Ozark Spring Rendezvous 2021 - Buffalo River, AR

River should be a good level by Thursday. Sure hope Pete and his crew are good, I don’t think they were to put on for their overnight until today, not sure that will now happen.
See everyone Wednesday afternoon, be safe!

Pete always looks out for the less experienced so they will be fine as you know

Turned out to be a great trip after all. My daughter had a good experience despite the pin. Anyone interested in more Ozark paddling this Spring feel free to message me. Thanks to everyone involved!

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It was good to meet you and Meredith and paddle with you, Marty. And you got to see me swim on the Little Buffalo!

I can’t recall exactly when you left but are you aware we finally got Pat’s canoe out on Saturday and it was in good enough shape for him to paddle it back to Ozark Campground?

Assuming we have a Fall Rendezvous it will likely be on the Current River at Pulltite Campground but that could change. It has traditionally been the second full weekend of October plus some portion of the preceding week, although that is not written in stone either. Of course, you and your daughter would be welcome.

There is a story in there… we are all ears!. I never paddled the Little Buffalo.

There are several stories in there… alas, I know only mine. On occasion in the past I’ve done the trip reports on these things, but I’m not in a position to report on any but one day of this 'vous. More will be revealed, as they say. I hope whoever they are that says such things, that they’re right. :wink: I think it safe to say there were a greater than usual number of “out of boat experiences” this time.

Oh, it sounds like it was an “interesting” rendezvous. I be watching for the trip reports and stories.

Some of us arrived at Ozark Campground on Monday May 3 with plans to possibly put on at Ponca for a two day overnight trip to Ozark Campground starting Tuesday May 4. These included myself and my daughter Gen, Marty B., Bjoern, and Doug. But a thunderstorm with a very impressive lightning light show came through Monday night and dumped about an inch and a quarter of rain on the precipitation gauge at Ponca. The river had dropped to a stage of just under 3.5’ and about 270 cfs, just about ideal to put on at Ponca. But by Tuesday morning after the rain it had bumped back up to about 5.7 feet and nearly 1700 cfs which made a put in at Ponca with loaded boats seem a bit imprudent. So we abandoned our plans for an overnight trip and waited another day or two for the river to drop.

The next morning after breakfast at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper, Marty suggested paddling the Little Buffalo which turned out to be a good call. We went to the city park in Jasper to check out the river which was flowing well. After leaving shuttle vehicles at Hasty access on the Big Buffalo we returned to the park to put on. The Little Buffalo had rather more action than I had anticipated and it was a good warm up for the Big Buffalo later in the week. There were a good many lively Class I-I+ rapids but everything was pretty straightforward with one notable exception. We did have a bit of afternoon rain to contend with.

Marty had mentioned that there was an old road crossing somewhere on the Little Buffalo and I had read on a Facebook group for the Buffalo about an old low water crossing that required portaging. I later found that this was identified as the Stringtown Road ford. It is situated not quite 1 1/2 miles upstream of the confluence of the Little Buffalo with the Buffalo. It is plainly visible on the satellite view of google maps for this area which shows the remains of a derelict low water bridge with two big chunks missing, one center left and the other far right. But the water on this particular day was much higher than when that satellite photo was taken with all of the remaining bridge structure underwater. The far right breach looked like it offered a cheat route but I wasn’t sure if it had enough water to float our relatively heavy tandem canoe. The center left breach had a lot of flow going though it and was kicking up some pretty big waves but it looked runnable and I decided to give it a try.

I have no doubt that it was in fact runnable but I didn’t run it very well and hit the seam between the big wave train and slower water flowing over the remaining intact bridge structure which was forming a bit of a hydraulic. A wave hit the side of our canoe and rolled it toward my off-side and we were unable to recover. We did have a big center bag in the boat, fortunately, so my daughter and I were able to swim/push it to river right into an eddy, dump it, and get back in. The only casualty was my old Walmart straw hat. The rest of our group, having seen the misfortune suffered by the probe boat wisely decided to line down the cheat on river right.

By Tuesday afternoon others had arrived including Tom and Laurel S. and Pat C. On Wednesday we decided to run from Kyles Landing down to Ozark Campground. It was a beautiful day and things went great until about 1 1/2 miles upstream of Ozark Campground but that is not my story to tell.

