I Lied! A Bobtail Creek Adventure

By Sonny Soloman

I lied. I have been telling my friends, boating buddies, and family that I was cutting back on the difficulty of the stuff I paddled. I was going to back down and stop running the scary stuff. I'm sorry....I lied! I didn't mean to...it just happened.

Due to the 100 year rain that was happening in NW Arkansas and the bizarre gauge readings from that area (e.g. Big Piney 23 feet!, Richland Creek 15 feet! etc), With 10" of rain in Newton County, Fred and Sonny figured there was going to be something neat to paddle in NW Arkansas. After shaking out the MW paddling community, it wound up being just Fred and Sonny heading out to Richland Creek, Sunday morning. The Richland gauge that morning was 6.12' so surely it would drop to a runnable level by the time we reached it. We went to the Conway exit where boaters will gaggle up, and sure enough, we ran into a bunch of gen-x boaters who were heading up to Falling Water Creek. We asked if we could tag along. Falling Water is a class III creek near Richland Creek, but much easier. They were reluctant to let two old guys join their party. When we got to Falling Water, we ran into old friends, Bill Herring, aka "Fish", Stever Robertson, aka "Dog", Kevin Fendley, Jason, and a bunch of other Arkansas hair boaters who were going to do Bobtail Creek. I had heard stories about this creek but never had a chance to catch it...and there we were with the guys who "wrote the book" on these creeks. It was funny when we told the gen-x guys who were trying to ditch us, that we were going with the "big dogs" to run Bobtail Creek.

Bobtail Creek is best described as Fish's favorite creek in all of Arkansas...that should give you some idea how hairball this place is. It is very difficult to catch with water....and with 70* temps, this was a special opportunity indeed. Bobtail is Class IV+ and drops ~200'/mile. We were warned that running this Crown Jewel of Arkansas creeks came with a price....a mile hike in and a mile hike out. We thought "Sure, a mile means a really long hike!" We should have known that when they said "a mile" they meant a US statutory mile...you know...5,280 feet.

At least the walk to the put in was mostly downhill. This was your typical feeder creek going down a canyon. Where we put in, you could have jumped across the creek. As it got steeper, it got deeper too. I can just describe this as crazy, steep creeking. Scouting...forget that! Boat scouting...forget that too. This is just blind eddy hopping.

The first thing that had a name was "Cowper's Dam." I had heard from Cowper Chadborne and Lance at the Richland takeout, "Don't run 'Cowper's Dam!" So I was expecting...you know...a dam! This was a vertical fall where all the water was dropping off the right side into a crack! I heard that Cowper had gone into this crack...hence the name...and somehow come out of it. We ran up the lip to the left, where Fish grabbed our bow loop and pulled us to the left; and then threw us off about a 6' drop, after letting us look back over our right shoulder into the jaws of the monster. This is the warm up stuff....Fred and I were realizing we had stepped into deep do do!!

Understand, the hundreds of un-named rapids here would be named elsewhere, but the next "named" rapid on this creek is called "Bail, Baby, Bail." You run left over 2 ledge drops with a total drop of ~10' to make it to the eddy under the cliff on river left, where you can see the rest of the rapid...."the BAD stuff!" I'm thinking "This entrance to what they are calling a class IV rapid IS A CLASS IV RAPID!" I wonder how much worse can it get?!! We found out.

Hopefully some of the pictures that were made (not by Fred or Sonny) will come out and be emailed to us. There are no words that could do this creek justice. It really requires a helmetcam. By the time that Fred and Sonny had run to the bottom of Werewolf we were both hoping that the takeout was not too far. We were both adrenalized to exhaustion. Bill kept saying that the last major drop, "TheSlot" was somewhere near, but he wasn't sure where. He lied too! There was no point in knowing about it...you couldn't have scouted it, and the "line" was pretty darn obvious. I was happier looking back at it than I would have been looking down at it. After about 50yds of Class III creeky dropping, all the water dropped through a SLOT. As I was approaching this, I was thinking, "If this is not "The Slot," I'm getting out and walking the rest of this!" All the water goes through a slot in the ledge with a 8-10' drop and ends in a hole about 1.5 the width of the boat. Sonny, in an H2-255 and Fred in his Y were both stood up and shot out.

I could write about this for the rest of the day, but better to tell the tale around the campfire this summer. As Fred said on the way back, "We just ran something that we usually only see in hairball videos!"

This is just the appetizer trip report. Fred and I can tell tales about this "Fredventure," all summer. We got off the river around 2:30 and back to Richland campground at 3:30, and didn't get back to the truck for the ride home until 6:30. That involves the story about the gumbo mudhole, poison ivy, Arkansas rednecks, mudwrestling girls and about 8-10 four wheel drive vehicles. As Fish says, "It's not Arkansas creeking...it's an adventure!"

As to my stated position of not running big stuff anymore, I guess I have been in denial about all the Plateau, Alabama, and Smoky Mtn. creeks. After this weekend, however, I am faced with reality: I lied! I am still running very scary stuff! My advice about Bobtail Creek: Don't try to find it yourself; you couldn't. If you could, you shouldn't. Go with somebody who knows it...that would be less than 5 Arkansas creek boaters. Go with your game face and believe everything they tell you. There are not many creeks that are worth a mountainous mile hike in and a mountainous mile hike out. The Arkansas boys call this "the price of admission." It's worth it!

"You don't stop playing when you get old...you get old when you stop playing."