Float #111: Mississippi River

12 Sep

U of M Flats to Harriet Island

Mississippi River 8 Water Trail Map

Mississippi River
Ramsey County, Minnesota
Friday, August 8
11 Miles

The last day of our vacation to Minnesota we paddled the Mississippi just south of downtown Minneapolis. DW dropped me and the boats at the put-in, drove down to Harriet Island to drop the car and took a taxi back to the start. It took him nearly an hour due to having to wait for the taxi to arrive. The taxi driver was actually familiar with Missouri, as he goes fishing at Table Rock Lake every year. He was the only person we met the whole trip who knew how awesome Missouri can be. Most people were under the impression that it looks just like Iowa!

After DW returned we carried our boats down to the narrow strip of beach and paddled out onto the water. The water clarity in Minneapolis is basically the same as the Mississippi around Alton, before the Missouri river mucks it up. There was a light wind kicking up some ripples on the water, but the river was pretty quiet otherwise.

Mississippi River

Putting on the water

Mississippi River

Looking upriver at Minneapolis

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The landscape was very green as there is a nice corridor of trees separating the river from the cityscape. There is a long stretch of sand beaches lining both sides of the river, which seemed to be very popular with residents. We saw many people fishing, sunbathing, and walking their dogs. The river definitely gets more recreational use in Minneapolis than it does in St. Louis. However, I didn’t find the landscape very compelling as it was pretty much the same scenery the whole way. In Missouri there are huge sandbars with strange, alien landscapes ripe for exploration and beachcombing. I don’t know if there is much barge traffic in this part of the river, but we didn’t see any. Just some recreational motorboats. All the motorboats we saw were very polite and slowed down when approaching us so as to not kick up a huge wake.

 

Soon we approached Lock & Dam #1, which was our first experience going through a lock. DW rang the signal cord and we waited for about 15 minutes while the lock filled to our level. Then the signal light turned from red to green, the gates opened and we entered the lock. We knew we were supposed to hang on to a rope from the wall of the lock, but they were all tied up. DW asked the lock attendant, who explained we were to grab this one short rope attached to a pillar. Apparently the pillar moves up or down with the water level. Neat! So DW grabbed the rope and I grabbed on to DW’s kayak as the lock began to drain. It was a weird feeling, like being in a big draining bathtub (which it kinda is). About 10 minutes later we were finished and the horn sounded, the gate opened and we exited the lock.

Mississippi River

The signal cord for the lock

Mississippi River

Entering the lock

Mississippi River

Hold that rope!

Mississippi River

The lock drains

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The lock doors open

Mississippi River

Looking upriver at the dam

The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful. We floated past a lot of nice beaches just below the dam, then the river became a bit more industrial as we neared St. Paul. We took out at Harriet Island, where the beach was less nice (more trash and debris). I encountered some familiar Mississippi mud as I exited my boat; gross muck up past my ankle!

Mississippi River

Minnehaha Creek

Mississippi River

A cruise boat goes upriver

Mississippi River

Downtown St. Paul

We loaded the boats on the car and drove back to Minneapolis, where we showered and went out for one last night on the town. We ate our first Juicy Lucy (delicious!) and planned to go out later for a drink, but ended up falling asleep on the couch instead. The next day we went out for breakfast and then made the 8 hour drive back home to Missouri. We had a great time in Minnesota and the people were very friendly.

Float #110: Upper Mississippi River

27 Aug

Lake Itasca to Coffee Pot Landing

Mississippi 1.ai

Upper Mississippi River
Clearwater County, Minnesota
Monday, August 4
17 Miles

The highlight of our trip to Minnesota was paddling the Mississippi from the headwaters. The landscape was ever-changing and different from most waterways we float in Missouri. Early that morning, DW drove the car down to Coffee Pot Landing and rode his bike the 12 miles back to the campground, while I readied the gear. We started out from our campground in Itasca State Park and paddled across the lake to the outlet that marks the beginning of the Mighty Mississippi.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Paddling through the grass above the headwaters

Lake Itasca

Approaching the headwaters

Mississippi River

Mississippi River headwaters

Mississippi River

We portaged our boats around the rocks and then we were officially on the Mississippi. The first few miles through the park were very shallow and much like a creek. We had to do a bit of portaging to get through the low spots and disturbed quite a few ducks along the way. A few people walking along the trail asked if we were headed all the way to the ocean! Soon after the river left the park the landscape became boggy. It was confusing at first because the water is so choked with grass and there is no discernible channel. We soon learned that there are different plants that mark the banks of the river, so anything between those lines was the river channel. The water was only a foot deep in the best spots and a few inches in the worst. There was no solid ground, just soupy bog mud, so you had to paddle through. No easy portaging here! There were several times where we paddled along in an obvious channel, only to have it disappear among thick grasses. We paddled several feet to one side or another and the channel would usually reappear.

