Rafting the South Fork

We are all so loyal to our beloved South Fork Tuolumne River, but we at FOBTC want to encourage everyone to explore and enjoy the whole Tuolumne Watershed! There’s so much to do up there (beyond our shangri-la on Hardin Flat Rd) and a lot of great organizations to get involved with.

This weekend I had an unforgettable time whitewater rafting down the Main Fork Tuolumne River with Sierra Mac River Trips (www.sierramac.com). Sierra Mac is one of the premier whitewater rafting companies, and was founded by the great Marty McDonnell, who also co-founded the Tuolumne River Trust, and was part of the coalition that helped stop hydroelectric projects from flooding BTC back in the 1980’s.

I was signed up for the Cherry Creek/Tuolumne run. I’d only been whitewater rafting once, on some Class III and IV back east many years ago, so I gotta admit, there was some trepidation about taking a primarily Class V trip when I pulled up to the parking lot at 6:00am.

We took a van down the Cherry Lake Rd, past San Jose Camp, and all the way down to one of San Francisco’s dams on Cherry Creek where they generate hydroelectric power. Our guides, Adam and Tom, provided a thorough overview, healthy breakfast, and pre-trip coaching. It felt like bootcamp at times, and that’s just what we needed to get mentally prepared and to feel confident. Throughout the trip, Adam and Tom skillfully and confidently guided us through some really intense drops, rapids, and chutes. They knew that river intimately, like we all know the South Fork intimately, and they could always tell us what rock, eddy, rapid, or other feature was around the corner and how we were going to handle it.

I gotta tell you, this is not like rafting down the South Fork to Naco at quiet hour. It’s also not like Rip Roaring Rapids at Great America amusement park. It was like 100 ‘pee-wee secrets’ per minute for five straight hours. It was like jumping off Beaverhead 100 times during morning swim! OK, got it? The main fork drains Tuolumne Meadows, the Hetch Hetchy area, Cherry Lake, the Middle Fork, Clavey River, and our South Fork. With such a huge watershed, there was a ton of water in the Main Fork, and we were flying down the canyon. The water was moving between 5 and 10 mph, and some of the drops and rapids were pretty severe. It took a lot of agility, balance, and hard work, but everyone on my boat did great, thanks to good coaching from our river guide, Tom. After getting the hang of it, it was an incredibly beautiful and rich way to enjoy a Sierra Nevada river. Of course I’m partial to climbing up Beaverhead, or hiking to Small Falls, or dangling my feet in the water below Arts & Crafts……that will always be my favorite way to pass a summer afternoon. But after this amazing trip, I also highly recommend taking a whitewater rafting trip down the Main Fork Tuolumne.

In our longterm effort to rebuild BTC, it’s important for us to also a) support the larger Rim Fire reforestation effort, b) support businesses along Highway 120, c) continue to protect the whole Tuolumne watershed, and d) build relationships with business and non-profit partners in the Stanislaus National Forest. And hey- why not have the time of your life while you’re at it? So check out Sierra Mac for a whitewater rafting adventure!

Phil Coffin

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