By Roger Schumann
“Renowned for its world-class scenery, the Nor Cal coast spans three national marine sanctuaries, two wilderness areas and a national seashore. It’s no accident this area has received so much protection—it is among the most spectacular and wildlife-rich marine habitats on the planet.” – Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California.
Bordering not only our collective backdoor, our local Sanctuary Coast also borders what is essentially the world’s largest wilderness area, the Pacific Ocean. The vast majority of local paddlers are content paddling within the relative safety of wildlife-rich sloughs and harbors like those around Elkhorn Slough, Pt. Reyes, and San Francisco Bay. The promise of remote beaches, hidden coves and sea caves, however, beckons to those willing to develop the paddling skills and sea savvy to venture beyond. Armed with a little knowledge of sheltered launch sites, local wind patterns, tides, and some basic safety skills, you can start stealing glimpses of concealed marine wonderlands that few human eyes have seen.
HOT TOMALES AND THE PT. REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE
“Tomales point jabs its rocky, northwest- pointing finger 14 miles up into the Pa- cific—a giant natural breakwater 500 feet high, forming Tomales Bay, the longest most uninhabited, stretch of protected salt water on this coast.” –from Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California
For Nor-Cal kayakers, Tomales Bay, fram- ing the landward edge of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, is definitely a hot spot. In terms of variety, the most diverse sea kayaking in our area can be found along T Bay and the nearby Seashore. My first trip there 15 years ago was also my first overnight kayak-camping trip. Although I’ve logged literally hundreds of nights out since then, leading groups from Glacier Bay to Baja and dozens of places in between, the pull of Tomales keeps drawing me back year after year. This area is well-known for offering the best coastal kayak-camping opportunities in the state for both beginning and intermediate kayakers. Tomales Bay is truly excep- tional, featuring miles of sheltered, largely uninhabited seashore with most of the state’s only coastal boat-in camping beaches.
Novices without kayak rescue skills or their own kayaks can arrange either day tours or overnighters with one of the two outfitters on the bay. Those with more experience, basic knowledge of tides, and the required backcountry permits can rent or launch their own kayaks in the sheltered southwest corner of the bay around Inverness. At low tide the launch beaches turn into mudflats, so timing is crucial. Two of the most popular and accessible campsites are within a two hour paddle: Marshall Beach (three to four miles, depend- ing where you launch) and Tomales Beach (a mile north of that). Both campsites have outhouses, but are otherwise undeveloped.
There are more campsites, every mile or two until the point. These sites require both backcountry permits and some sort of toilet system; because there are no outhouses and the park requires campers to pack out everything. (Most kayakers use WAG bags, a personal poop-in-a-bag system for waste disposal, approved by the National Parks Service). In addition to permits and poo bags, paddlers here also need a lot more sea sense, because the further northern reaches of the bay become increasingly exposed to the open sea, afternoon winds, and treacherous tidal currents. During strong ebb (outgoing) tides, boaters in this area have been swept out to sea, into large surf and have drowned; stay away from the mouth unless you know what you’re doing. The safest time for intermedi- ate, open-water paddlers to try a little taste of what lies beyond the mouth, is to paddle the mile or two out to Tomales Point during flood tide before the wind comes up. A protected launch site at Lawsons Landing, just inside the bay, gives the best access for day trips.
For experienced class IV and V ocean paddlers, the mouth is where things really start to get interesting. Around the tip of Tomales Pt. and south toward Bird Island the full unrestrained glory of the open Pacific is exposed; rocky headlands, exploding waves, rugged cliffs, and rock gardens stretch through the sea mist to the horizon. This area is an advanced paddlers’ playground. Paddlers here should always wear a helmet and need to have the proper experience. Before venturing to this area make sure you have rough-water paddling and rescue skills, previous surf zone and rock garden experience, and probably even a combat roll. Steer well clear of Bird Island if landing on the beach nearby (one of the only landable beaches for miles in this open-ocean cliff-fest), so you don’t flush the harbor seals or cormorants resting there. Also, remember to watch the winds. It is common for the winds to build up to 15 to 25 knots in your face on the return trip.
Paddling north from the mouth is a three mile stretch of exposed, sandy beach for surfing, followed by cliffs and more rock garden play spots all the way to Bodega Bay, eight miles or so.
In general the area around the mouth is as dynamic as any on this coast. Within a few minutes a change in tide and rise in wind can change things from a simple class II jaunt into a serious class IV+ free-for-all. And then, of course, there are the sharks. Nothing puts the wild in wilderness, it’s been said, like the presence of some large, toothy predator, and the reminder that in this neighborhood you have slipped down a link from your normal place at the top of the food chain.
For tamer trips along the Seashore, paddlers can also try Drakes Estero. Like Tomales Bay, make sure to avoid low tide mudflats, dangerous ebb currents and the surf at the mouth – unless you like that sort of thing and are prepared for it. The waves here tend to be much smaller and more manage- able for intermediate kayakers, and they break onto sand, not rock. Note that after- noon winds blow from the launch beach, so getting back can be a five-mile slog if you haven’t checked your marine weather radio.
From Drakes Estero, Class III ocean paddlers can drive (or paddle) a few miles further out the road toward Point Reyes lighthouse to Drakes Beach for a sandy, semi-protected surf launch. From there you can paddle about five miles along white, sandstone cliffs (with a variety of landing beaches) all the way to the towering Pt. Reyes headlands. Once around Chimney Rock you are back into serious seas, where three miles of 300 foot granite seawall marks the dramatic geologic statement of Pt. Reyes.
MENDOCINO: SEA CAVES AND ARCHES AND COVES, OH MY!
Although the craggy Mendocino coast is among the more scenic shorelines in a state famous for its beautiful shores, what puts Mendo on the map as one of the planet’s premier paddling destinations is the numWhile Mendocino has some wonderful options for novice paddlers, they are mostly limited to trips up the Big, Albion and Navarro Rivers, winding in solitude among the tall trees of second-growth redwood and Douglas fir forests. Adventurous paddlers turn their bows toward one of the most rug- ged, wave-sculpted coastlines on the planet – a 20-mile long fluke of geology literally Swiss-cheesed with sea caves. The safest and easiest launch site to access a cave here is from Van Damme State Beach. One local company offers short guided tours on sit- on-top kayaks into a few of Van Damme’s more accessible caves. When the sea is being cooperative, intermediate paddlers can seek the company of experienced sea cavers to explore many more of the caves in this area.
The more skills and experience you have, the more terrain you’ll be able to explore. On a typical day, it is semi-protected from Van Damme south to as far as Buckhorn Cove (about three miles). This area previews some excellent examples of what the area has to offer. Beyond Buckhorn Cove the exposure increases exponentially–the caves tend to be bigger and more dynamic. If the northwest winds come up, you may be committed to the seven-mile, one-way trip down to Albion, the next possible take out. Other than that, this area is filled with cliffs, caves and more caves. There are the occasional pocket beaches to stop on for lunch, but that is about it.