Mississippi River

Paddling through the park

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The marshy Mississippi

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Me, paddling through the bog

Mississippi River

Where did the river go?

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Lunch stop at Wanagan Landing

We soon reached Wanagan Landing, where we stopped for lunch. There is a nice campsite there with a shelter, fire ring and picnic table and two people were camped there. We chatted with them for a bit after eating. They were on an expedition, floating all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. We talked about kayaking and their preparation for the trip, which included physical training and lots of gear purchases. They were from Nevada and had never really kayaked on a river before. They had a 14′ Hobie sit-on-top peddle boat. Since the peddles were not working in the shallow, marshy sections of the river, they were relying on their paddling skills, and were still learning about currents and paddlestrokes! After DW and I left Wanagan we both expressed our skepticism that they would make it all the way in that boat. A few days later we learned that they abandoned the trip, due to one of them being too sick to continue. They were going to try again next summer. I hope they have better luck next year! After Wanagan the river changed yet again, into a boulder-strewn mountain stream. Evergreens towered above us and fallen logs and boulders provided lots of challenges.

Mississippi River

The landscape changes

Mississippi River

The first of many obstacles

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Beaver dam

Mississippi River

An old bridge

The mountain stream landscape lasted about five miles. We took a short swim break at the only deep pool we crossed on the entire trip. The landscape then became more like a prairie, with tall grasses on the banks and a narrow, twisty river channel. There were several concrete bridges on this section as the river flowed under county roads and highways. We floated under the first “double span” bridge which consisted of two tunnels. The river was much deeper here, but still only a couple of feet at best.

Mississippi River

The first double span bridge on the river

Mississippi River

A replica of the 1886 bridge across the river, the first to allow vehicular crossing

Mississippi River

The landscape changes again

Mississippi River

Another beaver dam

The last few miles to Coffee Pot Landing were eventful because we became confused as to where we were. The river relentlessly switchbacked over and over. Every 5-10 yards was another hairpin turn. It felt like we had paddled for ages, but had gone less than a mile as the crow flies. Around several of the turns we surprised various birds and wildlife. I paddled around a tight turn to discover a deer drinking from the middle of the river. We startled each other and she bounded off into the grassland. Of course I saw her again right around the next turn! We also saw some ducks and one bald eagle. We probably saw the eagle four different times as it sat in a tree and watched us squiggle back and forth. I swear the river went in a nearly complete circle several times. I don’t know how that could possibly be the path of least resistance!

Mississippi River

Hwy 40 bridge

Mississippi River

An ugly duck

Mississippi River

A bald eagle

Mississippi River

One last beaver dam before Coffee Pot Landing

Eventually we arrived at Coffee Pot Landing around 6pm. We hauled our boats up the bank and loaded them onto the car as quickly as we could to avoid the hoards of mosquitos. I was very tired from paddling all that way. I am used to paddling upwards of 20 miles in a day, but I usually have some current to help me along! I imagine it must be very difficult to paddle a long kayak loaded with gear through the upper parts of the Mississippi. I bet the rest of the trip to the Gulf would be much easier as far as paddling goes. DW and I enjoyed this trip and it was a new experience for both of us. A few days later we spent some time in Minneapolis and paddled the Mississippi there, which is much more like the Mississippi I’m used to!

