Buffalo River Trail
Jon, Tony and I set the alarm for 5am Friday morning and after a rough night of sleep showered and headed out the door. We began the 4 hour drive to the Buffalo shortly after. We found the Buffalo River Adventures Canoe Rental business and checked in. The 1 lady working in the 10×10 shack seemed not quite right but Tony filled out her paperwork and paid her then drove her and us to the trail head at Boxley. On the way the lady thoroughly entertained us with stories of:
- going to jail for hitting her daughter in the mouth
- a man in a nearby town (Shiloh, AK) who was 47 and murdered his two kids who were 20 and 44
- how drinking jack makes her violent
- how much she wanted a baby goat or a scooter but her boyfriend would not let her get one
- why there are no Mexican or black people in town
- and much more
We got out w/ our gear and she took the car back to the shop for us. Finally at almost noon we were on our way. We left Boxley Bridge and began our journey to Pruitt Landing. (no relation) We hiked for under 5 minutes then the trail ran into a creek. This would prove to be typical but at the time was surprising and kinda fun. We took off our shoes and carried them across the slick creek.
We hiked for an hour or two then stopped in another creek bed to eat a small lunch and take a break. I was not that hungry yet after my Burger king breakfast on the way but snacked a bit while it was convenient. This was the last point for the next few days that I was not hungry. The rest of the trip I was starving, hungry or distracted.
After lunch we got back to hiking. We had 36 miles to the car and the better progress we made the more time for stopping at caves or other fun spots we would have. The forest along the trail was thick with trees and there were plants and moss everywhere.
Everything was wet, it sprinkled on us a drop or two every now and then and was real humid all day. Occasionally the wind would blow or thunder would crack and I was sure a downpour was coming. Jon soon found this tennis shoes did not double as hiking boots as well as he wanted. The cool vents on the bottom not only let moisture from your feet out but they let water from puddles streams, rain in as well. His feet got wet early on our first day. Tony was next. With the sky being wet, the ground wet, us sweating, occasional raindrops and all the streams to cross it was just a matter of time for all of us.
We came to a particularly wide deep stream crossing that had almost enough rocks sticking up to cross it safely. Jon was in the lead at the time and with no worries of wet feet crossed it with no problem.
I was next and got a big stick off the ground to help me balance my way across. Tony brought up the rear and I tossed him my stick. He was almost all the way when his shoe slipped off a rock and his foot went all in. His gortex boots would hold the water in just as well as it was holding it out before it was submerged.
We hiked on for another hour or so killing a lot of time with a dirty version of the alphabet game where you go though all the letters naming something that begins with that letter. We ran out of dirty words eventually and ran out of breath and the conversation died down. The silence did not last long though, the thunder started. We were in the hills, it was rocky and steep and these miniature mountains allowed the thunder to echo and shake for a long time. The thunder was really impressing me but also concerning me about getting me, and my gear wet. The rain held off for longer then I expected but eventually drops started to fall lightly. We hiked on, then they fell harder and we hiked on. Then we decided to stop and put on our rain gear. It was not raining hard enough where we needed it but if it got harder or rained a long time it would be useful.
(just want to mention this picture was taken later, during the rain I was wearing a backpacking poncho not a rain jacket)
Shortly after we had on our raingear it poured. I mean a good you see nothing but water dropping 10 feet in front of you. We hiked on really hoping it would not rain all night or all weekend. Then we came to a big stream with no easy way to cross and knee high water. Normally we would have taken off our boots and crossed barefoot or put on our river shoes but everyone else’s boots were wet and mine were slowly getting there from sweat and rain so we just walked on crossing the creek in the pouring rain. The rain slowed eventually and stopped and around 6pm so did we.
It was time to eat and we had come to park spot where people put in canoes on the river. We took off our packs on a small bridge and fired up the camp stove.
We got water boiling and I tended to the packets of alfredo noodles while Jon and Tony filtered water from the stream. They came back with tasteless clean cool water and we added a packet of chicken to the mix and ate. It rained a tiny bit a few times in the next hour but that was the last of the rain for our trip. Dinner was good and hit the spot but it was decided we could have used twice as much to fill our tummies.
We ate fairly quickly and packed up our stuff. Normally you stop for the day at dinner but we had a bit more braun then normal and decided we had started the hike late and to make up for that we hiked on.
At dusk we were beat and looking for a safe dry soft place to lay down. We had hiked just a little past Steel Creek. All we could see was rocks, trees and water and even that was getting harder to see by the minute. We hiked on and just before we could not see anything we found a spot, someone else had camped here before, there was a fire pit a roughly flat spot for a tent and it would do. We quickly assembled all the firewood we could find and Tony got the tent up. Everything was wet, most of it was rotten and the rest was still alive.
