Thursday, July 17, 2008


Auburn Run, American River NF/MF, California whitewater kayaking class III, winter2008.

NF/MF Confluence to Rattlesnake Bar : Lottsa Flat Water, Maynard, and a Looong Class II ?? NOT !!

Guest Author: John Simpkin. Auburn Run NF/MF American River (map & guide) (a.k.a Confluence Run) (Placer County / El Dorado County, California, USA).

Ok, I know what you're thinking. Ok, I don't know what you're thinking, but I know what I was thinking : "Lottsa flat water, Maynard. A looong class II". Think again, Homie. I was very surprised ! What you see on this run will depend on lake level and flows, but what I saw at 1200 cfs with low lake levels was this : five or six class III rapids, an optional, chunky class IV rapid, and two nice (non play park) play waves. And yes, there is a lot of flat water and a 2 1/2 mile paddle out at low lake levels. I began the run (my first) expecting a laid back class II paddle, nice scenery, and a state-of-the-art play park. Like I said, I was surprised. This run definitely has more bite than C to G Run on SF American River or Shirttail Run on NF American River; no question about it. In my opinion, the Confluence Run might be more challenging than the Lower Run on Cosumnes River if you discount the class IVs on that run.

The fun depends on the flows. I figgered we had about 1200 cfs : 675 cfs inflow at Lake Clementine (NF American River) with a two hour delay, and I assumed the same outflow. I added to that about 550 cfs from the release at Oxbow Dam (MF American River), and took into account a five or six hour delay.

Tobias, Darlene, Shelly, Joe Gerber, and I met at the Rattlesnake Bar Recreation Area, just above the boat ramp at 11:00. Be advised that the Rattlesnake Bar Recreation Area spans both sides of the river; we met at the river right (north) takeout near Auburn CA. If you takeout on river left, the "other" Rattlesnake Bar, your total shuttle time goes up by maybe an hour and the flat water increases by several miles.

We drove back to Auburn CA and down the hill to the put-in around noon. We continued east at the confluence, off of Hwy 49 towards Lake Clementine. The road crosses the NF American River maybe a quarter of a mile upstream of the Hwy 49 bridge. We parked near the start of the uphill grade, another quarter of a mile east of the bridge over the NF American River. We walked down to the MF American River just below a rapid I have seen from Hwy 49 and wondered about for years. The Gerb walked up to do the rapid while the rest of us watched from below. The river left side of the rapid is a solid class III, while the river right side (the side that catches your attention from the highway) is a bit chunky at the flows we saw and might deserve a higher rating. At lower flows the right side could be dicey. A bunch of us ran the left side a few days later : fun !

After Joe flushed, we all headed downstream to a couple of easy, if squirrley, rapids and then under the Hwy 49 bridge. Downstream and within sight of the old abandoned bridge was a very nice surf wave; not as good as Barking Dog Rapid or Maya Rapid on SF American River, but maybe as good as the surf spot above Fowler's Rapid on SF American River. We all had a go at it.

Downstream of the play wave were stretches of class II whitewater, but I didn't mind. "Lottsa flat water, Maynard", but the river and surrounding canyon were very pretty. The hills were greening up, the sun was out, and the blue sky was punctuated with only a few puffy clouds. The water was clear and warmer than that of the SF American River. We found another play wave before lunch, but it was tricky. The easy paddling continued until we approached the Artificial Rapids and lunch.

Artificial Rapids at China Bar, Auburn State Recreation Area.

A month and a half ago, Melvin, Darlene and I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to get to the Artificial Rapids. There's a big pipe gate at the top of the canyon near the fairgrounds in Auburn CA and it was locked. We drove up and down the canyon rim looking for another way down, but no cigar. We finally drove to the State Park office south of Auburn on Hwy 49 and talked to an official. What she said seemed a little indefinite, but the play park was supposed to have regular hours, extract a fee from users, and be supervised by park personnel. If I'm not mistaken, The Gerb said the State was having some trouble getting money to open the park. I Googled the play park and got nowhere.

