Out ahead of lightning, thunder and rising water

Ian in rain
Ian about to launch on a rainy morning. Sorry about the rain on the lense.

Buffalo River III, Third day — When sleeping in a tent, there’s nothing like a peal of thunder and a flash of lightning to get you up in the morning – especially when it is 1:30 a.m and still dark outside.

That’s what woke us up on our third day on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The nice thing about the lightning flashes is that you can see how much it is raining. In this case it was one of those big-drop rainfalls that spent the next five hours forming puddles around and then under my tent. So far my MSR one-man tent has always kept me dry without a ground cloth underneath it. I’ve heard too many stories about wet campers from the under liner sticking out from under the tent and collecting pools that come inside. But having now experienced what can happened when water pools under your no-ground-cloth-for-me tent, I can say that a custom cut tarp goes with me the next time.

I had planned to stay snuggled in my sleeping bag and tent until the rain stopped (sometime in August?). But when Ian was outside asking, “Are you awake in there” at 6 a.m., my dry spot in the tent had dwindled to an area almost big enough for me in a fetal position – almost. Foot of the sleeping bag sopping wet. Starting to leak around my head. Time to get up.

Out in rain
Last two miles of the Buffalo River in the rain.

We bundled up wet tents, sleeping bags (for me), clothes and were on the water in rain gear by 7:30 a.m. We had planned the trip to have only a few miles left to paddle on the last day. Which worked out even better in the pouring rain.

Riley’s Dock, our take-out spot, was across the White River from where the Buffalo River empties into it. We chose this as our end spot at the suggestion of Dirst Canoe Rental, which shuttled my truck from Buffalo Point to here. It avoided a half-mile upstream paddle on the White, which could be flowing big time if the Bull Shoals Dam 10 miles up the river was open. Or, we could have paddled downstream on the White five miles or so.

Riley Dock mapBut to get to Riley’s Dock, all you had to do was turn left as you came into the White, paddle 200 yards or so upstream and then drift across the river onto the far side of Smith Island. The dock would be nestled behind a smaller island on the other side. My left turn did not work and I ended more out in the White than I wanted to be. But I remembered Jack, our canoe pod leader on the Willamette River trip in Oregon, telling us about making your kayak into an airplane wing: Angled upstream across the river and with water pushing against your kayak on one side but not on the other, you’ve created a vacuum that keeps planes up in the air and your kayak pushing upstream against the current. And it worked. Still had to paddle, but I rounded Smith Island and headed for home.

Ian made the left turn, got high enough upstream to turn right and dash across on a downstream slant, arriving at the dock just before me.

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Riley’s Dock

Great people at Riley’s Dock. Five bucks to back the truck down the boat ramp to unload kayaks, and they offered a warm, dry cabin for us to change out of wet clothing.

Tide stick
Ian’s tide water marker a yard or so off the river.

Ian had set out tidewater stakes at our campsite the night before to see how far the river might come up. No noticeable change when we got up this morning, but the folks at Riley’s Dock said the rise in the river was now in Ponca, 130 miles or so up the river.

“It will be here this afternoon,” they said.

Toad
Two toads slept under my tent the last night.

And boy did it. I dropped Ian in Springfield, MO, for his flight back to Seattle, and he messaged me later that the river had gone up 12 feet that day. With or without ground cloth, my tent would not have had a dry spot big enough for the toads that jumped out from under it this morning.

We hit it just right. We started on April 29, when the river was dropping below six feet of gage height – above that and rangers recommend only experienced paddlers on the river. It kept dropping on April 30, but then look at the line shooting up on May 1, almost to 18 feet by the end of the day. We’d have been in New Orleans by the end of the week.

Buffalo River feet gauge

 

 

 

 

A calm day with no haystacks in sight

Second day on Buffalo River, Arkansas, Part III — We were up early – around 6 a.m. – but spent a long time at breakfast, getting our gear in order, loading the boats and finally launching around 8:45. We had pored over our maps and figured out that we had paddled up Big Creek on the first day while searching for the Cold Springs schoolhouse, which we never found. The paddle upstream was a hard one, probably because Big Creek is the second largest tributary to the Buffalo River adding nine percent of the full load. Still, it was nice to figure out where we were.

