Steel Creek to Kyle’s on the Buffalo
I’d been itching to get on the river this early Springtime season and planned to hit Jack’s Fork. However, with all the attention the Buffalo has been receiving lately, I decided to change my plans and go see it again. On short notice, I called down to Lost Valley Canoe Rental to see what the water was like. I was advised that it might be pretty low to put in at Ponca, so we decided to start out at Steel Creek and float to Kyle’s Landing.
Even though it was sunny and warm, with water temperatures as low as they are this time of year, we packed full survival kits including shelter, changes of clothing and a three-day supply of food. It is always a must to pack a change of clothes in case of an unplanned dunk, and I was thankful to have it right away. The put-in at Steel Creek can be a little challenging as a swift current pushes through a narrow opening in the rocks during low-water levels. I’ve watched many people capsize there in the past, but haven’t had trouble myself until this time.
I pushed off, but the current was too strong to make my boat across the channel to the “V” before I hit the low rock dam. My boat high-centered on the rocks and left three feet of my Axis 10.5 sticking out into thin air over the low ledge. I knew that I might take a plunge as I pushed off. Kayaks are the most unstable they can be when one end is perched on land. I was sitting there long enough to make a good plan and luckily I stayed dry during the tip over. If I hadn’t, it would have been really important to get out and get dry quickly.
The first half of the day was sunny and warm with only a few small sections where our boats drug bottom. Other sections of riffles were really fun at this water level. The low water exposes rocks and boulders that are usually below the surface. The obstacles create narrow waterways that are really fun to navigate if your kayak is maneuverable enough. The different colors of paint embedded in these exposed rocks just goes to show that not every boat made it without contact!
We pulled our kayaks up onto a low shelf to eat some lunch and the sun left us before we were able to even get out our dry bags. We wouldn’t see it again all day as a thick front of clouds covered the horizon from end to end. As the temperature plummeted, we decided to get out the survival kit and stove to have a hot meal instead of the planned snack foods.
Thanks to our JetBoil Flash and Mountain House, we had Chicken Teriyaki within 12 minutes! It’s always so cheering and energizing to have a hot meal when it’s cold outside. I don’t think the psychological benefits of eating a hot meal can be understated, for that reason my survival kit will always include a stove if I can at all afford the extra weight. Hopefully, I’ll never need it in an actual survival situation, but if I do, I know at least I will be eating well, which could mean the difference between a good outcome or a tragic one.
What was the only thing we did forget? Silverware! No problem! Chopsticks are usually readily available along the banks 🙂 Out comes the Leatherman, boom chopsticks in minutes!
We bundled up for the second leg of the trip, and were relatively comfortable throughout the afternoon. The wind pushed against us pretty hard a few times, but both of our kayaks are equipped with drop-down skegs that helped us to keep tracking straight even in strong cross-winds.
As usual, the trip along the Buffalo is spectacular. We passed under Big Bluff and saw a group of hikers on the trail high above. There were several notable places to return for swimming later in the year when the water warms up. I’ve always wanted to float the Buffalo from the upper to lower Wilderness areas. Maybe this will be my year!
We chose to drive only one vehicle down. The folks at Lost Valley Canoe in Ponca, Arkansas will drive your vehicle to the take-out for you. Of course there are fees involved, but it still beats the gas price for the second vehicle and the convenience of just putting in and going without worry is unbeatable.
Next time, I plan to float from Kyle’s Landing on. Let us know what your favorite parts of this incredible river are!