Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Prior to my recent outing, the last time I engaged in over night outdoor activity I ended up in a state of overall discomfort. The weeks following that incident produced a fluctuating mental perspective of pride, as I reflected upon my courageous effort to survive, and dismay, over my complete failure of planning and foresight. An episode like this can easily cause one to incur two major points of view: I have to give it up, or I have to learn and continue. I sided with the latter and am happy for that. Over the past three days, I have had the opportunity to prove myself in the field and recover from the psychological hold of the North Half Moon incident.

One of my old friends decided to come on a short canoeing adventure with me to Black Creek in the De Soto National Forest in Mississippi. Arron and myself went canoeing in the past and I trusted his ability to provide power for the craft. The plan did not call for anything strenuous at all and was built around the parameters of leisure. It was determined that we would paddle up stream on Sunday and reach a nice sand bar no more than 1-2miles up river, and set up camp. On the following day we would leave camp to progress up river at our convenience, and float back to camp in the afternoon. For Tuesday, a short float back to the boat launch was all that was required. 

Aaron and myself met a few friends at a pizza joint in Wiggins MS for about 6:30pm on this past Sunday, and then departed for the launch at Big Creek Landing on Black Creek. It was just at sunset once we had the canoe in the water and all the gear loaded up. Darkness began to fall quickly and I grew concerned about paddling up river in the limited light. Luckily, a short 1/8-1/4 mile up river we came to a small gravel bar near the confluence of Big Creek and Black Creek and decided to make camp. Aaron set out to gather fire wood in the twilight and I pitched camp. By 8:20pm we had everything set up and ready. I was aware of how close the river was to our site but no rain was forecast for the evening and I was confident in the spot. In an attempt to keep myself from establishing a fear of sleeping outside, I chose to sleep out of the tent with only my pad, light blanket and bug net. Shortly into the night, while around the fire, as if in a state of de-ja-vu from Half Moon, I could see the milky way and flashes of lighting. North Half Moon taught me a lesson about the value of a tight and neat camp and realized that if it did rain, our small humble gravel bar could quickly and easily be washed out. The duffle bags were packed with any supplies that did not need to be out and the remainder of the gear was condensed and organized; everything was accounted for. I was not going to be running through the night in an emergency trying to get everything in order for a second time. The next step to prepare for the possibility for rain was to build an evacuation plan. I could load up the boat and go back to the launch or I could shoot for higher ground. Scouting out a flat area on the small bluff five feet above the river on our small gravel bar, an evac. site was found. The rain never came, it proved to be heat lighting that generated small thunder and I enjoyed a night under the stars. Throughout the evening I counted nine meteors and was fortunate to witness an amazing display of glow worms on the near by bluff. Without a light source to blind you, there were diamonds and stars from earth to sky. 

Around 11am we set out with a dry canoe and only food/water for the day. Mostly we were to have fun and hit a few swimming holes to escape the August southern heat, our real "mission" though was to collect dry wood. The gravel bar, which I named "Glow Camp" for the worms, had very little wood good for fires. The water became very shallow over one hard clay bottom not even allowing for a 1/4 of the paddle blade to be submerged. Getting out of the boat and hauling it upstream for about 20 meters was fairly fun. I couldn't help but think about how Lewis and Clark fought up river for so long over so much worse river than this. We found a large sand bar around 1pm and set up the hammock, ate "lunch" and relaxed. By 3pm thunderheads were growing all around. To protect our stash of dry drift wood we packed up and floated back to camp. The river had dropped about 6in since we arrived  yesterday and the light to moderate rain we encountered did not bother me much. By 6:30pm the rain dissipated and the sky was clear. A large fire was built at night fall and the bottle of rum made an appearance to the evening show. We pulled out the laptop to watch some saved cartoons: roughing it.

9pm: Fuel was needed for the fire so I went to grab some from our stash. At this point I noticed something very, very concerning: the river was at the foot of our tent and there was less than six feet of land between the bluff, where we were, and the river. Over half of the gravel bar was already under water. My canoe was only beached and not tied up was about to get caught in the river. Apparently, up river it rained like hell somewhere.The alarm was sounded. Rather than go up the bluff, through a massive thicket of poison ivy, I told Aaron we were going to cross the river to the large sand bar that was 30 meters up and across the river but situated about 8ft above the river on large sand dunes. It may have been the rum in me, wanting something "more adventurous", but I committed to the plan and did not look back. With the camp high and tight, I loaded up the canoe and broke down the tent, within 10 minuets, everything was in the canoe but us. The fire was still going but the river was starting to lap into the core. In an effort to make it easier in the elevated current and the fact that it was night , I decided two trips were needed, one for the gear and one for Aaron. 

Strict instructions were given to Aaron to keep the beam of my 300 lumen spot light on the landing zone up river. Using my headlamp at full output to see the river in front of me, I cross in the heavy current while fighting vigorously. Making a beach head I quickly run the duffle bags up the dunes and the remainder of the water and gear. Turning the canoe around to head back for Aaron I see the  dying fire and his light. Within seconds the current has me back at the barely discernible gravel bar that had been our camp the previous night. Aaron and myself cross with Aaron at point holding the light so we can see and I can paddle. At the beach head we begin to reset camp and see our great fire fade into the river. Shortly after we are high, dry, safe, and exhausted. A battle fought, a battle won, we slept. 

The Jeep was loaded up by 8am this morning and Aaron and myself found ourselves back in our fine city after a great adventure. The "training mod" of packing camp tight came into action the following day. It proved to be essential in our river crossing. This was one of the main lessons I learned from North Half Moon. The decision to go up the bluff would have been "safer" but I did not hesitate on my chosen initiative. At North Half Moon I debated my course of action for some time and it cost me. In the end I got what I want out of any camping trip: a potentially dangerous situation that requires skill carried out through decisive and calculated action to make it safe and fun. Sure, I could have crossed earlier in the day after the rain on a possibility of heavier rain upstream (a new lesson learned?)but I feel, that I hath been Redeemed... for now.

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