Saturday, April 14, 2012

Buffalo River Trip Report 2012




Buffalo River Trip Report 2012
Our numbers were few but memories from the Buffalo River journey were still many. Really, when you factor in the terrific weather, it may have been the best trip yet.
“Arkansas” Bob Shockley, Phil Crookshank and I launched at the ghost town of Woolum on the Buffalo River with plans to spend four days and three nights on the nation’s first National Scenic River, established in 1972. That designation gives it protection from commercial and residential encroachment and provides a wide corridor along the river banks where we saw no structures beyond two highway bridges and a couple of park service buildings at Buffalo Point.

Water levels were lower than normal and resulted in a little bottom scraping on the upper portions of the river. I got caught in a sweeper within a mile of launching. It was a humbling experience to have my fellow paddlers rescue me in the swift current as I was pinned and tangled in a downed tree. I shouldn’t have had my painter line so loose, and my paddle leash was a bad idea. I also had a branch go through both of my PFD straps, so I was in a fix. Bob hopped out of his canoe and between us we held his canoe, my kayak, and everything else, all the while I’m going under the sweeper. After what seemed like I was trapped for half an hour I finally got loose only to see Bob’s canoe get swamped. I eddied out and waited for him to dump out most of the water and float down to me where I waited with my pump. The only damage was to my ego, and we were soon on our way.
The weather everywhere seems to be warmer than usual and spring is way ahead of schedule this year. Arkansas was no exception, and all the trees were fully leafed out and the water was the warmest I’d ever seen it in 10 trips on the river. Our first camp was 12 miles downstream on one of the many gravel bars that line the river. One of the Buffalo River drawing cards for me is the paucity of regulations. We could camp anywhere on the river and not be near anyone else. And the only sounds we heard were whippoorwills, coyotes, owls, and the flow of the river—not a bad way to fall asleep.
It rained during the early morning, but when we woke up, the river didn’t seem to have risen at all, which was something we’d been hoping for. After an hour or two of paddling, the clouds gave way to bright sunshine and 80 degree temperatures. There seemed to be a resurgence in eagle numbers this year and we rarely paddled a mile without seeing one perched high on a limb looking for a fish to grab. We saw a few eagles swoop down to grab a fish only to be harassed by his fellows looking for a free meal. We also spotted osprey, hawks and hundreds of vultures or buzzards (what’s the difference?) soaring on the thermals.
Our second camp was 20 miles downriver at a campground called Maumee South. Maumee is an established drive-in camp with rooms for 4-5 tents, a primitive restroom and trash containers. Our tent site had a nice flat grassy surface and a picnic table. It turned out that we were the only ones there so after a refreshing swim we enjoyed another quiet night.
Most of this section of the Buffalo is lined by 400’-500’ bluffs and the water runs clear. Every mile or so we paddled through deep pools which were followed by a 2’-3’ drop through rapids to the next pool. The elevation at Woolum is 650’ and at our takeout 74 miles downstream the elevations is about 400’ so the water moves along at a good pace.
The only paddling incident, other than my encounter with a tree, was in going through a short rapids where I misjudged the current and was pushed sideways while going through a narrow chute. I heard a loud crunch and found that I had cracked the side of my wooden boat. I had packed some waterproof, rubberized repair tape that I bought for this purpose and, after drying off both the inside and outside surfaces, I found that it stuck tenaciously and it worked very well. Back home, I tried to remove it and found that it is made to stick, not peel.
Our third day was the longest at 29 miles and we put in 8 hours on the water. None of us had much energy left so we just sat in the sand waiting for someone to offer to put our tent up for us. Gradually we got a second wind and set up camp, had a great swim, had dinner and were in our tents before it was fully dark.
The night temperatures had been a little chilly and I was wishing for a little warmer sleeping bag. Our last day on the river dawned clear and cool and we had 12 miles to the end of the river where it flows into the White River.
When we picked up our shuttle four days previously we got a glimpse of the White River and were warned about it having all of its’ 8 spillgates open resulting in a 12 mile an hour current. Sounds like fun except when you have to paddle upstream as we would have to do for a half mile or so to get to our take out spot. This is a cause of concern.
While paddling, we talked with some fishermen and they said that “only 5 of the spillgates were open currently and that we had their sympathy paddling against the swift current.” They recommended that we ferry across the White and go downstream a bit and land at a small marina and call for a ride.
As soon I nosed my kayak into the flow of the White I had a battle keeping it headed upstream to ferry over to Smith Island which was only 100 yards or so away. I landed on the island and saw Bob and Phil paddling the eddies along the edge of the White, apparently heading for our cars. Finally Bob had enough trying to keep his canoe straight in the current and he peeled off and ferried over to where I was. Phil kept up a slow and steady pace upstream until he was out of sight. He said later that his arms were like lead when he finally reached the far bank.
Bob and I made it the last 100 yards downstream over to Riley’s Marina, and placed our call up to Phil for a shuttle back to our cars. Shortly after the call, he pulled in and our trip was over.
Each Buffalo River trip is different, and this was the best trip by far. But then again, I say that about every Buffalo River trip. And it’s true each time.

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