River Conditions

WhiteWater Voyages Media Articles

March 1, 2002
Sports Illustrated Women

Three Rivers that Make a Splash

Inflate your PFD and prepare to get wet, not matter what your budget.
Thanks to snowmelt and lots of rain, spring is the best time to go whitewater rafting. The greater the volume of water, the faster and more furious the ride. River conservation organization American Whitewater classifies rivers from Class I (easy, with riffles and small waves) to Class VI (extreme and exploratory). Most runnable rivers top out at Class V, which contain very long, obstructed or violent rapids, drops with large unavaoidable waves and steep chutes--scary for newbies, a turn-on for whitewater aficionados. On a rafting trip you and a handful of other paddlers maneuver an inflatable raft through standing waves and boiling eddies as the guide yells out instructions like "Forward" and "Right turn!" These three rivers are runoff fed, have reliable spring flows and are accessible by experienced rafting outfitters. Trips book up fast, so buckle down your berth soon.

Under $100 a day
Nolichucky River, Tenn.

Dug into the hardwood-covered Appalachians along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the "Noli" is an undammed river that runs down a 900-foot gorge. Its behaviour depends on the spring rains, which in a day can transform it from a rocky trickle to a swollen, fast-moving force, perfect for Class III to IV-plus runs. The Nantahala Outdoor Center (800-232-7238), a paddling school and outfitter that has sent kayakers to the Olympics, offers a one-day Noli trip ($60-$75) from March to July right outside the tiny town of Erwin, Tenn. NOC offers preliminary instruction and requires that you be "in well-above-average physical condition" for the three to five hours of vertical drops and standing waves. They also recommend long johns: Spring temperatures can drop into the 40s. For lodging, choose from B&Bs in Johnson City, Tenn., such as Jam N Jelly Inn ($85 for a double; 423-929-0039). Or camp on your own in the Cherokee National Forest ($7; 423-638-4109), home to part of the Appalachian Trail.

Under $200 a day
Tuolumne River, Calif.

The "T" is a whitewater dream: continuous Class IV rapids on a traffic-free course from Yosemite through the Sierras. (Though the river's ideal conditions draw plenty of rafting companies, to protect it Congress mandated that only 2 can run the T at a time.) In March the Hetch Hetchy Dam regulates the melting Sierra snowpack, releasing extra water into the river, and the canyon slopes are ablaze in swaths of blue lupines, pink shooting stars and white globe lillies. Two outfitters run trips from La Casa Loma River Store, right outside the town of Groveland, three hours east of the San Francisco Bay Area. One-day trips run March to September ($185); two-day trips, April to October ($385). Rafting veteran and author Bill McGinnis' Whitewater Voyages (800-400-RAFT, www.whitewatervoyages.com), where Survivor finalist Kelly Wiglesworth works, runs one- to three-day raft-and-camp trips ($185-$594, April-October).

Over $300 a day
Futaleufu River, Chile

Flowing out of the snowcapped Andes, the "Fu" beckons paddlers with 100 miles of turquoise Class V rapids. Fed by glacial melts originating some 20,000 feet up, the river swells in the Chilean summer (December-March). In northern Patagonia the daytime temps average 80°, and the water is refreshingly cool. Earth River Expeditions (800-643-2784, www.earthriver.com) offers a 10-day Futaleufu journey (March-April, $2,700) that starts at its remote base camp 10 miles west of the river's namesake town. Getting there requires two charter flights (included) from Santiago plus a half day of hiking and driving, but the next eight days promise a roller-coaster ride through old-growth forests and sharp granite peaks, with stops at Swiss Family Robinson-style tree-house camps, complete with cypress hot tubs. Expediciones Chile (888-488-9082, www.exchile.com) offers several packages, such as the eight-day FutaFantasy (March, $2,500 including charter flights) that treats you to chef- prepared Chilean meals served with local wine -- after demanding days on the river.

© 2002 Sports Illustrated Women



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