To quote my friend Barb's question, "Don't you have the life?" and to answer said question: yes, sometimes, we do. We live in a place like Yosemite so we can do things like whitewater rafting in photo above, and though I long for a real grocery store and often despise the isolation (2 hours to the nearest Target!), the fact is that most days here can be really great. Spring in Yosemite is all about the snowmelt: roaring waterfalls, blooming wildflowers, and the Merced River raging through it's course as the high country snow melts and plunges to Yosemite Valley in the spring sunshine. Each year as we emerge from the Sierra Nevada winter, rafting companies set up shop on mountain rivers like the Merced and escort rafters through the icy cold whitewater for a thrill. Yosemite's concession company (Ted's employer), DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, has a great employee recreation program that schedules a group rafting trip each spring with local operation Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions. Everyone piles on the bus for a ride to El Portal, just outside Yosemite's west gate and gets kitted out for whitewater fun.
Though you can float on a much calmer Merced River at the height of midsummer inside the park, whitewater rafting is prohibited, so you must ride the rapids outside of the park about a half hour drive from Yosemite Valley. The Zephyr guides and staff are friendly and knowledgeable and give you many, many saftey instructions before and after you set foot in the raft. On this day the Merced River water was a brisk 44 degrees, so we wore bathing suits under wetsuits and splash jackets under lifevests. Some opted for wool sweaters under splash jackets and wool socks under water shoes. No kidding - that water is cold! Our raft guide, Max, made sure we knew what we doing before setting out for a full day trip on the river that includes a lunch stop in the middle.
This stretch of the Merced, from Indian Flat Campground to Railroad Flat just before you reach the North Fork of the Merced, is 22 miles comprised of mostly Class III rapids with a few Class VIs (Ned's Gulch, Split Rock, Corner Pocket) thrown in that are great fun.
- Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)
- Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
- Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)
- Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)
- Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)
- Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers (e.g., a smooth slide that creates a near-perfect, almost inescapable hydraulic. Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning "danger to life or limb." (Skill Level: Expert)
We stopped to eat on "Lunch Island" and enjoyed a spread of lemonade, sandwiches and fruit while everyone warmed their toes in the sun. Apparently cookies are usually on the menu but river guide Joe failed to notice the cookies stashed under his seat in the paddle boat so we had to go without, making Joe somewhat less popular for the second half of the run. Otherwise, the lunch was great and once we were fed and sun-baked, we launched our flotilla for the trip down through Briceburg and on to Railroad Flat.
In the calm stretches or easy rapids of the river the guides would encourage rafters to swim, though the water was far too cold for me. Practicing their form, swimmers get hauled out of the water and back into the boats by the straps on their lifevests. Luckily no one took an inadvertent swim on this day and our lifesaving instructions were not put to the test. We ended the day with two wild Class IV rapids before reaching Railroad Flat and the takeout. Zephyr provided cold drinks and pulled the rafts out of the water for the half hour bus and trailer ride back to the Zephyr shop in El Portal.
Thanks to our river guide, Max, and our raftmates Teri, Brent and Anna for a great day on the river. We'd go rafting with Zephyr again anytime. The whitewater was spectacular and just challenging enough for a novice like me. Please note that I could not film or photograph during the actual rapids on the river so if the video or photos look tame, beware! The two fantastic shots of us in the raft mid-rapid were taken by a professional photographer that makes the shots available for purchase after the trip and their office is right next to Zephyr in the same building. Finally, thanks also to Emily at Yosemite Employee Recreation for making it happen.
Day Trip on the Merced River with Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions: Junk in the Trunk!!