Bourbeuse River – Hwy 44 to Guth’s Mill Dam

A completely free birthday eve Saturday greeted me yesterday so I tossed around familiar bodies of water to hit. A Washington, MO based co-worker has always told me about his float trips on the Bourbeuse River and a quick Google map search revealed an easily accessible river access just off Hwy 44 near Union, MO – Uhlemeyer Access.

I loaded my Eddyline Nighthawk 16′ up on the car and headed out. I was tempted to take one of my new to me beater kayaks I just got last weekend, but although shorter, their weight is somewhat prohibitive for a single person trying to load them on the car.

I dropped in at Uhlemeyer (river mile 102.3) around noon and headed upstream. Quickly passing under the 44/50/66 bridges, the water was calm and glassy, with almost no current to paddle against. I passed a kayak fisherman and a john boat with guys busy baiting hooks. A little further upstream, a flotilla of short kayaks sat on a sandbar while a family group swam in the water nearby. A cool cloudy day produced a little bit of drizzle for about 30 minutes, but then the sun came out for the remainder of the paddle. Continuing upstream, I passed under a train bridge, with quite a few river shacks on both sides of the river.

I had Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast going – Supernova in the East I – about Japan’s historical rise and cultural lead up to WW2. Amazingly interesting soundtrack to accompany the beautiful sights on the river. I didn’t really have a turnaround point in mind, but a little further up, Google maps indicated the river running right behind a Wal-Mart, so that contrast of the natural and the consumerist acted as my unofficial goal. After a leisurely three hours and multiple points of having to get out and drag the boat due to shallow riffles, I spotted a big concrete structure stretching across the river. Getting close, it looked like an old mill and associated dam. This is Guth’s Mill Dam (river mile 96.8). I opted not to portage, spent a few minutes climbing up on the dam and checking things out. Wal-Mart-upon-Bourbeuse would have to wait for another day.

The paddle back downstream went fairly quickly and I was back to Uhlemeyer by 5pm. Overall, the Bourbeuse at this stage was pretty shallow, having had to drag the boat in a few spots. But this stretch is perfect for an easy day out on a surprisingly clean river. At one point, in a huge driftwood pile on the side of the river, I spotted the nose of an aluminum canoe that had been swept up in some past deluge. So I may have occasion to hit this stretch again in the near future to see if a salvage operation may be feasible.

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Non-Motor Watercraft Buying Guide for the Midwestern Novice

So you’re gonna buy a boat huh? I applaud you for your excellent choice in how to spend your limited leisure time. For residents of the St. Louis Metro area/Midwest region, there are an unbelievable number of rivers and waterways to get out and enjoy. I am very excited to see an increased interest in getting on the water in our area and look forward to paddling with all of you in the near future.

This is my attempt to share some advice on what kind of watercraft to select based on my very limited knowledge and experiences on the water.

When people ask me what kind of boat they should get, my immediate response is to answer their question with a question: what are you looking to do with it? What’s your ideal vision of a good time out on the water? Hitting class 5 whitewater? (Not a lot of those around here, but good luck!) Multi-day/night paddles on the pristine clear streams in southern MO? Setting speed records on the big rivers and becoming a MR340 legend? Taking a leisurely cruise down the River Des Peres with the Brown Water Navy while avoiding discarded syringes and stinky tennis balls? Whatever your pleasure, there’s a boat for that!

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP)

I am not an expert in this category and have only SUPped for about 5 minutes total in my life. If you are interested in this, please contact one of the two local SUP experts, both named Shane for your convenience. (Timber Longboard Co. | SUP St. Louis)

From my view, if you like standing up, looking fish in the eye, like a full body workout more than a sit-in boat provides, and you are a minimalist who doesn’t need to bring a lot of gear when you’re out on the water, then a SUP might be for you.

Canoe

You’ve all been in one at some point in your life so you know what you’re getting. Big heavy aluminum battleships are perfect for rocky rivers, stuffing full of beer and camping gear and going on a leisurely multi-day paddle. But they’re a bitch to lift, haul and portage.

The Cadillac of canoes are Wenonah in my opinion. Many of them come in Kevlar or carbon fiber – super light, fast, stable boats, but you’ll pay for it. If you do opt for the Kevlar or Carbon Fiber, you’re going to want to steer clear of any bodies of water where you have a chance of hitting rocks, logs, small children or other obstructions.

You also can’t go wrong with Mad River or Old Town brand canoes. Most canoes you find are going to be tandem (or three seaters), but you can also find solos here or there.