Critter Count: Ducks, Beaver, Deer, 1 Bald Eagle, Mosquitos

Float #109: Lake Itasca

22 Aug

Itasca State Park

F109_LakeItasca

Lake Itasca
Clearwater County, Minnesota
Sunday, August 3
5 Miles

For our vacation this year DW and I headed up north to Minnesota. We’ve never been there before and were looking forward to some new paddling experiences, especially paddling from the headwaters of the Mississippi. It took us 8 hours to drive from St. Louis to Minneapolis, where we caught up with DW’s cousin for a night on the town. The next morning we drove the additional 3.5 hours to Itasca State Park, home of the headwaters of the Mississippi. Upon getting there and finding the campground full, we learned that we had unknowingly arrived during the peak time for vacationing in Minnesota. Fortunately we found other accommodations for the evening and were able to get a campsite the next morning. The park is really nice with plenty of paddling opportunities and is very easy to get around on a bicycle.

Our first evening we decided to paddle around Lake Itasca. We carried our boats from our campsite down to the edge of the lake, which wasn’t too far. The edges of the lake are full of grass and vegetation, but it wasn’t too thick and we paddled through it easily.

Lake Itasca

Paddling through grass

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

The local cruise boat

The waters were pretty calm and there was just a little breeze to kick up a few ripples. You can’t see the campground or any road from the lake, so it is very peaceful and feels remote. We paddled down the East arm of the lake to the visitor center, wandered around in there for a bit and got back on the water just as the sun began to set. There wasn’t anyone else on the water that evening, and the entire time we were in Itasca State Park the lake wasn’t crowded.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Beautiful sunset on the lake

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

The lake was even more calm as it became darker. At points the water was smooth as glass. The colors of the sunset reflecting on the water made for some gorgeous paddling. We saw a few loons and a trumpeter swan as we meandered back to camp.

Everyone told us the mosquitos would be really bad in Minnesota. I really didn’t notice much of a difference in the campground and out on the water, but as soon as you step into the woods it was pretty bad. I don’t think they were much bigger than the ones in Missouri, but they definitely were more numerous. I coated myself in bug spray every hour or two and still got bit. It was enough for DW to use bug spray and he usually doesn’t use it at all!

We arrived back at the campground and debated carrying our boats back to our site. Since we were heading out again in the morning we decided to just tie them up at the bank, which worked out well since everything was still there in the morning. The next day we did a long paddle from the headwaters, which was a really cool experience.

Lake Itasca

DW on the lake at sunset

 

Critter Count: 3 Loons, 1 Trumpeter Swan

Float #106 – 108: Eleven Point River

22 Jul

Cane Bluff to Myrtle

F106_ElevenPoint

Eleven Point River
Oregon County, Missouri
Friday, July 4 – Sunday, July 6
39 Miles

July 4th weekend is always crowded on the river, and I prefer my rivers quiet and pristine most of the time. However, I can’t waste a 3-day weekend sitting at home so what better place to be than the Eleven Point. The Eleven Point is rarely crowded since it is so far from any major city and the water is too cold for most people. The weekend turned out to be beautiful with unseasonal cool temperatures and the water was higher than normal due to recent flooding. I almost wish it had been hotter since the water is so cold!

We were joined by our friend Jake from Nashville to float 3 days on the Eleven Point from Cane Bluff (which is above Greer Spring) down to Myrtle (just above the Arkansas state line). Jake’s brother Jess, his girlfriend Kat, and her dog Nellie joined us for the first two days. We camped at Hufstedler’s on Thursday night and had them shuttle our boats up to Cane Bluff and our car down to Myrtle all for a reasonable price. Hufstedler’s is my favorite outfitter on the Eleven Point and we have been going there for well over 10 years. The camping is cheap, the firewood is free, the rental and shuttle prices are reasonable and the owners are pleasant, hardworking people.

Friday morning we woke up early and broke camp while waiting for Jess and Kat to arrive. They pulled in to our camp right on time, so we got all our gear together to ride the shuttle van up to Cane Bluff. We were unloaded and ready to put on the water by 10:30. Earlier in the week the Eleven Point and surrounding areas were hit with a flash flood and the water was still draining, making the river level higher than normal and a little bit murky. I have never been up at Cane Bluff with the water at that level. It was nice because Cane Bluff can be tricky in the summer and fall and you sometimes have to portage low spots. Not this time! We sailed over places that were normally scraping. However, all the new trees in the river made for plenty of new obstacles. All of them were passable, but it did make things tricky for anyone unfamiliar with this river, or canoe skills in general. One of the things I like best about the Eleven Point is that it can be more challenging than it looks, especially when the water is flowing swiftly!

