The record-setting drought in California has been big news lately — at least on the west coast, where it was recently announced that Central Valley farmers will get no water this year from the federal government, and a Gold Rush ghost town hidden underwater since 1955 has resurfaced at the bottom of Folsom Lake.
Most of our rivers depend on snowpack in the Sierra, and the lack of precip this winter not only hurts the state of agribusiness in the rest of the country, it also means no fishing, mediocre skiing, and maybe kayaking (if we’re lucky) in the spring. We might get a week or two of whitewater if we watch the river flows closely, compared to the four-month window we normally get in a good season, and it’ll be a toss-up whether one of our favorite rivers will be running at all this year.
I’ve written about the East Fork Carson before on this blog, and it’s become one of my favorite summertime runs. The river crosses the California border into Nevada and I’ve paddled the 20-mile stretch between Markleeville and Gardnerville every year for the past three years. It’s astonishing to read my first trip report from 2011, where we experienced higher-than-normal snowpack and intense flows as late as July!
While last year wasn’t a particularly strong year for river rapids, we monitored the flow charts for weeks and made our way to Markleeville as soon as we saw a spike in the gauges. The Carson was at average flow in the middle of May 2013, with sunny skies in the forecast and warm breezes at our backs.
We pulled off at the primitive hot spring sites at the halfway point and let me tell you, that first soak after 10 miles of paddling was pure happiness.
Camping on the river is something special. It’s made even more special when paddling is one of the few ways to access this beautiful, tranquil pocket in the Sierra. We saw only two other people the whole weekend. All we could hear at the campsite was the sound of the river rushing past our tents… the occasional bird, the rustle of leaves, the crunch of footsteps passing through our pine-mulched campsite.
I can almost feel the sun on my skin and smell the pine in the air when I think back to those two days we spent on the Carson. Completely free, totally unwound. Take me back, please.