Kayaking the East Fork Carson River in California

We went down the East Fork of the Carson River in June 2019. The water was high at 2200cfs and it was swift. The river is mostly Class II so nothing too scary but with the volume of water and the recent highs at 4000cfs, the river was rough and fast, so you couldn’t take your eyes off the river, and you had to anticipate quite some distance from the obstacle.

MAP at the bottom: The river also has the reputation to have sharp rocks, that can take your boat! We left around noon, so a little late. The put-in is located in Markleeville, CA. The put-out is 20 miles down in Nevada, right on the beautiful US395. So generally you camp half-way where the hot springs are. We camp one hill away from the hot springs here, because they were 3 groups of people camping around them. So no pictures.

Wilderness: This is 32km of wilderness run, which makes this section really pleasant to go down. No road, except a very rough one, where a few trucks didn’t make it! I’m glad, keep this part of the world away from engines, especially in this country, where there’s always a dude trying to destroy it for you! So it’s very wild and pretty. Lots of trees, it’s the end of the forest here, but you’re still in it. After that you go east and it’s all high altitude desert.

Rocks: So yes the river had sharp rocks and one class II+ rapid, which could be qualified as a class III at this level of water, and that’s where the rocks are very sharp in many places. One of our boats got a 1 foot cut underneath. We patch it overnight, but it didn’t really hold!

Friends: It was the first time we gathered our two groups of french friends. All of us 7 on the water. That was a lot of fun. And the river was rough, so we quickly had a few spills. Some rapids were tricky because the larger waves came sideways. The river is sharp, many straight right angle curves, where the water would be running into walls of rocks. Better avoid that. But IF you anticipated well in advance and were well positioned to avoid the strongest part of the rapids, then it was easy.

Boats: I was on my own with the Hyside Padillac II (it’s two person inflatable kayak), with quite a bit of equipment but not too heavy, and I had fun maneuvering around the rapids, sometimes taking some bigger waves. The others were in a Star and 2 NRS IKs. They flipped into the water once except one of the NRS’. And the STAR gave in at the Rattlesnake rapids, one curve up river from the hot springs, a sharp rock cut it nicely and we were very lucky to have that happened right where we were going camping. Very lucky. A group of rafters took one of our group on their boat for the second day. Very nice of them, especially with the beer and champagne. Some Napa Valley people. In the end, the most appropriate boat was probably the Hyside because its bulkier, sturdier, and the tubes are larger, which makes the boat stands above the water more easily.

Water: The water was cold. Very cold. It snowed a lot in the winter of 2018-2019. This was a record year. Great times on the slope were had. That’s what also explains that we had so much water mid-june. This is rare. Check out the graph below as well. The blue is the flow in CFS that we experienced, the lowest always being at noon, and the highest at midnight, fluctuation due to the snowmelt, which arrives 12 hours later on the river. But the high and lows were not that far apart when you look at the river. Maybe it was in speed. BUT I don’t think i’d want to do this river with less water. Because on the 2nd part of the river (2nd day) we ended seeing quite a bit more sharp rock in the middle of the river.

Shuttle: Check out cacreeks.com they have all the info for getting your cars dropped off at noon the second day at the put-out. We did it with Laura (River Rat Shuttle Service: call Laura at 775-901-6492) for $95/car. Very helpful, since the round-trip by car isn’t short. Probably a good 1-1.5 hour trip one way. Don’t leave your car at put-out overnight, it seems it could be broken into. Not a great way to end the trip.

Camping: We packed all our camping gear and food into dry bags. I had two 120-gallons bags. One of them held my 3-person tent, sleeping pads and bag, clothes, pillow (in compressor bag). Most others had 65-gallons dry bags but that was a little small, yet kind of a good size when we had two people per boats. I think next time we’d need to take even less stuff next time. We tried to pack as if we were going backpacking, but still we ended up taking a bit more. But I think you really need to pack as if you were backpacking.

That’s it for now! Until the next river, maybe back to the Trinity. I’d love to do the Klamath, the Eel river, the Kings river again, or the Green River. But this one is coming for sure, sooner than later!

The 32km (20 miles) Wilderness Run of the East Fork of the Carson River in California

The blue line is the flow we had on the date below. And the orange triangles are the annual average at that time of the year. So usually it’s quite almost 3 times less.

The blue line is the flow we had on the date below. And the orange triangles are the annual average at that time of the year. So usually it’s quite almost 3 times less.

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