By Wednesday PM the group had grown some more with the arrival of Marty’s daughter, Eric and Rena, Pam and Joanne, Dan C., Brian T., and Vicky W. By Thursday morning the river had dropped to just about an ideal level to put in at Ponca which most of us did, for a run down to Kyles landing on another beautiful day. Marty and daughter decided to run something that promised to be a little tamer, Ozark to Hasty, but wound up having a bit of an adventure of their own just below Ozark access.

Friday most of our group ran from Ozark down to Hasty which was largely uneventful. Saturday morning and early afternoon were largely spent in boat recovery activities although Dan C. and Brian T. did manage to get a run in I believe from Erbie to Ozark. On Sunday morning most of us hurried to get packed up and on the road before yet more rain predicted for Sunday morning and afternoon.

For those of us who were present from Monday to Sunday AM we had two fairly impressive thunderstorms with mostly beautiful weather during the days and great water levels. I was impressed by how little traffic we encountered on the rivers.

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I’ve arrived home safe and sound after spending a day hiking around Hot Springs Nat’l Park. I was the last to leave the campground - a really big storm hit before I could get my tent taken down - so had to pack a very wet tent. I had purchased a painting of Twin Falls from the Low Gap Restaurant, so I went there to get a picture - of course it was Triple Falls as was the painting. Thank you again Brian for driving me back to BOC (I dropped my car key in their parking lot!)

But Wow, what a lovely area and very enjoyable paddles - glad I didn’t know about Hells Half Acre rapids beforehand - wasn’t that bad but when my bow went completely under and flooded my cockpit that was it bit scary for me.

Thank you to all that shuttled me and my kayak - Pete, Tom & Laural, Pam and Brian. We also had a lovely walk at Lost Valley. I can’t wait to go back!

Well, I guess its time to write something… I rather dread doing so for several reasons. I blew a pretty serious move paddling and ended up a) swimming a strainer, b) badly pinning a boat, and c)requiring the efforts of my paddling friends and a stranger from the campground to undo the mess I’d gotten myself in. These are not things one should be proud of. (And I don’t want to let this post turn into a novella - its not that interesting a story.)
The other side of the coin though, is that if we paddle long enough every one of us will miss a move, though usually where the chances of a bad outcome are less than this. I’ve paddled rivers for over 50 years now and never pinned a boat or swum a serious strainer until now. But I made up for it this time. Hopefully there are a few “take-aways” from this that might help others - though the “take-aways” are also things we probably all know already and have practiced habitually for some time. I usually did, too.
It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day with the occasional puff of cool breeze. The river was running a bit high, but not as high as I’ve done on it three times before. There we chutes with delightful standing waves and we’d already run a bunch of them, all without taking even a small splash in the Royalex Prospector I was soloing. We’d stopped for lunch and a relaxing stretch out on a gravel bar in the warm sun. Marty and I were bringing up the rear on a long pool, talking about various sorts of paddles we liked and generally enjoying the bluffs and terrific scenery of the Buffalo. We came upon yet another gravel bar with a chute of fast water running into an undercut bank and a shallow, though pretty long, spill-over at the tip of it. It was something to be taken single file, though. He in his Wildfire went ahead, I drifted in about 10 ft behind him. As we dropped through the chute, I guess I caught a bit faster current than he and kept catching up, so I back paddled a bit to try to maintain distance. As we dropped through, though he was paddling steadily, I kept slowly gaining on him and working slightly to the right into quite a fast current, which I could now see was going directly into a strainer. It was about maybe seven or eight boat lengths downstream but had a nice channel maybe 15 feet wide on the left of the tip of the strainer. Nothing tricky or even unusual, but I still wanted to put more distance between us. Well, what do we do when we want to slow down and move laterally? Yes, we set the angle and back ferry. So I did. The distance between us increased, sure enough, but the lateral move just wasn’t happening. Apparently the spill over from the gravel bar was negating that. So bring her around and power past the strainer. I didn’t accelerate fast enough. One more good stroke and I’d have hit the stern on an upstream-leaning branch coming out of a large (20" dia. or so) submerged branch of the tree. Two strokes and I’d have cleared it all. But I didn’t. The lesson - separate more before entering a chute.
The branch caught the gunnal before the hull hit the submerged branch and dumped me upstream. I clung with my chin and hands on the submerged gunnal for a bit, trying to scissor and then flutter kick to climb over, but my head was about 18" under at that point and my efforts didn’t begin to help me gain anything against the very strong current. So I stretched out my arms and went under the canoe and log trying to keep my feet high to avoid snagging anything that might be at depth, an easy task in a current that fast. Like a flag standing straight in the wind. I’m happy to report that the water was refreshingly warm, at least that wasn’t an issue… I can report that it was dark about three feet down. I let go, as I knew I’d have to while I still had breath in me and surfaced shortly below the log where I was able to reach up and grab a 1/2" or so trig that held. I floated there with the current ripping loudly by till I caught my breath again. I was able to reach my very nice Sawyer Freestyle paddle which was caught in twigs a bit to my left and toss it out into the clear channel where folks downstream stood a chance of recovering it. From my vantage point I could see a path downstream clear of overhanging branches, though what was under the surface was a mystery. I know that folks downstream would have had a hard time seeing me where I was, that I was in fact able to breathe and get my bearings, and that a pretty long time had passed. They would by now be getting pretty concerned. I’m sorry for that but there was nothing much I could do about it. Marty, God bless him, appeared on the gravel bar with a throw rope, I waved, he saw me. I let go and he tossed when I cleared the brush. That’s that part of the story. The rest is boat recovery.

