Magazine article Sunset

Winter Madness on Northern California Rivers

Magazine article Sunset

Winter Madness on Northern California Rivers

Article excerpt

You needn't quit rafting just because winter's arrived. In the coastal mountains of northwestern California, creeks and rivers too low to raft in summer flow with electrifying power in winter--the direct result of huge North Pacific storms colliding with the rugged terrain. Among the other advantages of coastal winter boating is its intimacy with nature. Some runs in the Sierra are crowded with rafts in summer, but as you float along these rivers in winter your only companions (aside from your fellow paddlers) are otters, fish, and birds of prey. But there are also lots of hazards

Running these streams in winter is riskier and more unpredictable than summertime rafting. Weather can cancel a trip with no notice (in fact, flooding rivers can render this entire portion of California completely inaccessible for days at a time), and you'll be cold in any event. Some trips wind through spectacular, isolated canyons that can be reached only by boat; some are day trips, while others require overnight camping. With conditions and demands so changeable, you should attempt these rivers only in the company of a veteran guide.

While most outfitters stop taking trips in mid-September, others (see list on page 56B) are willing to run winter rivers on a charter basis. You must call ahead of time to arrange trips. Prices vary from $40 to $140 per day.

But before you start even shopping around, ask yourself whether you're cut out for winter boating. You should already have been rafting several times during the summer. You should also enjoy the challenges presented by fickle weather; shorter days; cold, fast, high water; and tbe occasional snag in the river bed. Prepare for some frustration in arranging a trip. Sometimes-especially in early winter-the water is too low, and after a large storm it may take days for the river to drop to a safe level. You can give yourself leeway by working with your guide to plan prospective trips on several different rivers. When conditions are right on any of them, he or she can call you back to confirm that trip.

Three runs rich in thrills and beauty

The Smith. The three forks of this pristine gem form the last undammed river system in California. Located in the wettest part of the state, just south of the Oregon border, the Smith flows through a temperate rain forest of redwood and fir trees, ferns, and moss. …

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