Some wind today but the current kept us going whether we paddled or not. A couple of ripples that kept us on our toes but nothing like at Clabber Creek Shoal on the first day.

Elephant
Standing in front of Elephant Head. I think I am looking serious because of the huge responsibility of taking the selfie.

We used Elephant Head rock as a place we would know exactly where we were on the map. How could anyone miss a 210-foot high rock shaped like an elephant? We paddled another mile or two and stopped in front of Grayface Bluff. Ian suggested we set up the tents first, and it was a good thing we did as we retired to them as some big-drop rains fell on us.

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Our second camp, up high in the sand and rocks.

Once outside in the evening, Ian put his book away and watched the buzzard and occasional eagles overhead. “I can read anytime, but when can I watch buzzard playing in the thermals on a bluff over the river” We wondered if they were scouting for carrion to make a group meal or if they were drifting back and forth over the bluff for fun, which is what we agreed we’d be doing.

 

Why are there haystacks in the middle of the Buffalo River?

(Ian admits the sound in the video above is terrible, but what I am saying is we are starting a 30-mile float trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas and the bridge behind me was underwater in the 1982 flood.)

The guidebook describes the Clabber Creek Shoal as the “wildest rapids of the lower river.”

That’s a lie.

It’s the wildest rapid on all 135 miles of the Buffalo River in Arkansas, from Ponca down to the White River. I know because after my third trip there recently, I have floated all those miles over all those rapids.

The book “Buffalo River Handbook” by Kenneth L. Smith, talks about Clabber Creek Shoal current going right, then left, don’t get swept into the right bank and don’t get swamped by the haystacks.

Haystacks? Odd thing to have in the river.

Since then I have learned that “haystack” waves are not like the riffles, wave trains and strainers and stags I had glided happily over or have avoided on previous trips on the Buffalo. Haystacks don’t move downstream as you do; they stay right there where some underwater rock – or rocks – put them.

I, in my ignorance and hubris, figured I’d have no problem. Even a 275-prop will come down if you aim your tackle low enough.

No problem avoiding the right bank. On to the haystack waves, bow first and over the top as I always once did. I got up and over one. Sloughed through another and looked into the base of a Cecil B. DeMille wave. Sometimes the prop runs over you, and the Red Sea wave wins no matter where you aim your attack.

It flicked my kayak over to the left, and I remembered two things as the kayak turned: Stay with the boat and don’t lose your paddle. Fortunately, all my belongings were well attached. Dry bags, water jugs and carabiners all held to my new shock cords. My hatch cover leaked some, but tent, sleeping bag, camp chairs and coats (a bit damp) all stayed aboard.

The only things dumped into the river were unattached: the map case, my Stanley coffee thermos and me.

I pulled myself up over the overturned boat with my paddle in hand and peeked over the hull to see my thermos headed for the goal line. Kicking for shore with two legs and one arm as down the river we went.

Ian, my partner, took his kayak to the left of the haystacks, stayed upright and then did things in the right order. First getting the map case, then the thermos and finally towing me and kayak the last few yards to shore.

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Mostly wet and checking my fogged binoculars. Photo by Ian Gunn

The underwater camera seems to be working fine, but looking through the binoculars (in the pocket of my life vest, which I was wearing) is like examining a one-celled animal swishing around on a fogged microscope slide.

Up until then, the trip had gone swimmingly. We launched at Dillard Ferry, upstream from Buffalo Point, and got to what we thought would be our first night’s camping spot at noon. So we decided to push on to the second night camp spot. We needed the rescued maps and Ian’s GPS to try to find it, and never did. But it’s hard to get lost when the river is pushing you downstream.

First camp
First night’s campsite.

