From Source to Sea: Exploring the Wild and Scenic Mokelumne River Watershed

John Silva, a retired Sergeant from the Amador County Sheriff’s Office, formed a charity organization called Give Back Adventures to give back to the community that he served throughout his law enforcement career. This year, he chose an adventure close to his home and his heart by hiking, biking, paddling and canyoneering the entire Mokelumne River watershed (see map of his tracks below) in order to raise funds for Foothill Conservancy. He chose Foothill Conservancy because of our organization’s dedication to protecting the Mokelumne River. We led the way to securing state Wild and Scenic River designation for a 37 mile stretch of the Mokelumne River and have been protecting the river from harmful projects since we were founded. To learn more about our river conservation work please see our archived website or read through some of our recent social media posts.

John and his adventure partner Steve traveled over 603 miles, and completed more than 51,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain in just 29 days to traverse the entire Mokelumne River. They got a rarely seen glimpse of this rugged and scenic watershed, since a large portion of their adventure was off-trail. Below are some of the photos that were taken along their journey. If you want to see more follow Foothill Conservancy and Give Back Adventures on Facebook or Instagram and look back at our recent posts! If you don’t have social media, please see the bottom of this post. 

Day 0: John and Steve biked their way to the kickoff event held at Detert Park in Jackson, CA to start the adventure. Thank you to all the supporters who showed up to help us send them off and wish them a safe journey! 

A view of Mokelumne Peak in the distance. John and Steve travelled along Hungalelti ridge to access Mokelumne Peak and the remote backcountry south of Highway 88. 

Day 4: John and Steve summit Mokelumne Peak, with an elevation of 9,337 feet. Still lots of snow left on the ground as they began their expedition in early June.  

Day 5: A picture from the top of Melissa Coray Peak! This peak was named after a Pioneer woman who helped establish the Mormon Emigrant Trail. Can you imagine trying to bring wagons through this area before there was a trail?!

Day 8: Foothill Conservancy staff and supporters got a chance to intercept John on his journey and climb one of the headwater peaks, Henry Peak! Although we weren’t able to see John at the peak, we camped with him for a night and helped him refuel before continuing on his journey. 

Day 10: The team made it to the mysterious Monte Wolfe’s Cabin located in the Mokelumne River canyon above Salt Springs Reservoir. This outlaw became known as one of the last mountain man of the Sierra Nevada after living for more than seven years in this remote canyon.   

Day 11: John came across a beautiful double waterfall and rock canyon along the North Fork Mokelumne River.  This section of the canyon is known for the World renowned Fantasy Falls Whitewater run and breathtaking canyons. 

Day 11: They arrived at Salt Springs Reservoir just as the sun was setting on day 11. This area may be impacted by a potential hydropower pumped storage project that would pump water between Salt Springs Reservoir and Upper or Lower Bear River Reservoir using an 18 foot wide underground tunnel, a new powerhouse, tranmission lines, and other infasturcture. It is also likely that they will need to raise the dam which would cause access issues to recreation spots and forest service cabins. learn more here

Day 12: Calaveras Dome is just below Salt Springs Reservoir along the Mokelumne River. You can see why climbers are attracted to this Yosemite like rock formation, although it is much more difficult to access than the National Park. 

Day 14: John and Steve got a behind the scenes look at the PG&E Tiger Creek Powerhouse. This is part of the Mokelumne River Project P-137, which supplies power to a wide range of customers in Amador and Calaveras Counties. The recent Electra Fire (July 2022) burned through the footprint of this project and threatened critical water and power infrastructure. Foothill Conservancy sits on the Ecological Resources Committee for this project, so we will be helping PG&E decide how to move forward from this fire. 

Day 15: Due to the low flows this year, many of their kayaking sections turned into canyoneering and even swimming like they did through this pool. This was along the Tiger Creek section of the Mokelumne River, which is part of the state Wild and Scenic River segment. Foothill Conservancy led the way to this designation with the support of many other conservation groups, agencies and community members.  Happy 4 year Wild and Scenic River anniversary! 

Day 21: John and Steve made it past Lake Pardee and Lake Camanche, and into the more industrialized areas of the San Joaquin River. 

Day 22: The team faced brutal headwinds and had to form makeshift campsites on abandoned boat docks, but they continued their journey to reach the sea. 

Day 25: They made it to the gateway to the sea! You would think that their journey would be complete, but they headed back to Jackson on bikes to complete the entire loop. 

Day 27 Detour: John had a very special detour to see his triplet grandchildren before completing a couple very long days of bike riding to reach Jackson. 

Day 29: Over 603 miles and 51,000 feet of elevation gain later, John has reached the end of his adventure!

We can’t wait to provide opportunities to meet John and Steve, hear about their reflections from the journey, and ask questions. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter or follow our social media so you don’t miss those opportunities! And remember, it’s not too late to donate! Every donation will help Foothill Conservancy protect the Mokelumne River for generations to come, and keep our community healthy.

Author: Meredith Sierra, Watershed Conservation Advocate

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Day 8: Foothill Conservancy staff and supporters got a chance to intercept John on his journey and climb one of the headwater peaks, Henry Peak! Although we weren’t able to see John at the peak, we camped with him for a night and helped him refuel before continuing on his journey. 

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Leslie Smith, Sutter Creek, CA: Raised in Washington State, Leslie is a happy California transplant having moved to Sunny Sutter Creek full time in 2020. As a nascent fly fisher and lifelong skier, she is committed to the natural environment and brings extensive organizational and finance experience to the board from a nearly 40 year career in banking.