Canoeing the Buffalo River

On: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This last weekend I went on a canoeing trip on the Buffalo River with my father; this is the first time we've had the chance to spend time together in quite awhile. I really enjoyed the time we had and overall we had a lot of fun and I can't wait to do it next year...or at least something similar. The water was super clear and not too cold. Their were tons of fish and turtles; it took us awhile to figure out what the small mouth bass wanted to eat so we didn't catch very many (more on why later). Oh yeah, I saw an alligator snapping turtle in the water that was bigger than the large sewer grates. It was frickin' huge! It had to be at least 2 1/2 feet in diameter!

Friday: Highway 14 at the starting point.

Dad with the first catch; a bluegill. It was hard seeing all the fish and not getting them to bite. I did see some pretty large fish! We weren't used to fishing in such clear water so it took us awhile to find the right combination of tackle to use, but it was fun! The small mouth were great to eat too; there's nothing like freshly caught fried fish and potatoes while camping on the side of the river (second night).

Typical views from the bow of the canoe.

This picture didn't turn out the best, but it should get the idea across. The first night we camped on a gravel bar in a bend in the river. The bar was topped by lots of white soft sand that was comfortable to sit on. Across from the gravel bar was a large mountainous bluff that spread as far as we could see around the bend in both directions. It was awesome. We set up camp and then kicked back and watched nature as the sun went down. We then ate some grub and did some star gazing while sitting around the fire. It was very peaceful and it was one of my favorite parts. That was the one of the best camps I've ever stayed in.
Saturday: We were lazy that morning and took our time striking camp. This is the view I met as I woke up. The mornings were always very foggy and very peaceful. The tent was hard to stake in the sand and we had some heavy dew, but I slept great.
Later that morning we heard some wild pigs (razorbacks) squealing. That sound is creepy. And then a herd of pigs popped out of the woods while I was loading the canoe, Dad missed em but I snapped a picture. I will be seriously be considering a pig hunt next year.
The rest of the morning was relaxing as we started to get the hang of the canoe and the small mouth bass. Suddenly at around 11 am our bubble was pricked and we were slammed into reality. We were paddling down to the last man made stop until our trip was over when we spied a family camping on the bank. The "good ole boy" dad yelled at us, "It's 38 miles to the next stop!" Huh?! Now understand this trip was to be long, but not strenuous as we wanted to fish a lot; say 24-30 miles overall. Basically the guy was saying that our trip was to be about 16 miles longer than expected. We floated past thanking him for his help and advice on nearby rapids and kept going. We did some quick math and figured out that we would need to paddle at an avg speed of 3 miles per hour for the next gazillion miles and that we would probably not make the noonish time on Sunday we had originally planned on. In fact we may not make it to where the truck was at until maybe Monday morning to late afternoon! What the crap?! How did the lady at the canoe place get us so off track!? Well, we figured we better start paddling and stop fishing. At this point we'd traveled 10 miles total.

So we paddled, and paddled, and paddled... And then we came upon some nice fast water that, despite all our efforts, pushed us right into a tree and over we went. Luckily, despite my father's comment of "you think that's necessary?" I had tied all our bags to the canoe and we only lost Dad's fishing pole and hatchet, my trowel and sunglasses, a water bottle, and a pair of leather gloves (left on shore by accident).

Here Dad went back to the spot of destruction but the water was too fast to get good footing to look for the pole. And at that point a few things were floating off down the river. You can see the tree in the middle of the current.
Here we learned a few things: canvas sea bags are not waterproof, waterproof bags are not waterproof, fishing poles do not float in the Buffalo River, waterproof boots hold a lot of water, canoe's beat shins every time ( I have the scar to prove it), store your sleeping bags in waterproofs bags, etc. My splash resistant Olympus camera made it through!

We emptied everything out and Dad changed before we set off again. We weren't in terrible spirits, just a little frustrated about our lost items and the outcome of tree verses us. Oh yeah, synthetic material is the way to go for clothing. The clothes I wore dried quickly from my body heat. The cotton I was wearing never did dry out until we had a fire that night. Synthetics are the way to go, I'm sold.

Anyways, we set off to retrieve our float-ables down river and paddled until it was about 6pm with hardly any day light left. We were way too busy to take many pictures but we did see many bald eagles, they were awesome. We camped in a spot were the river went over some shallow gravel bars into a very deep pool that was bright green. I didn't take any pics because we were busy and while trying to dry everything out I noticed a beeping noise and my camera was freaking out because water finally infiltrated the inner components, argh. It really was a beautiful spot to camp and we made the best of it. Miles traveled after meeting Mr. Good Ole Boy: 14.9. Phew! We were beat. We did have fish that night and enjoyed the fruit of our labor. We managed to get a signal on his cellphone and left a message on my wife's phone letting her know that we may be much later than expected because I knew she would worry when I didn't call. This was definitely God working because the phone had been dunked in the river and was not working well and we were MILES from anywhere near civilization and in the bottom of a river bed. We didn't hang out much that night but went to bed early.

Sunday: We woke at 0630 and started getting ready. We figured if we paddled at 3 mph avg for 8 hours then we would get to the White River at about 5 pm, then we had about 6 more miles down the White to the truck. Oh boy. Then God really answered our prayers and showed us who was in charge. We saw some people later that morning who said it was only 8 miles to the White, not 24!! Then, someone else told us the same thing a few miles later! Oh man! We were soooo elated! That really turned our attitudes around!

