Float #121: Mulberry River

23 Apr

Wolf Pen to Turner Bend


Mulberry River
Newton County, Arkansas
Friday, April 3
16 Miles

Our Easter float trip this year took us back to Arkansas, this time on the Mulberry River. The Mulberry is about an hour south of the Buffalo River and well worth a visit. It doesn’t have the high bluffs that the Buffalo is famous for, but it has the same beautiful turquoise blue water, Ozark Mountain scenery, and many more rapids. The Mulberry is rain dependent, so the best time to float it is in the spring. It is smaller than the Buffalo, but can rise and fall rapidly depending on the precipitation amount. This is a good river if you like a little excitement and is suitable for an intermediate paddler. If you are a beginner you probably want to hone your skills some before tackling the rocky rapids of the Mulberry. You can float it in a whitewater boat or in a small touring kayak. The upper section has more rapids with few slow pools between them, and the lower section has larger drops between longer pools. None of the rapids on the Mulberry are larger than Class II during normal flow.

DW and I took our whitewater kayaks on this trip. Our friend Jake made the 7-hour trek from Nashville to join us and he brought his 13′ touring kayak. We camped at Byrd’s Adventure Center, where we had a nice camp spot with a pavilion right on the river. There are a couple other commercial campgrounds and a few national forest campgrounds along the river as well.

We were supposed to get a thunderstorm Thursday night, but that never happened. We awoke to cloudy skies on Friday morning, loaded all our gear, donned our wetsuits (cause this water is cold!), dropped a vehicle down at Turner Bend, and headed then up to Wolf Pen access.

Putting in at Wolf Pen

Putting in at Wolf Pen

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

This was my first time ever in a whitewater kayak, so I paddled around a bit in the slow pool at the put-in. Hoo-boy is a whitewater kayak different than a touring boat! Every little move you make causes the boat to react. A touring boat is designed to go forward in a straight line with little effort. A whitewater kayak is designed to spin around in a circle with little effort. I found myself fighting with the boat to try and hit the correct line in the swift water. Obviously I have a lot of learning to do before I feel like I’m competent in a whitewater kayak! DW’s whitewater kayak is a different design and much longer and narrower, so it goes straight a little bit easier than mine.

Mulberry RiverMulberry RiverOf course, I don’t have any photos of the rapids because I was too busy trying to get through them to take a picture. We all made it through most of the rapids without incident until we came upon one called Jump Off Rapid. Jump Off Rapid starts off with a boulder garden that then careens straight into a rock wall. That rock wall is where I bit it. While trying to avoid crashing into the wall I flipped over and was underwater for about 4 seconds. 4 seconds is a long time when you are submerged. Whitewater kayaks are very tight and you don’t fall out of the boat right away like you do in a touring kayak. This was my first time upside down, under water. I remember several thoughts going through my head. The first being, “Well, I’m underwater. Hopefully I don’t drown.” Then I wondered why DW hadn’t flipped me back over yet. Then my brain finally wised up and I pulled my kayak skirt off the cockpit and kicked my legs out of the boat. So I experienced what is known as the “wet-exit” which is a good thing to know when you’re in a whitewater boat!

After my little mishap I was pretty tired. It turns out my whitewater kayak might be too heavy for me and it wears me out fairly quickly. Luckily our campground was exactly half way into our trip. We stopped there for lunch and I decided I was too tired to continue the rest of the trip safely. I let Jake take my whitewater boat so he could experience the wet-exit. And he did, twice.

Jake's first flip

Jake’s first flip

Rescue trainees flip a raft

Rescue trainees flip a raft

Mulberry River

Fixer Upper Cabin

Fixer Upper Cabin

DW takes over narration of the second half of this trip, as I was recovering in camp.

After completing a pit stop at camp for food and adult beverages, we left to complete the second half of our trip down the Mulberry. Jake took Lee’s whitewater kayak and promptly took a swim on an eddy line just after a rapid. This left him a bit rattled given he was on a gravel bar just a few hundred yards from camp. He got the water drained from the boat and regained his nerve thus deciding to complete the trip down the river. It had several rapids that were fun to play in and even more shoals as we worked our way down stream to the low water bridge. We opted for going to river right approaching the bridge. Shortly thereafter there was an old house that is on the river and has just been disintegrating for many years.

Mulberry River

Jake's second flip

Jake’s second flip

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

Almost to the end of our trip, we approached Scroiliac Rapid and both made it through, then out of nowhere Jake is swimming again. The easy maneuverability and large rocker of Lee’s boat caught him off guard on another eddy line allowing for another nice April swim! From here we continued on 1.5 miles to Turner’s Bend to complete our day of adventure on the beautiful Mulberry River. We loaded up our gear and headed back to camp where Lee had a nice fire going. We hit the hay pretty early so we could get enough rest to get up and do it again the next day!


One Response to “Float #121: Mulberry River”

  1. ranschwords April 23, 2015 at 6:10 PM #

    Ha! This was a fun read at Lee’s and Jake’s expense of course. The water color I enjoyed. The rest of the scenery was just early spring. Hey, that was the first time I had the chance to read your journaling, DW. Good writing! And good paddling since obviously you got to watch everybody else do the swimming. I was really with you, Lee, when you went under! Such a time to be on another planet where breaths don’t come like we’re accustomed to getting them. If newborns could talk, I’m sure they would give this place a thumbs down and go back to the water world. Thanks, both of you; I really enjoy your enjoyment.

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