Rocks and rapids of the Tuolumne River-2nd edition 2007

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NameRocks and rapids of the Tuolumne River-2nd edition 2007
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Rocks and rapids of the Tuolumne River-2nd edition 2007
Copyright 2007, Terry Wright
My original guide, published in 1983, has served long and well. The original purpose was to provide documentation of the river experience and natural history in support of our application for wild and scenic status, approved in 1984. In light of all that has passed since then, I am putting the text of the guide on the web, without pictures, for all to use and add to and correct. If the stars agree, this may result in a second edition. Your additions, stories, suggestions etc. are welcome. Please send to me at my email or snail mail address below. Meanwhile, see you on the river. Thanks to Greg Bartow for the scan and Barbara Moore for the translation to word.
Pax terry wright Forestville, January 2007

Box 279, Forestville, Ca. 95436


I would like to thank all people who share the Tuolumne experience; in particular

John Amodio and Laurie McCann of Tuolumne River Preservation Trust for their

unflagging efforts to preserve this beautiful place; Dr. Ken Stocking, who first taught me to pronounce "Too-WAL-oo-mm-nee;" Ken Coulter, my chauffeur and expert

high-side artist; the Sierra Mac crew, Chris, Peter, Fred and Tyler; the SNAFU River Expeditions hardies for many trips. Walter, Sam; Penny, Paul and Gordon; Bob

Center and David Bolling, for venturing into unknown territories at high water, and Christie, who didn't know what she was getting into; Rich Schweickert, Tom

Anderson and Jason Saleeby for geologic camaraderie; and everyone else who has

put up with my stories and outrage on the river. Special thanks go to Noel Debord,

Gerry Meral, Dick Sunderland, Bob Hackamack, Bryce Whitmore, Loren Smith and

other hardy souls who braved cliffs, bushes and poison oak to scout this run for us all.
The first guides written by Rod Nash and Rob Elliott in the early 70's were primary sources of information for names of rapids. Names of rapids are in a constant flux; we used the most common names today, and apologize if your favorite name was omitted. Special thanks go to Rod Nash for input and permission to quote and use information from “The Big Drops”.
The history of mining and river exploration of this part of the canyon has been

covered in depth in the book A Guide to Three Rivers, edited by John Cassidy and

published by Friends of the River books. This book was used as a prime resource for the human history in Rocks and Rapids. Beautiful detailed drawings of plants and birds can be found in Three Rivers.
For financial support my deepest gratitude goes to the following; Dr.

Fred Groverman, Sonoma County veternarian par excellence and one of my most

enthusiastic students, Mrs Lucius D Mahon, my aunt, who has a keen interest In

preserving wild places and their hlstory, and my parents, Ruth and Bill Wright, who started and supported me on the path that has led to the Tuolumne canyon

Thanks are also due to Hal Beck, the walking thesaurus, and to the vineyards of

Sonoma County for lubricating our word processor. The contributors, Peter

Pressley, Pat Carr, John Amodio and Greg Thomas, did excellent work submitted on

Time. Reviews of the manuscript at various stages and states were done by Marty

McDonnell, Bill Lane, Fred Dennis and Bob Center. Comments and

additions to this guide are welcome and will be incorporated into a second edition
Terry Wright

Forestville, California

April, 1983

Challenging whitewater set in the grandeur of an unspoiled Sierra

mountain canyon: this is the Tuolumne River experience. This experience

is heightened for those who take the time to learn the secrets

of her natural and human history. In this spirit we offer this guide.
This guide gives the novice or veteran river-runner a look at the natural

history of the Tuolumne Canyon as well as some vignettes of the human

imprint. We begin at the beginning: a description of the nuts and bolts

logistics for successfully and safely enjoying the popular Tuolumne River run

between Lumsden Camp and Wards Ferry Bridge. The core of the text is a

mile-by-mile river guide featuring useful descriptions of the rapids as well as

noting key locations for best exploration of the canyon's geology and biology.

We offer supplementary chapters with in-depth treatment of the Geology and

Biology of the Sierra Nevada. We cannot resist telling some of the more

amusing or instructive stories of events that have happened on the river.

