By Eric Rasmussen
Generally, POST trips happen as scheduled, regardless of such inconveniences as chill or downpours. So for unknown years hardy club paddlers have spent this long winter President’s Day Weekend canoeing the South Fork of the Eel from the dark and wet base camp at Richardson Grove. Maybe because this winter the Bay Area has had frost most mornings, people didn’t feel the need to spend their holiday in an even colder clime, so only Dave called to sign-up. It may also be that some people e-mailed me but for some reason didn’t get through. A snafu I discovered two days before the trip. Then there was the other clincher, confirmed by Don – after a month and a half with no rain the Eel lacked the flow to float even a canoe. So the trip was cancelled. And then reborn.
Dam releases guaranteed water on the South Fork of the American, and so a few of us wanting to paddle, did. For a day. We (Dave LaDue and friend Mark, Don and Karen, Alan and Kate, and I) met at the boater’s parking area at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park at 10 on Saturday, February 16. By the time the shuttle to Greenwood Creek, down Hwy. 49 a few miles, was completed, the river had risen high enough to easily move our boats, so we launched.
We weren’t alone. Rafters and kayakers were also using the temporary parking to unload and pack their craft. But it wasn’t a summer zoo. No commercial outfits were running. Though the sun was shining, the temperature was low. It was a day for all-season paddlers.
After hearing that Karen would, as always, wear a helmet, I’d decided I wanted to, too. But I’d neither arranged to get one out of POST storage, nor go to REI. Then, about a mile from the put-in, on my Googled route through Lotus, I saw the River Store. They didn’t have many helmets, but one, with a little padding excised, fit my big head perfectly. Ahhh. My wife would also be pleased.
This stretch was new to me, and as is often the case, I felt some anxiety. Would the several named rapids flip me? Soon enough, not ten minutes beyond the put-in we reached the white water that makes this run so popular, and a teaching zone for the Red Cross. We all got through fine, but decided to scout the next excitement, which could not be seen around a densely brushed turn. It had plenty of boulders, but they were widely spaced and the clear route obvious. No problems.
The most spectacular rapid was a wall of rocks that was perpendicular to the river, and followed by a wall of immense waves. We scouted this one from the outcrop on the left side and were amused to see four fellows in short, squat kayaks not just riding the waves, but dipping their noses into them and flipping over. As they washed out, they righted themselves and paddled straight back to repeat the fun.
None of us were eager to fill our open tubs, but the waves looked so strong, it seemed they’d easily tilt a canoe, send it broadside, then into the icy drink. But leader Dave went through on the tongue without a hitch, and so did the rest of us.
The finest part of the day was dinner. Alan knew of an Italian place in nearby Cameron Park. Dave and Mark were dining with another paddler in Sacramento, so they took off leaving the rest of us to follow Alan to Zac Jack Bistro. And were very glad we did. The food was great. “This is the best Caesar salad I’ve ever had.” Karen enthused. My Chicken Cordon Blue – so good! And Alan bought us two bottles of excellent red wine. All’s well that ends well!