Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Buffalo River Trip 2012

Join The East Coast Paddlers on The Buffalo River
Buffalo River Trip 2012
If it’s been a few years since you’ve paddled the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas, you need to go back. If you’ve never done it, you’re in for a treat. Plans are in the works for a weeklong journey to America’s first National River, the Lower Buffalo. We’ll be paddling the 80 miles between Woolum and Buffalo City. There is no whitewater along this stretch, but the current is usually swift and pool and drop in nature. We’ll be backcountry camping for three nights and four days. Campsites are beautiful and plentiful (and free). The dates aren’t set yet but the trip will last 8 days including travel time, and will occur some time in early to mid-April. If you wish to go but have constraints on the dates, let me know soon and we can make adjustments. Easter Sunday is on the 8th next year. Either canoes or kayaks of any length capable of carrying your gear are suitable. Your skills should be beyond rank beginner and you should be a
ble to navigate a river. Email George Granlund at ggranlund622@gmail.com if you are interested, and I’ll keep you up to date on the plans and dates.

Trip Report Buffalo River 2004
Take pure, clear, flowing water: send it down a 132-mile meandering course; pour it over rapids; strain it through gravel bars; drift it through long pools; let it caress tree-covered banks. Then punctuate the shores with frequent, tall multicolored bluffs; and fill the countryside with steep, wooded hills. Now interject countless turtles sunning on logs; watch dozens of buzzards lazily looping across the sky, be startled by a bass breaking the water surface; and observe a heron stalking the river’s edge. Finally, place yourself in a kayak drifting down the river surrounded by the peaceful and inspiring mood of these natural elements. Now you have the essence of the Buffalo National River.
Flowing water, relatively free from pollution and impoundment, was the primary purpose of Buffalo River becoming the nation’s first National River in 1972. The Buffalo River is one of the Nation’s last major rivers that are still free-flowing. Its ancient current gives life to well over 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels and aquatic plants. In addition to the thriving aquatic life, on land there are many more natural wonders to behold: caves with hidden formations, untrodden passageways, pits and sinks and underground waterways; tall cliffs that create long waterfalls; old pioneer farmsteads that provide foraging for numerous wildlife species such as elk and whitetail deer, wild turkey, bobwhite quail and many other species of wildlife waiting to experienced.
Thus sayeth the promotional literature from the park service. And it’s all true. Sixteen of us made the long drive from chilly Michigan to pleasantly warm Arkansas on Good Friday. We ranged in age from eighty-something John to twenty-something Linnea, and in experience from 5th time down the river to many first time Buffalo River paddlers. Because of other commitments, Phil drove in from Utah and he and Theron caught up with the rest of the group at the outfitters. We used Buffalo River Outfitters, located in Silver Hill, Arkansas, hard by the Buffalo River. They provided us with the shuttle drivers needed to drop us off at Woolum.
Woolum is just a place name on the river and is about as far up as is navigable with canoes and long kayaks during most of the year. That far upstream, the river is fed almost totally by rain runoff along with a few springs. During low water, you would have to put in at the US 65 bridge and bang along the rocks until the small tributaries fill up the river. There is a website that gives current and historical river levels (http://www.buffaloriverandrain.com/levelreport.html)that you can reference to see what the conditions are. Compare the levels with April 17-20, 2004. On those dates, the river levels were nearly ideal for paddling.
Jim Sage, Jim Ledtke, and Margie Black provided vehicles for transportation to the Buffalo and we unloaded in the rain in Woolum. The sky was pewter during most of the day and we paddled less than 10 miles downstream the first day to try to get camp set up before the skies let loose. It wasn’t a convenient campsite given the potential for a rapid rise in river level. The river has been known to rise a foot an hour when it’s raining heavily in the mountains upstream and we didn’t want to witness that firsthand.
The first day paddling and camping together gave us a good opportunity to get to know one another and share experiences. John Kalam (I hope I spelled your name right John) has been around the world and has more stories than the rest of us put together, so we had hoped to glean some insight to the world from him. Unfortunately, he fell ill and decided it was best to take out at Tyler Bend and recuperate rather than taking a chance on the rest of the river.
On Easter Sunday, the sun was bright and temperatures hovered around 70 degrees. That brought out the many turtles, or “sliders” as they are known locally. They were sunning themselves on logs, and sometimes we’d startle them as we paddled by, and then a dozen or so would slide, plunk, or tumble down into the water.
That night we stayed near a river access point called Maumee North. This provided another gravel bar to camp on, but with proximity to nice, clean outhouse facilities. An example of our tax dollars at work. An architect, Bill Ahlstrom was meticulous with his campfire construction. Both of the last two nights, he set up wonderful fires for us to sit around and share wine, food, and stories of past adventures.
For those of you considering a trip down the Buffalo, I need to mention that you can camp anywhere, fires are permitted, no itinerary or permits are required, and there are no fees. As we all know, that’s exceedingly rare in these times of increased regulation and “user fees”.
I can’t speak for what everyone saw, but in terms of wildlife, I saw a heron rookery, wild turkeys, striped bass, suckers, bald eagles, turtles of course, kingfishers, many osprey, hundreds of buzzards, a salamander, and a very few black flies. At night, we heard coyotes howling, owls hooting, and someone else snoring. And at about 5:00 a.m., a very loud whip-poor-will commuted downriver to our campsite to wake us up each morning. During our last day on the river, the wind tested our mettle.