(I currently own a Wenonah v1 Jensen, which is a custom built canoe I was lucky enough to acquire second hand. It is 18’6”, weighs about 30 pounds and is Carbon Fiber. A comparable boat retails for $3 – $4k, but if you are lucky enough to come across a used one, can get them for between $1 – $2k. It is super light, fast (when you have two finely tuned engines) and is very unstable for beginners. It takes a lot of hours in the saddle to get used to. I’ve used this boat on two different MR340s, countless runs on the local big rivers and even (unadvisedly) on some rocky stream trips in Southern MO and Kentucky. I did add Kevlar skid plates on front and back so I don’t cringe every time I pull up to a concrete boat ramp.)

Kayak

My most recent obsession so this is the category I have the most knowledge on. After many years paddling a single blade and striving to find the perfect canoe stroke to keep the boat pointing to where you want, I gave up and joined Team Kayak. With a longer kayak, it is much easier to steer where you want, to move down the river on the most efficient line, and (to me) have a generally more enjoyable experience. You don’t have to worry about learning any complex paddle strokes or counting strokes/transitioning from one side to the other/trying to stay in sync with your idiot canoe partner.

My first boat was a Dick’s sporting goods special – a 10’ Perception sit inside kayak. The shorter the kayak is, the more effect each stroke has on the direction of your boat. You paddle right, the boat goes left, you paddle left, the boat goes right. This effect is magnified the shorter your boat is. You can count on a lot more zig zagging with a 10 of 12 foot boat than a 14 or 16 footer. Short boats are great for small streams, short trips on lakes, or general fun on the water for an hour or two. Anything beyond that and you’ll likely want a longer boat.

With a 14 footer or longer, you generally get hatches for storage and buoyancy in the front and back. Compared to a canoe, you do have much less storage on a kayak, but with hatches on long boats, you generally have enough space for gear for a multi-day paddle camp. Strap a few more dry bags to your deck and it’s quite a bit of storage.

My current boat is a 16’ Eddyline Nighthawk. I ran across a guy selling it for $750 on Facebook and hopped on the deal. He threw in a carbon fiber paddle, hatch cover, spray skirt and few other cool accessories so I was very happy with the deal. (Generally people are happy to throw in extras in a deal, ask what’s included with the boat.) I do have a dropdown skeg, which is basically a fin I can drop into the water as I’m paddling. It generally allows the boat to track straighter in the water and cuts down on a lot side to side movement.

Unless you are set on getting into whitewater, I would highly recommend 14’ as a minimum on a kayak. This would allow you maximum flexibility in terms of the bodies of water and lengths of trips you’ll be comfortable doing. Longer than 16 or 17 ft, you’re really getting into the racing variety. (Google Surfski to see how high end some of these can get.) Most kayaks will be some kind of plastic composite, around 40 or 50 pounds which means you can generally load an unload them on your own.

Another choice you have is the sit inside or sit on top. Easy question – how often are you going to be getting in and out of the boat?

There are tons of brands of kayaks out there – common ones are Eddyline, Perception, Advanced Elements. I am not a brand snob, but I do really like my Eddyline.

Rudders

Rudders are a very convenient method of steering your canoe or kayak. You basically steer the boat with foot pedals, leaving you to paddle at will at whatever speed, strength and side of the boat suits your fancy. Also very helpful in windy conditions. I see rudders as more of a luxury or a convenience unless you are doing a race or a really long expedition. You can install a rudder in a boat if you don’t have one, but it’s most economical to get one included when you get your boat.

***Disclaimer – everything contained here is my opinion only, based on limited experience. I am happy to advise you to the best of my ability on any boats your looking at, deals, pricing, accessories, etc. Happy shopping and see you on the river!

Buffalo River, April 12 – 15 2018

Dan, Charlie, Shane and myself packed ourselves into Dan’s truck and loaded up Shane’s super convenient pull behind trailer with two kayaks, a solo canoe and a gorgeous Stand Up Paddleboard made by Shane himself – Timber Longboard Co.

trailer

We headed down I-44, made a left on Hwy 65 at Springfield, passed Branson into the heart of the Ozark Mountains to Harrison, AR – about 4.5 hours total. After a great BBQ dinner, we drove the scenic route 43 towards Ponca, then into the Steel Creek campsite. We set up camp as the sun was setting and settled in for a cold night.

