Bootleg to Hughes Mtn

Rock cairns the one thing Traveller's are allowed to leave behind

Rock cairns the one thing Traveller’s are allowed to leave behind

Hughes Mtn looking upstream

Hughes Mtn looking upstream

Drying out is important business when you take a swim in icy waters

Drying out is important business when you take a swim in icy waters

To explore an area you’ve never been before, there is no better way than to find the person who spends way more time cleaning the River than his own backyard. On the upper Big River, that would be Sam Allison with the Big River Baggers Stream Team plus the bonus of one of his most committed protege’s in Ken Thomas of ST #4660. They consented to let me tag along on a preseason recon of the 4 mile run from Hwy21 (Bootleg Access) to a private spot (never ever trespass) just below Hughes Mtn known for one of the prettiest mountain strolls in Missouri with unique glade formations that must be seen to be believed (think rare extrusions). The Big River at Bootleg is a usually tiny creek…. Not this day. It was FAST water. Water not waiting for you to get comfortable in your craft and get into some kind of rhythm. Sam & Ken sported the staple of Stream Teamers, an old former outfitter canoe that is all beat up and worthy of respect if for no other reason for the tons of trash it has carried off of MO streams. I had the much less cool, but stylish Jackson Journey kayak. Being the novice I happily tucked in behind Sam & Ken. Not 200 yds into the float Sam & Ken swerved into a downed tree. Ken being younger and more agile ducked under, the canoe barely squeaked under, Sam, a big man, agile for his age & size did not quite squeeze under the trunk. In one sinking slide, the canoe filled up with ICY water and they both made a quick breathless scramble for the shore. My task in the process became quickly obvious, both their paddles were flying down stream & I went off in pursuit. Once corralled I made the short hike back to the two ice men only to find them already thawing by a fire and drying out clothing. I couldn’t help think how that little dip would have left me undone and here they were already laughing about the missed photo op. …amazing.

The rest of the float was pretty safe, albeit quick for the water speed. Water wasn’t the clearest I’ve seen the Big River, but certainly the fastest.

I learned more than I can recount here. The Big River used to start with a BIG gushing spring that was buried under water by the dam that makes Council Bluff Lake. The consensus among old timers is that the character of the Big River changed pretty dramatically with the formation of the Lake. One thing it is still at Bootleg… It’s ICY! Funny how a Missouri River known by most people as slow, warm, muddy and plodding, can be the antithesis of that in early March on a rarely floated section,

The Big River does not really Broaden from a creek to a small River until Cedar Creek, in fact it is broader there than it is at its confluence into the Meramec River 125 miles as the River meanders to the north.

Lessons learned:
Caution should be the watchword for all paddlers all the time.
Canoes in rapids are like backing up big tin U-Hauls, kayaks on the other hand are big plastic bobbers that flow downstream, you just try to wisely pick a starting point at the top of the rapids.
Peepers came out in force 3/10/15 this year.

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