South Fork of the American (Golden Gate)
|Stretch:||Peavine Road to Forebay Road|
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Flows:||500 - 2000 cfs. Current Dreamflows upriver gauge (In Spring, multiply by 1.5 to 2)|
|Gradient:||117 fpm average (The goods are 185 +/- 15 fpm for 4 miles)|
|Shuttle:||13 miles (30-40 minutes 1 way)|
|Season:||Spring and early Summer from snow melt|
|Featured in Noceti's video and John Moore's rapid-by-rapid video|
“A novel substitute for jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge” says Charlie Martin in his 1974 (which as I was typing this decided it would be a fun read and just placed an order to buy it for all of $3.74… ah the beauty of the internet, but that’s besides the point). Although this run is stout, and has some even stouter rapids for people to step up to bat on, I will not be found contemplating a jump off the Gate anytime soon. As anyone who knows me or reads my website would know, this runs seems out of place for me, in fact I had to convince both Diane and Steve that I actually ran it, they didn’t believe me. I am normally a chicken and quite content with my class IV and IV+ runs. In fact, I don’t think I have stepped up a run in at least 2 years, and most of the class IV-V runs I first ran at least 3 years ago. But anyways, for some reason, as this past week progressed, I decided I needed to have some fun, see something new, see something to scare me, and walk away reminded of how great life can be, rejuvenated for another week of work. Which will then be followed by another week and another until 34 years from now I can retire at the age of 60… hopefully. Am I too young to be having a midlife crisis?
I am sure this melancholy feel to the week had an affect on why I called up Darin and made plans to do the Upper Middle Cosumnes. However, the morning of, some members of the group had a change of heart and decided that Golden Gate sounded better. I was amiable and asked for a little reassurance that I wasn’t going to have a melt down half way through the day. I remembered once hearing that other than the 6 or so stand-out rapids, all of which are portageable, the rest is very manageable class IV-V (at low flows that is). So with that in my back pocket I decided I was game for the change of plans and we headed up to the river.
The day started slow, but once Taylor cleaned the dishes and his girlfriend allowed him to leave, the day moved along nicely. We set shuttle and met up with Culley in Pollock Pines, got to put-in and put on a little after noon. The gauge in Kyburz was reading 400-450 cfs but that is 15 miles upriver. We figured we had 100-150 cfs more at put in and by the end 100-200 cfs more still.
There is no real way to give a rapid-by-rapid description of the run. Once you got to the goods, it was all one rapid, with an occasional stretch of 50 feet where the river may actually turn green again as opposed to the turbulent white. There was about half a mile to “Initiation.” If you get beat in this, walk off the run. This rapid only has a name because it is the first rapid with character. I have been told that boaters use it as a gauge to figure out if the water is too high, if the hole is monster and you swim or desire to portage, hike off. At our flows it was more of a class IV+ rapid. After that, there was another mile of completely mellow class II-III whitewater. Then you get to your first horizon line, or rather pair of horizon lines. After that, the pace slowly picks up for a short distance until you get to “Drainpipe.” Once you past drain pipe it is on. The next mile is the hardest of the non-named rapids. Once you start getting back to the named rapids, the in between stuff is a little easier. Then after “All Fucked Up” it gets class IV to IV+ with a V or two until F-111. After F-111 it is smooth sailing class III-IV for the 2 miles to the end.
The only actual rapid names I know are Drainpipe, Straight-Shot, Taco Bell, Brain Fade, The Rose, All Fucked Up, and F-111. Also, the ratings are for low water, I am 100% sure that they all become much stouter with more water. Also, for those who are thinking “Daniel did it, so I can do it too,” of the named drops I only ran Initiation, Drainpipe, and The Rose. In hindsight, I should have sacked up and run Taco Bell as Taylor and Darin made it look easy. The others looked completely unappealing to me. Just keep in mind, that although I am only listing 10 or so class V rapids, all the in between stuff is at a bit harder than the Miracle Mile on Cherry Creek in addition to being more on top of each other and that with more water it would become even harder. Although you can portage all the named drops, a swim in the in between stuff would easily lose a boat and result in a memorable experience.
Thanks to Darin McQuoid for his contribution of photos
- Initiation (IV+). A long boulder bar lead in eases up briefly and a obviously larger drop lays downstream. Easy scout on the left. There is a hole at the top, we entered along the right wall, stayed along the wall to avoid the pour over in the middle, and then straightened out to punch the hole at the bottom.
