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Upper Buffalo Wilderness:
Low Hole to Whiteley Hole
September 11, 2005

It's been the toughest summer ever. My job has always been more demanding in the summer, but this year there were fewer breaks and more... stress. Relief finally came from a slog up the Upper Buffalo River from the Whiteley Hole to a spot 2 miles upstream, that I’m calling the Low Hole.
I started out around 2 p.m. and it wasn't exactly fun for the first hour - it was hot, the backpack was hurting my neck, and instead of walking through the water like I should have, I made several bushwhacks through the thick stuff on the bank.  I was wearing shorts, and my shins got all scratched up in no time. Once I figured out that walking with waterlogged boots  in the shallow stream was better than negotiating hostile vegetation, my afternoon got a lot easier.
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My goal was to explore at least two miles upstream. I had no idea what I would find near the end, but I was hoping for a spot unique enough to deserve what I consider “landmark” status. Luck was on my side - I came upon a small but deep hole of water with a pile of huge boulders on the east side. This was the ONLY hole of water for several hundred yards. The water level was several feet lower than the surrounding river bed, hence my name for this location.
Down “stream” from the Low Hole for almost a half mile, the mighty Buffalo was a parched river of boulders. Not a drop of water anywhere, but still amazing and scenic.
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As I continued back downstream, I encountered only one small pool of water before reaching the main attraction on this section of the river - a long, deep hole populated by massive boulders. Dr. Neil Compton published two photos of this location in “The Buffalo River in Black and White”, referring to it as either “the boulder pool” or the “rock barrage” at “the Hedges place”. In other publications, it's referred to as the Pickle Hole. I was hoping to go for a swim, and the water was certainly deep enough, but it seemed to be stagnant - brown and murky - so I stayed out.
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Earlier in the day as I was hiking in, I took a bunch of pictures with my little point-and-shoot camera. Most of the shots didn’t turn out so great, but I am including this one (at right) because it includes the sky and surrounding valley.
Below the Pickle Hole was an interesting series of small rocks that stair-stepped downward. I imagined how awesome it would look with water cascading over those rocks, and told myself I’d have to return to see that someday.
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A loud trickling sound coming from the east bank told me I’d reached another landmark on the river, Pickle Spring. Here was another deep, narrow hole of water. A thick patch of ferns and Touch-Me-Nots, with their funny orange flowers, was hiding the spot where the cold spring water was spilling into the river. I couldn’t locate one specific place where the spring water was coming from; it seemed to emerge from several locations on a wooded slope above the river.
Regrettably, I didn’t have time to take any pictures documenting the pool or the spring itself; it was past sunset when I arrived at the spot, and I still had a mile of water to splash through to get back to the truck. I did pause long enough to get a photo of a Cardinal Flower.
The next hole downstream was a whopper... around 300 yards long. Above the right bank, big Beech trees grew on a really steep mountainside. I caught glimpses of tall bluffs high up in the woods. At the end of the whopper hole, the river made a shallow run among small round rocks and Water Willow.
The river pooled in another long, narrow hole on the right, bordered by a flat field of stones on the left. The Beech woods up above the left bank were level and open.
Shallow running water was present for the rest of the walk downstream. At the southern end of Luallen Field, driven into the river bed was a water level gauge consisting of a white board with black lines and numbers. Up on the east bank was a primitive road going into the field. I spotted some sort of official sign there - either USGS or Forest Service.
On the hike in, I had made a 90-degree turn away from the river here to satisfy my curiosity about a feature I’d seen on a topographic map of the area - a long hole of water not connected to the present stream. It was right where the map said it would be. The opposite bank was an almost vertical slope, suggesting that the duckweed-covered pond was quite deep. I got the feeling that if I fell in, all sorts of bad critters would get me!
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The half-mile section of the river below Luallen Field was a series of shallow pools only a few inches deep. I took the pictures below on the walk upstream earlier. These shallow areas were bustling with life. There was a constant pattern of critters swimming away from the edge of the bank as I approached.
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The Whiteley Hole below the northern end of Luallen Field was where the day’s journey both started and ended.
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