From Big Creek to...Somewhere Else
It has been a while since I last wrote about our trip...sorry. You may want to back up and check out the previous posts:
We awoke on Wednesday to fog (and thus the wet laundry on the line).
(yep, all those clothes...wet.)
We had spent most of Tuesday soaking wet - thanks to rapids and rain storms - and it had been really nice to change into dry clothes (those of us who had dry clothes that is).
It took a while, but we got a fire going; wet, rotten driftwood can be hard to light... and it is SMOKEY!
If you have ever been on TREK you know that there is something magical that happens after a few days in the wilderness - pan fried spam becomes a delicacy. Any other time I'd save myself the trouble and just chew on the can, but when I started frying that spam...
The day was getting off to a pretty good start. The fog was clearing and the skies were not filled with death storms. After a good breakfast we loaded up and noticed that in fact the river had risen a good bit in the night, but everything was good.
We even caught a couple fish before getting going.
Everyone had paid the money to get an Arkansas fishing license for this trip and so far the results were pretty abysmal. We knew that the flow of the river was a bit fast, which had to be the problem. What we didn't realize was just how fast that river was getting.
Before leaving Texas we'd checked and the water was moving at around 300 cfm (cubic feet/minute) - nice leisurely float and slow enough to hopefully coax some fish into a frying pan.
What we didn't know was that by the time we got in the river on Monday afternoon the flow was at nearly 1000 cfm's...and by Wednesday it was at nearly 10,000 cfm!!!!
Somehow, the trip down to Middle Creek didn't take us very long...
The water level rising had transformed the calm river into the mess that had nearly drown us the day before and now its rising had actually made it so that the rapids we encountered were just rushing water through narrow areas - mostly passable and just fun.
We were all getting pretty good at navigating these still dangerous areas and took turns going through first. Though we were getting more comfortable we were still not taking any more chances and so at each one of these white water excursions we beached our kayaks and scouted out what we anticipated would be the safest route to take. After the first person entered the rapids then the rest could get a better idea of where to go and what to expect.
It was just after one of sections that we found ourselves at Middle Creek - way sooner than we'd originally thought (I guess 10,000 cfm of water helps the paddling process...).
Chris had gone through the rapids first and I could see that he was scouting out a cut back in the river. I followed him in and then I heard a sound that was almost as unwelcome as banjo's...
The unmistakable Arkansas accent calling out, "Oooohh, look! Kayakers! Woooooooo!!!!!"
"This is it," I thought, "I am NOT going out like this..."
I looked up on the hillside and there was a line of folks on horseback.
Well, we may have to sacrifice Robey...I'm sure he'd want us all to continue on with happy lives. We'll tell your story friend...
After a couple minutes we decided that the hillbillies were mostly harmless, though I still wonder the 12 year-old was their spokesperson. We asked them if this was Middle Creek - they didn't know - and we asked them if they'd heard a weather report for the next couple days - nope, but they were quick to give us some guesses. Big help. Thanks.
We decided this was Middle Creek. We were lucky because where the creek entered the river there was a nice calm pool which was out of the flow of the river. We were unlucky because this bank of the river was incredibly steep.
That meant were going to have to make camp on the other side of the river and hope we could make it across the current before being carried too far downstream - there was no coming back up stream in that stuff!
Middle Creek was the destination that most of were looking forward to most because it was where we'd found (via maps) several 80 foot tall waterfalls. The plan was to spend a whole day scouting out these falls. I was really excited.
We made it across the river with no real problems and actually found a great campsite up on a ledge. Obviously this place had been used by folks on several occasions - there was even a homemade table!
While we were getting water (which was an exhausting process that we got to repeat when we accidentally dropped the container and got river water in it...), we saw more people. These were other floaters - a guy in a small sit-in kayak and a skinny dude single-handedly navigating a large aluminum canoe like a champ...I was impressed. They were quickly out of sight and we went back to getting water and setting up camp.
For some reason there were bees all over this campsite, but we survived. Everyone's tent got up, a small pile of firewood was already started, clothes were drying on trees down by the river...awesome!
We grabbed some stuff for a quick scouting trip across the river and headed back down the kayaks. We'd only been at this site for about an hour but when we went down to the water we realized that there was about 2 or 3 feet less of beach...
The river was still rising.
Nobody wanted to be the one to say that we should move on, but nobody wanted to get stranded on this stinking river either.
After a while we made the difficult decision to abandon Middle Creek and head for Cow Creek. It would only be a short trip into Buffalo City from there and hopefully we'd be able to get out even if the river continued rising.
So, back up the hill to the campsite, break everything down, a sad farewell to the table we'd barely gotten to know and the campsite at Middle Creek was history...tiring useless history.
It wasn't too long before we came upon the two paddlers we'd seen earlier. Their canoe had apparently been loaded down with the REI base camp starter kit.
These guys had a great big tent, a cooler with who knows what and a bunch of random supplies - our kayaking / canoe trip on the Brazos last week with some guys from Granbury was actually pretty similar.
We stopped and talked to these hardcore guys from Minnesota (of all places) and learned that not only would the rain continue but they were actually predicting snow and possibly blizzard conditions in the next couple days.
I looked at the guys and asked, "so am I the only one who didn't pack for snow?"
One of the reasons that the decision to leave Middle Creek was difficult was that it was getting close to dark. As much as we didn't want to get stuck in the middle of the wilderness if the river rose too much we also didn't want to get stuck on the water when the sun went down. Around here if you need to get out of the water you just head for the bank and get out. In the Arkansas wilderness the 200 ft cliffs, steep hillsides and thick underbrush make exit points rare.
So we paddled pretty steadily and kept moving toward Cow Creek - which was identifiable by the Elephant Head Rock...which was much more elephanty than the pictures had seemed. Weather permitting the plan had been to spend a day at Cow Creek also - there was a loop hiking trail here with some historic landmarks and interesting scenery.
There were also people camped there...PEOPLE! We were getting very tired of seeing people on this day when we were in the middle of the wilderness getting away from people.
We decided to press on and found a great campsite not long before sundown...there was a large stretch of beach and then a steep bank up to a ledge about 20 feet above the water. Surely this would be safe even if the river rose all night!
The rain started about the time we got the tents set up and dinner started. We scrambled to set up the rain fly (a chore we had perfected on Tuesday!) and I finished cooking dinner while the guys secured the kayaks a little higher up the bank, just in case...
All in all the evening turned out pretty good though. The rains stopped after a little while, dinner was good and we felt pretty good that the kayaks would still be there in the morning.
Good night Arkansas.