By Steve Heye, OS Pulaski Chapter Outings Chair

    It’s the only major rapid on the lower section of the Buffalo National River. Located just downstream from the Ghost Town of Rush, Clabber Creek shoals is a quarter-mile of pure excitement when the water is up. It can be a fantastic ride or it can be the bane of a paddler that doesn’t know what makes it so much fun.

    Located on the top of the “Duck Head”, Clabber Creek enters the Buffalo on the left bank where the river makes a hard right to drop down a series of rock shelves. The creek has created conditions that made the river stay right, and overtime, erode the rock ledges of the right bank into a stoney field of pits, ridges and holes. The result is a series of standing “hay stacks” on the right third of the river. The safe way through is always to stay far left.

Should an open boat get caught on the right half of the Buffalo in this section, the hay stacks become a real danger.  In 2017, on an Ozark Society week long float, Gary Alexander and I got sucked in too early at the top of the rapid. Everyone had stopped at Rush to discuss the upcoming obstacle.  We all agreed that the water level was high enough that it mandated everyone hug the left bank as we went through the shoals.

     We were making our way over to the left bank when the current grabbed our boat and overpowered attempts to move left as fast as we could. It was now a matter of when, not if our boat would be swamped or tumped. After the third hay stack, from my perch in the back I saw a curl of water working down the right side of our canoe. The next thing Gary and I knew, we were floating through the remainder of the rapid to the pool below. It was only a minute or so, but the ride was rocky and the overturned canoe blocking our view. made for a few anxious moments. We beached the boat and with the help of others, recovered most of our gear. Clabber had clobbered another fool hardy team of canoers.  That day in 2017 was just one of many canoes that become a victim of the rough waters.

     Every year, many unsuspecting boaters are lured or drawn into the rough conditions of Clabber Creek Shoals. The result is a swim for the crew and a search for canoe contents. But not all the contents are recovered.

     From just below Rush Pool to the still pool 1/4 mile downstream, the bottom grabs loose items that were not secured in the tipped boats. All the rocks, holes, boulders and shelves grab these items and hide them from those in search of missing gear. When the area goes into a big flood, the large push of water causes shifting boulders and loose rock to cover up stuff that was still visible. Several expensive items could still be laying on the bottom through this area, along with camping gear and other flotsam. That is why almost every August, I try to get up to the area when the river levels are at their lowest. Armed with water shoes and swim goggles, I usually poke around the rapid and the pool below looking for goodies and removing things that could harm the river or hook a swimming victim of the shoal. It’s a short walk from Rush in knee deep water to get on the rock shelves of river right.

     From the rock shelves, all kinds of stuff could be on the bottom or in a pocket under a rock shelf. The lower water level allows you to stand just about anywhere in the rapid and explore. If you want calmer water, move down to the long pool below the shoal. Here though, you may want a tool that you can move rocks, sand and other river bottom material that covers up a find. A facemask and snorkel can come in handy looking for buried objects. Clabber is a fun rapid any time of year.  If the water is down, you can explore for lost treasure and keep the area clean. If the water is up at 4 feet or more on the St. Joe gauge, you can bring a kayak or small canoe and float through the shoal a few times. Get a boat that is easy to tote back up the rock ledges to the Rush pool to run again. If it’s over 8 on the gauge, hang to the left side and paddle through, the rapid is becoming a place where you have to pay attention to get safely through.

     Clabber Creek Shoal is one of those special places found on the Buffalo. If you mind the level of the river, you can have a great time there. And should you go looking for gear, no one has ever found my $800 camera that I lost in 2017, as far as I know. Just save me the SD card so I can try and save the pictures on it.