- Lots of mellow III-IV stuff, eventually somewhere in here you get to a horizon line.
Double Drop (IV+). We boof in the entrance, and then realized we didn’t know where to go from there, Taylor probed down left of center and pointed us around a boulder to show us an easy class IV exit on the far left.
Boof (IV). The river starts to feel gorged up. Time to look to shore before entering the next big horizon line.
- Drainpipe Lead-In (IV+). A slide into a boof, but at this flow the boof looked a little steep, so we all slide down to the right of it and white’d out.
Drainpipe (V). Down the tongue, boof the hole, move around the sieves, mind the sieve on the right, stay upright to not lose your head, mind the reactionary off the wall, go down the slide and into the holes below. Great rapid.
The river falls off the face of the earth... A few stout boogie rapids quickly lead to Straight Shot.
- Straight-Shot (V). A boulder entrance leads to a large central hole. The crux is to not get beat in the hole, and therefore avoid the sieves on the right and left. The portage at low flows was easy at river level, I have heard at higher levels it involves friction climbing up the wall.
Ledges (V). A long stretch of ledges that start immediately below Straight Shot, each move is only class IV+ but they are all on top of each other. We started right, worked left, then ferried right to avoid a big one… good luck.
One Long Drop (V). A very long rapid with 4 or 5 continuous pitches to it. This in my mind was the hardest part of the in between stuff. It is followed by a brief pool on the left hand bend. We took lunch there.
- The boogie takes a step down and becomes manageable again...
- Taco Bell (V). A tall (10 ft?) drop into a folding hole. There is significant pull back to the left. Portage or scout on the right. Immedaitely downstream is Brainfade.
I just had to add these photos... Thanks to Barry Kruse for the contribution. Photos of the 2nd raft descent crica '87/'88. "Hey, i've got an idea: Let's move towards the back of the boat so we ski jump this bitch!" "Damn, loading the back of the boat means it gets a little squirrelly... and way too far right!" Raft nearly lost and crew heading downriver towards Brain Fade.
Brain Fade (V). The river begins to fall down a boulder pile and into a bunch of rocks. The line is the right side which drops into a meaty hole and is backed up 5 feet downstream by a huge boulder. Let the beat downs ensue.
In May 2009 a log wedged across the entire channel, now requiring a portage. Let me know when this moves, thanks. New Update In 2012 the large rock at the exit cracked in two, this is now a mandatory portage I believe.
- The Rose (V). A long boulder bar lead in steepens up and take boaters to the left. You want to peal out to avoid being taken left at the bottom. The left is rocky and general not a good idea. The right was a nice 6 foot pinch drop. The left wall is a little undercut, just enough that you want to make sure to tuck on the right. Other wise you end up like me with some cut up knuckles… at least I had pogies on to protect from the worst of it. The next rapid is the lead in for All Fucked-up.
- All Fucked Up (V+). Maybe people won’t agree that this is V+, but this is the stoutest rapid on the run at these flows. The lead in was pretty burly and led directly into the main rapid. The main drop cascaded over several large drops into large holes and then pushed the boater towards a sieve pile. I walked on the right after scouting from the top of the lead-in on the left.
After All Fucked Up it gets a lot easier. The river is mostly class IV to IV+ with one or two exceptions that are easier class V. Still, it feels significantly easier.
Bedrock? You start to see bedrock drops, some nice slide drops and ledge drops continue.
Pinch Left (V-). A boulder bar leads to a small eddy on the left cliffed-out shore. A small pinch against the wall was fun. The wall however is not friendly rock so try to stay to the right in the chute.
- Silver Creek (IV+). A manky boulder bar welcomes the Silver Creek (downriver of the famed South Silver). You want to be on the right. Darin piton and slightly pinned before pogo sticking his way out of it.
- F-111 (V+). Big drop into a huge hole with a huge amount of tow-back. We portaged on the right.
Smooth sailing from here. Class III-IV rapids to take out.
Take-out: To reach take out go to Pollock Pines off of Highway 50, drive north from the freeway, turn left just past the Safeway. After a few blocks, turn right on Frebay road and following it 8 miles down to the river. On that road, you will go by a small lake and a cement road drops down to your left, stay right.
Put-in: To reach put in, go back to highway 50 and head east. Follow it a few miles to Peavine Ridge Road. Follow this road which turns to dirt down to the river. The road is poor quality, we got a small car down, but it wasn’t easy.
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