This was the second time to have the distinct pleasure of paddling this beautiful river. Along on this trip were 7 other members of the Dallas Downriver Club (DDRC). The trip leader was Marc McCord, and we were joined by Anita Goss, Bob Griffiths, Chris Hudnall, Jim Bradford, Stan Pully, and Tom Taylor. The trip weather was near identical to that from a trip report in 2009. I arrived at the Ozark campground just outside of Jasper, AR Thursday afternoon. I quickly got my tent and tarp setup and then joined Anita for dinner at the Ozark Café in Jasper. We got back to camp and the rain started up. I crawled into my tent and was put to sleep by the bright flashes and thunder echoing through the valleys.
The next morning was in the mid to low 40s and Anita and I took our kayaks on my truck up to the Ponca low water bridge. We had packed our water, lunches and camera and were off for the 23 mile paddle back to the Ozark campground. Along the way is a beautiful waterfall at Hemmed in Hollow. Well, we pulled out at the up river trail for this and hiked up the trail for more than an hour. We came across some hikers and they informed us of my navigational error. We made our way back down the trail and then back up the other trail but had to turn back because we still needed to get back to the campground before dark. The river was flowing nicely from the rain the night before and the weather was cool in the 50s with light rain. We made camp about 5:30 and heard from Marc, Tom, and Jim that they had arrived and we all hit the Ozark Café for dinner. While enjoying our fine meal we made plans to make the run from Ponca to Ozark again on Saturday. Once back at the campground I got a fire going and got out of my wet clothes I had been in all day. They say a fire serves only a mental purpose. Well, sitting by the fire after a long day soothes the soul. A fire touches 4 out of 5 senses, the snap crackly pop, the sight of the flames and embers, the smell of the smoke, and of course the warmth. I sat there as my body was soaked by the warmth and I felt like I was taking in every ounce the fire was giving up.
Morning once again brought lows in the 40s and light fog. We all got going and hit the Ozark Café for breakfast then set off for Ponca. The river had dropped some with about 18” of air under the bridge. This was still plenty of water to paddle. We all set off and had another fine day of paddling with cool weather highs in the low 60s. This was a relaxing paddle and fun was had by all. We stopped many times to enjoy the sites and hike up a small series of waterfalls that I had hiked up on the last trip.
This is the beginning of our group trip from the Ozark campground to Rush Landing about 80 miles downstream. We were joined by Chris Hudnall that morning and then all drivers made the trip to Silver Hill Canoe Rental, our shuttle service. Once we were returned to the campground we all packed our boats and set off about 11:30am. Below is a list of dates and approximate river mile makers where we camped each night.
Date Start Finish Day total
5/15 50.6 64.5 13.9
5/16 64.5 76.9 12.4
5/17 76.9 91 14.1
5/18 91 107.7 16.7
5/19 107.9 125.5 17.6
5/20 125.5 129.5 4.0
The first couple of days were cool mornings in the 40s and highs in the 60s and 70s. Later in the week the mornings were in the upper 50s and 60s with highs in the 70s and 80s. We had only a brief shower on Wednesday morning and stopped at Tyler Bend park for a hot shower and to dump some trash. Each morning I would get up and be on the river early ahead of the group to enjoy the solitude and see the wildlife. Many Bald Eagles were seen each day along with Elk, Beaver, Mink, Otters, Bobcat, Golden Eagle, Deer, Hogs, endless turtles and Great Blue Herons. While I did not see the raccoons one night they did leave evidence of their presence and escaped with some pita bread I left out. One night a couple of Elk walked up from the woods and close to camp. You could hear them snorting and extensive exhale along with the shadow just at the edge of camp. I am sure we were blocking their normal path down to the river.