Information about campsites and river management is provided to increase

awareness of river rules and etiquette. Fishermen are not forgotten; there is a

chapter by Pat Carr whose writings on the Tuolumne have appeared in

Angler magazine.
Rocks and Rapids also serves as a text for Wilderness Interpretation trips

on the Tuolumne, and as an introduction to the canyon for those who have

not been there and are interested in river conservation issues. The Tuolumne River Preservation Trust has carried on this work since establishment of wild and scenic status. Contact the able people there for more information about present conservation issues.

Last, but by no means least, a guidebook is no substitute for common

sense and experience. Fortunately, first-timers can take out (up a 50-foot

cliff) after the first rapid if they should find their equipment or ability

inadequate for the Tuolumne run. The authors and publishers of this book

take no responsibility for mishaps caused by the use of information herein.
The River
The Tuolumne is a grand experience in river-running, and the magnitude

of reward in river experience is directly proportional to the

complexity of logistics. This includes getting to the river, preparing

equipment, the shuttle, navigating the rapids and unique special problems and situations that vary from year to year. Whether you are a passenger on a

professionally guided trip, guide, head boatman or private river-runner, the

logistics of running the Tuolumne are an outstanding challenge.
The Tuolumne River courses like a white staircase from the far reaches of

Yosemite National Park, through the Sierra foothills and flows quietly out

into the great central valley of California. (see map inside front cover).

"Talmalamne" is Miwok dialect for a circle of stone shelters, and may also

refer to the circle of jagged peaks at the Tuolumne's source on Mount Lyell,

13, 114 feet high on the Sierra Crest.
This staircase is interrupted twice in its plunge by unnatural objects, at

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park and at Don Pedro

Reservoir in the western Sierra foothills. Hetch-Hetchy inundated a valley

that was the identical twin of Yosemite. In 1906 San Francisco was

devastated by fire, touched off by chimneys damaged during the April 18

earthquake. The fire raged uncontrollably for days after the quake because

the water system was destroyed. The city rebuilt the water system and

acquired water rights to the Tuolumne. They built 0’Shaugnessy Dam to

back up Hetch-Hetchy reservoir and provide flow for an aqueduct. The

aqueduct guides 470 million gallons of water a day to San Francisco and

supplies a steady stream of sustenance to 800,000 people and businesses.

The aqueduct incidentally creates electric power along its path at Moccasin

power house, at the foot of Priest Grade, the steep stretch of road you have

to climb to get to Groveland from Oakdale. John Muir and the fledgling

Sierra Club vigorously fought this project, and lost.

Don Pedro reservoir flooded the end of the Tuolumne run in 1975. It

provides irrigation water for the Modesto-Turlock area. Rich farmland

provides an economic base for this portion of the Great Valley.
The Permit System
The permit system is designed to insure that the Tuolumne run stays a

high-quality wilderness experience. Limitations on numbers of people are

aimed at avoiding the crowds typical of other rivers.

Professional outfitters, listed in the back of this book, hold permits issued

by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Outfitters pay a fee to the USFS for each

user-day (one passenger for one day). A portion of these fees is returned to

Tuolumne County for roads and schools. Professional guides have to run the

Tuolumne three times without paying passengers at different water levels

and must hold Red Cross first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation cards.

Outfitters have very good equipment and lots of experience so the margin of

safety is very high. Professional groups are limited to 23 people, and two

outfitters can put in a trip each day. Typically, professional trips include

shuttle service in a van and all equipment and food on the river. This is the

way to go for an exciting vacation, everything taken care of.
Non-professional use also requires a permit, called a private permit, for

groups who share expenses during the summer season; these can be obtained by phone, mail, or in person from the local Forest Service station (P.O. Box 709, Groveland, CA 95321; 209-962-7825). Contact them for current permit requirements or see information online at

Their office is at the USFS Groveland center, just east of La Casa Loma store, about 10 miles east of Groveland on route 120.
The people there are very helpful; the staff will be glad to answer any questions about campsites, water level and condition of the Lumsden put-in road. Currently,

the private permit system is for planning, advisory purposes, and resource

protection. In the future increasing private use may result in restrictions

designed to spread out the use over time to avoid crowding.

