As our third day started on the Buffalo River in Arkansas the only thing on our minds was the river level. Would it be high enough to launch from Ponca? We arrived early at the Buffalo Outdoor Center, the outfitter through whom we would rent our canoes and be shuttled, and waited to hear what the verdict was. The word was that it was too low to launch from Ponca but would be perfect to launch from Steel Creek. Steel Creek was downstream from Ponca about 2 miles so that was not that big of a deal. We would spend the next two days leisurely canoeing a little over 20 miles to Pruitt while camping and playing around on the Buffalo.
The morning was a bit overcast as we arrived at our launch point at Steel Creek but it promised to heat up quickly with little relief on the open river. We decided to leave quite a bit of our gear behind since we would only be camping overnight and used our dry bags to store most of what we decided to bring. The six of us paired up by two’s and boarded our canoes, secured our gear, and hesitantly took off one at a time. The reason I say hesitantly is because we had already watched some people before us get dumped on the first maneuver.
We were certainly not in a race canoeing, even though we ended up covering most of the distance to Pruitt the first day. After close to 30 miles hiking over the previous two days, we were ready to experience the Ozarks and the magnificent bluffs from the water. The sun was beginning to break through for an absolutely PERFECT morning. Being that we were going to be in the open on the river most of the day we put on some sunscreen to avoid frying to a crisp.
There wasn’t too much activity on the river. In fact, we broke away earlier from others who were canoeing. This made for a peaceful ride as passed Big Bluff and then paddled toward Horseshoe Bend. This area was very familiar, as we finished day one jumping off a small 12-14 foot bluff. The consensus (and excitement) was unanimous…we would pull off at the embankment and do some more bluff jumping.
If we thought we were somehow really cool or unique in our jumping…we would soon find out how inexperienced we were. We climbed to the top to find two locals already jumping. As soon as I watched the first guy jump, I just sat down. These guys were ridiculous. They were doing backflips from a higher platform (about 24 feet) like they had been born to do this their whole lives. And here we were jumping off this little platform like we were from Indiana.
Well a few of us, not to be outdone, decided to elevate and jump from the 24 foot height without the flip. We went up, our buddies counted down, and we jumped one at a time. I was impressed that we did it. The thought of jumping that height in an uncontrolled environment made my stomach swirl as I walked up and jumped.
And then, just as I thought things couldn’t get any more crazy, one of our guys upped the ante on the locals. He went up to a spot above the trees and about 30 feet above the Buffalo. Without even a second-guess he jumped…and splash! He did it! Even the locals were smiling. And then Tim jumped next! These guys were insane. There was a zero percent chance that I would be jumping from that ridiculous height!
We made our way back down to the canoes and were ready to launch. It was then that I started thinking- when will you ever be in Arkansas again? When will you be on the Buffalo River again? When will you ever be at Horseshoe Bend jumping from these amazing bluffs? I turned to Ben and said, “I will do it if you do it!” Ben just smiled. We made our way up to the big 30-footer. At that point, all the people we passed early on were now slowing their canoes to watch this insane spectacle. They should have arrived earlier and watched the real show! Ben jumped off like a pro. Man…good for him. This is ridiculous…and really high. I was a bit nervous. Then the countdown started from ten. I knew if they hit zero and I didn’t jump…it would be over and the cat calls would begin. Three, two, one…I jumped. It wasn’t pretty but I did it.
What an absolute blast…and all of this before noon! This was definitely nature’s playground. We finally loaded up and took off. We planned to stop at Kyles Landing for lunch and we had about four miles to go until we arrived there. We had heard that most people ended their canoe trip at Kyles Landing…so that would mean fewer people traveling to Pruitt. These boys were going to have the Buffalo River all to ourselves for the next 15 miles.