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  Paddling Down Arkansas' Buffalo River
August 4, 2010

I’m not taking any big trips this summer. I’ve got too many volunteer jobs under construction at East Brother Light Station and the Maritime Center.  Last year this time we were in Southeast Asia.

So, just for the entertainment value, I thought I would share my brother’s journal of a recent trip he made the entire length of the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Like my brother Jack, I spent many years floating the Buffalo River, and we try to make at least a day of it whenever we return to Arkansas. For the journal, click here.

River Trip Better Than 60 Candles

By Flip Putthoff
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jack Butt of Fayetteville stands along the White River at Buffalo City in June after hiking and paddling his way down all 132 floatable miles of the Buffalo River from Ponca to the White River. Butt embarked on the journey to celebrate his 60th birthday.
Jack Butt of Fayetteville stands along the White River at Buffalo City in June after hiking and paddling his way down all 132 floatable miles of the Buffalo River from Ponca to the White River. Butt embarked on the journey to celebrate his 60th birthday.
FAYETTEVILLE — Jack Butt could have blown out 60 candles to celebrate his birthday. Instead, he hiked and paddled his way down the entire length of the Buffalo National River, all 126 floatable miles.
It was a trip the Fayetteville lawyer has wanted to tackle for years. Hitting the big 6-0 seemed a fitting occasion for an expedition.
Butt has been floating the Buffalo since his youth. He’s seen the whole river, some parts dozens of times, but had never floated it from end to end in one trip.
In June, Butt started at Ponca, the highest upstream point of most river trips. His birthday adventure ended eight days later at Buffalo City on the White River.
“It was perfect,” Butt said of his solo adventure. “My boat was loaded perfectly. The weather was perfect and the fishing was good. I was in my own perfect place doing something I love.”
Hiking part way let Butt see the river from its wild shores before setting out into his canoe. He didn’t have much choice.
The Buffalo was too low to fl oat between Ponca and Kyle’s Landing, 10 miles downstream. So Butt hiked the Buffalo River Trail from Ponca to Kyle’s. An outfitter had Butt’s truck, canoe and gear waiting when Butt finished the four-hour hike.
He walked fast and traveled light on the trail. “I carried two quarts of water and a pocketknife,” Butt said.
Lots more gear went into his canoe for the remaining 116 miles to the White River.
A cast-iron skillet was perfect for cooking delicious gravel bar suppers. He paddled in a lawn chair, not a canoe seat. The folding chair was handy for relaxing in camp. A tarp proved the ideal campsite shelter.
Butt figured he needed to travel 15 miles each day. That was no problem. The miles flew by faster when the life-long river runner started using a kayak paddle partway into the trip.
“The only reason I brought it was in case there was heavy power generation on the White River and I thought the kayak paddle would be more efficient,” he said.
It was. When Butt reached the White River, six of eight generators were cranking at Bull Shoals Dam, 32 miles upstream. That’s a lot of current. Getting to the take-out at Buff alo City requires paddling upstream about half a mile. The kayak paddle made it easier.
Butt’s days on the Buff alo were delightful. After a good night’s sleep, he’d fix coffee and an oatmeal breakfast, then fish a bit in the cool morning.
Butt broke camp and was on the river around 8 a.m. He’d be off the water by 5 and making camp on another paradise gravel bar.
The paddler wrote a detailed journal of his trip that he just finished. Working on it let Butt relive each day of his journey.
“By full dark each night, I turned in, about 10 p.m., for a hard night’s sleep,” he writes on page 20, “drifting off to a symphony of bullfrogs, cicadas and whippoorwills until awakened by the raucous cacophony of the dawn greeting birds at 6 a.m.”
Butt writes that mornings were still, but that doesn’t suggest it was quiet. “The racket of the early rising birds was deafening,” Butt writes.
Along way he saw raccoons, a family of mink and birds galore. White-tail deer sipped from the Buffalo as his canoe glided by.
One afternoon in camp Butt stretched out on the gravel and just watched the clouds go by. He took some gorgeous photos of the pillowy puff s.
Butt fished a little along the way, though not much because he had to cover 15 miles a day.
He fished the riffles, but only spent five or 10 minutes at each one for a total of about 30 minutes of fishing daily.
“But I caught about 30 fi sh every day. I was catching about one a minute,” he said. Most were smallmouth bass.
Making the trip alone proved enjoyable and made the expedition more simple to plan.
“The logistics are so much easier if you’re by yourself,” he said. “I could have invited 30 or 40 friends, but the more people you have the logistics get more difficult.”
Butt did e-mail several friends inviting them to join him along the way. A condition was they had to be at specific places at specific times and take care of their own vehicle shuttle, food and gear. He didn’t have any takers.
Butt’s wife, Anne, joined him for 17 miles of the trip from the Maumee South access to the Rush access on the downstream end of the Buffalo.
After the journey, friends pestered Butt to share some harrowing stories of danger and intrigue from his adventure. There are none. A couple of pop-up thundershowers were the most excitement.
The downriver journey was sheer joy and a fitting way to mark one of those birthdays that ends in “O,” the big 6-0 for Butt.
Outdoor, Pages 7 on 07/29/2010