At this point the river was slowing down with fast running fords in between long pools of still water and it was still tiring to paddle for long periods of time. And then we hit a fast moving area that introduced us to some boulders under the rapids that we couldn't see and dumped us again. This happens very fast and I'm not sure there was anything we could have done to prevent it. But we learned something again: float-ables float, my fishing reel broke, water bags work better when you trap lots of air in them, having a third paddle is very helpful (even though my father asked if we really needed it! I'm not gonna say I told you so...), etc.

We managed to get underway and find all our wayward items that tried to make it downriver without us. The rest of the day was long and tiring until we finally hit the White River. At this point I was a bit nervous because we had been in some deep water, but it was usually not flowing fast. The White was moving very quickly and it was very wide and very deep in places. Here we are in a tiny canoe on this river and if we capsized here we were in for one crazy and dangerous experience. Fortunately, we made it into the river without incident even though we passed about 15 feet from a tree that would've trashed us pretty quickly. The rest if the ride was great. We were cruising on the river at about 5 mph without touching a paddle. We did make a small effort and hit 8 mph pretty easily, but we then let the river take back over and all we had to do was keep the canoe straight. Until we got close to our destination, Shipp's Ferry. The GPS said it was on the right side of the river but as we neared the spot we realized that it looked like it was on the left. We paddled for all we were worth and managed to cross to the otehr side of the river and hit the boat ramp located there, it was pretty close. If we had missed it it would have been hard, if not nearly impossible to paddle upriver to get to the correct landing. It was hard enough keeping a 4 mph average on still water, let alone against a current. Thankfully we had finally made it at about 1530. We threw everything in the truck, loaded the canoe, and headed for the first diner we could find.

We really lucked out and found a palce in nearby Yellville, AR that really hit the spot, The Front Porch Restuarant. This place had a country buffet on Sunday's that is awesome, beating out any other place I've had, except maybe Stroud's. It is definitly better that Lambert's, by a looong shot. Of course I didn't get any pics but I did have: Smoked Chicken, Smoked Ribs, real mashed potatoes and gravy, fried squash and okra, fried fish, corn, awesome rolls, etc all topped by homemade blackberry cobbler and ice cream. Man, that was one of the highlights of the trip!

The rest of the ride home was uneventful and the wife picked me up from my dad's later that night. I was very happy to see my girls and to get home. I really want to go on another trip next year, but for now, I'm good.

5 comments on "Canoeing the Buffalo River"

Guy said...

That sounds like an awesome trip. I'm ready to go backpacking again.


Percussivity said...

Great pics... and yeah it does sound like it went well. 'Canoeing' and 'uneventful' are two words that rarely show up together so even with the canoe tipping I'd rate it a B+ trip or better.

We never see wildlife when backpacking, although I will admit I've never once desired to run into razorbacks while walking a trail; still a VERY cool pic!

The Angry Coder said...

Hmmm... another unabashed-led trip with over extended mileage?! Say it isn't so!

Don't count out all natural materials. Cotton is well known to be one of the worst for many reasons. It's great on a warm and airy day- but it doesn't wick well and doesn't insulated at all (hence the old addage 'cotton kills'). Wool would probably have been effective for you. But synthetics are definitely cost effective. Stupid greedy sheep!

Better than Lamberts by a looong shot? Pshhhh! Clearly you were in a deranged state. I think it's a rule of outdoorsmanship that the perceived quality of any meal is in direct proportion to the difficulty of the trip. Had the trip been hard enough, cat poop would've been delightful.

I think we floated part of the exact same section. We went through Yellville as well so it must've been close. The snapshot of the first canoe-dumping tree looks very much like the same place that we almost lost our daughters to that river. It was flowing 5' higher than normal and the spot we wiped out at was basically after a fast moving, 90 degree, right hand turn that launched you into an obstacle course of trees if you were anywhere but the far right hand side of the river. I don't think anyone can really appreciate the power (and subsequent terror) of dangling in a fast moving river without actually experiencing it.

But it is a beautiful river and area and worth going back to! I'm glad you guys didn't get lost. Those GPS's really come in handy. ;-)

The Unabashed Blogger said...

Um, regardless of the trip, Lambert's isn't a great option unless it's been a year or two since your last visit, and even then it's overpriced. Looking at our size difference, to which you always make mention, I would believe my opinion over yours any day! It really was good food. You just like the competitiveness of trying to catch rolls and convince the servers you really need more than one scoop of fried okra.

This was the first canoe trip I've been on in years and the only one of which we were responsible for our gear. Most of the trips were one day types. I do not believe I would take my family on a trip unless it was on still flat water until they are very adept at swimming. This trip was fun, but it definitely was an eye opener.

The mileage was not my fault! I talked to 2 different outfitters, told them what I wanted, and let them set the mileage up! Next time I'm going to plot my own course.

Natural vs synthetics:
I wear wool socks, they rock. Everything is too expensive. You were right about those stupid sheep. I can't afford a wool sweater on my salary...

I think we should canoe instead of pack next year..or both!

The Angry Coder said...

We could put our packs in canoes and set them off down the river and then hike across to try to catch them in time. Make a game of it, sorta.

Fortunately all the kids are good swimmers. I have floated many many times and never had an experience like that. Usually it's kinda boring- but that was always in Missouri.

Rumor tells they are going to open a Lambert's in OP. I'm excited about it. There's no place around here that serves country style food.