Thursday, July 11, 2013

White River - 2

After watching the activities on the river and striking up a conversation with a local for awhile, we drove south toward Cotter, AR, a small town situated on a tongue of land surrounded by the White River. We stopped just north of town at Wildcat Shoal Access. I was surprised to find that as hard as the water was running at the state park, it had not reached Wildcat Shoal yet, and the river here barely moved. I decided to wet Buddy in the White River for as long as the current would allow.

The Ozarks are filled with wildflowers, like these
blue and purple bachelor's buttons.
Jean asked if I was going to paddle south, and I said that I’d paddle upstream to meet the approaching water. If I got downstream, I may have trouble getting back if the current was too strong. By the time I got Buddy off the truck and into the river, I could already see the current beginning. As I paddled north, I took note of the position of rocks and shoals so I could watch for them when running back south. The current continued to build as I paddled north to the next rapids at Tucker Shoal. I tried to climb the east side of the stream to no avail. The water was shallower on the west side, but also faster. I made a couple attempts before the water just grabbed my bow and swung me around out of control. I could still paddle upstream once away from the rapids, so floated downstream and paddled back up a couple times before turning south to return to the take out. All the boulders and shoals I had carefully scouted on the way up were submerged, most of them deep enough they didn’t even disturb the surface. The river had come up at least two feet in roughly an hour. Wildcat Shoal is just on the upstream side of the access, so I had to descend on the opposite shore and then ferry across to the take-out. It was a short paddle, but it was nice to see Buddy on the water instead of on the truck.

The White River, looking at the confluence of the Buffalo River
in the distance, just right of center. Click to enlarge.
I had made a mistake in carrying only Buddy. I left Buffalo Gal home because the Buffalo River was obviously out of the question for paddling. Had I brought both, I could have run the White. It is 32 miles from the state park to the White Buffalo Campground, making a comfortable two-day trip with a stop in Cotter after 18 miles. With a shuttle, you can continue to Reds Landing, a run of 49 miles, with an overnight stop at Rim Shoals Lodge after the first 24 miles. I bought a river map that shows all the obstructions, landings, and facilities. I shall return! (I picked Rim Shoals Lodge off the map just because it was half-way. I have not called to confirm that staying or camping there is possible. I learned the hard way in Florida that just because a place is called a campground, it doesn’t mean you can camp there. Go figure!)

In building the dam and flooding the valley for Bull Shoals Lake, the workers had to laboriously move the remains of those that had called the valley home. At least seven family cemeteries and 20 large cemeteries had to be carefully relocated. In spite of how much the waters and dam project would bring to the area, it would cover, perhaps forever, the places they had called home. One of the facts of life in the valley was always the White River. To get anywhere on the other side of the river, to even just cross the river for the day, the ferryman was a critical part of life. In their lives, money was not as plentiful as other things they could barter, so it was not uncommon for a chicken to serve as the ferry toll. Often, the ferryman would be asked to just trust them for the toll, and a sign posted by one ferryman told his experience with that. The sign read,

“As man to man is so unjust,

And I know not in whom to trust,

As I have trusted to my sorrow,

You pay today, I’ll trust tomorrow.”
Our last sunset this trip on the White River.
Back at the campground we got into a conversation about the Buffalo with one of the locals. He agreed that the Buffalo is beautiful, but not to be taken lightly. He informed us that two people had lost their lives on the Buffalo in the last two weeks, and that was before the recent heavy rains. One was drowned when caught in a strainer, and the other broke his neck and drowned after trying to dive off a bluff into the river.


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