Local white water rafting industry bottoms out in drought

Sequoia Adventures is the only local company offer white water rafting on the Kaweah, down from 10 companies just two years ago

THREE RIVERS – It’s not just farmers who get a sinking feeling during the drought. The local white water rafting industry has bottomed out as well. 

Only one local company is left in Three Rivers offering rafting trips down the Kaweah River in the scenic southern Sierra Nevadas. Once a beehive of rafting activity along the middle reach of the river, several years of drought have dried up interest in what was a spring ritual in these parts.

“People need to hurry with only about two more weeks left when we can offer trips,” said David Hammond, owner of Sequoia Adventures in Three Rivers. He hopes to offer trips until around May 20.

Kaweah-River.com, a website devoted to the sport of white water rafting, at one time listed 10 companies offering pulse pounding raft rides on the Kaweah. Today, Sequoia Adventures is the only local company offering guided trips now that long-time rafting company Kaweah White Water is no longer in business. Another local firm, Mountain Descents, has had its phone disconnected.

The Kaweah River is fed by snowmelt from the 12,000 foot peaks in Sequoia National Park and has been advertised as offering some of the finest whitewater rafting in Central and Southern California. It is one of America’s steepest rivers, dropping at 85 feet per mile in its first few miles.

The snowpack is melting fast this season and was just 15% of normal as of May 1, according to the California Department of Water Resources. River runoff was at at about 54% of normal.

“We started rafting trips in early March and this year it’s been like a big labor – although it is a labor of love,” said Hammond, who has been in the rafting business his entire adult life. “We ran our first trip on the Kaweah River in 1988 and more than 30 years later this is still our’s and many of our guides’ favorite river trips. The Kaweah River is the only river we run.”

Walnut Creek-based All-Outdoors operates professionally guided whitewater rafting trips on 10 California rivers including the Kaweah. One of their earlier advertisements described Kaweah’s wild ride as class IV and V rapids, the highest level of rapids, based on speed, drops and tight maneuvering. “The Kaweah River is one of America’s steepest river runs featuring long boulder slaloms and tricky hydraulics that create an adrenaline pumping ride. This river trip is for strong swimmers, in good shape and ideally with prior class 3 paddling experience. The rapids are fast and technical, our experienced guides will help you navigate these waters.”

The Kaweah is only 33.6 miles long but drops two and a half miles in the middle run. During wet years, the snowmelt coming off the mountains is moving at 2,500 cubic feet per second “offering boaters a fast-moving, exhilarating run.”

The last big year on the Kaweah was 2019. Since then, the flow has been underwhelming. Today, the river’s high flow is under 800 cubic feet per second.

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