The Endless Spring

Posted July 2, 2006 by Robyn Suddeth


Forget “The Endless Summer”… this endless Spring is far better! Here we are approaching July (amazing how fast this season has gone so far!), and the Kaweah River and North Stanislaus are still running, while the Merced, Tuolumne and South Fork American Rivers are still running high. It’s incredible, and who knows when we’ll have a year like this again?

In most years, rivers dependent solely on snowmelt, like the Kaweah and Merced, are too low to raft by July, and reservoir-dependent rivers such as the Tuolumne and South Fork have by now returned to “average” flows, which is somewhere around 1200 cfs for both those rivers.

So, why should you care that this year is different, you ask? Well, first, because I assume that anything that excites me so much should naturally excite all other equally interesting, fun-loving people. More importantly, though, I’m writing this post because I wanted to let a few different groups of you know about the rare opportunity that you have right now.

ME.jpgThe first group are those of you who’ve already made it a point to see the Tuolumne or Merced at higher flows this year. Right now, these two rivers are “on their way down.” This means that they are in a very rare stage, somewhere between the craziness and fast pace of high water and the slower, technical days of rock-slaloms and lazy lunch hours. At this stage in their water level, the river has slowed down enough that the rapids are no longer quite as consequential and intimidating, but are still fast enough to be a continuous, speedy ride with big waves and rushing current. In other words, the best of both worlds! (High and low water worlds that is.)

On top of that, the river’s banks have changed (in that what is now the river’s edge was recently under water), the rapids have changed (rocks are re-appearing and washed out places are returning), and finally, the boats and equipment we use may also have changed (from a guide rowing in back to a pure paddle boat.) The same goes for the Kaweah River, which has returned down to “average” flows and should hover there for another few weeks.


So, finally to my point: A lot of you may think that you may not want to see the same river twice in one year. But to go back to a river at different flow stages is not to see the same river twice. You would be seeing a completely different river, and appreciate it so much more for having experienced the metamorphosis.Â

So those of you who saw those rivers at really high flows, go again and see them now at medium-high flows, and then again at normal flows. (That is, of course, in an ideal world where you really had that much time.) It really is impressive and amazing to see the way the river’s course and personality change as the snow melts slower and slower into it’s channel. It’s a great way to learn a little bit more about hydrology and rivers, while having a fun adventure at the same time. OK so that’s it for that speech.

On to the next group that I wanted to address this post to: Those of you who have not yet (gasp!) made it out this year to see all that high water that everyone’s been raging about. It’s OK, your fellow rafting enthusiasts will forgive you. That’s because it’s NOT TOO LATE! The Tuolumne and Merced should maintain medium-high levels for another few weeks, and the South Fork of the American will be at above average levels for maybe as long as an entire month longer. This only happens once (or twice in our case) every ten to fifteen years, so this is not something you can experience every season if you miss it this one.

All right, now I’m really done. I hope I’ve properly inspired some of you to come out and see these rivers as they change, or to see a river at high water for the first time. Even if I’ve only touched one person, just one, …it will all have been worth it. (I’ve been told I have a flare for the dramatic.) See you out there!


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