Surviving Class Five

Tuolumne River - North Fork - Tuolumne County, CA (Tuolumne County)

Photo Credit: FISHBIO

by Erin Loury, FISHBIO

During FISHBIO’s memorable rafting survey through the Upper Tuolumne River earlier this year, we survived our share of whitewater scares. Our most harrowing float included Miracle Mile on the Cherry Creek run, which drops 200 feet per mile and is possibly the most challenging commercially run whitewater rafting spot in the nation. As we made our descent with the help of rafting guides from Sierra Mac, we approached our first Class-V rapid called Corkscrew. We entered on the left of the rapid, and navigated through it with cheering among the crew. Both boats then took to the shore, as we had just experienced our first serious test on the trip, and we mapped out a plan for the rapid ahead.

Looking downstream, we could see the infamous Class-V+ Jawbone rapid, with a massive boulder blocking the river channel. We decided taking the path on the right should allow for a smooth exit. As we pushed from the shore with a plan in mind, nervous looks began to develop on the FISHBIO crewmembers’ faces. Entering Jawbone was going as planned, until an unexpected swift of the current took the raft by surprise. The raft high-sided its right tube onto the massive bolder, taking on thousands of gallons of water per second as the river slowly devoured the left tube like it was for lunch.

“Lean right! Lean right!” shouted our guide to distribute more weight on the right side of the raft and pop up the left tube from getting sucked under the current – which would result in the raft flipping and possible death. As we leaned right, bodies stretching entirely out of the raft with only our feet tucked tightly in the foot holders to keep us attached, the boat took another unexpected turn. While our plan was to go right of the bolder, the raft went left, taking everything attached with it. With our video camera still recording, we plummeted down the massive shoot of water that nearly gulped the entire raft under. After we emerged from our second near-death encounter, all heads were accounted for – with pale-looking faces. We glanced wide-eyed at each other and erupted into cheers, as it sunk in what had just happened, and what we had survived.

FISHBIO is a dedicated group of research scientists, engineers, and technicians that specialize in counting, tracking, and analyzing trends in fish and wildlife populations throughout the world. An expert staff, technical capacity, and state-of-the-art equipment make FISHBIO a trailblazer in aquatic research. For more information, please visit

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