Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

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Gordon Kumpuris
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Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Gordon Kumpuris » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:08 pm

eflb selfie.jpg
“No shet, there I was.” I’m reminded by my friend T. Yamashita that any good trip report must start that way.
So….. “No Shet, there I was, standing bruised, battered and gasping on a dining table sized island in the middle of a freak spring blizzard, in a flooded river in the middle of nowhere. So…Why not pull out the camera and take a selfie? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Skoboten” I posted to Facebook at 0-dark-30, Sunday morning which is my often standard “status” when the rivers are suddenly up and it’s time to go boatin. My buddy Mark Stolki had settled on a plan in a less than democratic way. But he was driving so I did not have much of a vote. The plan was to meet Lance Root (Jones) and his fiancé, the impossibly named Ginger Root as well as Marc Becker at Lance’s cabin in Deer very early, in order to perhaps catch the East Fork of the Little Buffalo (EFLB) for the very brief window of opportunity that it might present Sunday morning. We were rolling north out of Little Rock by 6:15 AM. We checked the gages in route but they were not looking promising. In fact the Buffalo River gage at Boxley, which I’m told is the most reliable predictor for the EFLB had barely budged. None-the-less, we were so early that we decided to go to Lance’s cabin anyway. As we continued north, the ditches along the side of the road were full of water which bode well. Indeed, when we pulled up to the cabin, Lance was already in “go” mode. Stolki and Jones (does that sound like a 70’s cop duo or what) took off to set shuttle leaving the impossibly named Ginger Root and I there to listen to the wind howl and ponder our fate.
By the time they returned, along with Marc Becker, the temperature had dropped into the 30’s, and the rain, was turning to sleet. The wind was blowing the sleet and rain sideways, threatening to blow our kayaks off our shoulders as we hucked a moronic 1 mile, knee crunching hike straight down a washed out, muddy logging road to the now flooding creek. “Is it too late to back out now?” I asked myself. “No way I’m hiking back up that mountain,” I answered silently, a thought that would eventually prove ironic. “It’s gonna be juicy” Lance mumbled my way, with that “cat ate the canary” grin that he whips out on cue, just to add color to an already vivid experience. My last possible chance to make an adult decision vanished as I shoved off into the current. “Really? I know better than this! I’m 50 years old for crying out loud!” Trees were floating down the muddy river at what seemed like mach 2! Jesus, this was is intense! But I’d been here before, figuratively speaking at least. I’d paddled rivers as hard or almost as hard at least a few times. “Just take it one class IV at a time” I thought to myself...ha ha. The first mile or so was not too bad. Just big, muddy and powerful with lots of holes and trees to avoid, waves to punch and other fairly predictable creeky features. Soon however we approached the beast, “Johnson’s Squeeze,” a seldom run, huge class V waterfall with a bad reputation. On this day it was truly epic. It was hard to describe the power it presented. It took me approximately a nanosecond to realize there was no way in Hell I was going to run it, perhaps the only really smart move of the day. The alternative portage was almost as bad though. “I’ll just camp here.” I thought. This was hands down the most dangerous portage I’d ever experienced, including roping boats up a steep muddy hillside parallel to the squeeze and around the drop where a minor slip could prove deadly. Lance, Ginger and I portaged but Stolki and Becker were in scout mode. “You’re crazy as hell” I told Stolki, which was probably not the warm fuzzy he was looking for at that particular moment. Part of his decision and I’m sure Marc’s too was the difficulty of the portage. About that time, the River Gods decided to ramp up the fun and opened the heavens, raining huge flakes of snow down upon us. “I’m never gonna forget this!” I thought. Lance, Ginger and I found the one and only tiny spot to launch below the falls, a sliver of a shelf 10 feet down the side of the cliff right at the water’s edge where the river pulsed and surged like monster. I stayed up top though to video Stolki and Becker as they ran the drop. As expected, they both made the class V beast look like a walk in the park. Now it was my turn to join the rest of the crew back in the river. As snow, sleet and rain pelted, I did my best Spiderman impression, sliding down and along the base of the cliff and balancing my kayak on what felt like a ruler. I held my paddle with one frozen hand and tried to attach my spray skirt with the other. All while the river surged up and down inches away as if to say “just wait for what’s in store my little friend.” A tiny mistake here was going to be really bad. I was never so glad to hear the familiar pop of the spray skirt as it snapped onto the rim of the kayak. The next ¼ mile was more of the same...holes, massive waves, trees, twisting blind turns and muddy powerful water. Then, just like that, it got real! Just behind me, Ginger capsized as she followed me through a large hole. One, two, perhaps three roll attempts were made before she moved to plan B. “Come on!” I screamed to her as she finally popped her spray skirt and exited the vehicle. Instinctively, all four of us assisted with priorities instantly established. Ginger first, the paddle second, the boat third. We each did what we’ve all done before and at first it appeared to be somewhat under control. But then we entered a series of class III, perhaps III+ drops with attention and boat control compromised. In an instant I found myself upside down and being pushed into a rock wall. I attempted one roll unsuccessfully. A second or perhaps third attempt finally got me upright. I shook the water out of my eyes and ears just in time to drop over a shelf backwards, right into a tree that was blocking the channel. I somehow bounced out of this, limboed under another tree that was just a few feet downstream. One second later another drop that did me in. I capsized and face planted something under the water, which hurt but fortunately only resulted in a fat lip. I attempted a roll. Almost. A second attempt was less successful. The third was even less so and at that point I very reluctantly looked to plan B. I pulled the rip cord, tossed the kayak off of me and came up gasping and flying downstream like a bullet. Self-preservation was my only thought. I released my hold on the boat and paddle almost instantly. I was out of breath and needed to be out of that freezing water in a hurry. “I can't handle an extended hard swim” I thought. I somehow managed to kick, and claw myself to the aforementioned dining table sized island.
I stood there gasping for air as I watched my boat and paddle go screaming downstream. I was arguably screwed, but as I stood there, alive, I thought of the famous quote by Winston Churchill. “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result.” I suppose that’s what compelled me to document the moment.