I would also fish each morning and the small mouth bass were quite aggressive in their bite. The fish got bigger as we got further downriver and one morning I even caught two on each hook of the lure. One day I must have caught and released 25 fish before noon. Each day I would leave word with Marc on where our target camp was to be and once done with my wildlife viewing and fishing would paddle hard to stake out the campsite for the rest of the group. Several of the campsites were familiar from my last trip and some were new. We camped on large gravel bars each night and usually across from large bluffs. The river flow was steady but was also dropping and we found several long stretches with flat water. It was also readily apparent that the river had been much higher recently, near record floods of early May. There were many downed trees along the banks with some in the river and debris high is the trees. There are many designated campgrounds along the way with all having pit toilets and trash bins and some with water. I used the water twice along the trip and only carried a total of 5 liters at any given time. I did use my water filter a couple of times to replenish.
I did not pitch a tent for most of the nights and just slept in or on my bag on the gravel or sand when it could be found. For me dinners for the first 5 nights was salmon, or chicken pasta with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, garlic, onions with an alfrado or pesto sauce. One night I made a meal out of some boiled potatoes, can of black beans and a can of pineapple. Lunches were a mix of snacks, or peanut butter sandwiches, and apples. Breakfast was oatmeal or granola bars with OJ or tomato juice. I had also packed 5 dried meals in case my pasta cooking did not work out or in case we had rainy nights and just needed something quick and easy. I ended the trip with about 5 extra days worth of food. Others in the group had anything from dried meals to steak depending on who was carrying an ice chest. The group also carried out a lot of trash that was collected along the way. The guys in canoes carried out many tires and I managed one tire and a lot of other assorted trash.
We finished up our trip a day early at Rush Landing on Friday morning. The original plan was for one lay over day and to finish on Saturday but the group elected to see if we could get back to the Ozark campground and then paddle the upper part from Boxley to Ozark or the Mulberry River on Saturday as the forecast was for rain. Just as the shuttle driver is driving us back to our vehicles near Hwy 65 it started to rain. As we were driving back to the campground it continued to rain and ended up putting up my tent in the rain and then we all met at the Ozark Café in Jasper for dinner. It continued to rain hard until about 1am. I went down to the river at 1am and it was up about 2ft then again at 5:30am and it was up a total of about 5-6ft and rolling.
We all got up to partly cloudy skies after a night of heavy rain and temps in the upper 60s or 70s. We had decided today was going to be a rare occasion when you had enough water to paddle from Boxley Valley to Ponca which would not disappoint any of us. Jim had elected not to make the paddle so he became our driver. We all ate breakfast at the Ozark Café and then set off for Boxley. We all got on the water about 10am and were immediately greeted by the fast water and class III rapids which was soon followed by many Class IV with 200-300 ft of 4-5 ft standing waves and washes. One of these I crested and started to slide backward down the wave but dug my paddle in and the current pushed me over. Nobody came out of their boats on the 6 mile run which took us 68 min. We did have to pull over several times to empty canoes but all was well. It seemed that my cockpit was constantly full of water but the scupper holes got rid of it rather quickly. I was pleasantly surprised the way that big kayak handled in that white water. Once we all got to the Ponca low water bridge the water was still going over the bridge but we all decided to portage to the left. There was a ranger there saying they had the river closed earlier due to large rock slide downriver. We all took a break then portaged around and got going. You had to make a quick run from the bridge out toward the main flow to dodge some trees.
We all made except for Tom Taylor. He got pushed up against some small trees and pinned his canoe. We positioned people downstream to pick up anything that came our and then several of us worked with Tom. I got out to Tom by paddling in my kayak in an eddie almost all the way back up to him. I managed to tie my kayak off to one of the trees then walk over to him. Tom and I got a line tied to a cross member and thrown over to a group. We pulled and managed to break the cross member out. Then we got the rope around one end of the canoe and again a team of people pulled but the canoe started to fold in half and would not budge. The sound of the raging river was so loud you could not be heard shouting just 20 feet away. The water was very swift and Tom and I got across via one of the ropes but even then I managed to fall down with the last rope in my had and was swept downriver until the rope came taught and I pulled myself up from under the river and on to my feet and walked out. We decided we should leave the canoe and come back later in the day when the water dropped and get it out. So we were off to enjoy the rest of our run from Ponca to Ozark. At one point during the incident the pigtail of the rope became entangled around my ankle and with each movement it got tighter. I had to get under the water and get it off of my ankle, staying calm and working the situation paid off. My knife on my PFD came in handy several times on this incident. It was used to cut small lines that were on the canoe spray cover and some entangled lines as well.
