The Merced River Gorge



7/23, Thursday - My eyes snapped open in the dark, at 0415. I couldn't see any stars, and it took me a second to realize the sky was clouded over. The Merced drains a lot of steep, rocky country with a high potential for flash flooding. The thought of rain upstream raising the river was enough to get me right out of my bedroll to put on a headlamp and get to work.

I had twigs ready by my rock stove, and soon had steam, and coffee.

I effaced my camp, and had the outfit loaded and on the trail by 0645. The sky was clear by sunrise.

I rode easy, enjoying a cool morning on a beautiful trail. Just east of Bagby, I saw a woman and 3 teen-age girls poking around below me - on the north bank. They'd crossed over from Bagby, and she said the river was fine. Fine, but they weren't carrying a bike and road gear.

I had my plan - multiple trips with loads I could handle - expensive equipment sealed in the trash bag - with empty water jugs for flotation re-used on each load. That way I might be able to retrieve any load that got away from me.

It took 3 loads - 5 times across the river. The river bottom is slick rocks. 2 feet, 1 staff. I held 2 points secure while I moved the third ahead. This time the swift current only came up to my crotch, and it was mainly a matter of patience and concentration to get the outfit across without mishap. I felt mightily relieved when I was done.

For those who might want to locate the ford: a dirt road comes down from the Bagby campsites. Upstream is a rocky mini harbor - above that is a riffly rapid - and above that is the ford, crossing to some low rocks just of the south bank. Here it is looking back north:

A sandy footpath runs west to the road. Once above the river, the road's a nice ride 1.3 miles out to Hwy 49. I saw bald eagles on my ride out, but not a single human the whole way.

Past a gate, the road is paved, and there's a developed trailer park with full hook-ups - including water. I'd read something in the guidebook about some fee being collected here, so I didn't stick around to investigate, but made straight for 49.

I was pleased to make the highway, but also a little sorry to be back on pavement again.

And there's still the matter of getting out of the canyon.

It took me 3 hours, and 3 quarts of water. But along the way I had an odd feeling of being myself in my own body again - in control, owning it, using it. It was like 25 years just fell off along the road. Freeeeeeee!!

The harder you ride, the more years fall off. That detour through Briceburg and Bagby is priceless. Like I said - it's a classic.

Scouting West
Links & Resources