South Fork American (Chili Bar to Gorge): Flooding

  1. With the flooding and high flows, I was wondering if there have been any changes of note on the Chili Bar to Gorge stretch of the American.
  2. How does a flow of about 5000 cfs affect those sections? In other words, how difficult are rapids at 5000 cfs compared to rapids at normal flows? How much water does it take for the South Fork become solid 4?
    Any info would be appreciated.


I did it at 11000-ish a few weeks ago. Solid class IV but not too bad. The moves weren’t terribly hard but a swim would be bad news bears.


I ran it in 1996 at about 27,500 at Chili Bar. We figured about 40,000 at Salmon Falls, but that was a guess. We all felt it was technically about Class 3+, but of course some holes would eat a Winnebago. Large trees floating by seemed a bit of a hazard, too.
Swimming in the wrong place could be a very long one too, and it was really big, with waves that changed on the spot like big Co. rivers. It was so big in there at that level, that even though it was technically not too hard, it ‘felt’ way harder.
This year at 4,800 in the gorge it was very pushy and changeable, but super fun. I would love to see it again super high. there were years when it was 8,000 for weeks, and 4,000 much of the spring. Love those days, and these coming on now.


So far this year I’ve seen flows of 3k through 6k, though I probably have less than 8 runs above normal release flows. Not sure exactly where the tipping point is, but I thought 4-5k+ felt like Class IV. It’s a different skill set than normal. Less technical but pushy and more difficult to read-n-run. Obviously lines are often different, but not always. Reminded me of Idaho whitewater. The most difficult rapids varied with flows, but Meatgrinder and Fowler’s were generally standouts. Not crazy hard, but some big holes and swims could be very long or very submerged in captivating boils. Lots of brush and wood guarding the banks. I threw some accidental enders in eddy lines in a 90gal creekboat. @ 6k chili bar to skunk took less than 4 hours at a moderate pace.

I have not noticed any changes to the river itself, but I probably couldn’t until it gets below 2k.