Big Water Meant An Entirely Unknown Stream
Massive rains fell overnight almost entirely throughout the Elk River basin, meaning only one thing to me as I woke this morning: it was time to head up the basin to see how close to the source of Big Sugar Creek I could set in.
Flow data indicated that a major event was unfolding, and that the waters were still rising as I prepared to take off towards Seligman, MO around 11:30am.
A pit stop at Creekside Campground demonstrated the scope of the event. The above photo was snapped at the confluence of Big Sugar Creek and Mike’s Creek. Upon seeing this, I was fairly certain the waters would be sufficient to float near Seligman. Not shown in the photo were the approximately 15 people stranded at Creekside Campground by the rapidly rising waters.
Arriving at the Big Sugar Creek access at mile marker 39.12, it was obvious that there was more than enough water. Perhaps too much. So, after much consideration, I decided to float a stream I’ve long desired to explore – Mike’s Creek. Given Mike’s Creek is a lesser stream with a smaller drainage area, while flooded, it wasn’t so badly so like Big Sugar Creek.
Setting in almost 3 miles from the mouth of Mike’s Creek at the intersection of Mike’s Creek Rd and Mike’s Creek, nearest E Hwy, I immediately experienced difficulty. Launching during any sort of flood can be challenging, but it is made especially so when hostile landowners setup obstructions like the barbed wire at this roadside access.
Not long after I launched I noticed a strange, standing-in-front-of-an-open-refrigerator-door-sensation. Despite it being a very warm and muggy day, I would be confronted with these strange but welcome blasts of cool air throughout the trip. I can’t help but wonder if this is a feature of the cavernous nature of the area?
Though a short trip at only 3 miles, and especially considering the speed of the water, it turned out to be perfect. This was due to the frequent scouting required because of numerous obstructions sometimes coupled with blind corners. At one point I found myself hopping from one small island downstream to the next in order to see what was just around the corner.
Then, at the very end of the island hopping in the last mile of my float, I turned a corner that revealed a site that can best be described as a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie. The stream got very narrow and deep, and pushed up against an overhanging bluff about 10 feet above the water’s surface. On top of this bluff were numerous springs forming a continuous line of water pouring over the edge like a waterfall for some 50 feet or more, threatening to swamp my canoe below. At first I navigated the very thin margin of water between the bank and the line of water pouring off of the overhanging bluffs. As this began to prove increasingly difficult, I crossed over the waterfall in a thinner stretch to float under the bluff to avoid the cold, cold water of the overhead spring from filling my canoe any further. This was easily one of the most magnificent scenes I’ve ever witnessed in the Elk River basin.
Not long after leaving the area of the overhanging bluffs I encountered a rapid decrease in water speed just before the E Hwy bridge over Mike’s Creek. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that this was backwater, not from a lake, but from the massive and even further increased waters of Big Sugar Creek!
After very carefully pulling my canoe up the steep left bank of Mike’s creek about 150 yards from the roaring confluence with Big Sugar Creek, my adventure was over but will never be forgotten.
Over the coming week or so, great floating can be had on both Sugar Creeks. If you’ve never been upstream of Noel or Pineville, now is the time!