of water this year, all the way through to October.  Yup, October!

Granted, this is a very different year; all winter we were more than a bit worried ourselves.  As a rafting outfitter, our business relies on the Sierra snowpack in the spring, and hydropower water releases in the summer. Everyone in the state has been wringing their hands about the lack of snow we’ve received these past few years; it’s projected to have impacts that ripple out to every corner of the world.  The environmental and economic impacts of the drought are no joke, and we’re not taking the news lightly.

But here’s the thing: we’re not going to let bad press get us down. It’s not going to stop us from getting out on the river, and it only motivates us even more to tell everyone we can to go out and enjoy it with us. We’ve already been on the water running rapids these past few weeks, we’re rafting today, and tomorrow… and we’re going to keep rafting all summer and into the fall, just like we’ve done for the past 50 years.

Here’s a summary of what we know so far about the 2014 whitewater rafting season in California:

Spring Rafting: Tons of Options, and a Big Cherry On Top

This April, May & June we’re rafting on eight different California rivers.  We’re not looking at a high water year, but the snowpack is expected to provide daily rafting on most of our usual spring runs.

There are a few notable exceptions: the North Fork of the American may already be done (it always has a shorter season), and the North Fork of the Stanislaus isn’t expected to have a season. In the meantime, you’ll find our boats floating on rivers as far north as the Cal Salmon, the Merced & Tuolumne outside of Yosemite, and as far south as the Kaweah River (outside of Sequoia National Park), which is expected to run for a few weeks in early May.

And a very, very big bonus: we are getting a big fat Cherry on top of our California sundae: Cherry Creek (or the Upper Tuolumne) will actually have a spring season this year, which almost never happens. Most years the water is too high to run in the spring, but the Cherry Creek season will begin on May 3rd (in less than two short weeks!), and is projected to run all the way through until September 1st.  This might be the longest Creek season we’ve ever seen, and our guides and guests are really looking forward to making the most of it.

This Summer: The Americans, Tuolumne & Cherry Creek

Our most popular rivers also happen to have upstream reservoirs that release water to generate hydroelectric power throughout the summer months. We are still waiting to hear on the official word about releases on the Tuolumne in July and August, which we will post here soon, but preliminary estimates are looking really good so far.  This will enable us to offer a wide range of river trip options from family float trips to the most challenging rapids available on commercial rafting trips in the US.

The Fall: South Fork of the American, Middle Fork of the American and Goodwin Canyon

Believe it or not, we will still be rafting after school starts back up.  It’s usually a slower time of year for us, but we still run trips on multiple rivers when the California weather is usually nice and warm in September. Of course, we need water to do that, and we’ll have it: upstream reservoirs will release water throughout the summer at intervals that stretch out the season on the South Fork of the American, and possibly the Middle Fork of the American as well.

Can’t make it in September?  No problem. How about October?   If you’ve ever joined us on a trip during the Goodwin Canyon season, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

The Big Picture (We Made a Map!):

To help illustrate all the great options for whitewater rafting this year, we created this map to help our guests figure out when each of our rivers are running (click on the map to see a full size version):

Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

Note: For the full breakdown of each river and its forecasted season, be sure to check our recent post 2014 California River Rafting Season Update [MAP]: Eight Rivers We’re Rafting This Year

It’s Not Just Us That’s Excited: Just Ask the San Francisco Chronicle. (And the Sacramento Bee. And the San Jose Mercury News):

A few other articles have come out in recent weeks that did a great job of outlining the options available for boating this year; grab a cup of coffee and peruse these for more details:

Outdoor writer Tom Stienstra of the San Francisco Chronicle addresses the perception problem (and the awesome, surprising reality) of the impact of the drought on California’s rafting season directly here:

On Northern California rivers, good forecast for summer rafting
Tom Stienstra April 19, 2014

Writer Paul McHugh previously wrote two great pieces on the rafting season in the San Jose Mercury and the Sacramento Bee:

California whitewater rafting: Season’s on for 2014 (drought or not)
Paul McHugh 4/15/2014

And while we take issue with the clever yet slightly misleading wordplay in the headline, the article does a great job of reviewing the who, what, where how and why of the drought’s impact on the rafting season here:

Want to raft? Better do so rapidly
Paul McHugh April 10, 2014

And as far as the Men’s Journal article is concerned?

Honestly, we’re actually not that upset.  We get it; if we didn’t live here, we might think the same thing after reading the news all winter long while enjoying all those powder days in say… Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Or Oregon. Or anywhere else in the country (it was a very big winter for just about everyone else.)

So, while we don’t really expect it, we would love to see them revisit this topic in an additional article in the future, to help correct the record.  We all make mistakes, and we definitely agreed with all of the rivers they did include in their article; but we sure wouldn’t mind a bit of equal air time to correct the fact that they erroneously dumped all over California. (And Frederick, if you’re reading this, check your Twitter account for a PM. How about you come out and visit us to see it for yourself?)

