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June 28, 1999 - Top 5s & 10s From California Boating

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1. Main Stem Tuolumne River
Many rafters are baptized by the cool, clear, pounding waters of the Tuolumne, commonly known as "The T." Here you'll find one of California's most thrilling rapids, Pinball, and one of the most terrorizing, Clavey Falls. The 18-mile run, from Meral Pool downstream to Ward's Ferry, is rated Class IV+. Anybody who runs it will have experienced the true essence of exhilaration. See chapter E4, page 337.

2. Salmon River
Most of the rapids on the Cal Salmon, as the Salmon River is affectionately known, alternate between Class IV and V, and only experienced paddlers who don't mind living on the edge need apply. Highlights include Bloomer Falls (Class IV), The Maze (Class IV), Whirling Dervish (Class IV+), and Last Chance (Class V). The latter is a mind-bender of a drop that will send your heart out of your body for what seems like an eternity. In fact, among rafters there is a clear-cut division between those who have run the Cal Salmon and those who have not. See chapter A1, page 59. 

3. Forks of the Kern River
You have to be a little crazy to raft the Forks of the Kern, and that's exactly why we like it. This is expert-only territory, and attempting to run it can be a death-defying act even for the best. The run is rated Class V, just a bit saner than a suicidal Class VI. It is renowned for three things: heart-pumping rapids in quick succession, the stunning canyon setting, and its extremely difficult access. See chapter G5, page 413. 

4. Upper Klamath River
Rafting Hell's Corner on the Upper Klamath is kind of like putting a saddle on the space shuttle and riding off into orbit. The worst stretch is Satan's Gate (Class IV), Hell's Corner (Class IV+), and Ambush (Class IV)-one right after the other. This is where boating turns into an act of faith. And it just keeps going. The last big rapids you'll encounter are Snag Islands Falls (Class III+) and Stateline Falls (Class III), providing two final chances to dump. See chapter A2, page 67. 

5. South Fork American River
Here you have it: The most popular rafting river in America. For newcomers to the sport, the South Fork American is the best choice, offering easy access, enough of a white-water challenge to add some sizzle, and a huge array of guided trips to choose from. This is a Class III run, considered the perfect introduction to rafting, and there are plenty of takers. The white-water highlights include Meatgrinder (Class III), Troublemaker (Class III+), and Satan's Cesspool (Class III+), which can challenge even experienced paddlers and give most novices the opportunity to see if their heart can pound a hole through their chest. See chapter D3, page 241.

6. Upper Kings River
The Upper Kings is a scintillating stretch of water suitable only for daredevil experts. It features a Class V+ rating, incredible views, and near-death drops. The reward is unequaled wilderness scenery, including a breathtaking view of 640-foot Garlic Falls (on the right at mile 5). Note: There is no trail access to much of this stretch of river, except for the two-mile trail to the put-in. This means there is no chance of rescue. See chapter F4, page 389. 

7. Merced River
The Merced features an extraordinarily long (29 miles) stretch of river that can be run from the put-in at Red Bud to the take-out at Bagby. It is rated Class IV+ for the first 9 miles and the last 13 miles, and is rated Class II for the 7 miles in between. The scenery is attractive and the run has a remote feel, even though much of it is paralleled by the highway. The first 2.5 miles contain some Class IV white water, most notably Chipped Tooth and Nightmare Island. See chapter E4, page 342.

8. Klamath River (Happy Camp to Green Riffle)
Nature's artwork can seem perfect here. The Klamath River tumbles around boulders and into gorges, then flattens into slicks, all the while framed by a high, tree-lined canyon rim and an azure blue sky. From Happy Camp to Green Riffle it's 37.5 miles, and highlights include Kanaka Falls (Class III) and Dragon's Tooth (Class III+). To sum it up, this is a very pretty run with lots of birdlife, pretty river bends, and a good number of easy runs interspersed by slicks, making it a kick for all comers. See chapter A1, page 62. 

9. Middle Fork American River
The scenery is exquisite, remote, and lush. The water is cold and clear. Historical sites from the Gold Rush days abound. And the white-water rafting runs bear such names as Texas Chainsaw Mama and Murderer's Bar. Need more be said? Texas Chainsaw Mama? Hey, where do they get these names, anyway? Right, this is the Middle Fork American, the challenging alternative to the popular South Fork American. See chapter D3, page 233.

10. Lower Kern River
A challenging intermediate-advanced section is featured on this run. Most of the white water is rated Class III+, though there are a few Class IVs sprinkled along the route, including White Maiden's Walkway, Dead Man's Curve, Hari-Kari, Horseshoe Falls, and Pinball. Here's an insider's note: You'll find hot springs at the Miracle Hot Springs camping area. The area is not maintained, but you can still find hot pools if you search around a bit. See chapter G5, page 417.

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