Monday, August 31, 2015

Returning to Slab Creek one year after Sierra blaze

Canyon forest on the one ridge, fire damage on the other side at Slab Creek Reservoir

King Fire damage remains, but kayaker access better than ever...

It’s been a year since the King Fire destroyed thousands of acres of beautiful Sierra forest and devastated several mountain communities. One place that narrowly avoided total destruction was Slab Creek Reservoir near Pollock Pines. While parts of the north canyon wall were scorched, the southern ridge – and hundreds of homes nearby – were spared. It’s a remarkable before-and-after view of nature.

A NorCal Yak paddle just two days before the arson fire began last September may have caught the last pre-fire photos of the area. Here’s a link to that paddle trip with pre- and post-fire photos.
NorCal Yak pal Karen left her pups at home but attracted a dog paddler 
For the first anniversary of the fire, we returned to check out Slab Creek’s recovery. Unfortunately, California’s epic drought has put a damper on re-greening. On the plus side, some fantastic rock-scapes remain fully visible, and the southern ridge still offers lushly forested views.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Slow, spectacular kayaking in Yosemite Valley

Passing under the Swinging Bridge with Yosemite Falls as a backdrop

Park Service opens Merced River to kayakers, make plans for next spring 

Rounding a bend in the Merced River, my kayak nosed gently toward shore as Yosemite Valley revealed all its granite grandeur. Upstream, Half Dome dominated the distant skyline. Straight ahead and across the river, Yosemite Falls shot from craggy heights. And downstream, El Capitan loomed menacingly under racing clouds. To call it breathtaking would be an understatement.

Not another soul in sight. Yet barely more than three miles away, Curry Village buzzed with activity. Only the sound of the river and birds twittering in the trees broke the silence here.

And then the weight of history hit me like a river rock – naturalist John Muir, his camping partner Theodore Roosevelt, and the incomparable photographer Ansel Adams had all stood at or near this spot. And here I was, the first kayaker on this stretch of the Merced River since Yosemite National Park opened it to paddlers just a few days earlier. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The season's future is now for California kayakers

Blue heron watches kayakers Wednesday at the San Juan Rapids, American River
It sure didn't seem like a major drought on the lower American River this week. Flows that had been running around knee-level (500 cubic feet per second, or cfs) suddenly jumped to more than 1,500 cfs. That made for some fun kayaking at the San Juan Rapids.

The question is, how long will the good times roll on our rivers and lakes? Answers seem murkier than the water in the Delta. NorCal Yak couldn't find any single water agency that could provide statewide projections. But in general, these links may help flat water kayakers plan ahead. Just don't wait too long.

The California Data Exchange probably keeps the most extensive river and reservoir storage and release info. For example, there's a neat graphic page link with current and historical reservoir averages.  The feds also have some info. Check the Bureau of Reclamation site and then focus on the Central Valley sub-pages, though the info is a bit dense. If you're a whitewater enthusiast, water releases on selected river runs are actually scheduled for the rest of the season -- see NorCal Yak pal Paul McHugh's article in The Sacramento Bee.

My fave source for current (no pun) river flow data is the Dreamflows California page. But the bottom line for any California kayaker this year? The future is now, so go for it. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

'Downsized' Tahoe still an alpine gem for kayakers

Update 5/29/15: While the white Sierra peaks are now down to snow-cone levels, water clarity is wonderful. More new photos online at

A view of the dwindling Sierra snowpack on May 2, but a beautiful scene nonetheless. 

A bit less water, but it's clearer than ever

It’s still the most spectacular alpine lake a kayaker could ever hope to paddle. So just think of Lake Tahoe as downsizing a little bit during California’s record dry spell.  

Earlier this month, three of us headed up the hill to enjoy Tahoe views while some snow still dusted the peaks. We weren’t disappointed, although the lake had dropped perhaps six or eight feet from its usual spring level.

On the plus side, Tahoe beaches are longer and wider than ever. On the minus side, that may mean some walking to haul kayaks down to the waterline. On the plus side again, water clarity is better than it’s been in years, thanks to less runoff from the hillsides.