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Printer Friendly Merced River (Park Boundary)

Merced River (Park Boundary)


Stretch: Top of El Portal to Highway 140 Bridge
Difficulty: Class IV to V
Distance: 2.1 miles
Flows: 500-2,000 cfs. Current Dreamflows gauge
Gradient: 177 fpm for 0.75 miles then 119 fpm
Put-in: At the Park Boundary Sign (not the gate)
Take-out: Highway 140 bridge or downriver.
Shuttle: 2.1 miles. (5 minutes one way)
Season: spring into early summer, from snowmelt
Written: © 2014


So I decided to break this section out on its own… though it is almost always done in conjunction with the downstream El Portal section of the Merced. The reason why is because this run starts a solid step harder than the rest of the Merced before it eases to a half step harder. Because of that, it is not done all that often as most groups who go to the Merced put in at Red Bud with the adventurous folks putting in at Highway 140 bridge. It is however a very nice addition if you are capable to add the challenge. It can certainly provide a thrill for more experienced boaters before joining their more cautious friends on the lower sections. Our day we started with 3 at the top, picked up 3 more half way down this section, 3 more at the 140 Bridge, and 4 more at Red Bud. Really a great way to make it so boaters of all skill levels can enjoy one river trip!

This was my 4th trip to the Merced, two of the three previous trips were at really high water and thus this upper section was a no go. The third trip we only had playboats so again, not something we wanted to bite off. Finally though, this year (2014) we joined some of our friends whom we wanted to catch up with for one more river trip before departing the state for a few years. And while the group was splitting up to head higher and higher up the river, we spotted the cascade half way down this section… and decided that we wanted to continue up and run this rapid. And thus, finally after 9 years of boating on the Merced I finally got this section.

The river starts off with a bang. The first rapids are steep and powerful, scout before putting on. You can also walk upriver a rapid or two to get a few more in as well if you want. Either way, there is no warm up starting up here. Below the first set, things mellow out for a third of a mile before the cascade that you can’t miss from the road. This rapid is long, powerful, and has some consequence near the bottom. Even at 950 cfs (at Pohono) there was no slack water between the moves which lead directly to a large bouldery tumble above a few more big holes. At high flows, I could see this section becoming very dangerous. But at this flow, it was great! Great padding on the rocks, and the holes were big enough to have some teeth, but not overly retentive. Downstream of the cascade, the river stays continuous class IV… giving it an overall class IV+ feeling I would say. And even at the low flow, the rapids packed a few powerful holes. So be careful even if you choose to put in below.

The two optional lower put ins for this section are at the Chevron station, or upstream just below the large cascade. Or continue up to the park sign at the boundary of Yosemite (large turnout just before it) before the road pulls away and you get into the crazy looking “Merced Gorge” section. Man that stuff looks nuts… worth a drive up just to gawk if nothing else! And of course, make the 20 minute drive to the valley floor itself. Might as well right?


Thanks to Tom Overhoff for his contribution of pics.

Mi 0: Mi 0.75: Mi 1.4:


Take-out: Realistically you are going to continue down into the downriver sections… unless you want to do laps. If so, just as you enter the town of El Portal Highway 140 crosses the Merced, this is take-out.

Put-in: Continue up Highway 140. Either put-in at the Chevron, or below the big cascade, or right before the “Yosemite Park” boundary. I would scout the cascade’s crux bottom move before putting on because once you enter the middle section of the rapid it is hard to stop to scout more.


View Merced, Park Boundary in a larger map



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