This dearth of beaches and distance between landing sites can make mistakes costly. An acquaintance of mine lost almost a foot off the stern of her fiberglass kayak when a large wave washed her into the cliffs – she was fortunate not to lose more. Others have been injured and worse. A sudden wave can turn a peaceful, dreamy cave into a nightmare in the blink of an eye, so getting proper instruction before playing in caves is essential. Classes in surf zone and rock garden paddling are the mini- mum. But for those willing to put in the time to learn, this place can be pure magic. Inter- mediates can also poke around the scenic, pro- tected coves at Albion and Russian Gulch, but to access the caves and coastline beyond, they should only go with experienced sea cavers.
“Spanning one-fifth of the California coast, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the crown jewel of the sanctuary program. Among the most productive marine habitats on Earth, it offers unparalleled opportunity for marine research and a wildlife-rich envi- ronment for paddling.” From Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California.
Next to Pt. Reyes, the Monterey Bay area offers the most diverse paddling in the region. Beyond the popular, wildlife- rich wonders and kayak rental operations at Elkhorn Slough and Cannery Row, are lesser-know jewels like Stillwater Cove (north of Carmel at the south end of the world- famous 17 Mile Drive). This south-facing cove is aptly named as it is sheltered from all but the largest of swells. The launch site is almost always suitable for beginners. The cove is less than a mile wide, but is still worth poking around. Outside the cove, intermedi- ate paddlers with surf zone skills can head down to Carmel Beach. Advanced paddlers can explore along the cliffs and rock gardens to the north along 17 Mile Drive, or south past Carmel, to Pt. Lobos Marine Reserve.
Launch sites closer to Pt. Lobos (at the infa- mous, Monastery Beach or inside the Reserve – reservations required) give the best access to some of the finest advanced, open-coast paddling and the most scenic seascapes in the state. This area marks the beginning of the Big Sur coast and offers dynamic views of windswept cypress trees clinging atop rugged, wave-sculpted, granite cliffs. Around Pt. Lobos on a clear day, the Pt. Sur Light flashes an invitation to adventure, alluring as any Siren’s song. The three-day, open-coast journey down to Big Sur, sharing all the cliffed-out exposure of a big wall climb, however is another story entirely, and is best saved for another day.
Roger Schumann, author of the award-winning Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California and Sea Kayak Rescue, and owner of Eskape Sea Kayaking in Santa Cruz, has specialized in skills instruction for coastal kayak touring for the past 15 years.
By Thomas S. Garlinghouse • Photos by Dan Mottern
Never in his wildest dreams did William Koplitz think he’d find himself in a Third World hospital nursing multiple gunshot wounds. That he was in just such a position struck him as surreal. But both wounds, the one on his hand and the one on the right side his face, brought him back to reality. He was lucky to be alive.
He had come with his brother, John, to El Salvador to surf. On a rare flat day they decided to take a trip into the interior to visit one of the country’s famous volcanoes. They hired a driver and by noon they were standing on the rim of San Salvador Volcano, marveling at the incredible vista.
On the way back, they came upon two men standing in the middle of a narrow dirt road. One of the men brandished a shotgun and called out for them to stop. The driver gunned it instead. The man with the gun fired at them. The impact blew out the passenger window, spraying glass and buckshot everywhere. William, in the passenger seat, caught some of the flying debris in his face and hand. The driver was hit in the shoulder.
Despite his wounds, their driver sped up, careening and fishtailing down the road, leaving the two assailants in a cloud of dust. William, thinking part of his face had been blown away, turned to his brother and asked frantically, “John, do I have a face?”
“Yes,” he said “but it looks like you got hit with glass.”
A few hours later, William gazed around the hospital with his one good eye, taking in the bloodstained walls, crowded gurneys, and overall grimy conditions. It could have been worse, he mused.
Through the Heart of Darkness, Lightly
Koplitz’s tale weighed heavily on my mind as our plane dropped through the clouds on the final approach to El Salvador. I had read it on a travel blog a few days before leaving for my own trip there. I knew, of course, that the country was a dangerous place even before I chanced upon his blog.
At one time El Salvador occupied a prominent place on the U.S. State Department’s list of the world’s most dangerous countries. This was back in the 1980s, when the small Central American nation was engulfed in a brutal, decade-long civil war. Even now, over ten years after a formal cease fire ended hostilities, El Salvador remains a dangerous place. Although the country is struggling mightily to rebuild its shattered institutions, crime and violence remain a seemingly perennial problem. Koplitz can attest to that.
Seeking distraction, I peered out the window, gazing down at the green, verdant landscape. Scenes of pumping pointbreaks and tubing sections soon replaced muggings, assaults, and robberies in my thoughts.
El Salvador had loomed large in my imagination ever since reading an article about the country’s wave-rich coast in Surfer Magazine. A regular foot’s paradise, the country is purported to have miles and miles of high quality pointbreaks – all packed side-by-side along a 320-mile stretch of Pacific coastline.
The country is divided into two main surfing areas – the La Libertad region in the west and what is commonly known as the “wild east.” I was headed to the east, which lies three hours from the capital, San Salvador. While the La Libertad region has been on the surfing map for the last two decades, the east is only now beginning to attract surfers. Located near the border with Honduras, it contains the most pristine and, some have argued, best surf in the country. The most famous breaks are Las Flores, a sandy bottomed pointbreak that has been compared to Rincon, and Punta Mango, a hollow, more critical right-hander.
I had booked the trip several weeks ago with one of the more well-known surf travel companies that now clutter the internet. The booking process had been so easy – almost to the point of farce – that I felt somewhat guilty. Deep down I knew that surf travel shouldn’t be this easy; it should require at least a modicum of blood, sweat, and tears. Even so, my thoroughly bourgeois nature wasn’t quite ready for a Heart of Darkness-type sojourn. With a steady job, live-in girlfriend, mortgage payments, and a menagerie of pets that relied on me, I was hardly in a position to go “feral.”
I cleared customs about an hour after landing and ventured outside to find our surf guide, Luis. Though still early morning, it was already hot and humid. Between my pale, sweaty skin and boardbag, Luis easily located me. As we waited for the others to arrive, he told me that a southwest swell was on tap for the coming week. It was supposed to build over the next two days, peak on the third, and then gradually back down by the end of the week. It wouldn’t be huge, Luis informed me, but we would definitely get “waves of good quality.”
About an hour later, with everyone accounted for and our boards strapped to the roof of Luis’s van like cords of lumber, we set off. I noticed that the road from the airport had recently acquired a fresh coat of asphalt. It was, I surmised, emblematic of the country as a whole. In a sense, the entire country was refurbishing itself, trying to come out from under the shadow of the decade-long civil war and remake itself into the image of a modern, Latin American country, a country striving to redefine and redeem itself. But as we traveled further in-country the road gradually deteriorated; El Salvador still had a ways to go.