Eleven Point River

Putting in at Cane Bluff

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

DW, Jake and I brought our fishing poles and put them to work as soon as we hit the water. Over the weekend we caught some smallmouth, bluegill, and plenty of trout. I don’t know if the river was recently stocked with trout, but I have never caught that many here before. We each caught a few nice sized rainbow trout and I caught a brown trout. If we hadn’t been in a blue ribbon area we could have kept them! Kat did some fishing as well and caught her share. Poor Nellie (the dog) sniffed a fishing lure and hooked herself, requiring some emergency nose surgery. She was fine as soon as the hook was out and you couldn’t tell anything had happened.

Eleven Point River

Snake suns on a log

Eleven Point River

Greer Spring

Eleven Point River

Hwy 19 Bridge at Greer

Eleven Point River

Jake’s trout

Six miles down from Cane Bluff, Greer Spring enters the river on the right side. Greer Spring turns the Eleven Point from creek to river. The second largest spring in the state, Greer is beautiful and massive. The spring branch is bigger than the river itself where it meets the Eleven Point. At the time of this trip all the springs were higher than normal due to the rains, and Greer was pumping out an impressive amount of water. I had never seen it that high before! Thus, the waters of the Eleven Point were colder than usual, consisting mostly of fresh spring water in a rush southward, not spending much time warming in the sun.

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Eleven Point River

Turner Mill Spring

Eleven Point River

Jake in Turner Spring

Eleven Point River

Turner access

Just after Greer Spring branch is Greer access off of Hwy. 19. The best reason to put in at Cane Bluff is to see the change in the river once Greer Spring comes in. If you put in at Greer access you will miss it. The river flows quickly from Greer access, through Mary Decker Shoals (a rocky boulder dash) to Turner Mill Spring and access. At Turner Mill the remnants of the old mill and the spring are on the left side of the river and the campground and access are on the right side of the river. The spring flows out of a cave in the face of a bluff just up the hill from the river. It can be reached from a short hiking trail behind the bathroom. The trail is usually flanked by poison ivy, so tread carefully! Turner Spring was also pumping out an impressive amount of water and DW, Jake and Jess plunged in the flow for some hydrotherapy.

We camped just below Turner Mill on Friday night on a small gravel bar that was quite peaceful (except for all the frogs yelling about which one has the sexiest voice). The men gathered firewood, and Kat and I avoided the ticks and poison ivy while setting up our tents. We enjoyed a nice fire and a good meal that evening while we watched the bejeweled sky. The stars are spectacular on the Eleven Point and we saw several meteorites before hitting the bed sometime around midnight. The next morning we broke camp in a leisurely fashion and were back on the water between 10:30 and 11.

Eleven Point River

The jumping rock

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Boze Mill Spring

Eleven Point River

Another snake

Eleven Point River

Campfire

Our second day on the river was spent much in the same fashion as the first; fishing, swimming and a couple of stops along the way. The next access down from Turner Mill is Whitten. Whitten is often very crowded on the weekends and a popular spot for locals to park their campers and hang out. Between Turner and Whitten is a large rock on the left side of the river that is one of DW’s favorite for diving. Usually the rock is about four feet out of the water and a bit difficult to pull up beside and climb up. This time it was only a couple of feet out of the water and looked so small compared to normal. We stopped here for a bit while everyone took their turns diving into the deep waters. The rest of our day was leisurely up until the last couple of miles. The river slows down somewhat after Turner and there are more long lake-like pools between the swift bends.

We stopped at our favorite spring on the Eleven Point, Boze Mill. There were a lot of people so we didn’t stay long, but we did take our turn dipping into the large spring fed pool. Usually the water coming our of Boze Mill is breathtakingly cold, but it was definitely warmer and cloudier this time. I guess it was pumping out rainwater mixed in with the spring water, still colder than the river though! Right around the bend from Boze Mill is Halls Bay Chute, a class 2 or 3 rapid and the largest drop on the river. When you approach this rapid stay on the left side of the river, as the right is usually shallow and full of rocks. This time the water was so high you could get over the rocks with no problem. I was afraid the water would be high enough to blow out the rapid, making it much less exciting. However it was more fun than usual. The wave at the bottom of the drop was much bigger than normal. A wall of water broke over my boat and filled the cockpit while thoroughly soaking me. Jake was right behind me as we turned into the eddy to bail out our kayaks. Next came Jess and Kat, who filled their canoe with about 6 inches of water but made it through without spilling. DW made it through with a little less water in the canoe. After I bailed my boat I continued downriver behind everyone else and passed Jess & Kat being rescued by a couple of helpful locals in a jon boat. Apparently, they had decided to bail their boat in the worst possible spot, against a tree, and swamped the entire canoe. Luckily with DW and the jon boat’s help they were able to salvage it before the canoe sank entirely. I sprinted downriver to pick up their yard sale (spilled items). Jess & Kat took it in stride and no one was any worse for wear.

