Snowmelt may mean increased thrills, danger on NorCal rivers this summer

The record Sierra snowpack led to some great ski days just a few months ago. But with the snowmelt already underway, the excitement has shifted from the slopes to the rivers.

The snowmelt is energizing Northern California’s rivers, and also boosting the danger.

Thousands of visitors make the trip every summer to one stretch of the American River in Gold Country near Placerville, California.

Adventure Connection is one of many rafting companies that headquartered along the South Fork of the American River.

One staff member said the current flow rates are abnormally strong and have not been this high in years.

KTVU meteorologist Mark Tamayo visited a stretch of the American River that averages about 1500cfs, or cubic feet per second, this time of year. The spring flows have already topped 4000cfs. And if Sierra temperatures continue to heat up through the summer, as expected, flows could approach a dangerous 10,000cfs.

The popular rapids named Satan’s Cesspool and Trouble Maker took KTVU’s camera crew for a bumpy ride, and could be even stronger as warm summer days near.

Adventure seekers can still enjoy the thrill of riding Class 3 rapids, however.

Noah Triplett, a River Recreation Supervisor, urges visitors to hire a guide to safely see the power of the river.

The proper equipment and training are the key factors that could lead to a fun day on the rafts. A life jacket is a very good starting point.

The trees are an additional danger that could surprise you in the river. Branches that may normally tower overhead are in the water with you.

"When the water is going through the trees like they are now, it is a strainer situation. If you think about it [like] spaghetti getting caught up in a colander," Triplett said.

Anna Weber, a raft guide for Adventure Connection, said she shares three basic, effective steps for people who may fall out of the boat: stay calm and hold your breath, keep your feet up, and swim back to the raft.

River companies in the region are expecting to be busy guiding visitors down the rapids over the next few months. They know the power of the river and say they prioritize safety.