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White Knuckling the Tuolumne : In the best rafting season in years, here's what happened to one stalwart group of rafters on the Yosemite River said to provide the premier California white-water experience.

August 01, 1993|JANE GALBRAITH | Galbraith writes for New York Newsday and is a contributor to The Times' Calendar section. and

Getting there: You can fly to Modesto via United Airlines or to Stockton on USAir, but why? The drive from Los Angeles, while 6-7 hours long, is painless, if hot in the summer. Take Interstate 5 north to California 99, north to California 140, east to California 49, north to California 120, east to Groveland. The portion on 140 through to 120 is spectacular Sierra foothill scenery of orchards, rolling hills and ranches.

Rafting outfitters: ARTA (Star Route 73, Groveland 95321, tel. 800-323-2782) is one of nine outfitters licensed to operate rafting trips on the Tuolumne by the U.S. Forest Service. ARTA offers one-day trips at $125, two-day trips at $280 and three-day trips at $385 per person. ARTA reports reservations are available on three trips scheduled in August, seven in September and three possible in October, depending on water levels. Price rates drop 10% in September and October. Normal season begins in late May and lasts to early September. In heavy rainfall years, it can last from May to October. Price includes all meals and most equipment. Rentals for wet suits (mandatory in late spring/early summer when river water temperature can be as cold as 45 degrees) are extra at $20 each. Sleeping bags and tents are also available at reasonable cost.

A sampling of other licensed outfitters: Sierra Mac (P.O. Box 366, Sonora 95370, tel. 800-457-2580), 1-3 day trips at $160, $310 and $395; ECHO (6529 Telegraph Ave., Oakland 94609-1113, tel. 800-652-3246, fax 510-652-3987), 1-3 day trips for $150, $310 and $398, and All Outdoors (2151 San Miguel Drive, Walnut Creek 94596, tel. 800-247-2387, fax 510-932-3436), 1-3 day trips range $158-$409 and vary in cost depending upon day of launch.

Rafters should be in good physical shape and must be able to swim. ARTA, like every other outfitter, requires each rafter to sign a release of liability in case of death or injury. Insurance coverage also is recommended.

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