In any event, as the massive, chiseled, and blasted canyon walls above the Artificial Rapids came into view, my stomach began to growl and I was looking forward to lunch. We parked and scouted. The Artificial Rapid's left channel is a 100 yard class III rapid at 1200 cfs, and is constructed of boulders and concrete. The first surfable wave is a Barking Dog kinda thing about three quarters down the channel followed by another wave 50 feet downstream. The second wave reminded Shelly of a wave on Cache Creek. It had a river wide trough that fed you into the wave. Four of us were able to catch the lower wave with varying degrees of success. Tobias and The Gerb busted their butts getting on the Barking Dog; I think there were two or three short surfs on this one. The water was not deep. There was another playboating wave that we saw at the park, but the Barking Dog was definitely the eye catcher, and the Cache Creek the most accessible.

Somebody said that the right channel at the Artificial Rapids was actually an intake for a utility company. It was a chute confined to a formed concrete channel with a perfect glassy wave. No eddies. The water was moving fast and you'd have to catch this one on the fly : nobody tried. If you missed it, you'd be able to eddy out 50 yards down stream, lug your boat back up, and throw the dice again. The water was shallow. At the bottom of the right channel is another possible surf spot, but eddy access is lacking.

This Whitewater River Run is just Class III, Right ?

As I was eating my lunch, I was thinking that this run would be a good class II for a beginning boater. Easy rapids, lottsa slow water, no stress; maybe accompanied by an experienced friend satisfied to simply enjoy the beauty of the river and the new greenery of Spring. I changed my mind about a half hour later.

Shortly after getting back into our boats, Joe told us that when he had done the run the first time, there was a mild river-wide boulder mini ledge that contained the remnants of an old metal culvert. The culvert was torn up with sharp metal pieces exposed, pieces that might pose a hazard to boaters. We didn't see it. Next on the menu, spread out over maybe a mile, were three class III rapids. Two of them came in close succession and had large pour-over boulders. Good wavetrain action, and you had to move to avoid some sections. In the first wave train below the Artificial Rapids there is a very good surf wave. Interesting features and definitely fun rapids below the Artificial Rapids. A newer boater might be pushed by these rapids in my opinion. There were a number of opportunities for making these rapids more challenging.

Some distance below these three class III rapids was a fork in the river around a cobble island. The middle channel eventually turned into easy class II riffles. The right channel looked interesting, and some of us headed in that direction. Most of the right channel rapid was hiding behind a horizon line. The top of the rapid was cut up by a bunch of smaller boulders providing multiple routes. "Go slow. Eddy, eddy, eddy." We spread out and maybe halfway down, saw a central (maybe four or five foot) horse shoe shaped ledge that could be approached from a number of directions. The ends of the "horse shoe" were facing down stream creating a bowl in between the horse shoe arms. This feature might be nasty at higher flows. The right side looked better than the center or left : less chunky, with a narrow chute of more or less unobstructed water. Nevertheless, you had to make a few moves and avoid some boulders. This would be a bad place to go downside up; no chance for a roll. Not class III. The following week, Joe went far left at the top of this rapid : another chunky drop.

Two more class III rapids followed. One had numerous apparent routes and several opportunities to get in trouble. The other had laterals that reminded me of Scissors Rapid on SF American River, but not as difficult as Scissors. There was also a stout wavetrain down here someplace. Finally, there was a class II rapid that had a very nice playwave. We diddled around on the wave for ten minutes.

The river seemed to get flatter and flatter and the water moved slower and slower. Finally we had to accept that we were on the lake. Best guess is that we had 2 1/2 miles of flat water to take-out. We could not see the boat ramp or parking lot at takeout from river level. Earlier in the day Joe had us note three overhead transmission lines, with big ball thingies on them, that spanned the river just downstream of takeout. We eddied out a few hundred yards upstream of the transmission lines, climbed a bank, and saw the boat ramp. The trip had taken us five hours.

At this flow, the Confluence Run is much harder than a C to G Run or a Shirttail Run. There are stouter rapids. There is also a lot of flat water, and there will be more flat water as Folsom fills up. I don't know what to make of the Artificial Rapids. At this point, it doesn't look like there is easy public access. There were only two, maybe three play waves at the Artificial Rapids at 1200 cfs. It seemed pretty shallow for rolling in some places, so maybe it was designed with higher flows in mind. The run had at least two good surf waves, one just below the bridge near put-in, and one at the end of the run.

One final reiteration : Don't use the Rattlesnake Bar Rd takeout 12 miles east of Pilot Hill. Use the Rattlesnake Rd. take out just west of Auburn. Yahoo Map to takeout.

More about:
Trip Reports - Kayaking Whitewater Rivers in California.
California Whitewater River Guides.

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