Just before we reached Riverton access we came across another swamped canoe being rescued by a jon boat. This one was jammed underwater against a downed tree that had fallen across the main channel. So the lesson here is: swift water + tree = a bad time. Jess and Kat took off the water at Riverton, where we ran into the couple who had been in the other swamped canoe. They were a bit shaken up, as they had been sucked under the tree when their boat capsized. Luckily, everyone was ok, but they didn’t seem interested in floating again any time soon. We said our goodbyes to Jess & Kat and DW, Jake and I headed downstream to find a camping spot for the night. Within the next half hour we came upon a large gravel bar that had washed into the forest with plenty of firewood and flat spots for our tents. Another excellent night of camping was had with a much bigger fire than the previous evening.

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

The fattest turtle

Eleven Point River

The next morning dawned a little bit overcast as we groggily stumbled from our tents. We heated our breakfast and broke camp, getting back on the water around 10. The section of the Eleven Point down from Riverton to Myrtle is much less popular, but worth doing. There are several springs and it is usually a peaceful float. I saw a lot of turtles, some of them soft shell, and many birds. This section is not entirely within the National Scenic Riverway, so there are more signs of civilization and some riverside cabins. We only saw a couple other people the whole day, as almost everyone takes out at Riverton.

Eleven Point River

Morgan Spring

Eleven Point River

Blue Spring

Eleven Point River

Hwy 142 bridge

Eleven Point River

Myrtle access

About nine miles from Riverton is Morgan Spring float camp on the right side of the river. Float camp is used generously as it is literally one campsite with a stone table, fire ring and lantern post. But it is a beautiful spot right on the bank of the spring branch. It is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and this time there was a tree blocking the spring branch. We managed to wriggle around it and paddle up the spring branch a little bit. Around the corner from Morgan Spring is Blue Spring (one of many Blue Springs in the state). This Blue Spring is the eighth largest in Missouri and well worth checking out. There is a footpath somewhere on the bank that leads to an overlook, but I don’t know where that is exactly. We usually paddle up the spring branch to check it out. With all the newly fallen trees it was quite a bit of work to get up the spring branch. We sent DW in first. If he could maneuver that fully loaded canoe between branches, so could we in our little kayaks.

After exiting the spring we passed under Hwy. 142 bridge. There is an access just before the bridge on the left side of the river. We stopped on a gravel bar and ate lunch just around the bend. The sky was beginning to get stormy looking and we could hear thunder in the distance. Luckily, the rain missed us and it was soon sunny again as we paddled down to Myrtle. Myrtle access is on the right side of the river, one mile before the Arkansas state line. We pulled off the river around 3:30, loaded our gear and headed back to Riverton to pick up Jake’s van. On our way home we stopped at Stray Dog BBQ & Pizza in Van Buren for some excellent pizza and wings, which is our little tradition for the end of an excellent Eleven Point trip. We all had a great time. Floating the Eleven Point always soothes my soul and I feel quite refreshed after a weekend spent on the chilly spring-fed waters.

Our next major float trip will be in Minnesota as we are headed there for vacation. Out of state floats are always a fun new adventure and Minnesota loves floating as much as Missouri does, so I’m looking forward to it!

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Green Herons, Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Hawks, Snakes, Turtles, Deer, 1 Mink

Float #104 & 105: Big Piney River

26 Jun

Slabtown to Ross Bridge

F104_BigPiney

Big Piney River
Texas and Pulaski Counties, Missouri
Saturday, June 21 & Sunday, June 22
15 Miles

Over the years I’ve noticed that we tend to float a lot of rivers around the same time every year. This is one of those. Last year we floated the Big Piney a week later than we did this year. Two completely different groups of people and two different styles of float trips, but the river calls us back right on schedule every time! This year we did an overnight fishing float with the St. Louis Adventure Group. There were about 12 of us in all, spending two lazy days on the river fishing every hole we meandered past.

