There was quite a bit of excitement waking up on our second day. Not even the early morning drizzle could diminish anticipation of the next few days. Day one had been a really nice surprise- amazing views, a two-hundred foot waterfall, and bluff jumping. We sipped on some coffee under a makeshift lean-to and planned out our day of hiking back to Ponca, where we would launch our canoes on day three. The rain made it a cool morning, but I also knew that there was a chance that the heat and humidity of July could make our hike in the afternoon like walking through a greenhouse.
We wanted to take a different route back to Ponca in order to have a different perspective and vantage point of the area. The trail we planned to follow was a horse trail that hugged the Buffalo River all the way back to Ponca. I ought to clarify that this trail did more than hug the river, it crossed the river close to a dozen times on our way back…but more on that later.
As the rain subsided we geared up and headed out and headed toward Granny Henderson’s cabin, which was close to the trail we would be spending time with for most of the afternoon. It is always a really cool experience to come across old cabins and remnants of an older time. In many ways it gives me a tangible connection to the people who called these woods, these bluffs, and this river- home. And even though my completely connected life is as close to me as my powered-down iPhone in my wet bag…I feel a deep sense of simplicity and authenticity joining the generations who walked before in these woods.
We continued to the river through the overgrown trail and were soon transitioning onto the smooth, pockmarked limestone that is characteristic of this region. We stopped to pump water for everyone and then continued our journey. I knew that our limestone walkway would soon come to an end.
While almost every one of us had taken off our hiking boots and socks the first couple of times we crossed the river…that strategy could not continue for time’s sake and also because the rocks on the river bed were wreaking havoc on the bare feet. We had to face the facts: our boots and socks were going to be soaked…and eight more miles reminded me why I don’t like hiking in wet boots and socks.
There were definitely parts of this trail that sang in harmony, like when we walked below Jim Bluff, Big Bluff, and Roark Bluff. But I would never recommend hiking a horse trail. While it made for some funny stories- walking over a mile in sand, hiking down a steep rock embankment, and slipping and sliding into the river from a mud shoot- I learned a good lesson about avoiding trails created for horses.
We made it back to Ponca in one piece, although muddy, stinky, and tired. After refreshing and having a bite to eat, day two closed by the fire discussing the next two days canoeing on the Buffalo. I tucked into the tent not realizing that the next day would turn out to be the most fun and adventurous day of the trip.
old pine by ben howard