The three other surfers who traveled with us were an interesting lot. They were well-traveled, keen, and just as eager as me to sample the wild east’s watery smorgasbord. Barrett, from Hermosa Beach, had spent some time down in South Africa surfing its shark-infested coastline. He had also traveled to war-ravaged Mozambique where he had sampled numerous uncrowded pointbreaks. Clay, an ex-navy seal, was from San Clemente and had seen two tours of duty in Iraq. He seemed the most eager to hit the waves; he was scheduled for another tour of duty in Iraq on his return to California. The third occupant, Keith, was a gregarious banker from Marina del Rey who had traveled around Central America before.
The miles passed and our conversation lagged so I turned to stare out the smudge-stained window. A succession of small towns – each one ragged and depressed – drifted by. Occasionally we passed another car or a pedestrian along the roadside. Eventually, cornfields and low-lying banana groves gave way to steepsided canyons and craggy, volcanic hilltops. We were now traveling through mountainous terrain. We were also, Luis informed us, finally entering the wild east.
Despite its excellent reputation among a growing number of surfers, the east coast has a much darker side. During the brutal decade-long civil war that engulfed the country in the 1980s, the east coast was the stronghold of the communist FMLN guerillas. It was a place to which few Salvadorians willingly ventured, except government troops periodically sent to flush out the rebels. Even today, the area is considered a wild, lawless, no-holds-barred place, the antithesis of any well-manicured, nicely kept white bread American suburb.
With all this in mind, I half expected to see AK-47 toting FMLN rebels around the next blind curve. Luckily, each curve in the road disclosed nothing more dramatic than the occasional slow-moving truck laden to overflowing with plantains or produce.
By mid-morning, after descending again to the coastal plain, and driving the last few miles on a jarring dirt road, we reached our destination: the sprawling Las Flores Surf Club, on the palm-strewn outskirts of the fishing village of El Cuco. The Club stood directly in front of its namesake pointbreak like a covetous landlord greedily keeping an eye on his holdings.
One of the first people we saw—a stark reminder of the region’s violent reputation—was a uniformed guard armed with a big shotgun, strolling back and forth casually. I took his lazy insouciance as a good sign.
From the shore, our first glimpse of the fabled Las Flores break was singularly unimpressive. It was small, maybe 1-3 feet and junky. Luis told us it was the smallest he had seen in several weeks.
“But don’t worry,” he added cheerily, “it’ll pick up.”
I lounged in a hammock beneath a palapa for over an hour, absently staring out at the break, watching the small waves roll onto the beach with a tedious regularity. It was the afternoon of our second day at Las Flores and the swell still hadn’t picked up more than a foot. With the horizon a flat line, it didn’t seem possible that a southwest swell was headed our way. I wondered whether Luis had been on the up-and-up with us.
Nonetheless, we had surfed Las Flores this morning and for a while the day before. The wave definitely had potential and I could see why, theoretically at least, many had compared it to Rincon. It broke at the top of the point near a large rock and peeled flawlessly across a sand bottom all the way to shore, a good 500 yards or more. On a good day, we were told, it doesn’t section once. As of yet, however, we were underwhelmed.
Dan, John and Dave had arrived the previous evening – swelling our ranks to seven surfers. Dan, a surfer from Georgia, was looking forward to surfing some quality waves.
“Word is we’re going to hit Punta Mango tomorrow morning,” he said.
“You know what time we’re leaving?” I asked.
The knocking on my door was loud and insistent.
By the time I got out of bed and made it to the door, Luis had already moved on, knocking loudly at the next room.
Some forty-five minutes later, with our crew divided between two 28-foot superpangas, each powered by a 130hp Honda 4-stroke engine, we set off for Punta Mango. Loaded to the gills with surfboards, we plowed down the coast, slamming over the incoming swells.
The low pressure system that lay several 1000 km off South America had finally got its act together, and was now pushing lines of evenly spaced swell right at El Salvador’s swell window. The southwest swell had finally arrived.
Beyond the rugged and uninhabited coastline, volcanoes towered above the surrounding countryside, their cone-shaped tops half obscured by gauzy wisps of mist. Before long, we saw the pluming crests of breaking waves in the distance—Punta Mango. As always, I felt a mix of emotions about surfing a wholly new spot –especially one that many have described as “intense.” Punta Mango is a powerful right point with an amazingly fast wave that breaks over a rocky bottom. It has long tube sections and is fronted by a pristine cobble-strewn stretch of beach. Just recently discovered, it can be accessed only by boat. I gripped the gunwale of the panga tighter, feeling anxiety roil my insides.
Luis brought his hand up to shade his eyes as he gazed out at the scene. “Looks good,” he grinned.
We pulled up just outside the break, cut the engine, and sat for a moment. There were already several surfers in the water, and although it wouldn’t have been described as crowded – at least by North American standards – it was a bit of a disappointment that we didn’t have the place to ourselves. But as any surfer knows, word of a swell travels.
Sitting on their boards, the surfers waited in a small pack a few hundred yards from our boat, watching the horizon. There was a momentary lull and everything was quiet, the surfers bobbing gently up and down on their boards. They looked calm and sedate, almost like parishioners gathered for some strange watery rite.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a set rumbled in from the horizon.
All at once, the scene changed. The surfers began to jockey for position, and what had seconds before been a quiet and tranquil picture was now devolving into a frenzied tableau replete with frantic paddling and exuberant shouts. The surfer sitting the deepest immediately spun around and paddled furiously. Behind him, the wave jacked up menacingly and threw out a thick, enveloping lip. He gained his feet in one fluid motion just as the lip pitched forward and, with his legs planted firmly, raced down the wave’s face.
Our panga immediately erupted into hoots and cheers, and that was all it took for the boat to unload. We fell over ourselves in our haste to get into the water, waxing our boards, throwing on rash guards, and attaching leashes. I was the last one over the gunwhale.
By the time I reached the lineup, another set was rolling in. To my amazement, I happened to be in the best position to catch it. I turned my board around and paddled hard. The wave reared up behind me and I discovered it was moving faster than I had anticipated. Instead of paddling, I hesitated for a moment – a fatal mistake. The wave swept me up to the crest and, gripping my rails, I pushed to my feet.
But in a classic case of “late-take-off-itis,” I lingered suspended at the lip, looking down the wave’s long, smooth face. Seconds ticked by at a snail’s pace. Then, in a rush, the wave roared away from me and I was caught in its clutches. Pulled forward like a disobedient dog on a leash, my feet lost contact with my board and I was pitched headlong over the falls as the wave broke with a booming crash of whitewater.
The impact was violent and I was driven deep. The next several seconds were a confusing welter of churning water, chaos, and desperation. I was spun this way and that, launched end over end, and somersaulted. When the wave finally let me loose, I popped to the surface, shaken but unhurt.
