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Having not been able to go on my trip to the Buffalo River the weekend before, I decided to plan another trip the very next weekend. I decided I would give the Big Sugar Creek a try and arranged for a shuttle with Kozy Kamp in Pineville, MO. I had originally thought about going solo, but Colin insisted on going. I was glad to know that he had had a good time and wanted to do it again!
We left on the morning of May 8, 2011 and arrived in Pineville somewhere around 10:00 a.m. After paying for our shuttle and buying a water gun for Colin, we headed up to our put-in at the Cyclone low water bridge. The weather was near perfect but the water was still cold. As we unloaded our gear, three others were launching their canoe on the other side of the river. The creek was definetly narrower than most of the rivers I had been on, and I had apparently forgotten it was rated a Class II. This, along with the fact that the floodwaters had just subsided the week before meant we were in for another interesting trip.
Now I had not flipped a canoe since I was probably 15, and even this it was because we were goofing around. Do you remember how I mentioned that our new boat tracked much differently than a canoe? Well, a mile into the trip we got hit with a strong side current and were pushed right into the roots of a downed tree. Colin was paddling away when Dad tried to lean away from the roots so as not to be impaled. Well, Dad leaned a bit far and we flipped. I am pretty sure that I had one hand on the boat and the other on Colin before my head even came out of the water. I drug the swamped canoe and the crying boy to the shore and got both secured. Starting with Colin I let him know he was ok and that he had just been surprised. When I reminded him it was just like when he jumped into the pool at home he seemed to contemplate that for a second, agreed, and went about cleaning the rocks out of his Keens. Now the boat was another story all together. All the gear had to be unpacked, the water dumped, and the gear loaded back up. All in all we spent about 15 minutes getting set to continue on.
After another mile we came upon the canoe that had put in right before us. They were un-swamping their canoe and collecting all their possessions as they had just dumped as well. It seems that we had come upon a section with five newly fallen trees blocking the river, and they had tried to run it. Realizing the danger, we pulled to the side and scouted the conditions before us. After discovering tree after tree I decided that we would have to portage.
Having not planned on portaging we had brought everything we could possiblly need and then some. We began unloading the boat and carrying our stuff about an 1/8th of a mile down the gravel bar. While I carried most of the stuff Colin insisted on helping. His first trip consisted of the fishing poles and his water gun. By the time I was taking the boat (the last thing) he had started out with one of our rather large dry bags. I offered to help him after I dropped the boat, but he refused and finished on his own. What a trooper!!! We decided this was a good time for lunch and took a break to get some energy back.
For the rest of the day we battled a narrow curvy river filled with debris. It was absolutely gorgeous, but it was hard work. For the first time, I used our "painter" and roped the boat through rough spots while we walked the gravel bar. Fairly early in the afternoon we came upon an enormous gravel bar and decided to stop. Not only were we both exhausted, but it was one of those places that was too perfect to pass up.
There were quite a few people out on the river...especially compared to our first trip. Everyone seemed excited to get out given the nice weather after a long, cold winter! We had many people float by as we were setting up camp that thought it was great we were spending the night on the river.
After we had set up camp and relaxed for a bit we were visited by one of the adjacent property owners, his girlfriend, and grandson. Colin and the other boy decided to try and swim even though the water was cold. The swimming didn't last long because we saw a snake heading their way. Turns out it was a copperhead. They left to get some dinner and Colin and I got out the stove to make ours. A bit later we were visited by another property owner and his friend. They were trying a bit of fly fishing before dark and one of them almost had something before it got away. The copperhead came back and the guys were nice enough to shoot it for us. As the sun set they headed home and Colin and I headed into our tent. We read some books and watched a bit of a movie before turning out the lights.
Noises. When you are not used to being surrounded by wildlife it is amazing how many distinct noises there are. This river had a much wilder feel that the Niangua had, and when the sun set it seemed to come to life even more. Colin was snoozing before long but I had a hard time getting to sleep. After heading back outside for a bit to look at the stars I finally dozed off.
The stars are beautiful...can actually see the Milky Way, but just barley.
Something squaked and splashed in the water...keep waking up...had to pee...Colin sleeping peacefully...finally.
About 2:30 a.m. I was woken up by a loud squawking and then a splash. I went back to sleep only to be woken up again around 3:00 a.m. This time there was not a loud noise and I had to think for a second about what seemed off. Then I realized that I was hearing rushing water...as if something very large was crossing the river. The river was split into two channels near our camp, each only 3ft deep and running fast. After a brief pause I heard the noise again, but farther away. It seemed that whatever it was was crossing the river away from us. Knowing that whatever just crossed the river was large and having heard stories of black bear sightings in the area it made me wonder. Somehow I managed to get back to sleep.
The next morning we leisurely had breakfast and packed up. I hadn't exactly had a good nights sleep but Colin seemed well rested at least. We started out on a beautify river with the perfect areas for swimming...if only it were later in the season. After a couple miles of enjoyable river we soon encountered more fallen trees and debris. At one point I had to let the boat go, scramble over a fallen tree, and run down the gravel bar to catch the END of our 50ft rope before the boat was swept down stream. Had I been alone I would have run most of the stuff we encountered. however, being with a 3 year old who would not be able to handle the swift current with strainers, etc. greatly changed things. By the time we reached the Crag O Lea low water bridge we were exhausted. With 4 miles of river to go I threw in the towel and called for someone to come pick us up. It was hard to quit early, but I'm glad we did. Otherwise a difficult but fun trip might have become just a difficult one.
Thanks for the post and the review of the Big Sugar. I am planning a MO canoe trip with my boys (11 and 6) this spring and the BIg Sugar was on the list.
You are very welcome! Wow, that trip was so long ago...I've learned so much since then...need to get back down there. It is a beautiful stream, but really feels like more of a mountain stream than anything. Be prepared for lots of twists and turns with debris along the edges. Make sure each boat has a 50ft rope (painter) on the Steen for lining through any dangerous spots. We went after a big flood so may not be an issue, but just in case.
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