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Float #145: Mulberry River

24 May

Turner Bend to Beneux Bottom

F145_Mulberry

Mulberry River
Franklin County, Arkansas
Saturday, April 15, 2017
21 Miles
Temperature: 85˚/57˚
Wind: SSE at 6mph
Water Level: 2ft. at Mulberry gage

Our second day on the Mulberry river I took my touring kayak again, Jake took one of the whitewater boats and DW took the canoe. Our dog Ocoee rode in the front of the canoe. He behaved better and felt much safer than the first day on my kayak, but he still wasn’t thrilled about that splashy water!

We put in at Turner Bend where we took out the previous day. The second day was a longer float, taking out at Beneux Bottom, further downriver than we have in previous years. DW and Jake ran the shuttle and I had DW drop a pin on my GPS at the take-out. It is not an official forest service access and is pretty difficult to recognize from the river if you’ve never been before. It was a good thing we marked it, because we totally would have passed it up!

Mulberry River

Putting on at Turner Bend

Mulberry River

DW, Ocoee and the Gnar Bar

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

The second day was just as beautiful as the first. We couldn’t have had better weather for this trip. This section of the Mulberry isn’t as tight and twisty as the upper section and has longer pools between rapids, but the rapids are a bit bigger. I was able to get some decent shots going through couple rapids. There are some good wave trains on this section too. I got completely drenched a few times!

Mulberry River

Mulberry River

I love Arkansas!

We saw a lot of Bald Eagles on this day. Three or four adults and several juveniles. I wasn’t able to get close enough to get any good shots though. Halfway through the day I gave DW the camera to get some photos of me and he proceeded to take so many pictures that he killed the battery. Unfortunately I didn’t have my backup battery with me (of course). The one time we saw an eagle on the bank and got close to it was when the camera was dead!

Mulberry River

Jake’s having a good time

Mulberry River

I’m having a good time too

Mulberry River

Ocoee is tolerating it

Mulberry River

View from a canoe

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

The canoe we took on this trip, “Gnar Bar” is one of our rescue boats that we got from an outfitter we do repairs for. It was too far gone for outfitter use, but we welded it back together enough to get a few more years out of it. DW rigged up a homemade spray deck using an old air mattress, some grommets, and rope. It worked ok to keep out the worst of the water, but would have worked better if there was more gear to keep it from sagging, or more grommets to make it tighter. There were some really good waves and I had to bail my kayak a couple times, so we would have been bailing the canoe on every turn without a spray deck!

We made it to our take-out in early evening, loaded up the boats and went back to camp for another excellent dinner and beer around the campfire. As usual our Easter float trip was one of the best of the year and so much fun! Missouri has a lot of diversity and options for float trips, but between the Buffalo and the Mulberry, Arkansas holds the jewels of the Ozarks!

Critter Count: Turtles, Hawks, Muskrat, Herons, Bald Eagles

Float #144: Mulberry River

24 May

Wolf Pen to Turner Bend

F121_Mulberry

Mulberry River
Franklin County, Arkansas
Friday, April 14, 2017
16 Miles
Temperature: 83˚/60˚
Wind: SSE at 6mph
Water Level: 2.1ft. at Mulberry gage

Every Easter weekend DW and I go floating in Arkansas. We usually alternate between the Buffalo and Mulberry Rivers. This year was the Mulberry’s turn. The Buffalo certainly has the breathtaking scenery and bluffs, but the Mulberry is generally more exciting paddling. This year we were again joined by our friend Jake. He rocked the 7-hour one way drive from Nashville solo. The Mulberry is worth it! We stayed at Byrd’s campground, which has good camping right on the river and an excellent restaurant on-site. It’s nice to not have to cook after a long day of paddling!

We all arrived late Thursday night, set up camp and went to bed pretty promptly. The next morning we awoke early, made breakfast and headed up to our put-in at Wolf Pen.

Mulberry River

Prepping the boats at Wolf Pen

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

I took my Dagger touring kayak on this trip and DW brought both the whitewater kayaks as well as one of our Old Town canoes. This river is great because unless the water is high, it is suitable for almost any human-powered watercraft.

The first day DW and Jake took the whitewater kayaks while I took my touring kayak. We brought Ocoee (our dog) on this trip as I figured the weather would be nice and he could ride on the back of my kayak the first day. I even bought him a snazzy little life jacket as I knew he’d probably fall off in a couple rapids. The rapids on this river aren’t that big, class II at most during normal water levels, and Ocoee rides on the back of my kayak just fine on most of our Missouri streams. This day though, he was not having it. This dog HATES rapids. The very first rapid we encountered he bailed off my boat and refused to get back on. I ended up having to shove him into my cockpit, which is not comfortable for me, as he just barely fits and tries to climb up me every time there is splashy water.