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We woke up to ice on the grass and quickly got some coffee and breakfast going. After packing up and consulting with some park rangers, we put in the Buffalo River at Steel Creek. Me in my 16′ Eddyline Nighthawk, Dan in his beater kayak and Shane on his SUP. We paddled under the bluffs a half mile downriver to the boat put in to meet Charlie. After slamming his fin on a rock causing minor damage, Shane determined the river was too shallow to continue on the SUP, so unhooked Charlie’s canoe and reluctantly dropped her in the river. G0181924.JPG

The plan was to paddle at least to Erbie (13.7), Ozark (19.1) if we were feeling ambitious. We planned a liesurely pace, and also wanted to hike up to the falls at Hemmed In Hollow. buffalo-river-map.jpg

Immediately we came upon massive bluffs, 200ft up to 600ft, easily higher than any bluffs encountered in Missouri. The water was a light shade of green and was crystal clear and very cold. G0251980.JPG

The Buffalo River in this stretch, in addition to massive bluffs above the windy bends in the river, consists of slow water pools connected by a set of fast rapids varying in difficulty. Most rapids were deep enough to allow passage without touching rocks, but there was an occasional scrape on the bottom of the boat or a rogue wave flowing into the non-skirted hatch.

After about 5 miles, we saw a small wooden sign with “Falls” carved into it. We beached the boats and hiked the easy half mile trail up the hollow to reach Hemmed In Hollow. There were a few people who had hiked the 2.4 miles in from Compton Trailhead. There was a small stream flowing over the cliff and almost disappearing in the breeze before it hit the ground. G0261986.JPG

Back to the boats for a quick snack for lunch and a cold libation, then back on the river. We stopped briefly at Kyle’s landing in mid-afternoon, before the last stretch to Erbie, but not before a pit stop to climb a small bluff and jump into an unusually deep green pool.

dive

We got to Erbie and met our faithful shuttler Charlie, loaded up the boats and found a nice (free) campsite nearby.

camp

Back on the river the next morning, it was a much warmer morning with a beautiful sun. The plan for today was Erbie to Hasty, 14.5 miles. The bluffs were not as majestic in this stretch, but the water was still amazingly clear and tinged green. We meant to meet Charlie at Ozark for a quick resupply, but after waiting for a bit and not seeing him, we got back on the water and made our way down to Pruitt. Picking up some much needed cell reception, we noticed a pretty big rainstorm approaching. Charlie loaded us up and Shane was ecstatic to swap out the canoe for his SUP, as the river had deepened somewhat. We went ahead and paddled the last 7 miles to Hasty under the gathering clouds and slightly cooler temperatures. G0422095.JPG

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Despite some furious back paddling when I saw the upcoming obstruction, I managed to pin my kayak on a large root ball that was taking up a good portion of a fastwater stretch of the river about a mile up from Hasty. I only lost a few cans and coozies, and managed to retrieve most of what I lost after righting the ship. We were ready to call it a day when we met Charlie at Hasty as it had just started to drizzle. We loaded up and drove to the Carver takeout campground. We quickly set up our camp, but luckily, the heavy rain held off most of the night while we cooked camp dinner and built a big fire.

The heavy rain started about 5 am, but was mostly done by the time we broke camp around 9. We took a pit stop for a hearty breakfast back in Harrison before hitting the road back to St. Louis.

I highly recommend this trip for a two, three or four day adventure. There are sandbars galore to camp on or more developed campsites if you’re into that, ample wood for fire burning and not a whole lot of people. Your ability to paddle this river is entirely dependent on water levels – I found this site to be very helpful in keeping tabs on conditions. You also need to keep an eye on the weather forecast, as heavy rains can raise water levels quickly and dangerously. Generally the upper stretches of the Buffalo can only be paddled during Spring. Lower stretches of the river are less scenic, but able to be paddled in other times of the year.

-mf

Paddle St. Louis

Hi, I’m Mark. Let me tell you about paddling in and around St. Louis, MO

I am starting this blog to document the various trips I’ve undertaken with a hearty group of co-conspirators on rivers, lakes and various other waterways in the Midwest, typically within a day’s drive of my home, St. Louis, MO.

My ultimate goal is to encourage and enable more people to hop in a boat and hit the water. We’re lucky to live in a place that is accessible to such a wide variety of water adventures – even more than an oceanside town. Rivers big and small, streams clean and dirty, fast water, slow water, non-moving water: It’s out there, it’s waiting and it’s a blast!

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