Just the week prior we had made the run from Ponca to Ozark twice. Today we made the same run but what a totally different river. There was water everywhere and running in places it does not normally run. This turned what was a care free lazy float into a screaming torrent where you had better not take your eyes off of the river for a moment or else you may well find yourself in a pickle. On several occasions we would round corners to find large swirls pushing you into trees and away from the main river. You had to react fast and find that one eddie that was going to deliver you back on course and away from the trees or rocks. It was a totally different river scene. When we got to the point of the rockslide we could not believe our eyes. I would estimate that the volume of 5 houses of rock and dirt came loose from a 300ft bluff and then slid down to the river taking some very large trees with it. We all made it safely downriver to Ozark by 5:30 and from Eribie to Ozark in 40-45 min, which I think is about 8 mph. After our long day on the river we ate dinner in the campground and lit a fire and just enjoyed the rest.
Lessons Learnt: Most of my lessons learned on this trip are related to the last day on the white water. While I am certain those with more white water experience may add or to this list, this represents my lessons learned on this trip from a relatively inexperienced white water person.
1. The river can rise sharply, be prepared to move. While this is not new to me it warrants reiteration.
2. Do not camp on an island or against a cliff if there has been rain or if the expect there is a chance the river will rise. If you do not know the upstream rain situation camp where there is a way out. Keep things neat and tidy and ready to pack up quickly just in case. Again not new but note worthy.
3. Have a sharp ready to use knife on your PFD that can be removed with only one hand. Also, this I knew but it was re-enforced on this trip.
4. When a swift water incident occurs assess the situation of the person/s involved quickly. Are they in a relatively safe situation or do they need immediate assistance? Stay calm and assess the situation, make a plan of attack.
5. Is the river rising or falling? If rising, the situation may change rapidly and the person/s involved need to be extricated as soon as possible.
6. Get a line to the person/s. A rope across the river will be needed at some point. Make sure the rope gets tied off to something, preferably the boat. Do not leave it dangling as this presents a entanglement possibility.
7. Be prepared to leave a boat. The river will fall eventually and it is not worth someone getting hurt. Remove as much equipment as possible and remove or cut any ropes. Move on and enjoy the rest of your day.
Below are a few of the many pictures that I captured but they do not do justice to the absolute beauty and wildness of this area. I did not manage to get any pictures of the Boxley to Ponca run due to it just being to intense and non-stop. The few pictures of the rapids on the last day represent the relatively calm stuff but still a blast. In all I paddled about 156 miles over 9 days. I truly blessed and grateful to all of those who made this trip. We all played our part as a team to make this trip remarkable.
Anita, Jim, Tom
Marc, Jim, Anita
Tom and His Standup Routine
Jim Pulling Hard
Anita, Marc, Tom on a Waterfall
Marc, Tom, myself, Jim
The crew before we set off on the long trip
Some Elk on the first day
Ok Jim, I told you so. Two for one cast
Clear Blue Day
Two Deer Crossing the River in front of me
Boxley put in crew of six
Tom getting through
Ponca Low Water Bridge
Ponca Bridge: The water was up to the steel girders about 3 weeks prior. There were large rock remaining on parts of the girders.
Marc coming through a rapid
Anita coming through a rapid
Beautiful waterfall. Took a similar shot on same location two years prior
Buffalo River Map and Guide:
http://www.ozarksociety.net/OS_Maps_Gui ... Videos.htm
See you on the water,