Mulberry RiverMulberry River

Mulberry River

Ocoee stuck in Jump Start rapid

There is an infamous rapid just down from High Bank access called Jump Start. It is where the river flows straight into a rock wall and then makes a 90˚ turn. Last time we floated the Mulberry I was in a whitewater boat and did my first wet exit (where the boat flips upside down and you have to exit, roll over, or drown). So this time, even though I was in my trusty touring kayak, I was determined not to hit that wall again. What makes it doubly tricky is several small boulders and a lot of sleeper rocks as you approach the rock wall. I got hung up on one of the boulders and had to lean into it in order to not flip my boat. Ocoee was not making it easier. I knew I had to get rid of that extra weight to push myself off the boulder, so I threw Ocoee out of the boat into the water, which was all of about 4″ deep. I managed to dislodge my kayak and make the turn without hitting the wall. Ocoee decided he was stuck there in the middle of the river where I threw him out. He wouldn’t come to us and wouldn’t move. There was a couple on the gravel bar watching the action (who wouldn’t, it’s a great spot to watch people eat it). The guy offered to fetch Ocoee out of the stream. As he approached Ocoee decided swimming was a better idea than being grabbed by a stranger. He swam through just fine and continued to be a pain in my ass for the rest of the morning.

We stopped for lunch at our campsite at Byrd’s, which is halfway through the trip to Turner Bend. Neither I nor Ocoee was keen on him continuing the second half of the day in my boat. So I left him at camp, where he slept and chewed his bed in contentment while we continued on without all the doggy drama.

Mulberry River

Rapids

Mulberry River

Jake shreds some gnar

The rest of the day was spent shredding some good gnar on the beautiful turquoise water. We finished up at Turner Bend in the late afternoon and headed back to camp to eat an awesome meal at the campground restaurant and drink some beers around the campfire. No one flipped their boat on the first day!

Float #122: Mulberry River

24 Apr

Turner Bend to Spirit Creek

F122_Mulberry

Mulberry River
Newton County, Arkansas
Saturday, April 4
14 Miles

Saturday morning we awoke to beautiful, sunny weather for another day on the Mulberry. For our second day of floating I paddled Jake’s touring kayak, DW took my whitewater boat and Jake took DW’s whitewater boat. Since my boat had worn me out so much the first day I decided to take the easier boat for the morning. We headed down to Turner Bend to put in where we had taken out the day before. I hung out with the gear while Jake and DW ran shuttle down to Spirit Creek access. Spirit Creek is a 4WD access with space for about two cars to park by the river. Turns out you really do need 4WD and some ground clearance to make it all the way to the river. Jake’s van didn’t make it all the way down, but he was able to turn around and wait for DW to drop our Subaru at the access. There is a much better access at Campbell Cemetery, which is four miles above Spirit Creek. However, if you take out at Campbell you will miss Hell Roaring Falls, which is a nice little drop that can produce a big wave if the water is up.

The bridge at Turner Bend

The bridge at Turner Bend

Mulberry River

DW paddles through some

DW paddles through some gnar

Mulberry RiverBelow Turner Bend the river has more long pools interspersed with big drops. We didn’t see too many other people on this stretch because most people who rent do the upper section of the Mulberry. We did come across some locals who were doing their annual spring float. They talked to us for a while and gave us the scoop on all the rapids ahead of us. We also talked about the best season for floating the Mulberry, which of course is spring. They said the water is usually plentiful from October to May, so winter floats are also an option.

Stopping for lunch on a rock

Stopping for lunch on a rock

Mulberry RiverMulberry RiverMulberry RiverWe stopped for a quick lunch on a large, flat rock just below a good rapid. We finally saw a bit of wildlife on the river now that the sun was out. There were several turtles sunning themselves, and the usual assortment of birds. Shortly after lunch we pulled over and switched boats. I tried out DW’s boat while Jake took his touring kayak again. The Dagger whitewater boat is a little easier to paddle in a straight line, but I didn’t think it was quite as comfortable to sit in. It is a sort of retro design, with no bells or whistles on the seating and the thigh braces are very tight. However, I went through several rapids in it and didn’t flip over, so that’s something. Jake took my camera and got some nice shots of us paddling through. It’s nice to be in front of the camera sometimes instead of always behind it!

It's ME!

It’s ME!

DW shreds it

DW shreds it

Me, DW and Jake at camp

Me, DW and Jake at camp

After passing the Campbell Cemetery access we kept our eyes peeled for Hell Roaring Falls. It is a rock shelf across the river with about a 3 ft. drop. It looks like it could really rock if the water is up a little! We made it over without incident, but got fairly well splashed in the process. Eventually we came to our take-out around 4pm. We spent a little while relaxing and having a beer by the river. Paddling in rapids is hard work! After loading up our boats we made the trek back up the 4WD access road, over rocks and through one pretty big mud puddle. Back at camp we settled in to burn all the firewood we had left and eat a satisfying meal of spaghetti. It was a great weekend and we had a good time on the river. We will definitely be going back to Arkansas next spring!

Critter Count: Turtles, Hawks, Kingfishers

Float #121: Mulberry River

23 Apr

Wolf Pen to Turner Bend

F121_Mulberry

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!