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Emerald Pools: Dangers don’t deter visitors

Courtesy photoJumpers wait to leap into the Yuba River at the Emerald Pools. Each year fire and rescue personnel respond to reports of injuries and drownings at the popular swimming hole, which is located on private property.
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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – The Emerald Pools, like many backcountry destinations in the Sierra, are one part extreme danger, another part exhilaration.

Tucked away off of Bowman Lake Road, not far from Highway 20’s interchange with Interstate 80, the South Fork of the Yuba River slows and forms pools.

Daredevils launch themselves into the water from cliffs towering from 20 up to 70 feet above the water, landing in the river’s frigid upper stretches. Perched like gulls on the rocks, others cheer each jump, flip and cannonball. On a recent trip to the pools, more than 30 young adults took turns dropping into the river.



If you haven’t heard of Emerald Pools, it’s for good reason.

The pools are located on private property and accessible from U.S. Forest Service land. Forest Service officials don’t announce the pools’ presence to visitors and won’t give directions to the cliffs. Fire and rescue personnel respond to the pools for traumatic injuries often enough to have fixed a permanent place to lower ropes for gurneys.



“We get a lot of injuries from people jumping off the rocks,” said Capt. Tim Mullen, a Forest Service firefighter out of Big Bend. “An engine probably heads out there two to three times each season for a lot of lower extremity and head injuries.”

An eddy forms under a waterfall at the pools and has been known to drown people in underwater caves, Mullen said.

Many of the injuries stem from people mixing alcohol with jumping, losing a handhold while climbing to a cliff and falling on the rocks below, Mullen said.

The potential danger doesn’t deter visitors from the pools, though. Emerald Pools are famed in certain circles – the summer-stricken snowboarder set – throughout this part of the Sierra.

Mention the pools nearly anywhere locally and you’re bound to get a furiously scribbled set of hazy directions, along with the promise of a good time.

If people do visit – as they’ve done for years – it’s wise to go with a good idea of the danger the pools present.

This week, from Aug. 3-6, officials with Pacific Gas and Electric plan to increase flows into the South Yuba River out of Lake Spaulding from 7 cubic feet per second to nearly 60 cubic feet per second.

Fliers will be distributed along the river, and helicopters will patrol the river to drop fliers near campers and hikers seen along the river to warn them of the increased flows.


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