We arrived at Slabtown camp on Friday evening. I set up camp while DW and the rest of the drivers ran the shuttle to Ross Bridge access. Slabtown is a National Forest Service campground. It is very small with only 3 sites in a sort of communal setting. There is no water, restroom or trash service; but that also means there is no fee to camp. I last camped at Slabtown many years ago and it looks like the Forest Service has improved it since then. There is now a small parking lot next to the camp so you can unload your gear easier, new fire pits and picnic tables, and the boat ramp looks improved as well. Gone is the walk-in access to the camp, which was up a steep staircase from the boat ramp parking.

We spent Friday evening around the campfire getting to know new people and catching up with some friends we knew from previous SLAG trips. DW and I got to bed a little late and woke up around 8am to find most of the group had already set out an hour before. That’s nothing new for us though, we’re never in a hurry when we’re on river time! Our good friends Tommy and Val usually slack off at the end of the group too, which is one reason we get along so well. It took us a while to get all our gear from camp down to the boats and packed up for the trip. We were on the water just before 10am and it was already so humid and warm that I had to take a swim before I even got into my boat.

Big Piney River

Putting in at Slabtown access

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Right around the corner from Slabtown access is a large gravel bar across from a craggy bluff, which just happens to be where we camped on the river last year. This year’s two-day float is the same stretch we did in one day last year, but when you are fishing things go a lot slower. We started catching fish pretty soon after hitting the water. The Big Piney is a blue ribbon smallmouth area, which means smallmouth bass must be at least 15″ to keep. We didn’t catch anything close to that big, but we did catch a lot of medium-sized smallmouth, goggle eye and bluegill. There were some beautiful bluegill in this stream with such vivid coloring, and a lot of tiny little fish finger size bluegill that were almost the same size as my lure. That didn’t stop them from getting hooked though! Within the first hour of fishing a goggle eye managed to steal my brand new crawdad lure. That was one of three lures I lost over the weekend (I’m really good at losing lures). I lost two more to snags (I’m also really good at catching trees).

Big Piney River

A large dragonfly commandeers my fishing pole

Big Piney River

Lily pads are blooming

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Prewett Spring

The Big Piney is a great river with excellent fishing and many tall beautiful bluffs. Everyone always raves about the bluffs on the Jacks Fork (which are great), but the Big Piney has just as good a selection of pine-topped cliffs along the river. Another great thing about the Big Piney is that it isn’t very busy. We only saw a handful of other people the whole weekend. This is probably due to the fact that it is a little farther from the city than the Ozark National Scenic Rivers and there is a lack of outfitters on the Big Piney. There is only one on the upper river and two or three on the lower river. We also didn’t find much trash until we got to the last five miles of the float (which is stretch frequented by the lower river outfitters). The river is mostly surrounded by National Forest, so there aren’t many cabins or other signs of civilization along the way. There are a few springs on the Big Piney. The big spring branch on this stretch is Prewett Spring, which comes into the river on the left side. The head of the spring is a ways up the branch on private property, so I’ve never walked back there to find it. Swimming in the water where the spring flows into the river is good enough! It was very cold, especially compared to the Big Piney water, which is not too cold at all.

The whole first day of this trip there were ominous clouds and the sounds of thunder upstream from us. I was hoping it would never actually catch up to us, but a few miles from our camp we got caught in a downpour. It rained as hard as it possibly could for about 20 minutes and then it was over. Luckily it was a warm rain with no wind, so no harm done. We just paddled through it, though we had to pay extra attention since the huge, fast raindrops obscured the water so you couldn’t read where the obstructions were. We reached the rest of our group camped across from a large bluff, bailed out all the rainwater from our boats and set up our camp. The evening was spent stargazing, watching the spectacular firefly show, and the distant lightning illuminating the thunderheads. It didn’t rain on us again during the trip, but it was never too far away.

