Backpacking In the Middle Fork American River Canyon

Posted June 14, 2006 by Robyn Suddeth

About a month ago, when the water was still extremely high and the weather a little bit wetter, Kevin Elardi decided to spend a weekend exploring the Middle Fork American River Canyon during a time of year in which it’s not often seen by many people. He told me it had been a great weekend, and then made the mistake of telling me that he thought he might want to write a blog about his experience. Well, at that point he was pretty much committed. (I can be pretty persistent.)

Kevin was happy to comply, though, and I was excited to see that his story had arrived in my inbox today. It describes the canyon beautifully and the parts about high water are really interesting… made me impatient for trips to start running on that river! (Water levels will be too high until the last week of June.) I’ve copied it down below for everyone else to read. Thanks Kevin for sharing this, and I hope more of you will start to send your own river stories. Enjoy!

Hey everyone, I recently had a great experience in the Middle Fork of the American River canyon and I wanted to share it with you.

The weekend before Memorial Day I was frazzled. It had been a long week, for a variety of reasons, and I was finally done! I finished some gear work for the Tuolumne, grabbed Platon (my dog) and headed towards Forest Hill. As I passed over the confluence I could feel my spirit lifting. I made my way to Divers Flat with my little Mazda loaded down with Platon, myself and too much backpacking gear.

Now, if you have ever rafted the Middle Fork, you experienced its thrilling takeout road. Well, this is the road I needed to drive down to start my journey. Much to my relief it was freshly graded and so my smile widened. I parked my car, loaded up my pack, and Platon and I headed up The Western States Trail.

The trail was overgrown, which made me even happier since this meant I would probably have the place to myself. As I moved through the foliage I remembered why I love this canyon so much. It’s like going back in time, to a place of such undisturbed beauty that you can’t help but feel invigorated. The hike itself was a lot longer then I thought, but with every step I could feel my anxiety lessen and my energy rise. I breathed the air, connected with the earth and felt the plant life jump from their roots and dance about me. This, was what I needed.

I got to camp 6, my destination for the day, threw off my clothes and jumped in the clear icy river. As my worries washed away downstream, I felt reborn to a new summer. I reflected in the cold water for awhile and then begin to set up camp. My tent went up quickly, my food tasted incredible and my day winded down.

I climbed into my evening cocoon and soon after, Platon found a cozy spot in the vestibule. We were comfortable and content and then, it rained. It rained all night creating a rhythm on my fly that only nature can accomplish. Sleep happily took over and capped off an incredible day.

I woke up warm and dry and ready to spend a day communing with nature. A warm gentle breeze kept Platon and I comfortable while we walked the beaches. The shade was generous enough and the temperature was perfect. We ate like kings and played like children. What a magical place, to be there is to be free, not a care in the world. That night, well feed and completely relaxed, sleep found us again.

The next morning I decided to venture to some of the other river camps; the water had been high and I was curious to see how everything looked. In most cases not much had changed. Some shade had moved and some new beaches appeared but all in all, the canyon was as beautiful as I had ever seen it.

We headed back to camp 6, gathered our things and headed out. I chose to stop and look at Chunder Rapid, where a 6 foot waterfall had turned into a huge reversal. Then on to Ruck-a-Chucky falls. What a wild sight: water everywhere. Rocks that usually shadow the falls now cowered in her mass. I scanned downstream and saw Cleavage Rapid as nothing but another huge hole, and Parallel Parking was absent of the rocks I knew so well and now was nothing but powerful hydraulics. It was breathtaking and exciting but mostly, it was inspiring.

It was getting late so we started back to the car. I was happy, fulfilled and drenched with sweat. Then, like a gift from above, it started to rain again. I silently thanked Mother Nature for all of her gifts, but especially for the Middle Fork of the American River. I feel fortunate to have experienced that canyon, and look forward to another summer of adventure in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Thanks for sharing my story

Kevin Elardi


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