After that, with my tail between my legs, I moved to the inside. I wasn’t eager to repeat the brutal process. It was obvious to me now that these were waves to be reckoned with.
As I mentally prepared myself to line up again, I watched my compatriots get some incredible rides. Barrett hurled himself over the edge of a mean, curling beast, dropped into the “pit,” and disappeared in the spray and mist. A few moments later, he popped up behind the back of the wave, a little speck in the distance. He must have traveled some 100 yards or more. Clay stroked hard for the second wave of the set, determination etching his features. He dropped down the face and swept into a smoking bottom turn, then raced back up the face, crouching low. The wave curled over him in a blue-green tunnel.
Finally, tired of watching from the sidelines, I decided to get back into the game. I didn’t want to head back to Las Flores skunked.
A moderately-sized wave rolled toward me, and I paddled for it. Immediately caught in its momentum, I hopped to my feet. I picked a straight line and held on, racing swiftly along the face, my hand clutching my outside rail. The wave lined up perfectly in front of me, peeling flawlessly, not a drop out of place. I was going so fast on such a perfect wave that I forgot to pull any maneuvers; I just stood stationary on the board, crouched low, allowing the wave to carry me along. It was so fast – almost preternaturally fast – that I wondered, half-jokingly, how many G’s I was generating. The wave closed out behind me with a resounding whump! as I exited.
That was it. I was smitten with El Salvador’s waves. I stroked back to the lineup, my mind fixated completely on the next wave—and each one after that.
A Funny Sort of Mind Game
From the comfort of my now well-used hammock, I gazed out at Las Flores sunset and was reminded of a Gauguin painting – all bold strokes and bright colors. My thoughts drifted back to Punta Mango, trying to remember the specifics of each ride. But it was a funny sort of mind game. My memory, for some strange reason, was filled with large gaps. To my surprise, I found I could remember only portions of any one ride.
In his book, In Search of Captain Zero, Allan Weisbecker described a wave he surfed in Pavones, Costa Rica. It was a perfect wave, and he rode it on his longboard, perched on the nose for an entire minute, just gliding along effortlessly. Later, seated on the beach trying to remember it he found himself, as I did, unable to recall the entire ride. The final couple hundred yards of the ride was a complete blank.
Weisbecker attempted to describe this lapse in time in quasi-Zen Buddhist terms. He wrote, “I had perceived, in a deeply intuitive way, the seamless integration of matter and energy – without the artificial duality, the either/or-ness the human mind is prone to.”
Being a child of the 1980s, rather than the 1960s, I wasn’t comfortable with the Zen Satori analogy. For me, there was no sudden flash of intuition or enlightenment, no mystical experience of oneness. I felt more like an amnesiac.
It has been suggested that some athletes, during crucial moments, act on instinct rather than conscious thought. As anyone who has been surfing for a while knows, wave-riding requires little, if any, active thought. But it does require intuition in the form of making split second adjustments that are dictated by the ever-changing quality of the wave. These adjustments are done largely by feel rather than conscious effort. And because the surfer isn’t conscious of each and every movement, it’s possible that he might not remember each one, or even a sequence of them.
Regardless of what had caused the gaps in my memory, one thing was certain: I remembered enough of the morning’s session to want more. The waves I caught in that beautiful spot were some of the fastest, longest and best rides I’d ever had.
As I settled myself comfortably in the hammock, I realized that I had also forgotten about William Koplitz’s ordeal for the last few days. Chuckling, I remembered something a friend once told me about traveling in tropical climates. She said, “Don’t be surprised if you suddenly discover that the routine of living crowds out everything else.”
Beyond the point, I watched a panga cruise past, its prow rising and falling with the swells. Nearer to shore, two fishermen stood in the shallows, casting their nets into the water. And in the foreground, a thin and ragged village dog, all spindly legs and scabrous coat, stood at the water’s edge barking at the men.
I finally had an inkling of what she meant.
Peruvian Cross Country Champion Ruso Covarubias is used to vertiginous Andean singletrack.
Photo: Steve Ripley
by Christa Fraser
Most people know the basics of protecting themselves from the sun’s ill effects—wear sunscreen, avoid the sun between 10 AM and 3 PM, and avoid using baby oil while lying on a reflective mat. But there are a lot of sun protection myths out there. Since the rate of skin cancer in the US is now about 1 person in 35, it’s important to know the truth about sun safety.
Dr. James Beckett, a Santa Cruz dermatologist specializing in sun protection for outdoor athletes, helps us dispel these myths so we can play ‘til the sun goes down without weathering and leathering before our time.
Myth #1: I don’t need sunscreen if it’s cloudy out.
Ultraviolet radiation comes in three forms: UVC, which thankfully is absorbed by the atmosphere or else life as we know it wouldn’t exist (life forms can’t survive its deadly rays); UVB, which penetrates the atmosphere on bright, sunny days—just the kind of day that makes people reach for the sunscreen; and UVA, which is constantly present, even on the cloudiest days.
UVB is the form of radiation that causes sunburn, so sunscreen might seem unnecessary for a quick bike ride or trail run on an overcast day. But while there may be less UVB penetrating the atmosphere, UVA rays can still sneak in and age you prematurely.
Myth #2: A base tan is a good idea at the beginning of summer.
According to Dr. Beckett, “Any type of sunburn represents massive damage to cells.” Sunlight actually hits the human body right where it hurts most—in the nucleus of cells, with a sucker punch to the cell’s DNA. Over the long haul, the DNA in skin cells starts to make mutations and these mutations add up over the years—those new freckles on your shoulders may actually be the result of that thru-hike of the John Muir trail you did ten years ago.
In fact, as Dr. Beckett explains it, up to 80% of a person’s sun damage has already been incurred by the age of 20. Add to that another decade or four of whitewater boating, mountain biking and al fresco beers and the potential for skin cancer and premature ageing seems obvious.
Myth #3: UV rays can’t go through glass/my hat/my sunglasses, etc.
You can run but you can’t hide—UV rays will find you. UVA rays penetrate glass quite easily, even through car windows. Most people are aware that wearing glasses can protect against cataracts, but few realize that melanomas from sun exposure can appear on the eyes, as well as the skin. For this reason, only buy sunglasses that list their UV protection on the label.
Even clothes can’t filter out UV rays completely. Fortunately, tightly woven clothes can offer up to SPF 50. Some brands actually list their SPF on the label. Wear at least an SPF 30 long sleeved shirt, long shorts and a broad-brimmed, tightly woven hat while outside and you can deflect the worst of UV rays.
Myth #4: Sunscreen is sunscreen. It’s all the same.
Sunscreens can be evaluated three different ways: by the amount of Sun Protection Factor (SPF) they offer, whether they protect against UVA, UVB or both types of rays, and by their ingredients.
