Sunny with Chance of Whitewater… Fear and Loathing in California Mountains
It was pouring as we gathered in Portland, OR to begin the 4th quarter of Spring 2012 with WCA. Water levels across the West Coast were skyrocketing and as we headed towards the Cal Salmon in Nor Cal, the green fields of the Willamette Valley were covered with standing water. Sheep sought higher ground. Puddles filled the interstate. Visibility became diminished. We continued on South.
Located two-hours West of Yreka and hidden in the Marble Mountains, the Forks of the Salmon might just be one of the most secluded towns on the West Coast. Historians at one point described this area, tucked away in the scraggy mountains of the Northern California coast-range, as the most “lawless area in the West”. A boom in gold, timber and mining, caused a rush of people to move into the area in the late 1800’s. From then on, the population has declined and now it is a slow paced quiet town that is hard to believe might receive the award for whitewater capital of the West Coast.
The Forks of the Salmon is Rush Sturges’ country. Growing up on his parent’s kayak school called Otter Bar, Rush cut his teeth on the whitewater of this area. WCA was lucky enough to get shown down a few of these classics by Rush and for one week we got to run some pristine whitewater.
After the Cal Salmon and runs on Kidder Creek, South Fork, North Fork, Nordheimer, and Butler, the school packed up and crossed back over the Marbles and into the Scott Valley to catch the I-5 further South. Soon we spotted a renegade palm-tree. An in-and-out burger joint was soon to follow. It was beginning to feel like California.
Our next stop was the N.F. of the Feather, just East of Chico. This run brought the school into the granite boulder fields that to many describe classic California. Here we ran into some high water, cold temperatures, and a couple days of heavy rain… and then some snow. We arranged with a local restaurant to allow us to have classes inside, which saved us some cold fingers and gained us some chicken strips and onion rings.
The current location of the school is Nevada City, just West of Lake Tahoe and close to the Yuba and N.F. American drainages. We have been graciously allowed to stay with Justin Patt and his family. Justin is a WCA graduate and CA whitewater recon artist.
As the days get longer on the West Coast, it is easy to forget how far this group has come, the trials and tribulations, and the moments that will forever remain imprinted into our psyche. WCA semesters are like an army invasion: it is often difficult to take stalk of the experience until after the fact. We continue on into our journey and marvel as each day presents us with a comforting rhythm of constant change and adventure.