South Fork of the American River (Chili Bar)
|Stretch:||Chili Bar to Lotus|
|Difficulty:||Class III with one IV-|
|Distance:||7.5 miles, short day|
|Flows:||800 – ?,000 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge|
|Gradient:||31 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Chili Bar resort near highway 193 bridge (1:15 hr from Davis)|
|Take-out:||Highway 49 bridge near Lotus|
|Shuttle:||15 miles (30 minutes) one-way|
|Season:||Year Round, dam release|
|Featured in Video Twelve.|
This run is always said to be better and more difficult than the Trinity’s Pigeon Point run, however, I disagree. Some say it just plain and simple has better whitewater, some say it has more action in is duration, both of which in my mine are false statements. However, this run due to its proximity to Sacramento and the Bay Area does deserve it place among the most do runs in California. It is precisely because of its location that you will find most beginner boaters making this their back yard (as well as rafters as their weekend vacation spot). This is the major drawback to the run, the fact that on a summer weekend you will be able to count rafts as far as you can see (T. Bryant counted forty-seven from horizon-to-horizon one day). For playboaters this run (at certain water levels) provides excellent action. There are many spots which provide numerous holes in a variety size, shape, action, and crazy factor.
For information on rafting the South Fork American please check out:
- Chili Bar (II+). This rapid is known as a park and play spot. There is a hole on
the left as well as one on the right.
Meat Grinder (III). This is a long rapid that has many hidden rocks and holes throughout the rapid. There is a flat rock for experienced boaters to do splats or spins on on river left. However, anything less than experienced boaters should stay on the right side of the river, as that is where the line is. If you have never run it and with people who have never run, scout right.
- Racehorse Bend (II+). A nice waver train that occurs on a left bend, at least
one of the waves is more of a hole. Just stay off the right wall.
Maya (III-). Another classic favorite for play spots on this run. This rapid is two staged. The first stage has a nice hole left of center with easy access via a large eddy. The second stage has two more holes on either side of the midstream rock.
- Triple Threat (III). The three threats make up about three-quarters of a mile.
The First Threat involves a entrance move around a rock that the current flows into, commit to one side and paddle. Then the river bends to the right, at the bend, the river drops off a shelf and creates a very large hole at lower flows and huge wave at high flows. For the experienced boater this wave can prove to be a lot of fun to surf in.
The Second Threat occurs about one hundred yards downriver. It has a tendency of being rocky, the left shore is the messiest, so just avoid it and read it as you run for the rest.
The Third Threat occurs about another hundred yards down river. It is a simple rapid that has a large hole right of center at the bottom.
- Troublemaker (IV-). The reason why I am giving this a class IV- rating instead of
the usually III+ rating is because I feel that this rapid is tricky, and a foul-up
at the beginning can cause problems lower at “Gun Sight Rock.” There is easy
scouting on the left. The line consists of an entrance to the left of center, you
can run the center but this will lead you to the meet of a sticky hole on the elbow
of the right turn. Next, set up to run directly to the left of “Gun Sight Rock”
and to the right of the rock about ten feet to the left of it. As you are setting
up be aware of the boils from the upstream hole. The backwash of it can be slippery
and has cause many kayakers to stern squirt or flip directly above “Gun Sight.”
In 2004 the entrance became a river wide hole, shooting the seem of the where the
preexisting lateral hole meets the new diagonal hole has produced good results for me.
Double Trouble (IV-). At high water, a line opens up on the right side. It is still trouble maker, but people call it differently... double trouble. It is a ramp into a decent hole on the right shore. Careful for the pocket on against the right wall. Here is a nice sequence thanks to Brody Johnson.
- As you go through the town of Coloma there is a lot of flat water with a few class
I riffles. There are also usually a lot of spectators panning for gold or enjoying
- Old Scary (II-). For the last two decades, this rapids has been an easy riffle run
on either side, although be aware the left has some submerged rocks. The only reason
it has a name is because prior to this era, it use to be one of the biggest rapids
on the run; another example of the power of the river.
Take out: From Sacramento you can take the Ponderosa exit off of Highway 50. Turn left after the off ramp. After the light, turn right on Lotus Road. Follow this about 10 miles; you will go past “The River Store” after about nine miles. Continue until the Road “T’s” with Highway 49. Turn left and park immediately on the left before the bridge.
Put in: Get back on Highway 49 and go the opposite way (towards Placerville). Follow it for some ten miles until you come to Highway 193 which will be on the left just as you enter town. Take 193 three miles down to the river. Parking before the bridge is very limited but free, parking on the left just past the bridge is plentiful…but cost four dollars.
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