Saturday started with the late starts and driveway pickups that come with gathering 7 people together for a three-day outing. Some may have been a little hung over due to a general excitement of hanging out with each other the previous night after months apart. But this train kept on rolling with a couple of needed stops on the way, a fantastic breakfast burrito and general momentum in the right direction.
When we arrived at Ponca we checked in with Lost Valley Canoe to confirm our vehicle shuttle from the low water bridge to Pruitt. The key exchange occurred on the Ponca low water bridge where the water flowed at 15 inches of airspace. We prepared our canoes for adventure on river right, loaded to the brim and set off.
The water was the usual Turquoise blue, rushing below the steep cliffs that corral the wild water. From Ponca to Pruitt the river falls 13ft per mile, creating a fun run. We joined a multitude of people that took advantage of a wonderful Saturday on the Buffalo. This included one pinned boat (not ours), one boat checked by NPS for properly secured coolers (that was ours and thanks NPS for being present during a busy weekend), and two tipped boats (that was us), the properly secured coolers allowed a quick recovery, We also had a chance meeting with a longtime friend who happened to be camping at Jim's Bluff, go figure.
Our initial plan was to camp at horseshoe bend, across from Hemmed in Hollow, but the number of people on the water drove us down stream. We decided to seek a campsite past Kyle's Landing since most people end their daytrip at this point. We were informed some nice spots existed just past Kyle's and before the boyscout camp on river right. With shadows getting long and a general sense that we needed to set up camp to make dinner, we explored downriver. We stopped at an area that would be OK, but would encroach upon other overnight campers. Kyle and I set off on foot through a strong current to explore Just Around The Riverbend. We found a great spot and worked our way back upstream to inform everyone else to bring the canoes. We set up camp on river left. Started a fire, Kyle broke out this tripod grill and some incredible pieces of steak and began grilling. I couldn't believe my eyes, he was cooking for everyone!
Most of us were salivating around the steak, but Carl had made his way downriver chasing the hog johnson of smallmouth as the sun dipped below the hills. Soon, Carl called from downstream to Kyle, there was someone else with him, wearing a sash. Carl and sashed man made their way toward our camp. The sashed man was part of the boyscout camp, he informed us that we where camped on Camp ORR property and we needed to move. We made note that on the map, Camp ORR was approximately a half mile downstream on river right, and there wasn't any indication on the gravel bar or in the woods that this was Camp ORR territory. If there was any indication, we wouldn't have made camp. The sashed man informed us that he is planning on using the gravel at 10pm that night for a ceremony and we need to move. He offered that downstream about a half mile there could be a gravel bar on river right that is on Camp ORR territory, we could use this if it's still there, or there are some islands past Camp ORR.
Although it was kind of him to offer a gravel bar on Camp ORR territory that might be there, I was upset. Mainly because we're being told to set off downstream in the dark in water we are not familiar with. Begrudgingly, we packed up camp and Kyle finished cooking the steak. We ate while hashing out the many levels of" it is not a good idea to canoe at night on water you don't know". Yet the steak was incredible.
So we set off, seeking the "other" gravel bar that might be their. The black of night surrounded us, broken by the sound of rushing water we couldn't see. We passed large boulders, only seeing them when they were past the bough of our boats. We were smacked by phantom limbs in the face and found a large eddy to reconnect and count the canoes and group members. We set up camp in the dark on a gravel bar that reflected the washout, driftwood and the flood water that had engulfed it the previous week. We could see Camp Orr high on the hill and some car lights moving in the dark. We decided not to make a fire, questions of "who was the sashed man?" and "what authority does he really have at Camp Orr?" ran through our head. The night passed with good conversation and the morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise.
Day two on the water brought to light the "islands" where we could've camped and an enormous strainer that we chose to walk around. The fishing was good, the beauty was immense and the day was perfect. We reached Ozark and decided not to camp there, and sought more solitude. Between Pruitt and Ozark we found a campsite that topped of our adventure.