Aerial Videos: California Storms Bring High Flows on the South Fork of the American River

Posted February 20, 2017 by Jamie Low

Over the past few weeks California has experienced an impressive series of drought-busting winter storms that have caused Sierra Nevada watersheds to repeatedly approach record highs. Across the state, we have seen widespread flooding, massive infrastructure failures and all-around general mayhem. But you might forgive us if we can’t help but be excited about what this all means for the upcoming whitewater rafting season. 🙂

To capture a sense of what the river canyons look like during events like these, we broke out our new toy: the new DJI Mavic Pro drone. In between storms we flew above the South Fork of the American River to see a green river canyon with flooded parks and campgrounds, massive logs and rafts floating through Grand Canyon style rapids, and waterfalls where we might normally see dry ravines.

We don’t get to see the river like this very often; in fact, it’s only about every 10 to 20 years that our rivers see this much water all at once. For reference, during normal summer flows, the South Fork typically runs somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 CFS (Cubic Feet per Second.) During the peak of the runoff, we’ve seen flows approaching 40,000 CFS, or 30 to 40x beyond the norm.

The last time the river was running this high, HD video didn’t exist. Consumer drones didn’t exist. (So obviously, drones with HD cameras didn’t exist either.)

What you are about to see is something very few people have ever seen.

Chili Bar Dam, the Nugget, Bridge & Henningsen Park @ 33,000 CFS (January 10)

Closer to the peak high flows we’ve seen this winter, this video take you on a tour of the Chili Bar Dam, the flooded put-in where we launch our boats on the Upper, the All-Outdoors property and the local recreation park.

Troublemaker @ 26,000 CFS (Tuesday Feb 7)

Looking over one of the most famous rapids on the planet, this flyover includes an expansive view of the green Coloma Valley looking downstream from Troublemaker.

Meatgrinder @ 33,000 CFS (Friday, Feb 10)

This shows a long shot from high above the Chili Bar put-in, descending into the canyon past the side creeks down to just above the waves in Meatgrinder rapid. Watch closely as the camera drops down just above the water; we came very close to losing the drone on this one!

The Gorge @ 15,000 CFS (Saturday, Feb 11)

Have you ever been rafting on the “The Lower” section of the South Fork, through the Haystack Canyons and Satan’s Cesspool rapid? You might recognize the Lollipop Tree at the beginning of this video before the camera descends into the canyon just above the surging boil lines and wave trains.

Meatgrinder & Racehorse Bend @ 11,000 CFS (Sunday, Feb 12)

Follow three rafts down the longest rapids on the river. And watch out for that hole!


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