SPF is the measure of how much radiation is blocked by the lotion. A common misconception is that anything over SPF 15 is redundant and that SPF 15 offers sufficient protection on an overcast day. However, as Dr. Beckett explains, “SPF 30 sunscreens have been shown to result in significantly reduced levels of microscopic injury to epidermal cells than SPF 15 sunscreens given comparable ultraviolet radiation exposure.” These microscopic injuries to the skin set off an immune system red alert deep in the body. SPF 30 blocks some of the cellular damage that SPF 15 can’t stop.
In Addition to listing SPF, a sunscreen label should say either broad spectrum, UVA/UVB or full spectrum. Otherwise, it probably only protects against UVB rays.
In the old days, a solid stripe of white zinc oxide coating the nose, lips and undereye areas was the ultimate in sunscreen. Not much has changed. “The most effective forms are still zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” explains Dr. Beckett. Fortunately, the newest forms of these ingredients are micronized and slather on to an invisible sheen. White zinc stripes today are just for retro beach cool.
Myth #5: If it says waterproof and sweatproof, it will last all day.
For athletes, a sunscreen that advertises water and sweat resistance is a good investment. However, every time you swipe the sweat from your forehead, towel off from that last wave or scratch the poison oak patch on your calf, you’re stripping the sunscreen from your skin. And sunscreen does get diluted from sweat and water. A good rule of thumb is to always reapply your sunscreen every two to three hours, especially if you’re working up a good sweat.
Should Iavoid the sun at all costs?
Global warming has now moved from the realm of conspiracy-theory and urban legend into declared fact. We are cooking the planet and ourselves like never before. The ozone hole is swirling above the poles and growing bigger—so big in fact, that Australia has developed a skin cancer ratio of one person in 15. Like Californians, Australians love sun, surf and sky. To combat the effects of the sun, they have developed a campaign to keep people safe outside. “Slip, slap, slop”—slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen. Follow their example and enjoy the sun safely.
Story and photos by Rick Deutsch
Of all the possible adventures in Yosemite National Park, possibly the most spectacular is the hike from the valley floor to the top of 8,842 foot Half Dome. The picturesque monolith is the most climbed mountain in the Sierra Nevada, with about 50,000 ascents per year. Reach the top and you’ll understand why so many love the rugged challenge. Yes, the view from the top IS incredible. Still, this is a big hike–a full ten to twelve hour day for most, comprising about sixteen miles round trip.
The final 425 feet to the top is a harrowing climb of the nearly 45 degree granite shoulder of Half Dome. This is accomplished with the aid of two steel cable handrails. The National Park Service puts up the famous “cables” on Half Dome for the duration of the summer – usually early June until mid October. Many first timers will find the cables to be extremely intimidating. Those with a fear of heights will have to dig deep to surmount them. However, with training and preparation, the Half Dome hike is a very rewarding day trip that just about any reasonably fit hiker can finish. Complete the journey and you will see why some consider it to be the greatest single excursion in any National Park in the country. For many it is a kind of personal Mt. Everest, a challenging pilgrimage to be undertaken every season
The start of the trail is next to the Merced River at Happy Isles. There are variations, but the most scenic route is 15.5 miles and over the Vernal Fall Bridge, up the Mist Trail, through Little Yosemite Valley, then on to Half Dome. The return is via Nevada Fall and the John Muir Trail. The actual apex of Half Dome is only two miles from Happy Isles on the valley floor—as the crow flies. However, your path will cover many more miles as you weave a circuitous route around the back side of the monolith while gaining nearly a mile in elevation. The trail is well marked; just follow the crowd! Upwards of 800 people do this hike on a summer weekend.
You should try to begin your hike by 6 am. The goal is to be at the cables by 11 am. Arrive much later and you will be greeted by a long line, resembling a caterpillar slowly going up the cables. It is much easier if you can go at your pace versus standing hundreds of feet up the cables waiting for the human logjam to clear. Bring a flashlight in case your hike takes longer than you hoped. There is no ranger or other authority on Half Dome to restrict hikers. Lastly, there are several well maintained trail toilets along the way. Practice the “Leave no Trace” principles of hiking.
Some of the major trail attractions and their particulars are listed below:
Ryan Pingree carries his board up the beach after finishing the grueling 32-mile Quiksilveredition Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race, Sunday, July 30, 2006, at Hawaii Kai, Oahu, Hawaii. He paddled for six hours, 51 minutes and 21 seconds, after leaving Molokai.
(Photo Credit: Bob Cunningham/CunninghamPhotos.com
The 2006 QuickSilverEdition Molokai to Oahu 32-Mile Paddleboard Race
By Ryan Pingree
I participated in the 10th Anniversary QuickSilverEdition Molokai to Oahu 32-Mile Paddleboard Race last July. The race, which began at Kaluakoi, Molokai and finished at Hawaii Kai, Oahu, is the world championship of long-distance paddleboard racing. A field of 128 paddlers struggled across the blue waters of the Kaiwi Channel, the highest number in the race’s history. Of these 128 paddlers, 36 watermen paddled alone. I was one of them. I trained for over a year for this one day. What follows is my race journal, synchronized to the music I was listening to on my waterproof MP3 player.
10 minutes before the start: Yellow Ledbetter, Pearl Jam
I say aloha to Bill, my captain, and Eric, my crew person, and carefully place my board on the sea. Entering the water, I slice off a dime-sized chunk of flesh from my left hand. I hope it isn’t an omen. Eric later tells me my hand bled the whole way across. I push off and make my way to the start line, the wind gently pushing me into a collection of the world’s finest watermen.
3 minutes before the start: Making Believe, Social Distortion
This is it. I float with my training partner, Jimmy Martindale, at the north end of the start line. It feels good to wear the yellow jersey marking me as a solo racer. It’s a badge of honor but it’s also a sign of high expectations. Yet I’m strangely calm, no butterflies. I smile at Jimmy, “See you on the other side my friend. Let’s do this thing.”
5 minutes: Behind Blue Eyes, The Who
It’s a long race but everyone sprints off the starting line anyway. After a few minutes, I temper my pace and start paddling my own race. On his way to an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory, reigning champ Jamie Mitchell quickly paddles into the building swells. It’s the last I’ll see of him on the water.
15 minutes: Rearview Mirror, Pearl Jam
The chaos and confusion of the start is fading as paddlers settle into their individual rhythms. The arid, rolling landscape of western Molokai falls behind as I drop into the vanguard of the open-channel swells. I look down at the picture of my beautiful, pregnant wife taped to my board, silently urging me on.
40 minutes: The Day I Tried to Live, Soundgarden
A school of flying fish glides ahead of me, escorting the field out of the bay and into the channel. These fish will be the only marine life I see the entire trip, though part of me wants to see a shark, strange as it sounds. When I’m paddling, I know they’re there, lurking in the depths below my belly, checking me out as I glide across their translucent ceiling. As long as I’m moving I have no fear. It’s when I stop and dangle my legs over the side of my board that the bone-chilling music of Jaws fame creeps into my consciousness.
