From Rush Landing...
Most of the people reading this know that the Arkansas Kayaking/Camping/Hiking trip is the result of many hours and months of planning by me and my brother's-in-law on Rachel's side. For those that don't know, this refers to Rachel's brother Ira (yellow kayak), Rachel's sister Lydia's husband, Chris (red sit-on-top kayak) and Rachel's sister Jodi's husband, Robert (red sit-in kayak).
The four of us haven't had the opportunity to do much as a group - which isn't that surprising since Rachel and I just moved back home 6 months ago and Lydia and Chris have only been married for about a year. Since we survived the trip, we're probably going to make something like this an annual adventure (we may or may not be able to do a whole week in Arkansas...but still).
I know that Robert took some pictures and video on the trip and I'll likely give some links to his stuff if he publishes it. A few of the pics on these posts are from the little disposable camera I took along, but most are from Ira's fancy-schmancy camera... I'm glad he took the risk of bringing it because he got some great shots.
Okay, enough house keeping, today's post is where the story starts getting good!
Tuesday morning we awoke at our camp high above the Buffalo River at Rush Landing. There were no animal attacks during the night, no rainstorms drenching our gear and even though we were a little nervous when the winds started howling a little after midnight, no one's tent blew away.
We were anticipating a little rain later in the day and the clouds were already building, but our plan was to hike up the trails along Clabber Creek and Rush. There were some abandoned mines, a scenic lookout over the river, trails along the mountain ridge and ghost town.
Hopefully there wouldn't be any murderous hillbillies living in the abandoned ruins of the old zinc mining town...
Our first minor obstacle was figuring out how to get across the creek for our hike without getting wet - wet shoes and before setting out on a several mile hike didn't sound appealing.
I'm not naming any names but there were a few alpha male types on this trip - and these alpha male types all like to choose their own path. So, we pretty much all took different routes to get across the creek and up the steep hillside.
We all made it. Some of us were dry.
But meanwhile, the scenery was already pretty astounding - even down in this hollow. One of the things that struck me, which Ira did a good job of catching in pictures, was the contrast of colors. Being early spring, there were still lots of trees that were bare and yet everywhere we looked there were astounding colors breaking out as well.
And that trend only continued as we hiked up the trails to higher elevations..
We didn't have a very good map of these trails, which didn't really matter that much, because alpha males always know where they are...we were in Arkansas on the side of a mountain. Duh.
It wasn't long before we began to find abandoned homes and structures. We noticed that it looked a similar to a few movies which rarely end well...
But, no boogy men tried to get us, so we pressed on. At this point we started being able to see Clabber Creek and the abandoned mines. It was a pretty cool hike.
We continued following the trail around until we finally came to the ghost town. It was a little underwhelming, but still pretty cool.
We REALLY wanted to get moving down river before the rains started so we hit it pretty quick back to camp and prepared to set off. This was a significant launch for us. Up to this point we'd still been somewhat close to civilization. We were definitely in "the woods" and didn't have electricity or anything like that, but the campsites were managed (and had the most impressive portapotties ever...we could've taken shelter in those things, seriously) and there were roads within easy hiking distance.
But leaving Rush Landing meant entering the Wilderness Area - no cell phone signal, no ranger stations, no roads...the real trip we'd been preparing for was about to begin and I think we were all pretty ready to get started.
Arkansas had already tried to get us with milky poison water and as we were hiking we caught a glimpse of the next hurdle (really the first legitimate one!) Just down stream from where we'd camped for the night were rapids (probably about class 2). So what, right?
Well our sit-on-top kayaks are rigged out for fishing, not white water and this stretch of river had been chosen because it was perfect for the gear we were bringing...it wasn't supposed to have rapids.
We scouted them out and decided that if we stayed to the left we could make it through.
Well Chris went first and for some reason he didn't stay to the left. Robert didn't stay to the left either. When I headed into the rapids I realized why. The flow through this little stretch was unbelievably fast and as I tried to make it to the left side (we had to start toward the middle because of debris) I discovered that trying to make it to the left side was going to mean that I'd hit the first rapids sideways...that would not be good.
Let me back up and say that my kayak is a great starter boat. It has a good set-up for fishing and decent storage space. But it isn't designed to hold a lot of weight and while it did a LOT better than I anticipated with all my gear loaded on, I was still pretty nervous at this point in the week.
Since going around the rapids wasn't an option, I was going to have to just tackle them head on. So I straightened up and started paddling hard.
When the first wave went over my head I felt that I may have made a strategic error.
However, I didn't sink, so I figured I'd be okay. After that it was totally awesome - biggest adrenaline rush I've had in a long time!
But as I came out of the rapids I realized two things that were immediate buzz kills.
First of all I still had my skupper-stoppers in. Sit-on-top kayaks have holes in the bottom that allow the water to self bail. You get pretty wet in these kayaks and this makes it so that you don't have to constantly bail water out. When the water is calm you can stop up these holes (skuppers) so that you stay a little more dry. Well the water was not calm. And my boat was completely full and was sitting VERY low in the water...in other words I was sinking.
The other thing was that the current was moving very fast away from where I needed to be and my boat had zero maneuverability (thanks to being nearly submerged in the river).
As I tried to sludge my way out of the current, my kayak started turning sideways (not good) and soon I flipped.
Luckily the water wasn't deep and I got the boat turned right side up pretty quickly. Everything was lashed down so all I lost was my hat and sunglasses.
Only Ira (whose kayak has a rudder system) avoided the rapids. We all decided a rudder system is a worthwhile investment.
As we stood on the bank of the river draining the water from our boats and backpacks, I think the realization set in that we were now committed - there was no turning back.
Surviving the rapids was just the first time we avoided disaster that day.