We found a great campsite but unfortunately followed some awful campers. Fire still smoldering, cigarette butts everywhere, soap and other trash strewn around and the TP flowers nearby with their white and brown blossoms.

Rekindled the fire, dried out clothes in sun, cooked, ate, read and to bed in skivvies – although the long johns are nearby.

Also see “Clobbered at Clabber Creek

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Cruising by Painted Bluff. Photo by Ian Gunn.
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Not a haystack wave in sight. Photo by Ian Gunn.

 

Canoeing: You can get wet – or worse

Canoe on bank
The Winchester Wasteway earlier this month.

An earlier post here told about a canoe trip on the Winchester Wasteway taken by Officer John and Editor John. That served as a practice run for Officer John to take his friend Keith on a return trip to Central Washington’s Wasteway this Memorial Day.

His quick summary of the latest trip: 99 percent perfect.

So what about the other one percent? Here’s his report:

“I paddled the Winchester Wasteway Saturday for the second time in 17 days, this time with my friend Keith, who has a canoeing merit badge.

“We made the trip with a different attitude. When Officer John & Editor John made the trip, we had the attitude that we were to paddle fast — fast enough to make the trip in less than the oft-reported 12 hours. So we paddled fast and did the trip in about five hours paddling time.

“Armed with this experience, Officer John lectured Keith on the attitude of speed: Don’t. Paddle easily. Let’s take our time. Relax and enjoy the scenery. When possible, let the current do the work. Take advantage of the current to rest those tired arms.

“So we paddled for two hours and rested for 30 minutes. Then we paddled for two hours and rested for 30 minutes. Then we paddled for an hour and a half and got within 75 yards of the take-out at the end of road C.

“Remember now, we were taking it slow and easy the entire route.

“Seventy-five yards from the take-out, the current bumped the canoe against the right bank. The canoe flipped over and tossed us into at least three feet of water. We struggled to our feet and stood up just in time to watch our belongings float downstream.

“With tremendous difficulty we were able to walk the canoe past rocks and protruding tree roots to the take-out and, finally, to safety.

“We were not pleased with this clamorous end to an otherwise perfect paddle trip, which Keith estimated with some electronic authority to be 15 to16 miles.”

John and Keith want to remind us all that no matter what the paddle rating is, no matter how placid the situation seems, be careful out there.

They got wet, but their story prompted me to check on an incident where something worse happened. I mentioned that incident in a post on this year’s trip to the Buffalo River in Arkansas. On the day that Kathy and I were supposed to put in, the river at Buffalo Point was at 22 feet – the National Parks System closes the river to paddlers when it is at 10 feet.

Unfortunately for four canoeists farther upstream, they were already camped along the rising river. They tried to paddle out. Some of the four canoes flipped. Three paddlers made it to safety, but one did not. The body of Rick Norber, 65, from St. Louis, was found four miles downstream from where he was last seen. Condolences to his family.

This past week, I joined four others to take a canoe class. I paddled my first canoe more than 50 years ago at Boy Scout camp. Despite my canoe partner Bill Shockey (RIP) and I being ordered off the water for splashing others in the class, I also earned a canoeing merit badge. I have been taking regular water trips these past three years. But the class this past week taught me some new techniques and served as another reminder of how to stay safe and what to do to keep from going from wet to worse.

Disappointed, but safe, off the Buffalo

When the level of Arkansas’ Buffalo River hits six feet at Buffalo Point, the National Park Service restricts access to experienced paddlers. When it’s at 10 feet, the river is closed.

On Wednesday morning, when we were to start our four-day canoe trip from Buffalo Point to the confluence with the White River, the level was 16 feet.

On Thursday, it was 22 feet.

“We blew that one right out of the water, so to speak,” said the lady at the counter of our canoe rental office.

We never got on the river, and we are now dodging continued rain, possible flash flooding and wind and thunder storms as we head north to Kansas City.

Disappointed, but the power and danger of the river was brought home when we learned on Thursday morning that a canoeist on Wednesday had gone missing upstream of us.