Even though the river snakes around and we faced nearly every point on the compass, the wind seemed to always be in our face. We guessed that it was a steady 20 MPH and was gusting to 35 MPH at times. The bright sunshine helped to ease the strain, but most of us will be talking about the high winds during that last day for some time. When we got to the takeout at Buffalo City, John was there to greet us and everyone got together for hugs, a group picture, and to say our goodbyes. It’s tough to capture a great trip in words- we met new friends, shared a little adversity, enjoyed the good life one more time, and catalogued some memories.
Buffalo River April 2009 Trip Report
In some respects, a paddling trip is like a jigsaw puzzle. How the trip turns out depends on many individual pieces such as the paddlers, the weather, the water conditions, the food, and accidents and incidents. The paddlers for this trip included 11 people from around the state who are, in some manner, affiliated with the East Coast Paddlers. John Neal and Steve Conlee came from over near Port Sanilac, George Granlund came from up north in Beulah, Tom O’Connor and Sue Pellerito made the journey from Ann Arbor, John Moffat came from Novi, Dave Rhodes from Flint, Bill McCormick from South Haven, Nina Kowalski from Swartz Creek, Charlie Robertson from Middleville, and Bob Shockley doesn’t quite know where he’s from but it’s either Midland or near Russellville, Arkansas. Our club has quite a reach. We gathered in Buffalo City Arkansas and met at the White Buffalo Resort www.whitebuffaloresort.com. They provided us with three shuttle drivers. Our driver, Joey, entertained us with stories of river floods and Ozark antics told in the twangiest of drawls. Thankfully we had Bob Shockley along in our van to act as interpreter.
Coming from a long Michigan winter, we all looked as pale as dead fish and were looking forward to some Arkansas warmth and sunshine. Our first day on the river did not disappoint. We put in at Woolum under a bright sun and temperatures in the low 70’s. The current was moving along at 5 MPH and in 2 hours we pulled in to camp at a gravel bar. One of the best things about the Buffalo National River is its’ shortage of rules and regulations. We could camp anywhere along its’ banks. The Buffalo was designated a National Scenic River in 1972. In fact, it was the first such river to be given that designation. And scenic it is. We ended the day around a campfire built from the plentiful driftwood found along the banks. The driftwood is the result of the many floods that knock down trees and regularly sweep them downstream. We felt little guilt in having the fire because the next flood would wipe all traces of it away. Little did we realize that the next flood would occur the next day. We had some overnight drizzle and were reprieved only long enough to cook breakfast and strike camp. During the course of the day the rain kept falling and the river rose and the temperature dropped. Mid-way through the day we spotted the sign indicating the village of Gilbert. Gilbert is a delightful Ma and Pa Kettle-type burg located up the hill just out of the flood plain. In warmer weather we’d have enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the porch of the post office/antique shop/ store. Today, however, we shivered and grumbled until we spied an OPEN sign at the Gilbert Café. We packed in amongst the local patrons, dripping water all over their floor. Imagine what the management of a place like Bennigan’s might have said to our group? The kind folks in Gilbert brought out hot drinks and dry towels and wished us Happy Easter. A warm radiator has never felt so good. One kind couple bought us coffee and Easter Cake and admonished us about how the river is notorious for leaving flooded paddlers stranded in trees. Reluctantly, we ventured into the rain again and paddled the remaining 12 miles to Maumee South, an established campground high enough to thwart the flooded river. Some of us struggled to bring a fire to life and a little cheer to the end of the day. On our third river day, the rain gradually diminished but the current kept increasing. We were in a hurry to find a camp to try to dry our gear out and we found one at Rush Landing. We strung multiple clotheslines up under a pavilion and set our damp tents up. Earlier we had paddled through some Class I and II rapids with no problem as the cliffs began getting steeper and taller. If the rain would only stop, the scenery would be glorious. Overnight a high pressure system moved in, clearing the skies for the rest of our trip. Day four on the river was going to be a short one, so some of us went hiking through some mining ruins dating back to the Civil War. Immediately upon setting out on the river we were faced with 2’-3’ standing waves that were caused by the river being constricted and forced through a chute. We could hear the rapids a quarter of a mile away, so we scouted along the opposite river bank and then gingerly made our way through the flooded underbrush. None of us is proficient in rapids and our gear was made for big water not whitewater, so we think we made the right decision. We were sure that the rest of the trip would be clear sailing but that was not to be. Less than two miles downstream, we were caught by surprise in a series of small whirlpools followed by another set of rapids. Sue and Nina were caught sideways and went over. To their credit, they were both dressed for immersion and kept calm as they rode out the rapids. They had to float downstream for nearly ten minutes before Nina was brought back aboard by Steve and Sue could be towed to shore. We learned a few lessons about how we could have been better prepared. We need better throw/tow techniques and need to have all gear tethered to the boat. Our last evening on the river was spent on a wide sandbar thirteen miles from the White River/Buffalo River confluence. The river had stopped rising but was now flowing at about seven miles per hour. We had no trouble keeping a nine mile an hour paddling pace and the miles flew by. Upon rounding the final bend to Buffalo City the jigsaw puzzle was complete. Eleven East Coast Paddlers enjoyed, and sometimes endured, all that nature had dealt us. We saw eagles, buzzards, turtles, a chorus of hoot owls, peepers, rain, sunshine, cold, warmth, bluffs, gracious Arkansans, campfires and the River. What a wonderful picture is was.
Resources
Buffalo River
White Buffalo Resort
River Levels
Photographs

1 comment:

  1. The dates on the river are April 9-12. Allow 2 days either way for travel.

    ReplyDelete

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