Winter's heavy snows mean wild whitewater season

June 13, 2011 7:56:02 PM PDT
With this winter's heavy snow in the high Sierra, rafters can expect one of the best whitewater seasons in decades.

Guide Skylar Steranko has been rafting the Merced River for nearly 10 years and he has never seen it like this, this early in the season. Thanks to near record snowpack in the high Sierra, the Merced, and all northern California rivers, are running high this spring and the season's just beginning.

On this day, rafters took an 11-mile run with Zephyr Whitewater Rafting from El Portal, just west of Yosemite, to Bryceburg. Zephyr charges up to $115 for the half day trip and riders should be good swimmers.

The stretch of river covered in the Zephyr trip includes a good mix of Class 3 and 4 whitewater. (That's on a scale of 6 with 6 being un-runnable.)

It's the kind water that occasionally tosses a rafter or two from the boat.

"Falling out was fun and scary at the same time, but I'm glad I'm back in the boat now," rafter Maria Calomeris said.

The water's already running high and fast and with so much snow still up in the Sierra, the best is yet to come.

With the excitement this season brings, there's also a need for additional safety precautions. Until the water calms a bit, young children can't go along for the ride and because it's cold, wetsuits and extra layers are the way to go.

"It's pretty amazing, the kind of scenery we're in; it's been a bit cold, but it's been a good day," tourist Lee Eldridge said.

Well worth it for a true joy ride on one of California's last undammed rivers.


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