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.

DCIM100GOPRO
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