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A singular of boar

April 7, 2017

A crisp of frost on the edge of everything, the trails and the mud beckon me once more…

For any outdoor person, there are touchstones that stand out – perhaps that campsite your family frequented growing up; that first mountain you sat, exhausted and at last, on top of; or that distant field far from the cities where you lay on your back and gasped at the sudden clarity of the Milky Way hanging above.  The exact location is not as important as the mythology and distinct memories it imparts – certain locations become a part of you.

Returning to this blog – from Montana and other travails best left unsaid – I returned to a familiar site from my past:  the low water bridge and primary canoeing put-in near the tiny city of Ponca, Arkansas…

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It is different than I remember – the new bridge downstream, while not “shiny and new” – is improved and has the distinct advantage of not occasionally being feet underwater, and the road ends at the eastern side instead of continuing on towards Pruitt, and Jasper, and points downstream.  It’s an odd dead-end, in some ways, yet it marks my starting point for the day:  a simple out and back between my favorite canoeing put-in on the Buffalo River and my most frequented overnight camping site at Kyles Landing.

As a scout, we came here often, from Cub Scouts through Webelos to Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts.  It was relatively close to where I grew up and offered a distinct wilderness experience.  Indeed, even today cell phone reception here is (almost) non-existent. I remember the 4 a.m. starts to get to this bridge; the chilly mornings where we would wait, anxiously and dry (at least for now) before putting in, before letting the drone of traffic transition into the sound of water in its banks carrying us downstream – to Hemmed-in-Hollow, to below Big Bluff, to Grey Rock – and other points beyond. Adventure awaited, and its pursuit was often started at this bridge.

I had always floated the Buffalo, so today I was set to hike the area instead – to set out on foot, climb well above the turgid waters below and see this beloved childhood memory from new vantage points.

This is a trail, I should say from the beginning, I would highly recommend.  While rough, steep and rocky in parts, taking your time and shuttling to do one-way trips should satisfy most anyone’s hiking needs.  If you like high ridge walks, amphitheaters of rocks and mud this trail is perfect.

The first section from Ponca to Steel Creek boats two drainages with very nice waterfall streams to cross.  It also climbs a few hundred feet and is moderately rocky, but the two miles or so this section entails should fit most families’ hiking needs, so long as children aren’t too adventurous:  make no mistake, there are areas along this entire trail where carelessness could result in serious injury or death, as there is some exposure.

Past the LONG and impossibly green scenery of the Steel Creek campsite (which boasts some nice views of some small, colorful cliffs), the trail follows Steel Creek upstream to what was on this day at least the one somewhat treacherous stream crossing (following several days of rain).  After the crossing, the trail gains some elevation fairly quickly before reaching a nice overlook of the Steel Creek campground and the Buffalo downstream from it.

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In this panorama shot, you can see the cliffs above steel creek and the Buffalo winding its way to the east (right side of shot).  The drainage beyond the prominent cliffs leads to Hemmed-in-Hollow, a very pretty and tall (and difficult to photograph) waterfall which I’d highly recommend.

Past this point, the trail climbs fairly high and bypasses Horseshoe Bend and you get to see what I consider the high point of the trail:  a cross-river view of Big Bluff, a stark cliff on a singular mountain rise which also boasts a trail along its upper cliffs (called the Goat Trail, also highly recommended, although that trail actually descends three miles to get to the upper bluffs).

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From here, the trail descends to another, simpler creek crossing, then begins a very long climb to the western edge of the Indian Creek drainage – the real highlight of this trip for me came when I saw six wild boar, black as pitch, quickly yielding the trail to me as I climbed. I’ve encountered bear, bison, elk, deer, moose, mountain lion, porcupine and various sundry critters, but this was a first! Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to grab a photo of these eastern javelinas, but I did find out that the colloquial term for boars is a “singular”… so you have a flock of geese, a pride of elephants, a parliament of owls and a singular of boars. Knowledge is power!

Of other note:  while climbing to the high point of this section of trail, you will suddenly get cell service in the area marked as “Slatey Place” on some maps. This quarter mile section seems to be the only part of the entire trail with cell service, so if you have an emergency or just need to check reddit, this is your chance.

The trail from this point down to Indian Creek and Kyles Landing is not pleasant. For one, it crosses multiple seeps which, while I was wearing my trusty Asolos and had no issue with mud/water, still necessitated slowing down.  Second – it’s pretty darned steep.  It’s not Little St. Joe steep (one of the most amazingly steep trails I’ve ever seen, in the Bitterrots of Montana), and it’s not even comparable to the insane tribal trails of the Mission Mountains, but for the area – it’s noticeable, dropping nearly a thousand feet in a mile and a half.  It’s not too bad to go down, but climbing back out I nearly hit my heartbeat roof.

And then Kyles Landing, in all its glory!

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It’s really a fairly nice place to camp; I have fond memory of reading the second Garfield book growing up while camping here (shut up) and being evacuated at 3 a.m. after storms caused the Buffalo to rise insanely fast (I woke up in a puddle of water, which is one of my least favorite ways to exit slumber).  It’s a neat little camp, and the hike up Indian Creek is highly recommended.

But for me, I get to turn around and head back to Ponca, stopping briefly to rest and take a photo of my good old shoes and Big Bluff once again, marveling at all of the puffy clouds flying over:  “the sudden pageant of sky mating with hills”, as Richard Hugo once wrote.

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