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American River, South Fork

coloma caCascading down from the Sierra Nevada runs the West Coast's most popular whitewater resource - the South Fork of the American River. An intermediate (Class III) river, the South Fork American River is suitable for kids 7 to 75! Numerous professional outfitters offer trips ranging from short half-day jaunts on up two-day adventures. The South Fork winds it's way through the heart of the Mother Lode as it passes abandoned mines, tailings, flumes and other artifacts from the Gold Rush era.

AMERICAN RIVER FLOW AT CHILI BAR
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american river
American River

Below 2000 cfs (cubic feet per second)

Typical River Conditions

  • Chili Bar Dam controls flows
  • Clear water
  • Rapids rated up to Class III+
  • Flows may increase quickly due to upstream hydroelectric operations

Group Responsibility

  • Class III equipment: multi-chamber raft, Type III white water PFD's, full size paddles, throw rope, first aid & wrap kits
  • Class III skills - boat in control, allow adequate space between groups in rapids, no loose lines or gear, standard hand signals
  • Be trained in swift water safety / rescue, CPR, first aid

2000 - 4500 cfs

Typical River Conditions

  • Current speed, wave size & hydraulics increase noticeably
  • Cold snow melt water during winter and spring months
  • Strainer hazards on some river banks

Group Responsibility

  • All of previous responsibilities, plus
  • Wet suits/dry suits recommended
  • Guide has South Fork high flow experience
  • Keep group compact for quick response to swimmers
  • No single-boat trips

4500 - 8000 cfs

Typical River Conditions

  • Large  waves & holes can flip boats
  • Water always extremely cold
  • Hypothermia risk from long swims
  • Strainer hazards along entire river
  • Flow may increase rapidly, turn silty during and after storms
  • Some rapids Class IV (above 6000 cfs)

Group Responsibility

  • All of previous responsibilities, plus
  • Wet suits/dry suits necessary. Helmets recommended
  • Advanced boating skills required
  • Wear high flotation PFD's
  • Know routes to avoid boat flips - "When in doubt, scout."
  • Rig boat for flips
  • Group fitness: Everyone must be able to paddle hard, recover from flips, swim to safety in strong current.

Warning: Flows above 8,000 cfs demand the utmost respect and caution

8000 - 12,000 cfs

Typical River Conditions

  • Winter storm flows and harsh weather
  • Large floating debris
  • Swims are a distinct possibility

Group Responsibility

  • All of previous responsibilities, plus
  • Trained safety boaters advised
  • Swims may be life threatening due to strainers
  • Scout all rapids

12,000 - 30,000 cfs

Typical River Conditions

  • Difficult to avoid boat flipping waves & holes

Group Responsibility

  • All of previous responsibilities, plus
  • Teams of experts only with trained safety boaters
  • Rescue & communication gear necessary

Above 30,000 cfs

Typical River Conditions

  • Flood stage conditions

Group Responsibility

  • All of previous responsibilities, plus
  • Boating not recommended due to extreme hazards
  • River subject to immediate closure
 

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