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Our camp on the river

Big Piney River

A rock slide

Big Piney River

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. We cooked our breakfast over the coals from last night’s fire and broke camp. We were on the water a little earlier than the day before, but we were at the back of the group again (as usual). Within the first couple miles we came upon a hillside that had a few rock slides that looked fairly recent. That’s something you don’t see too often in Missouri. We spent the day fishing and swimming. There was a lull in the fishing around mid-morning when they weren’t biting, but then it picked up again soon after. One noteworthy animal sighting was a box turtle swimming across the river. That’s something we’ve never seen before. He was funny because he saw us and couldn’t pull his head into his shell while swimming, so he was looking a little panicked. He made it across just fine though.

Big Piney River

A box turtle swims across the river

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Swift water

Big Piney River

Coming up to Ross Bridge

We stopped for lunch on a shaded gravel bar, ate the rest of our food and did some swimming. The last couple miles of the float we spent picking up trash, as there was more trash in that last couple miles than on the whole other part of the float. I did find a nice water gun and a cup koozie. We arrived at our take out around 2:30 and spent about an hour unloading the boats and loading the gear back into the car. It was a very relaxing weekend and I had a lot of fun fishing and spending time on this beautiful stream with good company. When we arrived home we found that the storms had been much worse at our house. We had a maple tree split in half and smash our backyard fence. Lovely to come home to a big mess when all you want to do is unload your gear and ride the couch for the evening. At least it didn’t damage anything more important.

We are planning to spend 4th of July weekend on the Eleven Point with our friend Jake from Nashville. I’m really looking forward to that trip, as the Eleven Point is my favorite stream in Missouri!

Critter Count: Ducks, Turkeys, 1 Bald Eagle, Turtles, Soft Shell Turtles, 1 Box Turtle

Bonus Prizes: 1 cup koozie, 1 water gun

 

Float #103: Little Piney Creek

20 Jun

Newburg to Jerome

F103_LittlePiney

Little Piney Creek
Phelps County, Missouri
Sunday, June 15
6 Miles

This is a short little float from Newburg access on the Little Piney down to the confluence with the Gasconade River. We have always wanted to do this float in order to complete the whole Little Piney and this past Sunday was our opportunity. We met up with our friend Richard who lives near St. Robert and is always down for a Piney float of Little or Big variety. The shuttle between Newburg and Jerome access did not take long and we were on the water shortly after noon. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day despite driving through some storms on the way there.

The Little Piney is more creek than river and has excellent fishing and technical paddling. It doesn’t often get cleared of debris, so there are a lot of fallen trees that can cause jams. That is where the technical part comes in. If you are in a kayak you may be able to wriggle around most of them. In a canoe not so much. It also takes some precise turning to get around the jams, so if you are a novice you will be either be portaging or falling out of your boat a lot (both good options).

Little Piney Creek

The bridge at Newburg access

Little Piney Creek

Little Piney Creek

Floating under a fallen log

Little Piney Creek

A heron poses on a tree

The water was at a good level for this float, we didn’t bottom out much at all. The Little Piney does have a year round source at Lane Spring and a few smaller creeks that feed it, but it is usually best to float in the spring when there is more rain. In the late summer it can get pretty low in spots. I didn’t bring my fishing pole on this trip, so of course I spotted a few big fish in the creek. We also saw plenty of herons, turtles and a couple of turkeys.

Little Piney Creek

Little rapid on the Little Piney

Little Piney Creek

A decrepit bridge

Little Piney Creek

RR bridge

Little Piney Creek

We floated under several bridges on this trip. The first was an old concrete bridge that hopefully has been closed. It looked pretty scary and unstable. There was a lot of debris jammed underneath it and one little section that was clear to float through. I would not want to approach that sucker in high water! We also floated under a railroad bridge, I-44 bridge and another railroad bridge at the confluence.

Little Piney Creek

DW floats by

Little Piney Creek

Floating under I-44

Gasconade River

Looking upstream at the RR bridge across the Gasconade

Gasconade River

Jerome access

The water was flowing at a nice pace so we didn’t have to paddle too much. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar about a mile above the Gasconade and swam a bit too. Once you pass under I-44 the confluence is just around the corner. The Gasconade was up a bit and flowing rather quickly. The Gasconade is usually a painfully slow river, so it was nice to not have to slog through it for a change. Jerome access is just a mile down from the confluence. You can’t miss it as it is an imposing pile of limestone that glows brightly in the sunlight. Jerome access has a nice boat ramp, plenty of parking and a restroom. We arrived around 3:30, loaded our gear into Richard’s truck and he shuttled us back to Newburg to our car. We had a great time and it was nice to finally complete the Little Piney.