So we did what any good outdoorsman does and asked ourselves. WWSD
“What would Survivorman Do?” Well we gathered all the smallest driest tenderest stuff we could fine and put it in an aluminum bowl instead of on the wet ground. Then we piled on slightly bigger and bigger sticks till we had a nice pile. Then we grabbed the camp fuel for our stove and poured in just enough to our bowl. I sparked the lighter and whoosh we had a fire. It was delicate at first and a race was on to dry out the wood before the gas burned up and somehow we came ahead.
The fire was slow but easy from then on. We kept lots of small easy to burn stuff mixed in with the big rotten logs and we spent the rest of the evening drying out our boots and socks.
It was a late night for backpacking and we hit the sack after 9:30 I believe.
We slept in getting a long night of sleep. I think my need to pee was the only thing that got me out of bed. While we were getting it together and packing up we saw our first group of hikers. 2 men and a boy, one of the guys was fairly heavy and munching on jerky as he walked by and wished us a good morning. We packed up rejoiced at the sun, ate a bit of breakfast and headed on.
Jon called this our fun day because we had made it far enough the day before that we could hike 9-10 miles then put up our packs and go play. The map said the average pace is 1 mile per hour after breaks and stuff so 9 miles should take 9 hours. Well this would give us no time for play so we just averaged somewhere between 2-3 miles per hour and got done an hour or two after our lunch break.
Before lunch we didn’t just hike along all fast. First we crossed paths with the other hikers and again and saw the same big guy still eating more jerky as he walked. Early on in the day we hiked along some bluffs and got a couple of good views out over them.
While exploring a bluff resting and posing for pictures Jon found a large blue canoe paddle. It was sitting on the way high above the water, no way a flood could have left it up here. Well he had a new canoe and no paddles so he strapped it on his pack and we kept hiking. We didn’t realize it at the time but it would often get in Jon’s way catching on rocks, limbs and even his shoe laces but the paddle made it out.
Later on that day I was at the back of the group and everyone froze and looked ahead. There was a small hill ahead of us and Tony and Jon were starring at it quietly. There was something moving on the other side. Sounded big like a deer but didn’t look that big, then some wild hogs came into view.
It appeared to be a couple of sows and there babies but we staid back to far to get a really good look or get a picture at all. This one is from the web. Eventually they moved on away from us and we continued on but once up on the hill we could see one was still somewhat close. Once it saw us it squealed and ran off up the hill sending all of them away from us.
We hiked on until we came to Indian Creek and the site of our afternoon fun. We cleverly hid our packs in some trees and loaded up our camelpacks, fanny packs, and put on our river shoes. Indian Creek has a trail that follows and occasionally crosses the creek until you get to a big waterfall. Instead of following the trail we decided to cool our tired feet off by walking up the creek in the water and along it’s edges.
It was a very pretty walk and the terrain was fascinating.
The water had worn all sorts of interesting groves and shapes into the rock.
The creek had many small waterfalls on it and several small creeks and springs fed into it.
We saw several groups of people on the way going up and down and eventually reached the end of the trail and the big fall.
Someone on the way up had mentioned the eye of the needle and a rope to climb and so we found the rope and climbed it.
This led us farther up the creek onto a bit more challenging terrain.
It seemed like more of the same at first then we saw the eye this guy was talking about.
It was really cool and there was some small trials next to it that led to a series of caves.
There was a large rock open room thing we climbed up into and it had lots of holes and caves that all proved to be very small or to tight to get far in.
We ventured into a bunch of them with Jon’s small light and Tony’s lighter.
The caves were really fun to explore. Kind of exciting and with more gear and lights we probably could have spent some serious time in the caves but for the most part they were too narrow to get very far in.
Once everything had been explored a bit we had to decide if it was time to turn back or if we wanted to try to find a way to the top of the fall and possibly onward. I think it was like 4:30 at the time and we were a bit worn out from the 4 or so miles we climbed up the creek so we headed back toward our packs. It seemed like a long walk down the creek and our feet were beat when we got back on the trail to our packs. We found our packs hidden in the woods no problem as we found they were in plain view to anyone walking on the trail instead of in the creek bed. Nothing was gone though and we grabbed them and started to hike along our trail looking for a place to set up camp.
We wondered off the trail at flat looking area and found the Buffalo River and a nice sand bank on it’s side. The bank was flat and smooth and would be comfortable to sleep on. Also there was driftwood piled all over the place and once again someone’s old fire ring. The bad side was if the water rose we were obviously in an area that was frequently under water and once you spend some time in the sand you get sand in everything. We set up anyway and I after I bonked my head on a tree Tony and I did some fishing.
