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The South Yuba near Bowman Lake Road on June 2, 2017. Photo YubaNet

NEVADA CITY, Calif. June 21, 2017 – School’s out for summer and the heat is on – everybody is looking for relief from the heat wave. Naturally, spending time at the river comes to mind. Only you might face a deadly surprise. The river is cold, running high and fast. Any river in the Sierra at this point. The South Yuba has claimed a high toll already, two fatalities last weekend alone.

Instead of risking your life, that of friends trying to pull you to safety or first responders’ pulling your lifeless body out (if they can find it) – why not spend a relaxing day at one of the many lakes in the area? Scotts Flat, Rollins, Englebright, Bullards, Boca, Stampede and the list goes on.

No cell phone coverage = longer response times

None of the popular river crossings has decent, if any, cell phone coverage. When (not if) an accident occurs, hiking back to a car, driving out of the canyon to place a call to 911 will take precious time. Firefighters, swift water rescue teams and helicopters are in short supply on weekends especially – too many emergencies requiring their attention. Your fellow rivergoers may have parked their cars encroaching on the road, making a swift exit impossible.

Still a lot of snowmelt coming down, adding risk of acute hypothermia

The same building on June 17, 2017. Photo taken by Joe Fish
The restrooms at Grouse Ridge on June 23, 2012. Photo by by VasMan

The still significant snowpack is melting rapidly and high country reservoirs are spilling the excess capacity. These two pictures illustrate how much snow is still in the high country.

The unusually high temperatures will persist into the weekend, with very little relief in sight. Snowmelt will accelerate, bringing down water temperatures and adding hypothermia as a risk factor. “Think of hypothermia as the opposite of heat stroke. Cold water dangerously accelerates the onset and progression of hypothermia since body heat can be lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. Hypothermia affects the body’s core – the brain, heart, lungs, and other vital organs. Even a mild case of hypothermia diminishes a victim’s physical and mental abilities, thus increasing the risk of accidents. Severe hypothermia may result in unconsciousness and possibly death.”  [source: Minnesota Sea Grant]

The video below from CHP’s Valley Division shows a search for a still missing person near the Rainbow Lodge on the South Yuba last Sunday. Note how calm the water appears, but the undercurrent quickly swept the victim towards the rapids. The river’s configuration has changed a lot from last year’s drought-stricken trickle to the raging waters now – snags and boulders displaced by the winter’s torrential downpours are hidden from the surface.

As this story was being written, firefighters were responding to another medical call at a beach near Bridgeport.

Use common sense and be safe, please.

PS: Don’t start any fires!