The next trip is an overnight fishing float on the Big Piney and then we are scheduled to do the Eleven Point for the 4th of July!

Critter Count: Herons, Turtles, Turkey

Float #102: Flat Creek

23 May

Lower Flat Creek to Dry Creek

F102_FlatCreek

Flat Creek
Barry and Stone Counties, Missouri
Saturday, May 17
10 Miles

The second day of our Southwest MO camping trip we headed East about 45 minutes to Flat Creek. This is a beautiful stream that flows into Table Rock Lake. There is swift water, good fishing and lots of wildlife. Even though this creek flows into the lake the water doesn’t back up or slow down too far upstream. DW, Jake and I got help with the shuttle from our caver friend Bobcat. He dropped our gear with Jake and me at the Lower Flat Creek access and helped DW run the car down to the Dry Creek access. Since we don’t know the area we weren’t sure how much water was in the upper creek, so we decided to do the lower section. Once we arrived we saw that there was plenty of water and we could have easily floated down to the access we put in at. I think it would only be a problem in the middle of summer or particularly dry weather.

Lower Flat Creek Access

Lower Flat Creek Access

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Old bridge piling

Old bridge piling

It was another chilly day with highs in the 60s. As we set off the sun came out and warmed things up for about an hour and then the clouds took over again. I wanted to do some fishing on this trip, but my fishing pole had other ideas. I caught every snag possible and the line kept wanting to tangle. It was a bit breezy too, so I eventually gave up and focused on paddling and enjoying the scenery. I enjoyed this float more than the previous day on the Elk River just because the water was faster and it was a bit more scenic. We saw several Bald Eagles along the way, which I always enjoy.

Tight squeeze ahead

Tight squeeze ahead

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Flat Creek has its share of obstacles with a couple tight spots and fallen/overhanging trees. There was one spot that was almost a log jam, but there was just enough space to wriggle between trees. Luckily the water was slower there and didn’t push the boat around. It was a tight entry though and I somehow got turned around and ended up floating through backwards.

Another tight spot almost flipped my boat, but I can still brag that I have never fallen out of my kayak! There was an overhanging tree with a mess of branches on one side and a low hanging trunk on the other side. There was a small space between the two obstacles to float through. I miscalculated just enough to catch the trunk and pin my boat against the tree. The water was flowing swiftly and began to turn my boat sideways. When your boat goes sideways you’re pretty much doomed to get wet. Water started to fill the cockpit and my ass was swamped! However, I was able to gain some leverage against the tree and back my way out of the pinch. I then hobbled over to the bank to bail out. Thankfully I always carry an extra change of clothes in cool weather, so I didn’t stay cold and wet for long.

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County road bridge

County road bridge

After I bailed out we ate lunch on the gravel bar and then proceeded downriver. This creek reminds me a lot of the Huzzah as it is similar in size, but I think the water was prettier and a bit quicker overall. It would make a great spring overnight fishing trip, as you could reasonably do the entire creek in two days. We didn’t see many houses or cabins along the way and only a couple of farms with cows near the river. It was very quiet and peaceful with just enough action to test your skills.

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The creek becomes a lake

The creek becomes a lake

About a mile above the lake the water began to slow down and the creek widened. Our takeout was just after the waterway became deeper and very broad, on an upper finger of the lake. DW and Jake sprinted ahead of me, but I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. The sky was beginning to get very overcast and looked like it might rain, but it did not. The Dry Creek access does not have much parking, maybe room for two or three vehicles and the road is very rough. 4 wheel drive is probably a good idea.

We loaded our boats and headed back to camp after a very enjoyable float. I would definitely recommend Flat Creek if you like small streams and good fishing. The next day we made the long 4 1/2 hour drive back home to unload and catch up on sleep before heading back to work on Monday.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Green Herons, Blue Herons, 2 Adult Bald Eagles, 1 Juvenile Bale Eagle, Turkey, Turtles, Cows

 

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