AUBURN (CBS13) — On a sunny Friday at the North Fork of the American River at the Auburn State Recreation Area, the water was moving quickly, and it was cold. Warning signs were posted for visitors about the potential dangers of getting in the water this time of year due to low temperatures.
“River Deadly Cold” one sign read; another sign, “Stay Out, Stay Alive.” The warnings are in place this time of year as snow melt from the Sierra runs into the American River, dropping temperatures into the 30s, 40s, and low 50s.
On Friday, the day before a weekend with temperatures projected to hit 90 degrees, there weren’t swimmers in the water. Visitors were near it, soaking in the sights and sounds, but still cautious. It’s only May, one told CBS13.
“I just go to plunge, I can’t stay in very long,” said Veronica Kesner, who came to the recreation area for a cold water plunge and sun bathing.
Another visitor stood with a few inches of water up to his ankles while he mined for gold.
“It’s getting better because the river’s going down,” said Joe Janich, a gold mining hobbyist.
The visitors are aware of the dangers that come with the water. Before many of them could reach the shore, they passed free life jackets available to anyone in the area who planned to get in the water.
The danger with cold temperatures is the shock when swimming. In the first plunge, experts say the body can be shocked and will cause the person to inhale as they go under water. Due to involuntary gasping reflexes, the person may not be able to regain breath and will drown. In other cases, the shock may cause a heart attack.