With snowmelt trickling down the mountainsides, white-water enthusiasts are bubbling in anticipation of big rapids. But this year, with low snowfall, rivers without dam-controlled releases are in for a short season.
“A little bit lower water does not mean there’s not good rapids,” said Janeen Stewart, operator of Earthtrek Expeditions, a rafting company based in Lotus, Calif. “Actually, some of the rapids are better because there are drops.”
Rafting companies that run the American River, Truckee River and Carson River are kicking off the white-water season. Though the flows aren’t bursting, water management through the dams will prolong their seasons on some stretches through the summer.
“We do raft three rivers, the North Fork, the South Fork and the Middle Fork of the American River,” said Brynn Allen, a guide with Adventure Connection, based in Lotus, Calif. “The North Fork is the one of the three that does not have dam release. There’s not enough water in that river to be runnable right now.”
The North Fork of the American and the East Fork of the Carson River, the closest white water to South Lake Tahoe, are stretches commonly rafted that rely on snowmelt. It was a short season for the East Carson, said Lorraine Hall, business manager for Truckee-based Tributary Whitewater Tours.
“Unfortunately, it was pretty much done and then it came up a little bit last week, but I’ve got a feeling this cold snap brought it right back down again,” Hall said. “It’s pretty much a done deal.”
On better years, Tributary and other rafting companies can run one and two-day trips down the East Carson, stopping at the hot springs along the float. Lake Tahoe Community College did manage to run one of their white-water classes down the river before the flows dropped.
Lower sections of the Truckee River are flowing well and will be able to be floated through September, Hall said. The Boca to Floriston stretch has quite a few bookings through the summer, she added. Because the section gets water from several sources and not just Lake Tahoe, the rapids are still quite exciting even in lower flow days.
“They just get a little more technical,” she said. “We do have to lighten the load. Instead of putting six people in our smaller boats, we’ll only put four or five so they’re a little more maneuverable.”
The Middle Fork and the South Fork of the American River will also have water through the summer, though the dams won’t open on Wednesdays.
Though they’re not rafting all the rivers they normally raft, bookings for the American River have been pretty good so far this year for Adventure Connection, Allen said.
“Our weekends are almost sold out through August,” she said.