California had one snowy winter in the 2022-2023 season. In fact it was one of the wettest on record, with a statewide average snowpack that reached 237%. All the water frozen in the mountains leads to juicy river flows this time of year. For whitewater kayakers, the river levels open up a long season and rarely runnable stretches. It also means high water to be cautious of.

Paddlers aren’t the only river dwellers having to bring their A-game. In a video flooding the internet, a black bear takes its shot at swimming a hairy ferry on the South Fork of the Yuba River.

A Bear Of A Swim On The South Yuba

The South Yuba is home to some classic California runs, including the class-V stretch known as Yuba Gap. The video of the black bear swimming across the river was taken in the town of Washington by volunteer fire chief Mike Stewart. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Stewart says the bear made it out of the river safely. The fire chief though was skeptical if a person could have successfully made the swim through the swirling whirlpools and pumping flow.

Stewart has reason to provide the cautionary tale as a first responder in the remote area. According to American Whitewater, the class-IV section of the South Yuba beginning in Washington reaches the high end of recommended flows at 2,500 CFS on the Jones Bar gauge. This spring, that gauge has read as high as 5,630 CFS.

The bear may not have had a better choice at the time, or maybe his comfort level in whitewater far exceeds our human capability. No matter the case, the video of a 300-pound animal getting thrashed in the runout is a humbling reminder. When rivers are running high, sometimes the safest choice is to save the hairy ferry for another day.



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