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Exploring new whitewater

Lotus kayaker makes first descent of Whaler Creek in El Dorado County
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Michael Juarez relishes in the thrill of exploring uncharted territory. With just the hard shell of his kayak standing between him and the elements, Juarez, who owns Whitewater Photos in Lotus, completed the first descent of Whaler Creek in his latest expedition last week. Record snowfall in the Sierra has raised water levels to epic heights, making several creeks runaable for the first time in decades. Juarez said that in years like this one with high runoff, water levels in the South Fork American River are flowing at 6,000 cubic feet per second, which is over four times more than normal. “In big water years like this you have to take advantage,” Juarez said. “By the time we ran it we had done a lot of homework on it — Google Earth images, exact mileage and exact routes.” It took Juarez and his fellow kayakers, Clay Allison and Jared Noceti, a total of six hours to run the 3-mile long creek in Swansborough, just outside of Placerville. They may have earned the bragging rights of being the first to kayak it, but not without some serious strategizing. Juarez said that they had to portage, or hike around obstacles in the creek, about six times. Each portaging trip took about half an hour. Luckily, the work was worth it. Whaler Creek exceeded their expectations, with vertical water drops at 280 feet per mile. “It was really, really steep before it confluenced into Rock Creek. We were surprised to see so many waterfalls,” Juarez said. “It’s gratifying when you know you were the first one to run it.” Juarez said going with a group of experienced kayakers is crucial to staying safe in unknown waters. Noceti of Roseville has over 30 first descents to his name. “I like doing it on a personal level,” Noceti said. “It’s like figuring out a puzzle piece and an entire day of problem solving,” After 20 years of kayaking, Noceti is more intent on discovering new spots to enjoy than the claim to fame of completing a first descent. “There are some I have pioneered and have become classics that we go back to year after year,” Noceti said. “First descents don’t intrigue me as much as the quality and returning back.” The kayaker-extraordinaires are already plotting their next first descents, all of which are top secret. “I can’t tell you the name of them,” Juarez said. “There are a lot of people looking for new creeks to do first descents of.” In the meantime, Juarez will be photographing the public’s wet and wild commericial rafting rides along the American River in Lotus. He said that with high water levels, conditions could be just as dangerous as when the water is low, but will also be more fun. “’95 was really big and so was 1983. That was before my time, but a lot of the old-timers talk about it and compare this year to it,” Juarez said. “It’s going be more exciting. Go with a professional company.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.