Auburn-area rivers running weaker but still cause for caution

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Whitewater rafting outfitters are finally looking at low-enough river flows to put them back on the upper Middle Fork of the American River and through the famed Tunnel Chute. Tributary Whitewater business manager Lorraine Hall said that won’t come this weekend but water levels are dropping and the return to the middle fork is expected soon. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hall said. “But the alternatives (rafting on the north fork, lower middle fork and south fork) have still made people happy.” Dealing with some of the highest continuous summer water flows in recent memory because of a heavy Sierra snow base that started melting late after an abnormally cold spring, rafting outfitters have been shut out of the popular upper middle fork. The north fork, which has no upstream dams or storage reservoirs, has been flowing high at a time when it would typically start to run slow and warmer than current snowmelt temperatures in the 50s. Coloma’s Mike Roth and fellow rafting guide Monica Augustine used personal floats to navigate down the north fork Wednesday from the Clark’s Hole swimming area below the Foresthill Bridge to the American River confluence. Roth said the water was warmer and lower than last week, with temperatures rising to the mid- and upper 50s and flows at 1,700 cubic feet per second – down a couple of hundred cfs. Roth and Augustine wore helmets, life vests but shunned drysuits as they passed others who dared only put their feet or ankles in the cold water. “I wouldn’t recommend this to people who don’t know what they’re doing,” Roth said. “You definitely have to have experience because there’s a strong undercurrent. Looks are deceiving.” Hall said outfitters on the relatively placid lower middle fork and the more challenging south and north forks have taken extra precautions because of high flows, including requiring at least two rafts to go out at one time and putting smaller children or non-swimmers on the lower middle fork. “With many having more than 30 years of experience, they’re running very safe trips,” Hall said. While private rafting companies have emphasized safety on their trips, emergency personnel continue to rescue people who have been caught in the current and unable to get themselves out of a danger. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was dispatched early Monday to a stretch of the Bear River near the Placer County Bear River Campground in the Colfax area to pluck a man off the shore who had swam across the river and wasn’t able to return on his own.