Lake Kaweah

By Terry May

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 headwaters.

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 smooth).

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.

Back To Home Page