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Dismal River, Nebraska

Through barbed wire fences
August 24-26, 2001

other trips: the first encounter | in November rain | September 2005
map | flow data | Sandhills books

Dismal River

Another weekend trip to Mullen, Nebraska. However, this time I attempted to paddle the entire 56 mile stretch of the Dismal River from highway 97 to the Nebraska National Forest. I expected to reach the Whitetail Campground sometime between 8 and 10pm.

A I left the Mullen bridge at 6:40. Starting early was essential to my plan. I was familiar with first part the river, so paddling went pretty smooth despite of numerous obstacles.

Dismal River

The colors of sandhills had changed a little bit during the month since the last trip: more yellow wildflowers and pink thistles.

B The first stop at narrow spot that required lining my boat.

Dismal River

D Shortly after 9:00 I reached the narrows and this time I ran the rapids. No problem. Just stay close to the right shore.

There was a group of three canoes below the rapids, obviously, camping there.

Dismal River

A couple miles later I ran into an unexpected obstacle: two young bulls fighting just in the middle of the river!

Dismal River

They were pushing each other from one shore to another, finally, they moved with their duel to the land. They didn't see me.

I started to shoot pictures.

Dismal River

Then ...
... a big brown fellow came
and told me to leave. I didn't argue ...

E I passed the Seneca bridge about 11:00.

Dismal River

Dismal River

The Dismal was narrow again, twisty and very fast.

F I stopped at the private campground about 14:00. It looked neglected, but there was a restroom and some picnic tables there. A trailer house was higher on the hill.

Next part of the river till highway 83 was much slower.

G About 16:30 I passed the highway 83 bridge and entered the unknown stretch of the river. For the next few miles the river was meandering between high sandhills and didn't change much. However, the barbed wire fences were more difficult to cross. Not much of canoe traffic!

Dismal River

A few miles below the highway 83: entering the Nebraska National Forest.

Canoe Trails of Nebraska pages indicate a primitive campground about 3 miles below the bridge, but I didn't noticed anything except a couple of houses.

Sandhills moved further away from the river which was getting wider and wider. The paddling was getting more difficult and much slower. I had to walk and tow my canoe to find some deeper water between sandbars. I saw several white-tailed deer coming to the water at sunset. They were magnificent.

I was moving rather slowly after darkness, paddling and walking through shallow places. Occasionally, I used my headlamp and flashlight, but the moonlight was much better. I could see obstacles in the water including logs and fence posts, but it was difficult to find water deep enough for paddling.

It was getting late and my wife was waiting at the Whitetail Campground. My cell phone didn't work from the shores. According to my topo maps there were two bridges between highway 83 and the Whitetail Campground. I had already passed three or four ranch bridges and was nervous that I could miss the campground.

About 10 pm. I found a narrow deeper and faster channel. It looked clear. Wrong!!! Suddenly, I crashed into a barbed wire fence.

It was a full surprize. I capsized, lost my headlamp. The partially swamped canoe went away when I was trying to release myself from the fence. After a minute or so I started to chase my boat, caught it and dragged it to a low muddy shore.

I dried the boat, then treated my wounds: some blood from a deeper cut in my head and a lot of scratches. I wasn't in a mood to continue my paddling in the darkness and decided to stay there for the night. Of course, the cell phone didn't work There was no chance to hike any hills. I change to my emergency dry cloths (it appeared that my dry bag was not exactly dry...). It was about midnight when I crawled into my canoe and tried to sleep under the spray skirt. 5 long hours...

5:00. The stars started to fade. A power gel breakfast. Just before sunrise I was back on the water. A beautiful sunrise with a deer silhouette on the top of a hill. Soon, I approached another bridge with high sides made probably from a track or building wall with the sign "Julien Transport" on a white background. Just after that bridge, I found the higher shore, climbed to a hill and called my wife. At the time when I finally got a signal I noticed the sheriff car not so far away.

My wife waited at the campground until 3 am and then called 911. The deputy started the search about 7:00. He went to the campground first and then tried to proceed upriver. We met about 0.5 mile upstream. I paddled to the campground under his escort and we waited there for my wife.

A couple hours later when Connie and me returned back to the Sandhills Motel, probably, the entire Mullen knew about my adventure and rescue. No more paddling during that weekend, just some sleep, driving home and a tetanus shot next day in Fort Collins.

A lot of thinking about my emergency procedures. Signaling equipment for the remote area paddling. Communications. GPS? A faster boat?

And I don't have any pictures from the lower Dismal. I will be back.

Nebraska Sandhills books

This Fragile Land: A Natural History of the Nebraska Sandhills
by Paul A. Johnsgard

The Nebraska Sand Hills: The Human Landscape
by Charles Barron McIntosh

Dismal River

other Dismal trips:
the first encounter | in November rain | GPS photo log

gift ideas for paddlers, racers, and photographers ...

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