45 minutes: Bro Hymn, Pennywise
Last year Eric and I team paddled the channel and finished in six hours and 42 minutes, good enough for seventh in our division. With a teammate, the Molokai crossing is a fun race. Stock solo, my division this year, is the opposite – a painful, lonesome test of will. Want to have fun? Go with a partner. Want to see what you’re made of? Go stock solo, and good luck to you, for you’re going to need it. A solid crew person is an often-overlooked critical component of a successful crossing. I’m lucky to have Eric in that capacity, keeping me on course, focused, hydrated, and motivated. He claims to have a bag of pebbles he’ll hurl at me if I lag. I don’t doubt it.
1 hour, 5 minutes: Real Situation, War Called Peace
I’m having a blast so far. The bumps are great and I’m connecting runs … two, three swells in a row. Up on my knees, stroke, stroke, glide, glide … six miles under my trunks already and I feel strong. I’m paddling near a team and we surf down the swells on our knees side by side. We share the energy and hoot, urging each other on. I remember reading somewhere that everyone has fun for the first three hours of Molokai. It’s the last three or four or five or – please, oh no, please no – six hours to be worried about … They certainly do me.
1 hour, 10 minutes: I Ain’t Wasting Time No More, Allman Brothers Band
For the first time I can see my goal, Koko Head, a prominent 642-foot high volcanic bump on Oahu near the finish. … Koko Head. Got to make Koko Head.
1 hour, 45 minutes: Leash, Pearl Jam
I wish it were wild enough so that I needed my leash today. But conditions have dampened dramatically from yesterday’s 25-plus knot winds and 6-foot waves. It’s going to be more of a shoulder-burning paddle than a surf-assisted glide to Hawaii Kai. I drop the leash and hope I prove to be man enough.
2 hours, 10 minutes: Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
“I’m still having fun!” I yell to Eric and Bill. Over two hours in and Eric tells me I’ve plied through 12 miles of deep blue Pacific water. I feel good and keep my energy output at about 80 percent of maximum. Anything faster and I’ll burn out; anything slower and I’ll lose focus and flail. Bob’s mellifluous voice relaxes me and I smile. “Every little thing, is going to be all right …”
2 hours, 40 minutes: Mutt, Blink 182
Eric calls out that I’ve covered 15 miles. I do some quick math and come out with an estimated total of just under six hours, much faster than my goal of seven. That’s hot, bruddah! I pop up to my knees again and lock into a nice bump.
2 hours, 55 minutes: Up Here in My Tree, Pearl Jam
I’m alone now with the bulk of the paddlers behind me. My nearest competitors are well north and south of me. It’s amazing how quickly the field separates as each takes their own course, convinced they have the perfect line when there is no perfect line. I’m no different. I trust my instincts and aim for just south of Koko Head, against the judgment of my crew and their trusty GPS.
3 hours, 15 minutes: Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen
I’m paddling my hand-shaped custom Pang board, which I’m convinced has a soul. I’ve had it for more than two years and it seems to have been created just to reach out and glide over this channel. While on a training paddle earlier in the year, I hit a coral head and put a severe ding in it. At the time, I figured I’d never use my Pang for Molokai, as the foam had sucked up water. The board felt heavier and slower. But a skilled craftsman fixed it near as good as new. Today we are paddling as one.
3 hours, 45 minutes: Doesn’t Remind Me, Audioslave
My pace has slipped. The wind has slackened significantly, leading to a decrease in wave size and thus more paddling, less gliding. Whitecaps are few and the waves are down to two feet. I’m feeling the first waves refracted off Oahu. It’s getting messy. A mental wall of doubt is building, brick-by-brick. Koko Head heckles at me from afar, daring me to keep paddling. “Give up, son, you’re weak! Just paddle over to the boat and hop in. Quit!” I tell myself just make it to four hours and I’ll be fine. “I’m going to make it!” I yell at Koko Head in the distance.
4 hours: Mayflower, Homemade
Eric says I’ve hit the 20-mile mark; only 12 or so to go. My right arm has cramped up once and my left groin is sore, but other than that, I’m solid. A large bulk cargo ship cuts through the channel from north to south, sounding her horn. The tonnage rule is definitely in effect out here today and she sure as hell isn’t slowing or altering course for 12 feet of foam and fiberglass. In spite of all of her mass, the sea swallows her wake before it hits me. I look down at my wife’s picture and drop into a nice bump. The best bumps seem to come when I need them the most.
4 hours, 45 minutes: Big Strong Man, Clancy Brothers
The bottles clanking in the background of this song make me think of the Guinness awaiting me on the beach in Hawaii Kai … and how I’ve said “nay” to offers of beer all summer thinking it would make me a faster paddler. I questioned my strategy on many a Saturday night, but I stuck with it. If the Big Strong Man came along now, I’d surely let him drink all the water in the sea and I’d walk all the way to Oahu.
5 hours, 25 minutes: Need to Know, Pennywise
I have seven miles to cover to reach Portlock at the base of Koko Head. Once there, it will be a little over a mile to the finish. The chop is at its worst yet, but I’m dropping into more runs than I have in the previous two hours. According to Eric, I’m still alone; the nearest paddler is approximately a quarter mile south. Sensing that I have the energy to finish competitively, they’re urging me to reel ‘em in.
5 hours, 45 minutes: Getting In Tune, The Who
This is my paddleboard anthem. I read a few years back that hand position and technique is as important, if not more important, than brute strength and endurance. So in my training I’ve concentrated on proper positioning and technique. Doing so reduces the side-to-side motion at the nose of the board, and hence wastes less energy. By concentrating and creating muscle memory, I’ve gotten in tune and trained myself to paddle “straight and narrow.” … For the first time, I can make out the radio towers and individual trees of Koko Head. Now, I’m 100 percent confident that I’m going to finish. I pop up to my knees and sing aloud; I’m in tune.
6 hours, 11 minutes: STP, Sublime
I catch up to a few paddlers as we converge on Portlock. Paddlers to the north have run into the current pushing up channel and the groups to the south are fighting against the swells up to Portlock. I believe I’ve chosen a near-perfect course across the channel. I can smell the finish. All of a sudden, there are boats, paddlers, jet skis, and surfers everywhere. I should finish in 30 minutes, but …
6 hours, 14 minutes: Chumbawamba, Tubthumbing
Suddenly, the current is knocking me down. I’m almost around the corner at Portlock and I’m going backwards. Working at about 90 percent effort, with the wind and waves at my back, I expected to shoot around the corner and head for the finish. Instead, I’m watching the cliff face move slowly past – in the opposite direction! Paddlers just outside of me seem unaffected. After struggling stubbornly for a while and cursing up a storm, I finally get smart and paddle at a right angle to the current, toward the wall. Close to the wall, the current releases me. Energized by this final hurdle, I jam around the corner.