The rest of the trip played out fairly predictably, albeit not without punishment. Ginger had made it to shore too and Jones and Becker had managed to get her boat and paddle into an eddy. Either Becker or Jones had managed to retrieve my paddle thankfully so I had it and the poggie mitts that were attached which proved very helpful in the hike out. I ferried the river in Stolki’s boat, and clawed my way up the snow and mud covered mountain toward what I was told was a 4wd trail on river left that would lead me to a rendezvous spot miles downstream. I never really found the trail until I was almost at the rendezvous spot, so I bushwhacked for about two hours maintaining my bearings by keeping as close to the river as possible. The hike was brutal, causing me to zig zag all over the mountainside and fall in the snow at least a dozen times. One fall in particular painfully aggravated an already bum knee. I made mental notes of each cave I passed, in case I wound up injuring myself further and needed an impromptu efficiency apartment for the night. After a few miles of bushwhacking, I finally rendezvoused with the rest of the group a mile or so upstream of the take out, at what normally is a low water crossing. Unfortunately, they had not found my kayak. I ferried the river again in Mark’s kayak and joined Ginger who had also declared “no mas” and was hiking out. We hiked down the 4wd road toward the take out for another mile or so before the boys finally came charging up in Mark’s truck, ending the adventure.
I may have met my match that day but I don’t really regret going. I read something this week that reminded me of this experience. “When faced with a decision, go with the one with the best story.” Perhaps one day I’ll get to finish it.

P.S. If anyone sees an orange and yellow Dagger Nomad Kayak somewhere between Newton Co and the White River, let me know.
Last edited by Gordon Kumpuris on Tue May 19, 2015 8:55 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Skoboten!

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by sig » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:17 pm

Wow! Thanks for sharing, Gordon! Glad your story ended well.
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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Ouachitoff » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:38 pm

Glad you're ok! You were certainly right about the good story part.
A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.
- English proverb

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by kru1 » Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:49 pm

Damn, the whole read had me waiting to hear about the tandem canoe. I guess your title refers to the take off and not the put in.

Great story,

kru
I say, and I intend it emphatically, let the river be.
Thomas Hart Benton, on the Buffalo River

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by prophet » Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:58 pm

good story! and glad everyone survived.
was hoping for some spooning by the end though

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Lucky13 » Tue Mar 25, 2014 5:04 am

Good report! I was showing Jeff Gannon all the rain headed to Arkansas Saturday night at the Missouri Whitewater Championship dinner, we were thinking there was going to be some good boating down south, and there was!!

Jason

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Tim Eubanks » Tue Mar 25, 2014 3:15 pm

Maybe a future program for a chapter meeting? Lots of pics/videos and "lessons learned"? Glad you got out with no serious injury.

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Fish » Wed Mar 26, 2014 2:56 pm

Great trip report. Really takes me back. EFLB at high water may well be the wildest ride in Arkansas. And I'm counting ALL the big steep creeks in that. EFLB doesn't "wash out" at high water like some runs (I'm looking at you upper Richland). A flood run in there is the full class 4-5 experience.

Several (most?) flooded EFLB trips end up a lot like yours did Gordon. I've been on it twice with that kind of juice. The two lower "gorges" just keep getting bigger and badder. The third gorge (swinging bridge) contains probably the wildest water I've paddled in the state at super high levels. Holes get epic in there. Eddies get epic in there. Even the flatwater gets epic in there. Several people have momentarily seen Jesus and then never seen their kayaks again in there.

And second gorge ain't too bad... until it is. The move on the right side at the end of gorge number 2 takes balls/stupidity (interchangeable?) and white-knuckle determination. I'm currently batting 500 on making that move myself.

Glad you looked the beast in the eyes and lived to paddle another day. Wish I could have joined the party!

- Fish

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Stewart Noland » Wed Mar 26, 2014 8:58 pm

Super Puma.

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Gordon Kumpuris
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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by Gordon Kumpuris » Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:11 pm

Aw man. That's just mean Stewart. :)
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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by T Yamashita » Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:09 pm

Great story! :beer:
Hope you find your boat and some common sense. Maybe you did whiles a walking in the snow.
ty

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Re: Trip Report - March 16th, EFLB, 5 paddlers, 4 boats

Post by txkcando » Wed Mar 28, 2018 3:21 pm

Epic trip. I'll stay off the EFLB except for taking pics from the banks.

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