By CHUCK THOMPSON
Trip: California Dreaming
Duration: Three rivers, seven days
So the trip’s name is as trite as such a winter’s day, but there’s nothing else stale about a week navigating some of North America’s premier rapids while plunging through remote canyons and boulder gardens of the Sierra foothills. Highlights on any other river, nasty sections like Satan’s cesspool and Chipped Tooth here serve as mere practice runs before the world-infamous Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River, a Class V series of stair steps that begins with the inevitable You mean we’re not gonna portage here? protests from rookies who howl through more whitewater than a Clinton investigation.
Almost as impressive as the rivers are the surrounding they wind through. Starting on the South Fork of the American River, the trip hairpins through Cali’s ‘49er gold country, with water-level-dependent swings through the Middle Fork’s Tunnel Chute, a steep rapid that drops into a 90-foot-long hole blasted in the rock by miners. From there the Merced provides consistent Class III-IV rapids amid pine forests. The curtain closer is two days on the Tuolumne, arguably the finest rafting river in the country, which has flows into September. The pull-out near Sacramento leaves you in perfect position to add another week (or six) of vacation in nearby Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, or San Francisco.