Trip Report - Lower South Silver Creek
The South Fork of Silver Creek, AKA South Silver, is tucked into the west slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of Lake Tahoe. This creek is located along the south end of the crystal basin. The put in for the lower section is just below Ice House Reservoir. This section of river was de-watered in 1967 when Icehouse Dam was constructed as part of the Upper American River Project. This river runs directly through burn scar of the 1992 Cleveland Corral Fire. Most of the forest is composed of 15 foot tall pine trees that were replanted after that fire.
Recently American Whitewater negotiated releases on this section allowing some of our expedition team members to get out and enjoy this amazing section of river. The river meanders through an amazing alpine forest before dropping into the first mini gorge. This first mile or so is relatively simple and straight forward. There were two log portages in this section and a little bit of brush to fight through. The first portage was an easy drag over in the middle of the river. The second was a bit spicier with several large branches that a couple kayaks even had trouble with. We opted to just pick up the boats and walk them around through the brush.
The First Gorge
After the second log the river got really exciting. The river gets gorged up with several really fun slide-ledge combination drops. The rapids are almost instantly class IV in natures and at 500 CFS were moderately linked up with very few eddies in between.
After this drop there is one more drop large slide drop of note that was surfy at 500 CFS. Both of these drops sent one of the boats in our group for an exciting surf. Theresa's Nemesis (the second major rapid in the first gorge) is a great 6-8 foot slide that goes really well on river right, with a sneaky piton rock in the main drop that tends to surf kayaks and rafts alike. Please note that this can be a pretty serious hazard. This rapid has caused one serious ankle injury from the shallow rock. You can run the shallow slide to the right from the slack water above or charge left off the left slide. The gut looks tempting, but not worth it at this point in the run.
General River Character
After the first gorge the gradient slacks off and the canyon opens up. We found it really hard to judge the distance to take-out. Since all of the trees were planted at generally the same time, the forest gives the canyon a very uniform feel. There is an old stream crossing / four wheel drive trail about half way down at Chicken Hawk Springs.
There is an amazing gorge in the middle of the river. There are several beautiful camp spots scattered in this gorge. Eddies are few and far between, but the fire in 1992 seemed to miss this area and the gorge is full of massive and ancient trees. If you want to do a 2 day this is an excellent camp spot. There is one very distinct rapid with a couple of fun ones scattered about here.
The Final Gorge
For the most part the river consisted of lots of class III wave trains, awesome little slides, and some super fun ledge holes. There are a few standout drops in this run, but at 500 CFS it pushes fast so taking pictures can be a bit difficult.
We did encounter one log portage in the last third of the river, it was an easy pull over smooth logs, but after this the pace starts to pick up again. The final gorge has a fun slide in the beginning followed quickly by a sketchy log portage. The log portage leads directly into a beautiful river wide ledge drop with multiple options and outcomes...some better than others.
The river becomes more solid class IV in this gorge with some fun features. The final rapid of the whole run is the most fun. It is a large slide style rapid with several rooster tails that drop over into an odd lateral trough formed by a finger of rock jutting out of the right side of the river. This creates an amazing typewriter wave that shoots you through rapid a Mach speed.
The team felt that this river was a bit easier than some have made it out to be. The 80 FPM does conceal some large drops with some spicy features that can get ugly if you are unprepared for it. 500 CFS was a little pushy in some areas and just right in other areas. The gradient is definitely much higher in the beginning and the end. This will cause you problems if you do not bring your advanced boating game. A solid class IV rafter with a high tolerance for wood will have an absolute blast in this river, but if you are a class III+ boater looking for a step up run this probably is not the run for you. I would suggest sticking to something a bit more forgiving. With a good crew of Class IV boaters this run can go pretty quick and easy. The SMUD consultants who were counting boats said the Class III/IV boaters felt like 550 CFS was too much for them, and I could see how it would get pretty pushy and link some things up. Our team felt like 500 was and excellent flow (albeit a little pushy) and the whole thing went really well. We took a 12' plastic boat and a 14' rubber boat and both made it down with little to no issues. As a side note, the side hikes are amazing along the myriad small creeks.
American Whitewater with the help of the California Conservation Corps were able to clear some of the logs and debris from this section of river to allow boaters easier access to this section. Check out this update to see the great work everyone has done to open this section up.