Pete had the Z-drag. We ferried across to the right bank where we found a landing point downstream and behind the strainer. Standing on the stump of the strainer (deep and fast underneath) I was able to snag my floating painter with a paddle handle and we tied on to it. We rigged the 3:1 Z-drag (Pete is very expert in this - and he had the foresight to rig it in such a way that if a rope broke it wouldn’t snap us in the face.) That was fortunate because the painter did, in fact, break. I had not ever imagined that I would ever have to put that much tension on a painter. That’s another “take-away” - use a 3/8" or better floating painter in good condition, you never know when something that strong may be required. We were able to again reattach to the grab loop, which we could barely reach (though tying to a thwart would have been better if it had been possible without going in the drink.) by duct-taping a large spring biener, (with a strap and finally the haul rope) to a paddle, reaching out, clipping onto the grab loop and pulling the paddle back till the tape let go. And then we (Pete, Marty and I - and later Tom - bless 'em all) hauled. And hauled. Moved the boat, open side upstream and catching a sizable portion of the Buffalo River’s total flow, about three or four feet toward shore. If one doubts how hard it was stuck, it did this:

We finally bagged it for the day and I paddled bow with Pete and Gen about a mile and a half downstream back to our camp.

This is turning into the novella I was hoping to avoid… I’ll continue the saga if anyone is interested and asks. There is the part about lowering two canoes down the cliff from the scenic overlook we discovered this all happened under, the heaven sent local with the chain saw, a word about the importance of having a spare key to your car door in your PFD pocket, the serendipity of rhow (a Pnetter, an original 'Vous paddler, who paddled many times with me on the Currrent, Wisconsin, Kickapoo, Upper Iowa) showing up just to say “hi”, and and other such incredible stuff.

But, as you can see, this all has very little to do with the paddling trip itself - it was a great river trip with beautiful weather and a fine time for all the others (and in spite of it all, I don’t regret going either…) - that’s the story that really matters. This is a lovely bucket-list river for all those river paddlers who haven’t yet experienced it.

Hey PJC thanks for sharing your experience and keeping it real. Often times after a swim the biggest injury is to our own pride.

Thanks tdaniel - its also good to be reminded that pride isn’t an unqualified virtue. In some circles it’s still considered a sin. But while my pride may have taken a bit of a hit (and maybe that’s a good thing in the long run) there is grounds in this for others involved to be quite proud.

Pete and Marty (who also managed to recover my spare paddle, a nice Grey Owl Cherry Tripper) in particular gained big “river karma points”. So did a local fellow named Charlie who took it as a personal challenge to venture out over fast water and cut that submerged limb and help a total stranger - good river folks down there in Arkansas. They all have grounds for great pride.

Pride aside, there was (self -inflicted admittedly) financial injury involved here also - I darned near lost the boat, but I also lost that Sawyer paddle, my camera still isn’t working, lost my “unhappy bag” with a nice rain coat, compasses, a belt knife, first aid kit, etc. And after buying a bolt cutter to cut the locks on my trailer and the padlock that held my Flashback, and cutting those locks, and after paying to have a tow truck company get into my car - that’s when my spare clothes bag was found (thanks also to Park Service also) and returned with my keys in a small Pelican case still in it. I have a gunnel to buy yet. And I think I see a center float bag and NRS Z-drag kit in my financial future.
Though it could have been much worse, it wasn’t exactly a cheap swim.