The river was fast in our spot and poor for fishing but great for watching canoes. We didn’t get set up much before the sun went down but we saw a lot of drunk boats go buy and several people stopped just past our camp to empty out canoes full of water. After about 15 minutes of fishing we gave up and cooked up some rice tuna mix on the camp stove and made a small effort to dry out boots on our campfire. 9:00 seemed to take forever to come and at 8:45 we gave up waiting and fell easily fell asleep.
We woke up a bit earlier (at 7:30am) and broke down camp pretty quick. It was a bit brisk out in the mornings and we would dress warm but after a 1/2 mile or so of hiking I would be sweating like crazy already.
We had 16 +/- miles to Pruitt Landing and originally planned to to 10 Sunday and save the last 6 for Monday morning. Then decided to try to do 15 miles on Sunday and then wake up early Monday morning do the last mile then drive to some caves on our way out.
We had a lot of forked trails and occasionally ventured off the Buffalo River Trail and onto the Old River Trail.
So we often checked the map for forks, streams and other landmarks to keep us on task. There was not much difference between our breakfasts, lunches and snacks. We had 1 lbs of jerky to split for the trip, an apple for each of us, an orange for each of us, a bag of raisins, a bag of cranberries, tortillas, peanuts, peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly crackers, peanut butter granola bars and oatmeal raisin granola bars.
We rationed all our meals and snacks and ate the heaviest stuff first and so by lunch on our third day our food bag was very light and portions were very small.
We stopped before 11am on the 3rd day and ate and rested and tried to save enough food for 1 more breakfast and a snack or two. Then we explored the farmstead we had stopped for lunch at. It was an old 2 story house and a barn and stuff and the grass was real nice for a break.
We loaded up our water supply and picked a trail out of there and kept going.
We hiked for a few hours more and stopped for a break at a park with grills and an overlook and some stone sitting thing.
While here we talked about how chewed up our feet had became. Our muscles were tired but not bad, our backs were sore but ok and our lungs were way better then last years trip in Utah. My theory for our torn up feet was the sand and the water. Wet boots are killer for hikers and once you get them dry if you get some sand in there you really wear them down.
We figured we were not far from Pruitt Landing and decided to push on and finish the trail. If we finished Sunday we could eat real food and not have to skimp and there would be one less day of walking on our sad feet. So we pushed on at a speedy painful pace and made it to the end.
Surprisingly enough Tony’s car was there waiting for us as planned for and nothing was missing. The locals had not done anything wrong to it. We climbed in and drove 20 minutes to town. We found the Ozark Cafe and pulled up alongside it. People inside must have assumed we were physically deformed or something by the way we limped out of the car and into a booth in the farthest corner from any other patrons. The waitress never mentioned our smell and served us big glasses of iced tea, homemade French fries and big burgers with cheese and fried onions on them. It was great and we discussed what to do from here.
We decided to drive to the caves. There was a parking lot and a 2 mile hike along a steep stream to some caves. It was close to 6pm by this point and hiking was the last thing our feet wanted and the second to last thing they wanted was to carry our packs into the woods and look for a place to camp. We decided the best thing to do would be camp at the base and pay $10 for a site then wake up early and make the 2 miles up 2 miles down hike. I not wanting to pay to camp and not wanting to sleep so close to the caves w/ out exploring them talked the other guys into giving the trail a shot and so we did.
It looked like rain so we put on jackets and hats and grabbed just little packs with water in them and headed up the trail. There were Mennonites and other day hikers all over and the trail started out a bit painful then we loosened up and were fine. The view along the way was nice but waterfalls had lost a bit of their excitement. Once to the top the caves were obvious and we headed in.
They were wet and had small streams underneath all over. We also discovered the caves over here had more people in them but also had more visible bats in them.
There was a good easy way to go and a thin crawl on hands and knees way to go and of course we took the rough one thinking it would take us somewhere better.
Once at the end it opened up and the other way would have taken us to the same place. The place being a small room with stalactites, stalagmites and a rock that looked like a …
mushroom of course.
We ventured on from here and found a huge room with a tall waterfall inside it. The room was really dark and really wet and all pictures of the room were just black or just looked like rain. So we enjoyed the room for a while and then headed back.
The walk back to the car slowly worn down our excitement from the cave and we began to remember how much our feet hurt.
However we had made it. We went hard and then we went home. We finished early with no problems and overcame all the obstacles we came across. We drove the 4 hours back to Pittsburg and took showers and ate double cheeseburgers and slept inside instead of in the $10 campground.