 

Jamie Low started guiding for All-Outdoors in 1990, falling in love with whitewater boating, rivers and a local girl in the Sierra Foothills of California, where he now helps his clients “optimize” their search marketing communications strategies. Connect with Jamie on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn

Opening Day for Cherry Creek: May 3, 2014

April 24th, 2014 Malina

aorafting_cherrycreekAnd now time for a report from the Silver Linings Dept.

Because of the California drought, Cherry Creek is poised to have an epically long season.  Instead of waiting for the spring melt to wrap up–because on Cherry Creek we have to wait for the water levels to be LOW enough to raft, as there is actually such thing as too much water when it comes to technical, class V whitewater rafting–this year Cherry Creek is pretty much ready to go.  Which means our season starts next week!  May 3rd, to be precise.  This is a good month, month and half early . . .  and the season will run until Sept 1st, like the Main Tuolumne.  Now that’s a class V season, folks.

(photo: Lewis’ Leap Rapid (class V) on Cherry Creek.)

2014 California River Rafting Season Update [MAP]: Eight Rivers We’re Rafting This Year

April 21st, 2014 Malina

We’re getting a LOT of questions about what kind of impact the drought is having on California rafting trips in 2014.  Let’s clarify the matter:  we have plenty of water for great rafting trips this year because of upstream reservoirs.  Our handy-dandy map shows you when and where all our rivers are running this season.

Click on Map To View Full Size Version:

Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

View Full Size Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

Here’s a more detailed description of each California river we’re running:

South Fork American:

Family-friendly and fabulous, the South Fork is your go-to river for groups with first-timers and Nervous Nellies, but it’s certainly no float trip.  Class III rapids abound and even experienced rafters will have a hoot on this, the most popular river in the state.  Trips are running now and into the fall!

Middle Fork American:

Tunnel Chute rapid has to be one of the coolest rapids in California–it’s a heart-pounding ride down a chute literally carved out of solid rock that ends in a placid float through a small hill.  What???  Yes, it’s true, and you gotta see it to believe it.  Plus there’s another 17 miles of wilderness canyon with class III-IV rapids and calm stretches for day-dreaming and relaxing. Middle Fork river trips will run May-September.

Tuolumne:

Man, the Tuolumne is a keeper.  It’s a beautiful and wild canyon with a heart of gold that refused to be put out by the 2013 Rim Fire.  See the recovery process up-close and personal on a Tuolumne river trip this year–we’re already running trips and will be out there until September 1st, 2014.

Cherry Creek:

Class V Cherry Creek is the most challenging commercial river trip in the United States.  And the drought is actually doing it a huge  favor–because there isn’t a big spring snowmelt, which has to subside before the river is low enough to run in typical seasons–Cherry Creek is actually going to be available for trips much earlier this year.  Our season starts May 3rd and ends September 1st.

Merced:

The Merced is one of the few free-flowing rivers to have a spring season in California this year.  Located near Yosemite Valley, this class III-IV river runs April to early June in 2014.

Kaweah:

Because it’s fed by snow melt (of which there isn’t a ton this year), the Kaweah will have a short season in 2014, just a few action-packed weekends in late April and early May.

Cal Salmon:

If you’re ready for a last minute adventure to make the road trip up north, this weekend we have  one epic class IV-V weekend (April 26-27) on the Cal Salmon.   The season here will last through May, but this is a river that we don’t run every day, so be sure to call in advance to book ahead.

A special note about the Spring rafting season:

Well, first off, some people don’t know that the season has already started.  Somebody, somewhere is probably rafting through rapids in California right now as you read this (assuming you’re reading this during daylight hours.)

If you’ve been wanting to check one of our spring runs off of your bucket list, right now is the best time to book that trip. Not only are the river canyons more beautiful in the spring, but it’s the only time of year you can raft on the Merced, Kaweah or Cal Salmon.  (The North Fork of the American or North Fork of the Stanislaus are not expected to have a season this year.)  And this year, Cherry Creek will have a full spring season, which almost never happens because flows are usually TOO high.

And in case you haven’t seen it, we are running our annual Spring Sale right now; if you book by April 30th and raft before June 30th, you will save 20% off your trip for groups of any size.  Need help making plans?  Get in touch, we want to help!

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Top Three Spring Rafting Trips in 2014

April 14th, 2014 Malina

AOrafting_Tuolumne_2014Our love for rivers isn’t unconditional.  Maybe the general idea of rivers–free flowing water, graceful trees along the bank and sweeping skies above–our love for that is unconditional, but when it comes to specific rivers, not so much.  It all depends on conditions.  So in a year with a mighty snowpack, we’re going to be all about high water trips on the T and extended  weeks on Kaweah, snowcapped mountains rising in the distance.  But a year like this?  With an average 34% snowpack across the state (40% in the watersheds around our main rivers)?  Well, this year we are loving us something a little different–rivers that are reliable, that we can count on, like an old friend or an old flannel shirt.  And thankfully we’ve some great options (they aren’t even thread-bare around the collar!).

So, in no particular order, here are the rivers we’re loving now–and we recommend you do the same!