Take-away: Don’t paddle in strainers. People die doing stuff like that. Could be just one or two paddle strokes away from a perfect afternoon. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

I did not see Pat dump. I believe that Gen and I had run past that strainer first. I eddied out on river right a short distance downstream and waited for everyone to run past it as I recognized it as an obstacle that could potentially give trouble. I could not see the strainer from the location of that eddy.

The river was very shallow on the gravel bar (left) side and quite deep on the right side where the strainer was and at that point there was a muddy, sandy bluff 40 feet high. It took paddling with a bit of determination to clear that strainer in our 16 foot tandem canoe. Tom could see it from his vantage point and shouted that Pat was over, and my daughter and I paddled back upstream along the gravel bar side. When I got out and ran up the gravel bar I could see the pinned canoe but I could not see Pat at all. He surfaced a short while later. Marty got out and set downstream safety with his throw bag. Initially I feared it might be necessary to throw a rope from the upstream side of the strainer to pull Pat off if he were stuck on it. But when he did come up he was able to work his way over to a position from which it was clear he could safely let go and float downstream to catch Marty’s rope. That might not have been so clear from Pat’s perspective, but that is what eventually occurred.

It is actually quite fortunate that the boat pinned in the location it did as it was directly beneath a pull off from the Erbie Campground road that went into a little picnic area at a place called Cedar Glade. Of course, we had no idea that was the case at the time because the picnic tables were not visible from river level. But since there was reasonable road access to directly above the location of the pin, we could drive to the boat. If that had not been the case, we could only have approached it by paddling several miles downstream from Erbie access or paddling a mile and a half upstream from Ozark Campground.

Pat had called Buffalo Outdoor Center and the National Park Service headquarters at Tyler Bend. BOC had referred him to an individual named John Trueblood as being the person at BOC most accomplished with boat extraction. But he was out running trips on the river. By sheer luck the following day when most of us paddled from Ponca to Kyles Landing I ran into a fellow wearing a red BOC staff shirt putting a group on at Steel Creek when we took a break there. I started talking to him explaining our dilemma and it turned out to be none other than John Trueblood. He said that because they were short staffed and very busy he was unable to offer any physical assistance but when I described the general location of the pin as being about 1 1/2 mile upstream of Ozark Campground on river right, he told me that he thought he knew exactly where it was as it was a common location to pin canoes. He also told me about the Cedar Glade picnic area and thought that the canoe would probably be visible right from the top of the bluff there. When we went there the next morning that is exactly where the boat was.

Getting down to the water from the bluff was not exactly a picnic as it required a bit of bush wacking on what I will remember as the Pat Cannon greenbriar trail and mudslide. It might not have been so bad but for the fact that any of the pairs of shoes I had got absolutely no traction on the soft sand and slippery mud. I think I fell on my a$$ about 6 times going up and down.

When we went back to the scene on Thursday morning it looked as if the canoe had loosened from the tree branch it had pinned on and might be in a position to be more easily hauled off. Not wanting to lose an expensive throw bag or rope we had left only a length of 550 paracord attached to our anchor at the bow grab loop. Unfortunately by the time we had returned to Ozark Campground to collect more bodies and gear and returned to the site about an hour later the canoe had shifted and was now completely under the tree trunk and barely visible.

Charlie and family volunteered to return with us and Charlie in particular was very gung ho to retrieve that canoe. By Saturday the river had dropped a bit. We lowered two canoes by rope from the top of the bluff to have in the water ready to recover the canoe if and when it broke loose. Charlie wearing a harness and belayed with a rope from the bank climbed out onto the tree trunk and started sawing through it with his chainsaw. He couldn’t get all the way through as the saw would bind but he weakened it enough to give it a bit of “spring”. He then walked out farther onto the tree trunk and started jumping up and down. About a minute later the canoe broke loose on the upswing. Fortunately, the tree itself remained in place so we did not have to dodge it to get at the boat which was relatively easily pushed into an eddy.

After being solidly pinned in fast current for three days I rather expected that we would be pulling the damaged canoe up the bluff with ropes and hauling it to Ozark by truck. But the canoe was in better shape than most expected and quite functional from a paddling standpoint.

Wow… Glad you are OK Pat and glad you have such good paddling partners! Even the experts can make mistakes!

Reminds me of a Sergio Mendes song “With a Little Help from My Friends”!

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