Rockhouse
Inside the Indian Rockhouse at Buffalo Point

Kept off the river, we turned our attention to other pursuits. We walked the Indian Rockhouse Trail in the Buffalo Point State Park and then drove over to the Blanchard Springs Caverns for a tour.

We hope to be in Independence, MO, tonight for a visit to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

And we are starting to point toward Seattle and home.

Cave
Inside the Blanchard Springs Cavern.

 

Does dressing like Jungle Jim = Nerd?

jungle-jim-standing“You walked into the party
Like you were walking on a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf, it was apricot
You had one eye on the mirror
And watched yourself gavotte . . .”

 

So you walked into the party wearing your photographer vest and cargo pants because one can never have enough big pockets for phone, notebooks, pencils, pens, bandana, keys, wallet, coins, utility knife, nail clippers and — what’s this? — a camera. It’s practical. It’s comfortable. Lots of people dress like that in the Pacific Northwest even before Maria Semple wrote “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” (Why no question mark in the title?)

bernadette

It’s gotten so it seems normal to some of us until we walk into the party and someone asks, “Did you just come off a safari?”

Well, no, but . . . you look around and see that not everyone dresses like Jungle Jim. He would be the lead character in films on the 5 o’clock movie that gave you reason to go back outside and try keeping the Hula Hoop going for 100 loops. The only thing worse would be a rerun of Peter Lorre in another Mr. Moto movie. Jungle Jim movies were a waste of film and Johnny Weissmuller,  who happily showed up more often at 5 swinging from grape vines and calling wild animals to his aid.

Jungle Jim wear is a lot more practical though than Tarzan’s loin cloth. But if you aren’t in the jungle or on safari and you dress like it, are you exhibiting nerd behavior?

These are questions that give us a break from should our president wear a pants suit and delete emails or wear a red tie and force his way into women’s pants suits.

happy
On Arkansas’ Buffalo River in 2016.

So let’s say you paddle down a river and you are dressed like Jungle Jim floating the Limpopo — life jacket, quick-dry shirt and pants (with BIG pockets and lots of them), neoprene booties and river sandals. Tent, freeze-dried food, sleeping bag, water bladders all secured behind your seat. Suddenly you are in the middle of floaters hardly dressed at all — bikini-clad women, men in bathing suits, all stretched across inner tubes, toting radios and towing floating coolers. The party seems to go on forever and you, Mr. Moto Nerd, are way overdressed.

biking
The biker on the right has bad B.O.

Kinda like bike riding. Most American bicyclists dress the same whether they are riding 100 miles or going down the street to the post office. They show up in all kinds of places — the post office for instance — looking like they’re stopping by for a drug test or blood transfusion before the next leg of the tour. And, Mr. Skinny Pants Moto, you’ve got B.O.

Of course there are times when unusual dress is appropriate. The croquet court would be one where one should never neglect wearing whites (Captain of the Yacht, you are welcome here!).

croquet
Cherry Blossom Croquet Tournament, 2016, Oxford, Georgia.

Time behind the barbecue? A ridiculous apron is a must.

bruce
Hope we never find out.

But these are special occasions where we all agree to be a little weird. If we all dress the same, then we can’t be nerds, right? Not necessarily, as Amazon workers prove daily in the streets of Seattle.

So perhaps this is a question that should be left for quieter times so that we can rejoin the ranks of fellow citizens either packing their bags for their trip to Canada Nov. 9 or stirring up a pot of tar and feathers for dressing up the losers.

It’s been a great year, with lots of fun activities with good friends, and I’ve enjoyed bringing you this silly review of those activities. America seems pretty great to me, and I know I am fortunate to be in a position where I can say that. Whatever we do on Nov. 8, I’m hoping it’s for the best for all of us, no matter how we are dressed, how we look, vote or pray. I also hope it is good for Earth, this place we call home and yet don’t pick up after ourselves. We need to do better.

jungle-jim-bust

Til then, anyone know where I can get a hat like Jungle Jim’s — with a big pocket in the back?