1) The Merced.  MercedRiver_aorafting

The Merced’s fate this year was hung in the balance for a bit and it made us realize how sad we’d be if it didn’t run.  Without the last series of storms there probably wouldn’t have been enough snow to provide a raftable spring melt but now, depending on how hot it gets, and how fast (and hence how fast the snow melts), we think we’ll be able to raft the Merced into very early June.  With hillsides full of wildflowers, roller-coaster rapids, and easy access from the Bay Area, what’s not to love?  Just love it soon because without dams and reservoirs upstream, when the snow is gone, so is the Merced rafting season.

2) The South Fork of the American.

SFA_AOrafting

In a year with high water the South Fork gets overshadowed, but it’s the most popular run in California for good reason.  Super fun, easy to get to, appropriate for everyone from your uncoordinated co-worker to your P 90 X workout buddy to your kids and in-laws….near wineries and history….just book a trip and see for yourself how delightful the South Fork can be!

3) The Tuolumne.Tuolumne_AOrafting_2014

After the Rim Fire we honestly didn’t know what to expect with the T this year.  What would access be?  How would the canyon look?  Would anything about the river itself be different?  After two pre-season recon missions, and having now opened the season with some lovely trips, we can say the Tuolumne is a spectacular testament to the resilience of nature.  Fire damage is clearly visible, but the hills are lush green and the poppies are incredible.  People who have been rafting the T for like 40 years who were on our second recon mission literally came back and said it was the prettiest day on the river they’d ever seen.  40 years, prettiest day, that’s saying something..  Check it out before the hills dry out and turn gold.

(photos, top to bottom: Tuolumne 2014, Merced, South Fork spring 2013, Tuolumne 2014)

 

Spring Rafting Flow and Snowpack Update: Spring Runs and Summer Fun

April 14th, 2014 Malina

flows picMan.  What a winter. 

Ol’ Man Winter seems to have nodded off for much of his tenure this year—thankfully however he got a wee wake-up call at the last-minute and got back to work for at least a little bit at the very end.

As we’ve been reporting for months now, we’ve known all winter that even with the drought the reservoirs above our main rivers have sufficient water to guarantee recreational flows this year.  What the last set of storms did for us was not only help the state overall (which is frankly the most important thing) but also gave us the boost we needed to have short but sweet seasons on some spring rivers like the Kaweah and North Fork American Rivers. It also gave us the boost we needed for the Merced River, which will run into very early June.

Before and After the late Storms: Free-flowing Rivers

Until the last set of storms the snowpack overall in the state was dismal at best.  Agencies tend to divide the state into three regions—north, central, and south, and all had room to improve, shall we say!

The northern part of the state was at 7% of normal; it has now grown to 25%.  This region doesn’t have an affect on our main runs.

Furthest south, in January the snowpack was at 22% and is now at 32%.  This means the Kaweah will have a short but fun season.

Before and After the late Storms: Dam-controlled Rivers (this is the best news part!)

The central part of the state—which has the greatest impact on our main operations—actually fared the best.  In January the numbers were at 18%.  Now we’re at 40%, which gives us all the water we need for regular and reliable summer flows all season long on the South and Middle Forks of the American, and the Tuolumne and Cherry Creek.  And by the way, “regular and reliable” isn’t PR-speak for “lame but runnable.”  It means we’ll have the same water we do pretty much every summer. In other words—the usual great conditions. We aren’t going to have any high water trips or anything, but since those are only for the adrenaline junkies among us anyway, the vast majority of rafters aren’t going to even notice the difference.

Mordor? More Like the Shire. See the Tuolumne NOW

April 10th, 2014 Malina

aorafting_tuolumneriver_2014We are getting reports–and by “we are getting” I mean we know from our own eyeballs on the Tuolumne River this spring–that the Tuolumne is prettier right now than it has ever been.  Which is rather awesome given that the canyon experienced one of the worst fires in California history last summer.

Look for a detailed report on the canyon’s recovery soon; what you need to know right this instant is that the canyon is green, verdant, and covered in California poppies.  There are places where it looks like someone dropped a Paul Bunyon-sized packet of Mac n’ Cheese powder on the hillsides. Our guests last weekend enjoyed the spectacular show and so will you if you hop to it NOW and raft the T with us this weekend!  We still have some room but spots are limited so call now now now.  We’re here at (800) 247-2387.

Cal Salmon Rafting April 26-27 2014

March 27th, 2014 Malina

Ready for a road trip?

With boatloads of AO guides and a day of outrageous class IV-V whitewater at the other end?  Maybe a campfire and your tasty beverage of choice?  Waking up with sand in your socks, leaves in your hair, and another day of whitewater ahead?

What?  You’re unsure?

Ok, watch this video.  It will convince you of the radness of a weekend on the Cal Salmon with AO.

Ah………NOW  you get it.

Glad you saw the light.  Now my friends it’s time to pack your wool socks, gather your hale and hearty buddies ’round, and fill up the gas tank cuz we’re heading to the Cal Salmon at the end of April.  You can join us April 26th for a one day trip, or pack your tent and raft with us two days in a row, April 26th and 27th.  For all the details, meet times and all that jazz give us a ring at (800) 247-2387.  We’re here M-F 10 to 4 these days.