6 hours, 40 minutes: When I Come Around, Green Day
I’m in the calmer waters of Maunalua Bay, finally. The wind is light offshore, blowing in my face and kicking up small four-inch swells. I’ve taken an outside course to the finish, foregoing the risk/reward of catching a south swell into the beach. Damned if I’m going to paddle 31 miles only to wipe out so close to the finish. I want to beat seven hours so I pick up my pace.
6 hours, 54 minutes, 21 seconds: Click Lips, Blink 182
On my knees, I take a final stroke and cut my hand on a rock just beneath the surface. It seems appropriate that I’ve given the ocean a piece of myself at the start and finish of my crossing. A toll, perhaps, for my successful passage? … I’m tired but not exhausted. I let out a yell of pure stoke and glide to the beach. I stand on the beach and look for my wife. She’s in the crowd, smiling. I turn off my music, gently place my board in the grassy shade, and hug her, all pau. I walk away from the crossing holding Jaime’s hand, ready to begin my next challenge – fatherhood.
Much to his surprise, Ryan’s time was good enough for second place in the men’s 30-39 Stock Solo age group. His wife delivered their first child, a baby girl, 11 days after he crossed the Kaiwi Channel. She has the long arms of a paddleboarder and the future is hers.
Photos courtesy of Zephyr Whitewater.
Despite slim snowpack, dam good whitewater season on tap
With less than half the average snowpack in the Sierra, boaters are expecting short seasons on most of the state’s rivers. But there’s no reason to put away your skirt and paddle early. While May and early June will present the widest range of options for roaming boaters, with good planning you can find whitewater playtime all summer long.
To help you make the most of the season, we have compiled a select list of California rivers and arranged in order of what’s expected to be the best “in the ballpark” time to float them, from May on: “Early Season” (until mid-May or June), “Good till Mid Season” (through June, perhaps into July), and “All Summer Long Bets” (dam-controlled runs with releases expected all summer).
Schedule your trips accordingly and you can make the most of each and every cubic foot rolling down the mountains and keep on paddling right into fall. Of course, these are somewhat subjective categorizations; for up-to-date river levels check online websites, such as www.dreamflows.com.
Editor’s Note: River running should always be approached with care and responsibility. Unless you’re an experienced boater, we recommend taking advantage of the services of a professional outfitter (see sidebar).For those wanting a float trip without the whitewater thrill, check out Soar Inflatables at www.soar1.com for Russian River trips or Sunshine Rafting at www.raftadventure.com for trips on the Lower Stanislaus.
- Expected Season: Usually into early summer; through May this year
- Runs: Cal Salmon Run (Class III-IV+), Forks of Salmon (Class V), North Fork above Sawyers Bar (Class III-IV, 8 miles)
- Outfitters: IRIE Rafting Company, Tributary Whitewater Tours, Redwoods & Rivers, Otter Bar Kayak School, W.E.T. River Trips
The “Cal” Salmon is an emerald green classic California pool-and-drop river that should be included in any local paddler’s must-do list. Ultimately a tributary of the Klamath, the Salmon passes through some of the most remote regions of the north state. The North Fork run above Sawyers Bar is considered one of the best moderate-advanced runs in California with only short breaks between rapids.
- Expected Season: April-July normally, mid-late May this year
- Runs: Box Canyon Dam to Lake Shasta (III-IV, 36 miles): Box Canyon to Dunsmuir (Class IV, 7 miles); Castle Crags to Sims Flat (III-IV, 9 miles); Sims Flat to Lake Shasta (IV, 14 miles)
- Outfitters: Turtle River Rafting, River Dancers, Living Waters Recreation
For 36 miles between Box Canyon Dam (Lake Siskiyou) to Shasta Reservoir, the Upper Sac resembles the wild river it once was. Near continuous Class IV action greets boaters after the steep, difficult put-in. Creek after creek and a few waterfalls tumble into the Sacramento, sometimes tripling its volume. Despite running parallel to Interstate 5 and a railroad, the Upper Sac offers good scenery. Particularly memorable is Mossbrae Falls, a fern-covered spring that gushes from the cliffs, around mile five.
East Fork Carson
- Expected Season: Until mid-late May this year
- Runs: Upper East Fork (Class III), Cave Rock to Hangman’s Bridge (7 miles); Wilderness Run (Class II+, 20 miles)
- Special features: Designated Wild and Scenic, hot springs at river’s edge, Eastern Sierra scenery, novice friendly
- Outfitters: Tributary Whitewater Tours, W.E.T. River Trips, American River Recreation, Tahoe Whitewater Tours
From Markleeville into Nevada, the Carson winds through miles of inspiring high-desert country framed by snow-capped Sierra peaks. Hot springs and no-fee campsites half-way down the 20-mile Wilderness Run make for an ideal overnight trip. Although it’s rated only Class II+, cold water, continuous rapids and sharp rocks mean it’s not a good place to take a swim. Spring storms occasionally coat unprepared boaters with snow. Intermediate-advanced boaters can put in upstream of Hangman’s Bridge on the Class III Upper East Fork run.
- Expected Season: Until mid-late May this year
- Runs: Downieville (Class V); Goodyears Bar (Class IV plus one V, “Maytag”)
- Outfitters: Beyond Limits, Whitewater Voyages, Tributary Whitewater Tours, Wolf Creek Wilderness (kayak instruction on Lower Yuba)
This river requires your constant attention. Only expert private boaters with solid safety skills should attempt the North Fork. This 18-mile stretch is often run in two sections, the Downieville run (expert) and Goodyears Bar (advanced). Highway 49 parallels the river offering alternative put-in and take-outs, and easy shuttles. The Downieville run features continuous Class IV and V water, including mile-long Moss Canyon (solid V). Downstream of Goodyears Bar bridge (mile 9.5), the gradient eases and rapids are milder, with one notable exception: Maytag, a big drop that thrashes many.
< class=”articleTITLE”>Good till Mid-Season
- Season: Until perhaps mid-June this year
- Runs: Class IV+, Red Bud to Briceburg and Briceburg to Bagby; Class II between miles 9 and 16
- Outfitters: Zephyr Whitewater, OARS, All Outdoors, American River Recreation, ARTA
The Merced is a challenging Class IV river that runs best in spring. What you’ll find are some of the best rapids in the state, including paddle-sucking laterals at Ned’s Gulch (IV) and a challenging boulder-dancing section, Quarter-Mile Rapid (IV+), with severe consequences if you don’t eddy out at the bottom; North Fork Falls, a 25-foot drop, is a mandatory portage. Class II from here to take out at Lake McClure.
- Season: At least into July, possibly later
- Runs: Class III-V+
Banzai (III), South Fork, North Fork (V- to V+), Kings Canyon (V),
- Special features: Native American sites, steep canyons, roostertails, natural waterslides
- Outfitters: Zephyr Whitewater Rafting, Kings River Expeditions, Whitewater Voyages
Originally known as “El Rio De Los Santos Reyes,” or River of the Holy Kings, the Kings courses through some of the deepest canyons in California. Its tributaries are all Class V until it reaches Garnet Dike, where the Class III+ section begins. From there, this river is all fun with little to fear. Bring the whole family and train your young river rats right. The Kings will likely be runnable through July, but better earlier.
