Recreation by Greg Magnus The rivers run deep
by Greg Magnus
Heavy Spring rain and melting snow are keeping the Klamath and Trinity rivers running high and cold while the Salmon - normally only a spring river - has sprung to life.
The Salmon River - in northeast Humboldt County off Highway 96 - which usually peters out before Memorial Day weekend, is raging.
"The Salmon is doing phenomenal," Barry Crawford, a river guide for the Trinity River Rafting Co., said. "It's running at early spring flows."
The Salmon is flowing at 3,874 cubic feet per second and a depth of 6 feet. According to Crawford, "many companies don't go out if it reads 6."
"It's definitely for adventurous and above-average rafters. It may be too big of a bite for new rafters," he added.
The Salmon River is in a granite canyon, east of Somes Bar with Class III to V rapids. Highway 96 is open both ways, but there is some widening being done above Somes Bar so there may be some delays.
"The Salmon is exciting rafting start-to-finish," said Kristen Miller of the Aurora River Rafting Co. "It's continuous rapids with incredible scenery. It's in a gorge with lots of rocks and trail heads into the Trinity Alps. It's such a jewel of a river when the water is flowing like it is now.
"Save the Klamath and Trinity rivers for later," she said. "You can raft them all summer."
How long the conditions on the Salmon will last is the million dollar question. River guides and Gay Baxter, the information assistant for the Orleans-Ukonom Range District, believe conditions should last through July and possibly into early August.
"The weather's starting to clear up over here and summer may have hit us," Baxter said. "The river could start dropping at any time.
"The Salmon was in the grips of a six-year drought and we were lucky to have rafting through Memorial Day weekend. It's hard to say how long it will last," she said.
The Trinity offers Class I to IV runs. River conditions are high, fast and cold.
Gauges at Hoopa show the Trinity at 14.7 feet and flowing at 2,768 cubic feet per second. Cedar Flat's gauge reads 1,670 cfs. Last year river gauges at those sites showed the river moving at approximately 550 cfs.
"The rivers are higher than normal, which is great for experienced river runners, but could cause some problems for people less experienced," said Dezh Pagen, owner of Laughing Heart Rafting Co. "All the rivers in the mountains are higher than they've been in the last five years, so swimmers should take extra caution when they go in the water. From Hawkins Bar down it's still a little high. I would recommend waiting till the middle of July."
A popular spot on the Trinity River for first-time or inexperienced rafters is Pigeon Point.
"Pigeon Point run on the Trinity is good because it starts out a gentle I, turns into an exciting II and then climaxes with a III." Crawford said. "It's nice to see a first-time rafters confidence build as the trip goes on."
The main rafting runs on the Trinity are from Grace Falls to Hawkins Bar and Hawkins Bar to South Fork. Popular runs with tubers include Big Rock to Tish Tang and Haden Flat to Cedar Flat. Kayakers can go from Grace Falls all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
"The water is wet-suit cold right now but by mid-July it should be wonderful," Pagen said.
Jessica Abendroth of Electric River Rafting Co. said rafters could be concerned about the cold water.
"The Trinity is full," she said. "It's really cold and moving so I would wait until late summer to go in it, so people don't get hypothermic."
Like the Trinity, the Klamath is higher than usual and moving quickly. Gauges at Orleans show the Klamath at a height of 7.2 feet and moving at approximately 8,366 cfs. Typically during the summer the Klamath moves between 2,000 to 2,500 cfs.
"When we run the Klamath River we usually go there for a more mellow run," said Lorraine Hall, co-owner of Tributary Whitewater tours based in Grass Valley. "It's one of the few places in California that you can get in 100 miles of river rafting.
"With flows like these, that are consistently higher than normal, I definitely wouldn't take any kids on trips down the Klamath anytime soon," Hall said.
Main runs of the Klamath start at Happy Camp. From there rafters face Class II and III rapids for the 30-odd miles before reaching Ishi Pishi, a Class VI death-trap rapid.
Popular runs on the Klamath include the North Fork of the Trinity to Cedar Flat (24 miles of Class II and III water), or Happy Camp to Presidio Bar, a common takeout point because it's a few miles above Ishi Pishi.
Below Ishi Pishi is Ike's Run, eight miles of Class III and IV water.
"There's some big water on Ike's Run right now," said Kristen Miller of Aurora Rafting. "Some of the whorls are so big you skirt around them."
Unlike many of the rivers swollen with melting snow, the Smith River relies more on rainfall. The mountains surrounding the Smith are from 5,000 to 6,000 feet in height so most of the snow is already gone.
"The Smith is a wonderful river but it's unpredictable," said Jaime O'Donnell, owner of Aurora River Rafting Co. "Its flow doesn't depend so much on snow as it does rain. It's best to go there right after a rain."
Smith River fisheries biologist Mike McCain said that at the Jed Smith gauge the river was 7.5 feet deep and moving at just over 1,100 cubic feet per second.
"We're right around summer base flow, but there's always some variation," McCain said.
In the summer the Mad River doesn't have any rafting to offer, although some people enjoy hopping in an inner tube and floating down it.
But Jessica Abendroth, the operations manager of Electric River Rafting Co., isn't one of those people.
"I wouldn't recommend tubing on the Mad River because it's kinda dirty, plus there is construction rebar and residue from the bridges in it," she said.
According to Ray McCray, recreation officer of the Mad River, tubing is done in the upper stretches, but south of Ruth Lake the river is dried out in summer.
"Right now the river's at medium level and dropping," McCray said. River gauges at the Mad River show a height of 3.85 feet and a flow of 250 cubic feet per second.
Van Duzen River
Like the Mad River, the Van Duzen gets too low in the summer for rafting - too low sometimes even for tubing and canoeing.
"The Van Duzen River is too low - all the coastal rivers are done for the year, " said Dezh Pagen, owner of Laughing Heart Rafting Co.
The Van Duzen river is flowing at a level of 1.67 feet, moving at 110 cubic feet per second.
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