Boxley to Kyle’s Landing
Newton County, Arkansas
Saturday, March 14
After hanging in camp during the all day rain on Friday, we awoke Saturday determined to paddle. The rain had slowed to an occasional sprinkle. The river was now a muddy brown and had risen to just below the banks. We left camp shortly after breakfast to scout Boxley access, get our car shuttle set up, and purchase some dry firewood. Everything looked good, the water was rocking, but didn’t look too dangerous and we talked to a couple other paddlers getting ready to put in at Boxley. We purchased a car shuttle from Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca and headed back to camp to gear up.
We donned our wetsuits (our best purchase this year) and the rest of our water resistant gear, packed a couple beers and headed back to Boxley. There were plenty of rolling waves on the first 6-mile section between Boxley and Ponca and the water was moving quickly. Within the first mile or so we came upon the people we had seen putting in while we were scouting. One of them had lost their boat and was stranded on a small island in the middle of the river. Their paddling companion was just downstream with the runaway boat, so DW towed her down to them. We figured they must have been waiting for someone to come by for a while!
The water was a bit technical and reminded me a lot of the Nantahala in Tennessee. Of course, there is no time to snap photos while paddling the waves, so I was only able to get shots of the calm waters between rapids. Some of the waves were pretty big and one of them went over my head and soaked me completely. Thank goodness I had that wetsuit! My touring paddle was nearly useless for water this fast. It felt like I was just sticking a toothpick in the waves and couldn’t steer as well as I needed to. DW had brought his whitewater paddle and let me use it. What a difference that made! I’m going to make sure I bring my whitewater paddle along for any spring floats from now on.
We soon arrived at Ponca bridge, which we had to portage as the water was not over the bridge, but it was pretty close. There were a lot of people there checking out the river and a few paddlers thinking about putting on. After Ponca bridge the river was much calmer and the few waves we paddled through were not too big. Two miles down from Ponca is Steel Creek campground, so we stopped at our camp to have lunch and warm up a bit. I debated staying at camp because I was a little chilly and tired from the rough water, but the sun poked out of the sky just enough to convince me to continue the rest of the trip. As we put back on the water we encountered some locals who were enjoying the whitewater. They shared some whiskey with us and some good conversation.
Every bluff we passed had numerous waterfalls that were very pretty, but the river was moving so quickly I didn’t have much time to photograph. We soon came to a few more rapids and one nice little drop, where I took on a little bit of water and pulled over to bail. While bailing, another couple paddled up in a tandem kayak with no skirts. They had a look of inexperience about them, so DW talked with them a bit. They asked us where the “hard part” of this section was. As we’ve never paddled this section in high water we didn’t know what they were referring to, but we would soon find out.
There were a few miles between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing where around every bend there was a solid line of whitecapped waves. It wasn’t as hard as the Boxley section because the river is wider and there is more room to maneuver and take a different line out of the big waves if needed. I think the waves were just as big though. DW had lots of fun riding the rollers and I did too, though I didn’t hit them quite as hard as he did.
There were several bluffs along the way that we recognized as we flew past, but everything looked so much different with high water! We soon reached our take out at Kyle’s and pulled off the river with that tired, satisfied feeling you get after a challenging paddle. We had paddled the 8 miles between Steel Creek and Kyle’s in 1 hour and 40 minutes. There was an outfitter waiting to pick up a couple rafts at the access, and he said we were 10 minutes slower than the fastest time he had heard of that day. If I hadn’t stopped to bail my boat we probably would’ve beat that time!
We loaded our gear and changed out of our wet clothes and headed back to camp to a well deserved fire and a hot meal. If we had known it was going to rain that much we would’ve brought our whitewater boats and left the dog at home, but it was pretty entertaining as is. We learned that wetsuits are your best friend and always pack your whitewater paddle in the spring! This was a fun Buffalo trip, despite the rain and I look forward to coming back next spring to do it again.