Long Branch First Descent

By Heath Day



Its March 19, 2002 about 2:30 in the morning.  I've been watching the radar and rain gauges
all night.  I call John Mcoy and say, "let's go north." I had talked to Lance Jones earlier
that night, and he said to be at Conway by 6:30.  He wouldn't say what we would be paddling,
but when we got there he had a really big grin on his face.  While at Conway we meet up with
Jason Mellor, Scott Hanshaw, Lance Jones, Cowper Chadbourn, Matt May, Brian Hughbanks, Greg
Churan, Nate Kline, and Ray Skinner, and we headed toward Dover to meet up with Mike Oglesby
and Jeremy Kasouf.  Still not sure where we are going, but Lance says to go to the pavilion
at the Alum Cove recreation area.

While we are changing into our gear, the name of the creek is finally revealed - it is the
Long Branch of the East Fork of the Little Buffalo (long name!).  Everyone but Lance and
Cowper look at each other wondering what it is and what it will be like.  Once again Lance
just has a really big grin on his face.  While setting up shuttle we pick up Mike Jacobs -
this makes it 14 people going down this tiny creek.  We hike down to a point where two forks
of the creek come together.  We split up into two groups, Lance leading the first group and
Cowper leading the second.

The first group is now out of sight and we take off.  After about a 1/4 mile of shallow
bedrock, the creek narrows down to about four feet wide.  Not knowing if it is clear below,
Cowper jumps out and scouts.  It's clear, so the rest of us run it blind.  I get to the top
of lip, and to my surprise it's a 12 to 15 foot slide into a nice little pool!  The exit to
the pool is a six to eight-foot water fall that is creek wide and runnable anywhere, left or
right.  While sitting in the pool below the fall, I ask Cowper how the rest of the creek
compares to this.  He smiles and says it just gets better.  The pool below the waterfall
tightens down to about four feet wide again, with a small curler and another slide of 15 to
20 feet with a small double boof about midway down.  Then there's another slide - this one is
a little more difficult.  Ramp your boat up onto the far right wall, drop over a small bump
that feels like a roller coaster, stay right to avoid the undercut mess on the left, then
brace on the pillow as the creek turns 90 degrees to the left and goes into a sluice back to
the right.  The sluice has a tree in it at the end that can catch you of guard.  Sitting in
an eddy, we are all whooping and hollering.  John is completely amazed.  This is his first
Ozark creek, and he is loving it!

The next horizon line is a very strange drop we call "Duck and Cover."  Everyone got out to
scout the drop.  The creek drops four to six feet under some over hanging rocks into a sticky
hole that feeds a slightly undercut rock on the left - then it drops another eight feet with
three doors at the top of the drop.  The far left door has most of the water going thru it
but has severe pin potential and the left bank is undercut pretty badly.  The other two doors
offer a shallow slide into a nice pool.  Approaching the first ledge in this drop is really
strange because it looks like you paddle straight into a rock, but then you can see an
opening about three to four feet in front of the rock.  Take a good stroke, duck your head as
far down as you can, and hope you punch the hole at the bottom.  After this rapid the creek
tones down a bit to III/IV until the lower gorge.

As we get to the lower gorge, the two groups have combined into one due to everyone bank
scouting.  I'm looking at the first major rapid in the gorge, and this some of the most
technical stuff I've ever been on!  I watch Mike and Ray run through with no problems, and
the drop doesn't really look that bad, but the final five-foot ledge has a sieve / pin rock
on the left with just enough room for a boat to get through.  Mike is standing on top of the
rock that hides the sieve with a rope.  I crawl into my boat, and go left of the first rock. 
I boof right of the second rock, line up for the next boof into the eddy, and I hit the boof
but also hit a rock, and now I'm upside down heading into a sieve.  I hit my roll at the lip
of the last ledge, and luckily it turned my boat and kept me out of the sieve. I get into the
eddy below, get out of my boat and gather my thoughts.  At this point people are starting to
scatter up the cliffs I ask Cowper what's down below.  He says its nasty but doable.  This
drop is called Partical Seperator, and the entrance is a boof over a three to four-foot
angled ledge, aiming for a boat wide slot on the left.  Then it crashes off of an eight-foot
ledge at the bottom.  If you go right of the slot, it will push into a nasty looking crease
with a hole at the bottom.  It would probably flush you out, but the runout is straight under
an overhanging bluff about two feet above the water.  As I hit the boof over the first ledge,
I'm lined up for the slot.  I make it through, fighting with some tree limbs.  I get turned
around, and end up going over the eight-foot ledge backwards!

A few more five to six-foot slot drops and then we come to the "Long Branch Saloon."  All the
water funnels left and forms a pillow on a giant boulder.  You need to ride the tounge into
the pillow, then turn hard right as you go over the last ten-footer angling back left and
punching the hole at the bottom. At high water this could be a really nasty hydraulic.  We're
sitting in the pool below, and Cowper says there is a 10+ foot waterfall at the end of the
run, so make sure you stay left to miss the large boulder on the right.  What he didn't say
was what you had to do to get to it!

The last rapid in the gorge is huge, long, very technical - it's non-stop for the last 50
yards and drops around 40 to 50 feet in 75 to 100 yards. This is "Free Ride."   It starts
with three back-to-back boulder slot moves with some funny crosscurrents in between.  Then
you can hit an eddy on the right and then peel out of the eddy going left to hit a five to
six-foot boof.  Immediately after you boof, you don't want to miss the eddy on the left! 
This is the last eddy for the next 50+ yards.  Peel out of the eddy working your way right
into a four-foot slot with your bow riding on the rock that forms the right side of the slot. 
Then work your way through some nasty pinning rocks while still staying right to line up for
the eight-foot boof just right of center and avoid the hole at the bottom, the undercut wall
on river left, and the shelf rock on the right!  You land on a slide punch through the
diagonal curler pushing to the right.  The finish by staying as far left as you can get to
miss the large boulder on the right as you run the final 10+ foot waterfall. WHAT A RAPID!!!

EFLB is just around the corner, and it is FLOODED, with big swirlies, monster holes, boiling
eddies, and very strange crosscurrents.  When we got to the takeout, the look on everyone's
face was some joy, some glee, and some of "why did we do that?"  This was the toughest
creek/river I have ever been on, and if at all possible I hope to return to it again or
others like it.  As for John and his first Ozark creek, he simply said, "WHEN ARE WE GOING
BACK?!!!!!!"