Diving the River and Lake Kaweah (long)

Great Dive Trips at Bargain Prices with the Sea Divers

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Posted by tleemay on May 13, 2002 at 15:47:53:

I've been an on/off again lake diver since 1995. I love
clear lakes of the higher altitudes such as Lakes
Edison and Huntington, but I have a fondness for the
lower lakes of the San Joaquin Valley, the place where
I grew up.

Lake Kaweah is just east of Visalia on Highway 198.
Most who travel up to the Sequoia National Park cruise
up Highway 198, through the lemon and orange groves,
past Lake Kaweah (Terminus Dam as some of the locals
call it), and further past Three Rivers towards the
winding and twisting two lane road leading to Sequoia
Village and the Big Trees.

Leaving the Valley floor, a steep incline of highway
four lanes wide to accommodate slower boat trailer
traffic peaks at the top of the hill where you first
see Lake Kaweah off to the left. It's a medium sized
lake, man made by building a flood control dam across
the Kaweah River in the early 60's. It was a wide
expanse of valley tucked into a hilly corner behind the
small packing house hamlet of Lemon Cove. The water
control run off from the lake is used as a source of
irrigation water in during the valley's almost year
around growing season. It's part of the Friant-Kern
Canal project's irrigation system. We drove past the
boat launch ramps and Mehrten's Marina. Past the
campground and on beyond the Horse Creek Bridge to our
turn off.

The lake does have some structures about 1/3 up the
lake from the dam, but there are in too deep of water
for the typical sport diver to explore. when the lake's
level is down during the winter months, they are
divable, but the vis usually sucks to the point of nill
at that time of year.

Today, my childhood friend Stephen and I are going to
dive an area of the lake known as Slick Rock - a narrow
high level mark near the waters head where the Kaweah
River feeds the lake. Right now the Sierra snow pack is
in the midst of melting - so the water is cold and
clear there. It's only an area of about 50 yards across
from one side of the lake to the other, so there is a
light to moderate river current.

We entered the water in an area frequented trout
fishermen and swimmers. The fresh clear waters and
current is a favorite hang out for the local rainbow
trout. There were old empty salmon egg, power bait, and
nightcrawler containers all around the lake's bank.
There were a couple families swimming below us, but
no one above us - swimming or fishing.

We geared up in the 95* heat and made the short walk
out to where we could swim. Stephen was in his 5mm wet
suit, I was in my TLS with polartech undies. We
dropped down and swam gently up river towards the

We had a plan and we were full bent on seeing it out.

Vis was really good, about 30'. We cruised over big
granite boulders and limestone rocks in an area that
was probably no more than 30 ft deep. We watched a
plastic Food4Less shopping bag drift by and saw the
sporadic nice sized trout on the absolute bottom -
they were much too skittish to approach.

About 10 minutes into the dive, we came upon what we
were hoping to find, a hole that drops down another 20'
to a round pit about 50' in diameter. The bottom was
covered in small to medium sized river rocks (round and

The bottom of this pit was just outside of the high
current flow of the river bottom, but it was obvious
the water was colder and cleared than what we had come
through. Temp on entry was 63*, on the bottom of the
hole it was 49*.

We just hung out there remembering the past and why
this place was special to us. Then we heard the un-
mistakable whining noise of an outboard motor. Above
us was probably some local yahoo curious about our
bubbles (no dive flag up - don't tell anyone please).
A couple minutes later the motor and it's boat buzzed
away. The clear fresh water (much like FW caves) was
almost hypnotic. We could see the stradiation (sp?) of
the different water thermo clines above us. at the top
edge of the hole we could see the surface & the bottom
of the hole, but not the surface from the bottom of the
hole. There wasn't any real need for a light, but it
made things easier for communication purposes.

Why was it important for us to find this hole? Well
when the waters are lower, this hole is one of the best
swimming areas in the whole Valley. Many summers we
spent at this ring of boulders water hole diving in and
climbing out. We would take ditch days at school and
work to meet our girl friends at this place as a rite
of teenage passage (yeah, some of us scored here). It
was surreal to see this place from another viewpoint.

After our midday dive, we packed up and drove up a
little further and did another one in shallower water
where the river is more in full rush. Here is where
Stephen enjoys his diving. Much the same dive type you
can do below the Dam at Lake Mead. That is how you
dive here - real high current river diving. No
kicking, just aim and go hoping you don't get beaned
on the way down (no - I didn't get beaned).

I unloaded the gear under the Kaweah South
Fork bridge and waited for Stephen to park his truck
about 1/2 mile down river close to where we did dive
one at Slick Rock. After Stephen walked back, we
geared up and entered the water. For this dive I was
using a rented Steel 80 (vice my steel 95 for dive 1).
We never hit deeper than 15'. We were cruising along
the bottom at a good clip playing follow the leader -
Stephen was the leader. This is the kind of diving he
thrives on since he is relatively land locked
compared to most of us. Boulder to the left - SWISH!
Tree stump to the right - SCHWING! Cool way to dive and
definitely on par to what I have done in the past with
Drew's Dam Divers, just not as long though. The entire
fast portion of the dive was over in about 15 minutes.

We surfaced, checked that we were still upstream from
the truck, and settled on the bottom collecting Meps,
Roostertails, and Crocodiles that fishermen snagged in
the logs and rocks.

We crawled out, changed, loaded up the tuck and
drove up to Three Rivers and the Edgewater Cafe, or as
I have been calling it over the years, the Hummingbird
Hangout due to the dozens of hummingbirds that partake
on the human placed bottles of red sugar water as an
attractant. One Gardenburger, green salad, and two ice
teas later - we headed back to Stephen's house outside of Exeter.

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