If you are considering a private trip, be aware that the Tuolumne demands the utmost from equipment, strength, and boating expertise. At minimum, it

is definitely a, class IV descent on the river difficulty scale: extremely

demanding at all water levels. At high water it is class V, requiring teams of

experts in top condition. The river is always full of surprises, and even

veteran boatmen hold the highest respect for it and tell many tales of mishaps

on the Tuolumne. If you have mastered the American River and are in top

shape, with professional-quality equipment, then you might think about

running your own trip on the Tuolumne.
Shuttle: Getting To The River
The best approach to the put-in road is 7.5 miles east of Groveland on

Highway 120. Turn left on Ferretti Road at La Casa Loma Store. This is the meeting

place for boaters of the Tuolumne. Last-minute supplies such as beer,

guidebooks, and river information are available here, or in Groveland in the shopping center on the left at the east end of town. Refer to the fold-out map at the back of this guide for locations.
The USFS authorized shuttle service is run by Sierra Crest Tours. Phone contact at 209-962-7245 to reserve a shuttle driver. Shuttle rates and logistics are always in a state of flux, so call well ahead.
If you run your own shuttle, plan on at least three hours round trip

Vehicles left at the take-out at Ward's Ferry Bridge are frequently vandalized

or burglarized at night during the summer, so it is best not to leave an unattended vehicle overnight.
The Lumsden Road
One mile from La Casa Loma on Ferretti Road, just past a cattle guard, the

dirt road to the right leads to the put-in. The road is frequently impassable in

wet weather because of mud or landslides, and chains or 4-wheel drive may

be required. Contact the USFS in Groveland for current road conditions. Be

careful; see the River Log for further description. Lumsden campground is

next to the river, five miles down near the put-in. Because of the length of the

shuttle, it is a very good idea to camp at Lumsden if you are doing your own

trip. Vehicles should not be left in the campground while you are running the

General Logistics of Running the Tuolumne
The challenge of planning the river trip is now before you or your guide.

Water level is the first consideration. For purposes of this guide, the following

terms apply to ranges of water flow, measured in cubic feet per second (cfs)

flowing past an imaginary plane across the river:
very low water, 300-700cfs: common in summer on Sundays and holidays

Low water, 700-1100 cfs: normal daily flows in summer and early fall

Medium water, 1100-2500 cfs: normal flow between storms in fall.

Medium high water, 2500-5000 cfs winter, and early spring

early and late spring snowmelt flows, and storms

High water, 5000-9000 cfs: spring snowmelt flow and intense storm flow usually during a three week period between mid-May and late June; may extend to July in

wet years.

Flood stage, 9000-plus: peak snowmelt or warm rain on snow four to six days per year in high water period.

Water level may fluctuate rapidly during storms or on spring days as snow

melts in the High Sierra. The 800 cfs power release flow from the Cherry

Creek powerhouse, nine miles upstream from put-in, is the cause of daily

fluctuations in summer and fall. The water surge progresses slowly

downstream; it rises at the put-in at 9:00 to 10:OO a.m., but will not come up at

Clavey Falls, six miles downstream, until noon; and at Big Creek, 13 miles

downstream, until 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. Information on flow can be obtained from the website or at the staff gauge at put-in.

Remember, at any level the Tuolumne is full of surprises and unexpected

disasters even for seasoned, battle-scarred veterans. The run is best

described by the word "technical", demanding constant shifting in course to

avoid obstacles. It is best to plan for survival: if you plan a one-day private

trip, do so only during medium and high water, and carry a few sleeping bags

and granola bars just in case you don't make it.
The Tuolumne at Different Levels
At summer medium low water a two or three-day trip is a chore, but possible. A

misadventure, like wrapping a boat around a rock may force that extra day.

At this level the run is best viewed as a very tight rock slalom: you must

choose rocks to bounce off. Self bailing Boats with tubes protected by wrap-up floors are a definite plus. You must watch your downstream oar constantly, and keep it high or it can jam on a rock and belt you in the stomach or break. You

constantly have to ship oars to avoid large rocks. A spare oar is not only

required, it is necessary; tie it on very securely and have it quickly accessible
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