- Runs: Forks of the Kern (III-V), Lower Kern runs: Picto (III); Gusto (IV)
- Special features: Wild & Scenic river status; drains California’s highest peaks, including Mt. Whitney; massive granite boulders, multiple waterfalls
- Permits: Through United States Forest Service (USFS), www.fs.fed.us
- Outfitters: Kern River Tours, Kern River Outfitters, Whitewater Voyages
Regarded as one of the finest stretches of expert whitewater to be found, let alone commercially rafted, the 17-mile Forks of the Kern run begins with a two-mile hike to the put in. Your reward is a nearly continuous series of more than 80 rapids against a backdrop of granite slabs, waterfalls and remote mountain scenery. With a nearly 60-foot per mile gradient, this river is action packed and not for the timid. Commercial outfitters must pass a test to certify their river fitness. Private boaters should have notched a few Class V runs before attempting the Forks of the Kern.
- Runs: River Ranch to Floriston (Class II-III), Boca to Verdi, Nevada (Class II-IV)
- Special features: Alpine scenery; proximity to Reno Whitewater Park
- Outfitters: Tahoe Whitewater Tours, Tributary Whitewater Tours, Truckee River Raft Company (rentals)
The Truckee offers easy to moderate runs with easy access. For the first three miles from the outlet of Lake Tahoe to River Ranch, the Truckee is a lazy party float. From River Ranch it picks up to Class II+, albeit shallow and rocky. Highway 89 follows the river for the next 10 miles. At Truckee, the river turns east. From here until its confluence with the Little Truckee River at Boca, it is mostly Class II, except for one Class III boulder garden. The Boca-Floriston Run paralleling Highway 80 is the most advanced run with the quarter-mile Class IV Bronco Rapid providing the most excitemtent just before takeout. Downstream, there is runnable water all the way to Reno, including a few diversion dams. Smack downtown, the Reno Whitewater Park provides a great playboating and teaching venue.
- Runs: Electra Run (Class II+, III above 1,500 cfs), Salt Springs Reservoir to Tiger Creek Dam (Class IV-V)
- Special features: One of the best training runs in California; good scenery, abundant wildlife
- Outfitters: None
Typically, this is a great river to warm up for the season or to introduce novices to whitewater. Due to its convenience to the Bay Area, its reliable summer flows, and rapids that gradually step up in difficulty, this has long been a favorite training run for kayakers. You can run this short run a few times in a day to really hone your technique; the shuttle only takes 10 minutes. You’ll find it off Highway 49 between Jackson and Mokelumne Hill.
< class=”articleTITLE”>All Summer Long Bets
- Runs: Class IV-V+, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (IV-V), Cherry Creek (V), Lower Tuolumne (IV-V)
- Special features: Wild and Scenic status; Clavey Falls, North Fork and Clavey River swimming holes.
- Permits: Required for private boaters. Groveland Ranger Station, (209) 962-7825
- Outfitters: Sierra Mac River Rafting Trips, Zephyr Whitewater Rafting, OARS, ECHO, ARTA
The Tuolumne, or “the T” as it’s affectionately known, offers one of the few multi-day trips in the central Sierra, an unspoiled wilderness experience and miles of exhilarating whitewater. The stretch from Meral’s Pool to Don Pedro Reservoir, with rock gardens, stomper holes and lateral hydraulics, is a good proving ground for kayakers and rafters who want to cut their teeth on some technical Class IV. For expert boaters, a day trip on Cherry Creek segueing into a lower T trip with some of the most experienced guides in California will impart fear, exhilaration and a proper river education.
- Runs: Upper Klamath Hell’s Corner Run (Class IV+), Lower Canyon (Class II-III)
- Featured run: Upper Klamath (17 miles, 1-2 days)
- Special features: Longest Wild & Scenic river in the state, snow-capped Trinity Alps, excellent multi-day trip possibilities
- Outfitters: Tributary Whitewater Tours, Trinity River Rafting, Redwoods and Rivers, All Outdoors, Turtle River Rafting Company, W.E.T. River Trips
The second largest drainage in all of California next to the Sac, the Klamath originates near Crater Lake and then cuts through a high-desert volcanic canyon. The Upper Klamath run begins in Oregon, and features sharp volcanic rocks that are tough on boats and paddlers. Only expert kayakers should consider this run. Rafters enjoy the challenging descent on the Hell’s Corner stretch (IV+). Lower down, the Klamath offers a hundred miles of Class III water that makes for excellent one-day and overnight trips. With moderate rapids, easy access, warm water, good camping, and relatively light use, this stretch makes a great multi-day float in late summer and fall.
South Fork American
- South Fork runs: Chili Bar and Gorge Runs (Class III)
- Special Features: This river system offers something for every level of boater
- Permits: Just on the South Fork (available at Chili Bar, Coloma and Lotus put-ins)
- Outfitters: EarthTrek Expeditions, The Mother Lode River Center, Whitewater Voyages, Mariah Wilderness Expeditions, Whitewater Excitement, River Runners, Current Adventures Kayaking, ARTA, Gold Rush Whitewater Rafting, Action Whitewater Adventures, W.E.T. River Trips
The South Fork American is the most popular of all California rivers. Highly accessible and owning the longest season in the state, upwards of 100,000 boaters per year splash down its three distinct sections. The Chili Bar to Coloma run (which includes the Meatgrinder and Troublemaker rapids) offers five miles of entertaining Class III-IV water. Below this, the stretch from Coloma to Greenwood Creek offers several miles of Class II water that makes an ideal training ground for budding kayakers. Downstream of Greenwood, the Class III Gorge section begins and Satan’s Cesspool (III+) lurks before you reach Folsom Lake.
- Runs: Main Trinity, Pigeon Point run (Class III), Burnt Ranch Gorge (V)
- Featured run: Burnt Ranch Gorge (V, 8.5 miles)
- Special Features: Designated Wild & Scenic river
- Outfitters: IRIE Rafting Company, Trinity River Rafting, Tributary Whitewater Tours, Turtle River Rafting Company
Along Hwy 299 about 60 miles east of Arcata and 89 miles west of Redding, the famed Burnt Ranch Gorge section of the Trinity drops through sheer canyon walls for eight miles of Class V thrills. Boasting rapids with names like Pearly Gates, Jaws and Origami (for its tendency to fold rafts like paper), Burnt Ranch is regarded as one of the finest expert runs in the West. If that’s beyond your comfort zone, the 5.5-mile Pigeon Point run just upstream is one of the best intermediate runs in California. And because it’s a long drive, the Trinity is a lot less crowded than runs like the South Fork American. Your reward is good scenery, clean water, and numerous play spots.