Big Water on the Kern River

Big Water Season on the Kern River!

We are not going to sugar coat it, big water can be intimidating, but it can also be the best time ever!

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Are you thinking about rafting this year but have questions about what that means on a big water year? We are here to explain the differences and help you make better decisions on what trip is right for you. At Mountain and River Adventures we take guests down the Kern River every year for the past 31 years high or low water, we know the Kern River well.

The Lower Kern River on a normal year runs between 2000 & 35000 cfs, on a year like 2017 we saw flows up to 5400 cfs.

What is a cfs? Cubic Foot Per Second, it’s how we measure water volumes in rivers. 1 cfs is about the size of a basketball so you can imagine 5400 basketballs bouncing down the river at once. It is too early to say exactly how much water will be released in the lower kern this year, but with the snowpack in the sierra and the amount of water in Lake Isabella we can expect an above average amount.


Big Water Hazards

  1. Strainers (big water floods banks, avoid trees and bushes)

A strainer is the number one hazard on a big water year. Before any commercial rafting trip your raft guide will talk about strainers. A strainer is a tree or object that has water flowing through and around it. This is a hazard because you can become trapped in the tree or object. In some  cases it is often safer to be in the middle of the river than near the shore. Look for other boats and swim towards them.

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Strainer (tree in the water)

2. Swims

Big water swims can be fast, the best thing to do if you find yourself swimming is to get back in the boat you came out of, swim to another boat near. Be an active participant in your own rescue, and avoid strainers at all costs.

So, if you find yourself in the drink, stay calm, and listen for your guide. They will always point in a positive direction. Time your breaths so that you don’t swallow water, and most importantly swim for the boat! (If you do  not know how to swim please advise your guide before the trip).

Big Water Rafting on the Kern River

3. Paddle well as a team

Believe it or not rafting really is a team effort. Especially on big water years, your Guides need you to paddle and paddle well in order to make the moves necessary to successfully navigate the river. Sit in an athletic stance locking your feet into the raft’s tubes, you should be able to stand up, sit down, lean out, and lean in. When paddling don’t try and overpower each other, instead be consistent, count your strokes, if it helps. Don’t worry we will teach you all of this. When you really dial in a team on the river it can be a-lot of fun!

paddle as a team on the kern

4.  Flips (F***S)

F***S happen, we don’t like to talk about them, but we need to. If your boat f***ps you will most definitely be swimming, there is no way around it. If you can, hang on to your paddle. As soon as you can, start actively swimming to another boat. Your guide will be riding that upside down raft getting ready to flip it back over. You don’t want to be underneath it. Your guide will also have to buy his buddies some beer later so give him a tip when he gets you back in his boat. flipped raft on the kern

5. Pick the right trip for you.

Just because the river is full does not mean that we don’t still have some great family friendly rafting options. The first day of the Lower Kern is a great class III trip and it can be run as a full day or half day. The Lickity section on the upper kern is also a great class III trip that the whole family can enjoy.

big water kids trip kern river

If you are looking for a little more excitement, so are we! Let’s gear up and paddle hard, because big water years make for an exciting ride. For some trips you may be required to take a swim test in the town park, this is not a pass/fail test. More of a good way to assess your abilities to swim in current and give you an opportunity to see how it feels to swim in current. (most people who take the swim test say that they are more comfortable going rafting.) Swim Test on the Kern River

Check out River Safety Week April 29!

Written by John Rea – Mammoth Media Productions